This is the second blog post in my car park trilogy. My Attack of the Cones, my Three Colours: White (Lines), my Yawn of the Dead. In this thrilling instalment, the action moves to Bird Street car park, or as we’ve already established everyone over the age of 35 still calls it, the back of Woolies.
Back in October 1988, the Dean of Lichfield urged Lichfield District Council to redevelop Bird St car park and create ‘one of the most beautifully placed theatres in England’ along with a whole host of other attractions to boost tourism in the city. This included the restoration of the medieval ferry which carried pilgrims across Minster Pool to visit the shrine of St Chad, so that modern day visitors could follow the same route. ‘Ooooh we’d love to’, cooed the council, ‘but without a wealthy benefactor there are a couple of million reasons we can’t’. And lo, the the Dean’s ideas did not come to pass and so unto this day, Lichfield has one of the most beautifully placed car parks in England.
Less well received were plans by Tamworth artist David Perks to create a sculpture that recreated Bird St car park on the surface of Minster Pool by floating 30 car roofs in a herring bone pattern using polystyrene blocks and nylon cord as part of the Lichfield Fringe Festival in the summer of 1990. Members of the District Council’s Leisure and Recreation committee derided the proposed art work as ‘tasteless’, claiming it would ‘make Lichfield a laughing stock’. Hold that thought for when we head over to the Council House car park for the final part of the trilogy.
You can still follow in the footsteps of pilgrims along part of the route they took on their spiritual and sacred journey to the Cathedral by walking up Cock Alley and taking a left at the pay and display machine. Doesn’t have quite the same ring as Cross in Hand Lane does it? Despite claims from some local historians that the name derives from a connection with the unholy ‘sport’ of cock-fighting, a document from 1335 says Canon Nicholas Teyturrell made a grant of a plot in Wroo Lane, Lychefeld to John Slorcoke, a carpenter, which wood work as an etymological explanation. The earlier name of Wroo Lane derives from an old word meaning a corner or angle and needs no further explanation when you see the course of the lane. On a plan of the City of Lichfield from 1815 showing the proposed improvements of the streets and supply of water, the name has been changed to Wet Lane, which I can only assume in the absence of any other evidence refers to the fact it led to Minster Pool. I’m wondering too if it was also another example of the gentrification of street names that seems to have taken place in Lichfield the early nineteenth century? Pease Porridge Lane became Bakers Lane, Womens’ Cheaping became Breadmarket Street and most famously, Bacon Street became Beacon Street.
Whilst researching the route the pilgrims took, I came across a reference that J W Jackson makes in his local history column in the Lichfield Mercury to the Gate House (not the old Wetherspoons on the corner of Bird St). He describes it as a pretentious black and white residence standing out on pillars from the other buildings in Market Street on the site of what was later the Maypole Dairy Co and Mr Playfers Shoe and Boot Shop. He suggested that it had originally been owned by the Vicars Choral and was the entrance where pilgrims from the south had access to the ferry at Minster Pool. Where exactly was this and if (and in the absence of any real evidence to back this up, it is an if) this is correct, how does this slot in to the documented access via Cock Alley?
Finally, I know I’m going off at a bit of a Wroo but whilst exploring our Cock Lane, I also found that our Dr Samuel Johnson had been involved in a bizarre series of events involving another Cock Lane whilst down in that London. Plenty has been written on the subject including, ‘When Lexicographer Samuel Johnson Became a Ghostbuster’ or ‘Murder, sex and haunting in Dr Johnson’s London’ and so you can see why my curiosity was aroused. The Cock Lane Ghost was supposedly the spirit of a young woman called Frances Lyle, who returned from the dead to let people know that she hadn’t died of smallpox as had been claimed but that she had been murdered by her lover who was her dead sister’s husband. Events came to a head on 1st February 1762, when Dr Johnson led a small party to the vaults of St John’s Clerkenwell where ‘Scratching Fanny’, as the spirit became known, was asked to reveal herself. I won’t give away anymore spoilers as the story of the entity is worth seeking out and reading in its entirety but don’t blame me if it gives you the woolies.