Acting the Goat

After posting about the Unicorn Inn, someone asked if I knew anything about the Goats Head as they’d seen an old photograph of it. Well, I kid you not, it turns out it’s yet another old Lichfield boozer that’s still there. Sort of. 

In June 1969, the Mercury reported that the Goats Head would become a branch of Barclays Bank to meet increasing demand for services. The New Year chimed the bells of doom for the inn and also, the end of an era for licensees Horace and Maud Wilson. The Wilsons were born in the city and had run four Lichfield pubs in the course of their careers. They cut their teeth at the Angelesey in Curborough Rd, now a Co-op, and then went to the Kings Head for nine years, followed by the Swan for a further nine, before spending twelve years at the Goats Head. Mr Wilson had been born at the Royal Oak on the Walsall Rd, which had been kept by his grandfather, a cooper.

At the New Years Eve party, old aquaintances were not forgotten as 65 year old Fred Matthews of The Parchments, who had worked at the hotel as a hostler recalled a Mrs Lyons from the Roundabout at Handsacre who was apparently six foot tall and strong as a bull and had, ‘carried a bag of ‘taters under her arms from The Old Crown to this yard where she used to have to stand on an empty crate to get into the float or the ‘oss and cart would-a tipped up’.

I’d read that on one of the corners of Bore Street and Breadmarket St, Father John Kirk was installed as the priest of a new chapel established above a bakery when Pipe Hall in Burntwood, which had become established as a centre for Roman Catholicism in the area, was sold. Whilst this must have been handy for daily bread, directly above a baker’s oven was not a good place for a congregation to gather and the heat at times must have been too much like the bad place for comfort. In 1802, Father Kirk bought land in Upper St John St and built a new chapel and presbytery there, originally known as St Peter and Paul but later called Holy Cross.  I was praying the chapel was located in the building that became the Goats Head purely so I could make a reference to the father, son and holy goat. However, in The Gentleman’s Magazine it says it was ‘that known in present as the Dolphin public house’ which is that known in present as White Stuff on the opposite corner.

Holy Cross church and ATTACHED Presbytery
This reminds me that I think the old Goat was rebuilt at some point, replaced by a new kid on the block. The photo that originally started this off is on Staffordshire Past Track and shows the Goats Head Tavern, apparently in the early 20th century (although it must be earlier as the sign outside shows the landlord as TA Carter, but the license was transferred from him to William Hill in June 1890) and the building in the picture looks significantly different to the one currently occupying the site.

You’ll have to look at the photo via this link as I have totes failed to embed it. https://www.search.staffspasttrack.org.uk/Details.aspx?ResourceID=6841

Talking of signs, I found a lovely article in the Lichfield Mercury from September 1970 on the Bower Brothers – Eric, John, Ted, Malcolm and David – whose dad Sydney, the son of a stonemason, had established a sign painting business in a 1920 in the backyard of a big Burton Brewery. The brothers had painted a sign for the Goats Head Inn but also the Bowling Green, The Malt Shovel, The Nelson, The Nag’s Head and many other pubs in the Lichfield and Burntwood area. Thirty hours of work produced one double sided sign, each one a unique piece of art which began with research into the name, and then a small watercolour painting submitted for approval, before being scaled up and transferred to wood. Eric kept a book of the designs from around Lichfield which would be a a wonderful thing to see, as would have been the exhibition of pub signs at the Bowling Green Inn in February 1949. The Bowling Green’s own sign back then showed Francis Drake finishing off his game before defeating the Spanish Armada and the article in the Lichfield Mercury says a new sign at the Three Crowns in Breadmarket Street depicted three warriors wearing their crowns (which sounds suspiciously like a reference to that old Lichfield legend of the three Christian kings buried up on Borrowcop) was also on display.

The Three Crowns was closed in the 1960s and converted to offices. At the time Mr Winterton the auctioneer whose firm were moving into the building said the emphasis was on renovation rather than reconstruction and so, like its neighbour the Goats Head, it’s yet another old Lichfield pub which is still there in body if not in spirits.

I’m really keen to do more on the pub signs of Lichfield and the surrounding area over the Christmas break, but even though I would really, really like to, I’m not going to be able to get round all of our fine hostelries before the end of the year. So if you are out and about enjoying festive frolics this Yuletide, and you spot an interesting sign, please do share a photo, either on Twitter @lichfieldlore or on the Lichfield Discovered FB page, or by emailing thelichfeldian@yahoo.co.uk. What do you think – anybody inn?

Sources:
‘Lichfield: Roman Catholicism and Protestant nonconformity’, in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14, Lichfield, ed. M W Greenslade (London, 1990), pp. 155-159

Lichfield Mercury Archive

Lichfield Safari Park

Yes I know I promised we were going on safari and we’re at yet another car park but bear with me. Whilst I was perusing some old history books looking for some information on Oxenbury Field, I found a number of other creatures featuring in the long list of lost places names. Golding’s Heron, Eagle Square by Gresley Row and Bird in Bushes up at Curborough. The latter was almost reinstated by the Housing Committee in 1957 but the suggestion ruffled a few feathers in the city council, with Cllr Wesley Hines chirping up to say ‘Accept this and we might as well have a Toad in the Hole Street too’. Was Cllr Hines was referring to the documented Toadshole Piece over at Christian Fields or just being a silly sausage?

I can’t resist a bit of whimsy and so it was a fantastic beast which leapt out at me and I was pretty sure I knew where to find it. And that is how I came to be standing in Sandford St car park looking for a unicorn. Until the middle of the last century and perhaps even more recently than that, the space behind what is now S&J Music on Bird St was known as Unicorn Yard. We know a little about some of those who lived there, particularly the ones who misbehaved. Percy Bolt, a cab driver employed at the Swan was fined a shilling for being drunk in charge of a horse and cab in Bird St on 9 April 1889. In January 1912, Arthur Osborne was summoned and fined for being drunk in Unicorn Yard. Later the same year, in July, he was back in court on charges of aiding and abetting Ellen Keenan who was charged with indecent conduct in a lane leading to Pipe Green. If ever the council are looking to name this lane, might I suggest calling it Toad in the Hole Street in their dishonour?

The remains of Unicorn Yard. Thanks to Steve from S&J Music for letting me take a look

The name Unicorn Yard came from a pub of the same name, described in 1933 by local historian JW Jackson as a very old and extensive inn standing next to the present Kings Head. It seems it had ceased to trade as an inn even by 1819, when Lomax and Newling wrote that the house next to the Kings Head Inn was a considerable inn known by the sign of the Unicorn and the large court surrounded by houses retains the name Unicorn Yard. Until fairly recently (although not quite as recently as the 1990s feel they should be), the yard was accessible from Bird St via an entry. It was only when I was stood outside S&J Music looking for signs of where this had been blocked up that I had a mental breakthrough. Was I actually looking at what had once been the Unicorn Inn? I checked the listed building description and given that it says that 23 Bird St probably dates to the 15th century with 18th century alterations, I realised that I probably was. Even more compelling was the Staffordshire HER description that beneath layers of modern plaster, 23 Bird St is a rectangular timber framed building, once probably jettied.

Bradshaws, once the Unicorn, now S&J Music. Pre-1991 alterations. Photo from Lichfield District Council collection

At this point I need to pop next door to the Kings Head for a minute which is easy enough to do as there is a door connecting the two buildings. No I hadn’t ever noticed it either.

Something I had noticed however was a plaque on the wall claiming that the entrance was part of the original timber framed building. As there was no mention of this in the listed building description which says the Kings Head was rebuilt as a coaching inn in the mid to late 18th century, I’d always taken this with the same pinch of salt as the story the pub was haunted by a laughing cavalier who had been murdered as he left the premises. The Staffordshire HER however, suggests that it shares a timber framed wall with the Unicorn (yes, that’s what I’m calling it now) which would make this plaque more accurate than I’d arrogantly given it credit for.

Thanks to Ransford for letting me take a look around. If we just painted over that number one… 😉

I shall therefore be generous with regard to the other sign in the entrance, pronouncing it to be ‘The Oldest Pub in Lichfield Circa 1408’. So generous in fact that I have put my scepticism aside to look into whether the Kings Head could in fact be the oldest pub in the whole of this sceptred isle (let us not concern ourselves with claims that it isn’t even the oldest pub in Lichfield). We know the Kings Head has at least 15th century origins, albeit under its original name of ‘The Antelope’ which is recorded as standing alongside the Unicorn in 1495. Some of the claims to be Britain’s oldest pub are based on similar documentary evidence, others seem to be based on the fact there is a sign outside saying that it is. So I have a cunning plan for getting the Kings Head crowned as the oldest pub in Britain. We could spend ages hunting through the archives for an earlier reference but let’s be honest, that would be wasting valuable drinking time. Why don’t we just make a new sign that says it dates back to 408? Sorry, what’s that Norwich? You have a pub which started as a brewhouse run by monks in 1249? Pah, we had Romans coming here when the Mansio in Letocetum closed after the fall of the empire. Would you Adam and Eve it, eh? Also, how many spires has your cathedral got? If enough of us repeat something enough times someone will write it down and then it’ll become a fact. Isn’t that how local history works?

I jest of course. We don’t need to make stuff up. The Kings Head is the proud home of the Staffordshire regiment and, serendipitously for a pub known as The Bush for a while, in 1830 was home to a gooseberry bush which became famous for cropping twice in one year. Before I call closing time on the subject for now, let’s just head back to the Unicorn for a moment. The Staffordshire HER suggests that at one time the building was used as an annex to the Kings Head and the idea of the two neighbouring inns effectively becoming one around the time that the Kings Head was transformed into a coaching inn seems to make sense. Which is probably more than can be said for most of this blog post…

Parks and Wreck Creation

This is the final part of my car park trilogy and I know you’ve all been desperate to find out where this multi-story ends. Will it be Bunkers Hill, with its supposed civil war connections or the Friary Inner or Outer which always makes me think of bellybuttons? I felt it only right to end at the home of civic car parking in Lichfield. Buckle up, we are going to the Council House Car Park (Saturdays and Sundays only).

Back in 2008, there was an article in the Birmingham Mail about how archaeologists investigating the car park had discovered part of the ditch which ran around the city from around 1130AD. The section they found here contained broken medieval pottery, leather and animal bones, including a medieval dog’s skull, confirming anecdotal accounts that it had doubled up as a public tip. Rather than being a defensive structure, the ditch is believed to have been dug to stop traders entering the city without paying a toll at one of the five gates – Bachunneswich (Beacon St), Sandford St, Stowe, Tamworth St and Culstubbe (St John’s St). It’s ironic that that the excavations which uncovered the section of the ditch which has been used as the town dump, were undertaken as part of the preparation for Friarsgate, which was of course intended to bring traders into the city but ended up being a load of rubbish.

The Old Grammar School was once a highly regarded establishment which prided itself on wisdom and knowledge. It is now home to Lichfield District Council

This section of the structure was known as the Castle Ditch. Back in the early 1800s, when digging the foundations for long disappeared cottages in Gresley Row, another section of it was discovered filled with the horns, skulls and bones of large quantities of cattle. Local lore has it that these are the remains of the two thousand oxen supposedly enjoyed by Richard II and guests during his Christmas food festival at Lichfield Castle in 1197. I’m guessing the bones are still there? We may not have kings under our car parks but we might have the remains of their dinner under the local branch of Argos.

In their ‘Short Account of the City and Close of Lichfield’, Lomax and Newling noted land adjoining this newly erected street was known as Oxenbury field, which may or may not be a coincidence. I’ve been trying to find out more about Oxenbury, including where exactly it was. Well, still is but we just don’t know it by that name any more. There are a few clues to be found. One account by J W Jackson in the Mercury in December 1945 describes it as being to the south of St John Street and stretching as far as Aldershawe and on John Speed’s 1610 map, he has drawn two giant Oxen on what I think must be the site of Oxenbury Field, which may or may not be a coincidence.

John Speed 1610 map of Lichfield

According to the Staffordshire HER there is documentary evidence of a cross of Bishop Walter (Langton?) in the area to the south of St John’s Hospital which I think might be the same one referred to in Harwood’s History and Antiquities as, ‘a cross in the hand at the end of Aldershaw or St John’s Lane, anciently Schoolhouse Lane’. The same HER entry also says there is documentary evidence of a duelling ground in the same area and so it seems that Oxenbury, or at least part of it, may have been used as a tournament field in medieval times. According to an article on Lichfield place names in the Mercury in September 1972, an area of land near to Chesterfield Rd was known as Soldiers’ Field and a John Jackson article from June 1944 says Oxenbury was used for military exercises and was also where archery was practised. I’m fighting to resist making too much of all this until I’ve managed to put a bit more flesh on the bones of it all but it’s certainly worth a bit more digging.

By the mid-16th century, Oxenbury Field became known as Castle (Ditch) Field. We know this because Leyland visited Lichfield and said something like, ‘There hath been a castle of ancient time but no part of it standeth. The place of the ditch is seen and it is yet called Castle field’. In an advertisement in the Mercury in June 1888, building land known as ‘Castle Ditch Ground’ or ‘Cherry Orchard’ was to be sold at auction at the Smithfield Hotel or as it became known a hundred years later, the Sozzled Sausage. Sadly I never got around to visiting to sample the boozy bangers before it was closed. The building has now been demolished but stood near to where the entrance to Tesco car park (two car parks for the price of one you lucky things!) and, as you may have guessed from the name, it was connected to a livestock market. Wonder if they sold oxen?

Understandably, place names such as Castle Ditch and Castle Field have given rise to speculation over the centuries that Lichfield did have some sort of castle on the south of the city in addition to the Cathedral Close, fortified by Bishop Clinton in the 12th century. A little further afield, we have Castle Croft near Chesterfield and the Roman settlement at Wall and I’m starting to suspect that the legendary Lichfield Castle may in fact be Letocetum.

D Horovitz suggests that ‘Ancient names with castle often mark what was, or was thought to be a castle in the conventional sense (e.g. Castle Church referring to Stafford Castle and Castle Croft near Chesterfield, named from substantial walls of Roman date), but often a prehistoric or later earthwork, from OE and OF castel, but sometimes from OE ceastel, ‘heap of stones’, often with archaeological interest. Hang on, a heap of stones with archaeological interest? That brings us nicely back to the car park and the Friarsgate, sorry, Birmingham Road site.

If you enjoyed the trip please do join me next time when inspired by Christopher Biggins and some old charity records (the archives kind, not the “Is this the way to Amarillo?’ by Tony ‘I was Waitrose’s most famous customer called Tony until someone saw that bloke from Spandau Ballet in there’ Christie & Peter Kay kind), we will be going on safari.

Sources: ‘Lichfield: The 19th century’, in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14, Lichfield, ed. M W Greenslade (London, 1990) Lichfield Mercury Archive https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/local-news/archaeologists-find-historic-ditch-in-lichfield-60115 The History and Antiquities of the Church and City of Lichfield, Rev T Harwood A Short Account of the City and Close of Lichfield, Lomaz and Newling Staffordshire HER Records A Survey and Analysis of the Place-Names of Staffordshire’ by David Horovitz, LL. B https://www.thecaterer.com/archive/not-such-silly-sausages

Parking Mad

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?

Market St, Lichfield July 2019

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.

Credit: Complete contemp. history of Cock Lane Ghost. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

Car Parkaeology

Amongst the slightly more leftfield Lichfield Discovered ideas me and a comrade have had, is lurking at various places where there is a wondrous story to be told, and regaling unsuspecting passers-by with it. However, we thought people might think we were a bit creepy if we did that and so we put the brakes on that idea. Instead you’ll have to hear about how fascinating one of Lichfield’s car parks is from the safety of your own home, rather than have me leap out at you from a pay and display machine whilst you are trying to remember your registration number.

Cross Keys. Ye oldest evidence for ye olde city?

So, if I haven’t driven you away yet, then let’s head over to Cross Keys car park. Or is it Lombard Street? To be honest, we probably all still call it Carol’s anyway because ‘the superstore with a whole lot more’ was only demolished about two years ago, and I still hear Bird St car park being called Woolies when it’s been gone for at least ten. Anyway, evidence of Lichfield’s oldest building was uncovered here and I call that momentous. The time between the last days of Letocetum, abandoned in the 5th century and the arrival of St Chad in Lichfield in the 7th century and the relationship between the two sites has always intrigued me. The ‘stone-built post-Roman structure’ discovered at Cross Keys during excavations in 2007/8 incorporated masonry from a ‘substantial Roman building’ and this along with a construction date of 5th to 7th century, seems to provide a link between the two times and places. The Cross Keys building is believed to have been continuously occupied from AD 400 to AD 950, with the post Roman structure later being replaced by a sunken feature building known as a Grubenhaus when it burned down.

It’s also important because it’s evidence of an early settlement of some sort at Lichfield and it has been suggested that St Chad came to Lichfield as there was already a church or religious community here. We know that there was Christianity in the area based on the discovery of a 4th century bronze bowl with a Chi-Rho symbol in a grave at Wall. There is something else too, something that I’ve been avoiding for years because, frankly I thought it was as bonkers as my idea to recreate all of the statues in Lichfield using plasticine but it turns out it isn’t. There is a seventh century poem called ‘The Death Song of Cynddylan’ which recalls three battles fought by Prince Cynddylan of Powys. One of these was at a place called ‘Caer Luitcoed’, which translates to ‘the fortified grey wood’ or, as everyone, including proper historians, who has translated the poem calls it- Lichfield. Here’s the relevant extract:

My heart burns like a firebrand.
I enjoyed the wealth of their men and women.
They could not repay me enough.
I used to have brothers. It was better when they were
the young whelps of great Arthur, the mighty defender.
Before Lichfield they caused gore beneath the ravens and fierce attack
Lime-white shields were shattered before the sons of Cynddylan.
I shall lament until I would be in the land of my resting place for the slaying of Cynddylan, famed among chieftains.
Grandeur in battle, extensive spoils
Moriel bore off before Lichfield
1500 cattle from the front of battle,
80 stallions and equal harness.
The chief bishop wretched in his four-cornered house
The book clutching monks did not protect
those who fell in the battle before the splendid warrior.

So, if the poem is to be believed, Cynddylan’s mate Moriel plundered Lichfield, taking 1,500 cattle and 80 horses. The bookish monks were no match for the Welshmen (sometimes the pen just isn’t mightier than the sword unfortunately) and I think we can deduce from ‘gore beneath the ravens’ that this was a bloody affair. There is some debate around who the battle was actually between given that Cynddylan was a Mercian ally but that’s probably one for discussion in front of a fire over a goblet of mead. For now, let’s just focus on the fact that there appears to have been a battle at or near Lichfield in which religious men were slaughtered. Am I clutching at straws (eco friendly paper ones obvs) or does this not sound a bit like it might be where the Field of the Dead legend may have originated? You, know the one where early converts to Christianity were massacred by pagans and their bodies ‘left unburied, a prey to the birds and beasts of the forest’, an image that it doesn’t take too much imagination to get to from ‘gore beneath the ravens’. And what about those finds over at Toads Hole Piece (a meadow adjoining Christian Fields, near Pones Mill) in the early 19th century which included ‘a considerable quantity of human bone’ and ‘various piece of earthenware, some of which are Roman’? Yet I keep reading that there is no evidence that a massacre ever took place and it’s just a legend. It seems to me that this might just be a bit too dismissive and actually, maybe Robert Plot wasn’t just making it up after all but the story had become confused, as they often do. Or maybe I’ve just become confused as now I’m not quite sure how I got from Cross Keys to Christian Fields. Please do tell me if I’m losing the plot…

The Martyrs Plaque in Beacon Park is one of several places you can see an interpretation of the city shield which features the legend of the massacred martyrs

In the meantime, I’m off to the Fuse festival. Don’t worry, I won’t jump out on you and try to tell you the history of Bunker’s Hill cark park whilst you are waiting in the queue for the beer tent. Promise.

Sources:

https://finds.org.uk/staffshoardsymposium/papers/alexjones
Lichfield EUS Report Final

Some Place-Names in the Immediate Area of the Staffordshire Hoard Mattias Jacobsson (Jönköping University)

A Load of Old Bull

I have beer in my my blood. Literally, because I’m drinking a bottle of Backyard Blonde whilst writing this and metaphorically, as an ancestor of mine called Organ, ran an ale house in Cirencester called the Three Cocks. Stop sniggering at the back.

Perhaps this is why I love a bit of pub history, particularly when it is overflowing with stories and legends. If you want to know where the best beer is you’ll need the CAMRA guide, if you want to know where some of the best stories are, here’s an extract from the Cardigan guide, where a well kept past is as important as a well kept pint.

The Bull’s Head in Shenstone dates to the mid eighteenth century and was originally a house. It later became an inn and was also used for petty court sessions and, in the 1970s, then landlord George Waite told the Lichfield Mercury that he’d heard that one of the cellars had been used as a cell. Mr Waite said he’d seen curious niches, chains and shackles in a sealed underground vault which he believed supported the story. Sounds like my kind of lock-in… Anyway, an example of the kind of cases dealt with at the petty sessions is that of Thomas Flanagan and Mary Walsh, who were brought before J S Manley Esq and the Rev TOB Floyer, after they were accused by a Hammerwich farmer of stealing turnips. Flanagan, who had ironically been appointed to watch that the turnips weren’t stolen, was sentenced to 14 days hard labour and Mary was sent to gaol for three days. There is also the shocking tale of the besom maker’s brush with the law. He or she was fined for cutting birch saplings in Weeford Park as a caution to others, as this kind of theft and trespass by travelling besom makers had become prevalent. Whilst reported sightings of a grey lady at the inn may be suspect, there have been definite sightings of the Chocolate Soldier. In 1969, the landlord of the pub was approached by someone who wanted to use the stables at the back for a pony and despite Chocolate Soldier being teetotal, he often trotted into the bar on a Sunday lunchtime.

The Pig on Tamworth St in Lichfield was originally the Acorn, its name apparently being taken from an oak tree growing outside the original pub which was knocked down and rebuilt. I know that this took place in around 1909, as in November that year, the Lichfield Mercury reported that Frederick Cope from George Lane fell into a hole caused by the work and fractured his ankle. In the 1970s, the Acorn was threatened with demolition as Allied Breweries wanted to build shops on the site. Shortly after these plans were announced, tales of paranormal activity at the pub emerged. Theresa Bird, who worked behind the bar, revealed that she’d had strange dreams of a man dressed in black who then turned up at the pub but disappeared as she went to serve him. Landlord Les Hine informed her that it was Fred and his presence in the pub had been witnessed by himself, other members of staff and customers on many occasions, reading the paper and sometimes throwing things around (which to be fair to Fred is sometimes what I feel like doing after reading the paper). Whether due to supernatural or market forces, The Acorn was not felled although in 1988, it was renamed as The Pig and Truffle due to the presence of Percy (a two foot pottery pig) and chocolate truffles, which you got if you ordered a coffee. Percy the pig, who was described as normally being dressed in a waistcoat, flatcap and glasses (although that wording implies he may have had other outfits) later disappeared and I’d like to think it was Fred’s way of protesting against the nonsensical name change. In the meantime, two derelict buildings next door had been converted into a Wetherspoons, and John Shaw, author of the Old Pubs of Lichfield book, successfully campaigned for it to acquire the name of The Acorn, as a tribute to its neighbour’s former identity. Recently, the popularity of the once packed Pig and Truffle had dwindled but earlier this year it gained a brilliant new owner. The Pig is now run by the Derby Brewing Company, and it’s fantastic to see the place rammed.

The Whittington Arms on the Tamworth Rd was once the clubhouse for the Whittington Barracks Golf Club, and prior to that a house for high ranking officers from Whittington Barracks. Between 1959 and 1998, it was home to the Lochranza kennels which bred cocker spaniels. It’s the cats I’m most interested in though. In the 1970s, workmen found the remains of four of them in the foundations of the building and passed them on to a car salesman at the garage next door. In his opinion, they had been placed in there already dead but were they accidentally trapped or a ritual offering? Those of you thinking the latter is too far fetched need to brush up on your Greek and do a bit of research into apotropaic magic. Removing your defences against the dark arts is always foolhardy move, leaving your premises vulnerable to all sorts of malevolent forces, as the landlord of the pub discovered in 1993 when a 12 foot inflatable castle was stolen from outside the pub. This may or may not have been modelled on the present Whittington Heath Golf Course which was built as the grandstand for the racecourse which moved here from Fradley Common in 1702. The last race meeting was held on 14th March 1895 and the racecourse is now the golf course although I’ve read the finishing post is still in situ. Oh and I’ll just mention that in the 18th century there was a riot at the racecourse during the course of which a dancing master whipped a Duke. Round of crazy golf anyone?

Ye Olde Windmill in Gentleshaw is believed to be four hundred years old and takes its name from an olde windmill in the beer garden. Less obviously, there is a well with a giant eel in it somewhere in the grounds. Actually, the Eel in the Well would be a great name for a pub. Better than the Pig and Truffle anyway. In the 1970s, a tradition developed where regulars would bring the landlord Len Banks models of mills for him to display in the bar. In ‘The Friendship of Cannock Chase’, written in 1935 by Cllr Mac Wright who wrote under the name ‘Pitman’, he describes how a Mr Bonehill, keeper of the Windmill Tavern refused to acknowledge the local lordship of the Pagets of Beaudesert and tells the story of when the old Marquis of Anglesey (suspect this may have been the 13th Lord Paget) heard about this and visited Bonehill to ask if the rumours were true. Hopefully, Bonehill’s curt response, “They speak the truth my Lord. Good morning”, took the wind right out of the aristocrat’s sails.

The Nelson Inn at Cresswell Green, Burntwood was refurbished in 1972, and there were rumours that the builders had discovered that some of the beams had originated from a 15th century shipwreck. It’s a story that washes up over and over again in relation to old buildings, but there is no watertight evidence anywhere to suggest that timber from ships was ever used in the construction of any building, including the Nelson. Reuse of timber from other buildings was common however, and so perhaps the builders found evidence of this but were in a maritime frame of mind due to the pub’s name? Some bonaparte fide nautical curios were added to the fixtures and fittings however, including a cannon from Portsmouth Dockyards which was fired on special occasions until it was stolen in 1985, and to celebrate the refurbishment and reopening, a telegram of congratulations was received from HMS Victory and its captain LCdr Hardy.

If I may, I’d like end with some advice for all you good, good people during these turbulent times? Go to the Bull’s Head/The Pig/The Whittington Arms/The Wiindmill/The Nelson/any of the other fine hostelries and inns we have in and around Lichfield and wait for all of this to blow over. And to all you bad people? Don’t steal things from pubs. Or turnips.

Sources:

Townships: Wall with Pipehill’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990)

Shrouded in Mystery

Waking up to a blanket of thick fog this morning put me in the mood to share an update on the lost chapel of Longdon Green and, in particular, the mysterious gravestone which seemed to appear out of thin air.

You may recall that the chapel had been built in the late 17th century and was demolished in the 1960s to make way for the A51 flyover. You may also recall that in Summer 2018, my attempt to see if anything was left of it was thwarted by vegetation (and if you don’t, the original post is here). Whilst waiting for it to die off, I read that three years after the chapel had been torn down, a lone gravestone had inexplicably turned up at the site. A week after reading that, my mate ‘Betsy’ and I inevitably turned up at the site to see if it is still there. It is.

Investigations by the Birmingham Daily Post in June 1969 failed to discover who had erected the stone and why. The Vicar of Longdon said he only knew that it had appeared by the A51. Staffordshire County Council thought it might have been something to do with the construction company who had damaged a tombstone whilst carrying out the demolition of the chapel but a spokesman for them said, “I don’t know anything about it”.

Investigations by me in February 2019 have failed to uncover any further details about the life of William Edwards, and the story of why someone chose to quietly erect this monument to him two hundred years after his death and three years after the demolition of the chapel where he had served as a clerk remains shrouded in mystery. The explanation may lie buried somewhere in the archives somewhere but fifty years on, I suspect that it has most likely been lost in the mists of time.

Unless you know any different….