Down yon meridian fields afar
When Mercia led her chiefs to war,
Fell in one hour three monarchs brave,
And Lichfield’s bower protects their grave.
Her stately spires amidst the skies
Ting’d by the orient sun arise,
With golden vanes invite the gale,—
Triumphant ladies of the vale!
Extract from Needwood Forest by Francis Noel Clark Monday
Over the centuries, there has been a succession of structures on Borrowcop Hill. There’s the (possible) Saxon Fort mentioned in my Lichfield Castle post; something called the Temple in the late 1600s; an arbour in the 1720s replaced by a summerhouse and finally the Gazebo that is still there today. It was also the site of beacons, lit to warn of invasions. It’s hardly surprising given the views.
Lichfield tradition says Borrowcop is the final resting place of three Christian Kings, slain together with their outclassed army by the Romans in the time of the heathen Emperor Diocletian (around 288AD). In John Jackson’s version of the legend, the bodies of the Kings were, “burnt and heaped upon a hill, according to the ancient custom of burial after a battle, and covered with a mound of earth, or tumulus, where, probably if dug into, the urns and ashes will be still discovered”. However, a series of explorations have found no evidence of burials, although an anonymous source from 1819 is recorded as saying Erasmus Darwin recovered burnt fragments of bone from the site.
The legend gave rise to the theory that Lichfield meant ‘Field of the Dead’. Perhaps being far more evocative than the currently accepted explanation for the name of ‘common pasture beside grey wood’, the ‘Field of the Dead’ theory still persists today.
Lichfield was incorporated by the protestant King Edward VI in 1548. The following year, the city corporation chose to depict the ‘Martyrs’ legend on the city seal. It’s been suggested that the corporation was keen to disassociate Lichfield from the Catholic connotations of St Chad. (The Victoria County History tells us that a previous seal is believed to have been a Bishop (presumably St Chad), with two angels either side and the Cathedral in the background).
You can still find the ‘Three Kings’ seal on the St John St railway bridge. The legend is also portrayed on the the Martyrs Plaque, which originally adorned the front of the old Guildhall in 1707. The plaque was moved to a rockery in Beacon Park after the Guildhall’s victorian restoration. After years of decay, the plaque was restored in 2010 and now stands in the Rose Gardens in Beacon Park.
|St John’s railway bridge
|Martyrs Plaque, Beacon Park (from Wikipedia)
History of the City & Cathedral of Lichfield by John Jackson
English Heritage Past Scape
‘Lichfield: Town government’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990)Public Sculpture of Staffordshire & the Black Country by George Thomas Noszlopy, Fiona Waterhouse
South Staffordshire Archaeological & History Society Transactions