Kings of Lichfield

Borrowcop Gazebo
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)

 


Sources:
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
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16 thoughts on “Kings of Lichfield

  1. Lichfield interpreted as the “Field of Blood” I feel dates back some 400 hundred years before Saint Chad. You may wish to look up the “Thousand Holy Martyrs of Lichfield”. This history has been fiercely debated by historians over the years. In about 303AD the Roman emperor Diocletian slaughtered Christians returning from a pilgrimage to Wales under the leadership of Saint Amphibalus which gave the name “Field of Blood”. Saint Amphibalus survived and I think died in Verulamium, St Alban, Hertfordshire. St Amphibalus was a cleric originally under St Alban and I think saved his life whilst disguising himself as Saint Alban. The site of the massacre has been debated also and it is written by some that the final resting place of the Martyrs is on the hill where St Michael’s Graveyard is today. It is interesting that to the west of Lichfield can be found the Abnalls Lane. Re arrange “Abnalls” to get S Allban!

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      • No I didn’t realise! Thanks – will have a look. Probably because it’s suffered from vandalism etc in the past, or perhaps its become structurally unsafe?

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      • There isn’t a fence around the Gazebo. I happen to go to the school which is near by and the back of my house connects to Gazebo Alley leading to the Gazebo. Love this website so much.

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      • Thanks so much, I’m really glad you like it! It must be great to have such a mysterious place at the back of your house. It’s one of the places in Lichfield that really fascinates me and I’d love to know the true story behind it. Maybe we’ll learn the secrets of Borrowcop one day but until then we’ll have to be happy with legends of dead Kings!

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    • I was led to believe that the massacre was off Dimbles Lane. The area of Bloomfeild Crescent was known as ‘Christian Fields’ . when I moved there in the early 60s – behind the block of flats known as Garrick House the farm land was still undeveloped and there was a large crater like hole on the ground which was supposed to be the open mass grave good the bodies.

      The area was also meant to be haunted – any time then land was disturbed (I.e. for building) there would be reports of visions

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  2. Pingback: Friars on the Run | Lichfield Lore

  3. I think you have to look a little way out of the city for the site which gave Lichfield its name – “Caer Lwytgoed”, or in its Romanised form, “Letocetum”, and the “Battle” and “Martyrs” theories are back-formations, and thus probably wrong.

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    • Thanks Ian. You can see why people want the Field of the Dead intepretation to be the correct one. It’s very evocative and dramatic! Think legends are a really interesting part of our history, and I find the whole balance of fact vs fiction in history fascinating. For example, I’ve just been writing more about secret underground tunnels – classic urban myth territory!

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  4. On version of the 3 kings I heard was told that their name were Barrow, Cop and Hill, hence the name of the site.

    I believe e a trial excavation was undertaken in the late 1800’s but nothing was found.

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  5. There was an area down Dimbles Lane called Christian Fields. When I moved into Garrick House (Bloomfield Crescent) in the early 60’s the farmland behind the building was still undeveloped and there was a large crater that was supposed to be the open grave for the massacred Christians. The lqndnwas supposed to be haunted and manifestations occurred whenever the land was disturbed.

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