I spotted a place labelled Bessy Banks’ Grave on the 1815 Ordnance Survey drawing of Lichfield by Robert Dawson 1815.
Immediately, I thought of the story of Kitty Jay on Dartmoor. A little investigation has revealed a few details. In ‘History of the City and Cathedral of Lichfield’ by John Jackson (1805), I found the following;
“…of Betsy Banks grave* once the famous rendezvous of lovers….now no more is remembered than that poor Betsy is said to have fallen victim to hapless love.
*there is a spot in a field in Lichfield still distinguished by that name”
Anna Seward wrote to her friend Honora Sneyd about the place in a letter dated May 1772, that she described as ‘Written in a summer evening from the grave of a suicide’. I’ve only included the first part as its quite long.
“It suits the temper of my soul to pour
Fond, fruitless plaints beneath the lonely bower,
Here, in this silent glade, that childhood fears,
Where the love-desperate maid, of vanish’d years,
Slung her dire cord between the sister trees,
That slowly bend their branches to the breeze,
And shade the bank that screens her mouldering form,
From the swart Dog-Star, and the wintry storm….”
Another reference can be found in one of David Garrick’s letters. He wrote that “the name Dimble is given to a sunken road leading north from Lichfield past a spot, supposedly haunted called Betty Honks Grave. Two sister trees form an elegant arch over a stream”.
By 1791, it was found that the sister trees had been recently cut down.
So who was Bessy Banks, did she really exist? If so, is her grave still there, now unmarked and unremembered?
I recently had the St Chad’s tithe map (1849) out in Lichfield Record Office, looking for something else. A whole plot of land is listed as ‘Bessy Banks’. Born a Lichfeldian has kindly worked out where the stream in this area would have been. Taking into account this and the tithe map it seems that ‘Bessy Banks’ was somewhere in the region between Dimbles Lane and Greencroft.
John Jackson’s description suggects that in 1805 the story is already an old one. It does seem a fairly well-known tale, to have actual places on maps marked after it, as well as being mentioned by Garrick (albeit with the name Betty Honks!) & Seward. Was it just a made-up story, or did it arise from actual events? I wonder when (and why?) the people of Lichfield stopped telling the story? Or could there even still be people who could tell us the tragedy of Lichfield’s ‘love-desperate maid?’
A notice in the Lichfield Mercury 20th February 1914 lists a lot for sale as garden land, known as Bessy Banks, adjoining a plot of arable land let by T Chapman and located next to Gaiafields House and Gaia Fields Cottage.