A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by Vickie Sutton. Vickie is from a family with some amazing connections to Lichfield. She believes it’s vital that the wonderful memories and stories that have been passed down to her are recorded, and shared with other people, so that they don’t get lost and forgotten.
Lichfield is of course famous for having three spires but it seems that the central spire has had all sorts of problems! It was destroyed in 1646 during the civil war and was restored in 1666. Between 1788 and 1795 it was restored again with further work being carried out in 1892/3.
In 1949 there was trouble with the spire again. The Dean reported that in high wind, the ball and cross were moving. An architect, Mr George Pace, was consulted and gave a verdict that came as a shock to the Dean. Due to corrosion of the iron anchors and cramps, and weathering of the mortar, the spire was in such bad condition that the last 11 feet could be shook by hand. It would need to be repaired immediately. Mr Pace later described how in his view, a delay in the work could have resulted in the spire crashing through the cathedral roof. More than 20ft of the spire had to be pulled down and rebuilt. The Dean was unwilling to finance the work with a bank loan believing that it would have been ‘lazy, and stupid, and unsound finance’ and turned instead to the public, launching the ‘Lichfield Spire Repair Fund’. As Christmas 1949 drew near, the Dean urged people donate suggesting it would be a ‘glorious Christmas present’ for the Cathedral. Eventually, the cost of the work amounted to more than £9,000 and the amount was raised by people, not just from Lichfield but from all over the country.(2)
Twenty-two stone courses were removed from the spire to Bridgeman’s premises on Quonians Lane, where they were either replaced or redressed.
A new cross was designed by the architect George Pace, and incorporated the Jerusalem motif, found on the Cathedral Arms. The ball (2 foot in diameter) was taken down and was found to contain several rolls of parchment and a ½ oz of twist (tobacco) and the remains of half a pint of beer! One of the parchments told how the ball and cross had been taken down for repair and re-gilded on 12th September 1893 and was signed by the Rt Rev The Honourable Augustus Legge. The second parchment had a list of those holding civic office at the time and also the signatures of the men engaged in the work. It was on this list that the name Henry Hatchett, labourer appeared. (3)
The scrolls from 1893 were placed in the archives and replaced with a new scroll inscribed with the names of those holding civic office in 1949/50 and once again, the names of those carrying out the work. The ball was re-gilded with two layers of the finest double English gold leaf. This was carried out in situ by Mr George Kingsland from Birmingham. On 19th June 1950, a celebratory meal was held in the Swan Hotel by the Dean & Chapter, to which everyone involved in the work on the spire was invited. Vickie’s family remember there being some sort of grand unveiling of the new cross and ball, but I haven’t been able to locate any details regarding this yet. (4)
I love this story as it shows that even the most well-known of our buildings can still have secrets! I wonder if the addition of the beer and tobacco was an authorised one? Also, does anyone know where the old parchements are stored?
I really want to thank Vickie for sharing this. We are working on some more of her brilliant family stories at the moment, but in the meantime check out this link and enjoy some of the views from that troublesome central spire.
1 & 4 The Annals of a Century: Bridgemans of Lichfield 1878 – 1978 by O Keyte
2 & 3Lichfield Mercury Archives accessed at Lichfield Record Office