I may be wrong but I’m assuming that there aren’t many libraries which have a 14th century tombstone embedded in their wall. I couldn’t quite believe that Lichfield library did either and so after watching the Queen travel up Bird St to the Cathedral, it was time for the really exciting part of yesterday to commence! Sorry Ma’am.
I was reading a copy of ‘Hyacinths and Haricot Beans: Friary School Memories’ by Jean Bird. The book tells of a slab from a tomb found during renovations in 1926 being incorporated in the Friary building itself, which of course housed the school prior to its move to Eastern Avenue.
Checking the site’s listed building description confirmed this:
“…window to right of entrance has ex-situ gravestone of C14 or earlier below: calvary cross fleury and worn inscription to Richard the Merchant, found in 1746”
Another fairly recent reference was the Public Monument and Sculpture Association National Recording Project which described the stone as being placed ‘at the rear of Tamworth & Lichfield College, set into the wall by founder’s door’.
At the rear? Well, at least that would explain how I managed to visit at least once a week, without noticing a large tombstone embedded into the wall. In fact, once I got to the back of the building and the founder’s door, it was clear that few would notice the stone. Partially obscured by a shrub, a faint carving of a cross can be detected. Time and weather have not treated the stone well.
A trip to the Staffs Past track website reveals a drawing of the stone as it was around 250 years ago. It seems the stone was found in 1746 and then somehow lost and then rediscovered in 1926! Bulldozers working on the new Friary Road in the 1920s cut through the site of the Grey Friars cemetery. One of the contributors to the Friary School book recalls the bones that were uncovered being reburied ‘in the site opposite’. Perhaps that’s where the remains of Richard are today.
Whilst round the back of the library, I also discovered the wonderful Monk’s Walk garden, which I shall do a separate post on. Something else I hadn’t noticed on all of my visits to the library. That’s one of the things with Lichfield, you just never know what’ll turn up next……
In ‘A Topographical History of Staffordshire ed. William Pitt’ (1817), I came across a description of how the tombstone turned up in 1746. Apparently on October 14th of that year, Mr Michael Rawlins was living at the Friary and was building a wall with a gate. Whilst digging the foundations, he found the grave stone about 6 foot under the surface with a coffin and bones underneath it. He placed the stone in a niche in the wall of the stables.
Hyacinths and Haricot Beans: Friary School Memories 1892 – 1992 by Jean Bird
From: ‘Lichfield: Education’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 170-184. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=42354 Date accessed: 20 July 2011.
Public Monument and Sculpture Association National Recording Project