The Tombstone at Lichfield Library

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’.

Anyone passing would never notice the stone....

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.

The fading stone

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……

Edit 29/8/2011

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.

 Sources:

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.

http://lichfielddc.limehouse.co.uk/portal/planning/conservation_area_appraisals/lichfieldcaa?

http://www.staffspasttrack.org.uk

Public Monument and Sculpture Association National Recording Project

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20 thoughts on “The Tombstone at Lichfield Library

  1. Ah, I love finding things like that! Quite a lot of older houses in Cumbria have lintels carved with the original owner’s name, which is quite nice. Here in the Eden Valley we have sandstone, like you, and they can be very weathered on the windward side. Most of the sandstone gravestones in our local church are barely legible, and many of them aren’t much like their original shape, either! Modern headstones here are made from slate as a result.

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    • Sandstone – looks good but doesn’t seem too practical! That’s interesting about the lintels. There’s something about things carved into stone or wood. Maybe because it’s a real physical connection between a person and a place. I’m not quite sure…

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  2. Pingback: Further afield – some great local history sites « BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog

    • Ask away Tom! That’s also part of the old Friary – the road was opened in 1928 & cut the site in half! Outrageous! It’s now a scheduled ancient monument. Friars Alley running across the top of the garden marks the northern boundary of the site. The slabs mark out where somes of the old walls of the Friary, including the cloister would have been. The building with the columns is actually a portico from the demolished house Shenstone Court and was brought to the site in 1937. The Friary’s cemetery was discovered at 1 Bird St, which would make it somewhere around the Gatehouse!

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  3. Your blog is such a great find Kate.

    I’m a former pupil of the (old)Friary School and remember the Monk’s Walk (reputed by us girls to be haunted of course!) very well. It was a privelege of 6th formers to walk there – as was using the Founder’s Door.

    You may be interested in a FaceBook group, called “You probably come from Lichfield if . .” where we are currently discussing a book by one Jean Bird (who may be the Jean Bird who attended the Friary School when I did). The book is called “Hyacinth and Haricot Beans: Memories of the Friary School, Lichfield, 1892 -1992).

    There used to be a remnant of an ancient stone arch in the lacrosse field which was blissfully ignored but I don’t know if it has survived the last round of development.

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    • January 29th 2013
      Wow! long lost names rang some bells. Whilst researching ‘The Friary’ for Family History, I came across Kate’s article and then your reply; the name Jean Bird really set the bells ringing as did the names of Miss MacGuiness, (hated lacrosse) Stone (less so) but defintley Miss Gent. I vividly remember having to kneel down prior to some morning Assemblies to have the length of our gym slips measured; woe betide anyone if they were shorter than the required 2inches above the knee! I can also remember shoe bags (blue I think); indoor and outdoor shoes; walking in crocodile procession to the Cathedral at the beginning of each school year; a grand staricase leading to the Hall and the classical music played every morning just before Miss Gent processed through the Hall to hold Assembly; many of those pieces are still amongst my favourites. You must have attended The Friary around about the same time as I did – although I never reached 6th Form; I left after 2 years (1948-1950) becasue I moved to Tamworth and the Girls High School there. My 2 ‘best friends’ were a Valerie Richards and Iona (Ilona ?) Smith. Would you remmber their names? Will certainly follow up Jean’s book. Eileen Levett (Windle)

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      • Brought back more memories of attending the Friary. I attended about 1953/4 to 1960 time. The same teachers were still there. I had the ‘pleasure’ of selecting the music each morning and wrote the title on a chalk board for the students to see.

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  4. P.S. Your pictures bring back such memories. The class room with the tombstone inset was called s4 – I think – or s2 -in my day and was the domain of the dreaded Miss MacGuinness, who also was head of the boarding house, Westgate (just past the old library). Above S4 was a room called s2 I think, which was my form room for a while. I remember dropping cutlery tied to a string of ties from the upper window to generate some disruption in a lesson going on beneath us. I may have my roomnumbering mixed up – perhaps someone can help me. The vice-head, Miss Stone, kept a rose garden outside the Founders Door. She used to occasionally bring her spaniel, named Gelder Rose, to school with her. All very quirky I suppose, but it seemed entirely normal, especially as – as late as the 1970’s – we girls were expected to curtsey to her and Miss Gent, the Headmistress.

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    • Hi Debs, Thanks for taking the time to comment. It’s great to read your memories of the Friary, thanks for sharing them. The arch is still there, over by the college. I do love Monks Walk and it’ll be great to see it in Spring. I do pop into the facebook group from time to time, it’s a fascinating place 🙂 Cheers, Kate

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    • Great to read this – certainly brings back some memories! I was at the Friary from 1963 – 1970, and a boarder at Westgate.

      I think the old archway you refer to was in the hedged-off bit of the Monks’ Garden, in between the main bit of the school field and the far end, off to the left. I visited Lichfield a few years ago and was pleased to see bits of the old grounds still surviving around the old building; I didn’t notice the arch, but I can’t believe anyone would have been allowed to demolish it.

      One thing I can’t accept, though, Debs, is the bit about curtseying to Miss Gent and Miss Stone. I am fairly sure Miss Gent retired around 1970 anyway (Mr Riggulsford was head by 1971), and in my 7 years at the school before that, I definitely never had to curtsey to anyone, or not physically, anyway! Except… dim memory – were we required to bob a bit of a curtsey when receiving awards at prize-giving (not that that happened to me often)? It may just have happened then. But definitely not otherwise!

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  5. Pingback: Underneath The Arches | Lichfield Lore

  6. Hi Gill

    I remember your name very well – I guess you were a year or two above me? About the the curtseying: I have to say it is stuck firmly in my mind because, the year I started (1968) for reasons unknown to we new girls, we were taught to pause and bob a curtsey to Miss Gent if she passed us when we were in a corridor for example. Miss MacGuiness ran a session on ‘how to curtsey’ and monitored it. We stopped doing it as soon as we were bold enough.. probably during our first term so it may have been a bizarre and one-off experiment but for sure, it sticks in my mind! It still galls my old buddy Nella Harrison (nee Fenella Bartram) so I feel safe in saying my memory isn’t playing tricks.

    Miss Gent retired after I left, and I left the school in 1972. I found this from the History of the County of Stafford
    “in 1971 the school became a mixed comprehensive. The first stage of a large school in Eastern Avenue, named Friary Grange, was opened in 1973 and the older pupils were moved to it.”

    I’m still in regular touch with some Lichfield gals, and one of our former school mates who lives in Australia.

    Debs

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  7. Oh my goodness! I’m drenched in nostalgia, after reading the foregoing. I can’t quite remember how I got here, but I do remember my years at the Friary (1951-57) and the weirdness of it all as I look back from here. The Praying Hands picture in Miss Gent’s office (where one was sent for bad behaviour deemed beyond a simple ‘default’), and having to kneel by her desk as she prayed that we would be ‘good’. And Miss George, her long-suffering secretary, appearing at the classroom door with her little notebook in case she forgot who she’d been sent to fetch.

    I think S4 was the Scripture Room — next to the Geography Room. Was S2 the Music room, downstairs? Or were they the other way round? I had no idea the building sported any artefacts — I do remember that only 6th formers were allowed to use the Founders’ Door, and only teachers used the front door. We ‘plebs’ came and went through the ‘Tunnel’ and out the back door.

    Curtsying to Misses Gent and Stone hadn’t been invented by the time I left, but I can well see them thinking it was a super idea. I’ll never lose the image of MIss Gent trundling pompously into morning prayer to the strains of (what was then, erroneously, listed as Purcell’s) trumpet voluntary on the first day of term. All the same, I was always grateful for the classical music start to each day.

    Remember MIss Gawley? Miss Hutton, Mrs Morgan (nee Brookes), Miss Constable, Miss Bloomfield, Miss Petter, Miss Poxon, Miss Martin, Miss Wagstaff (plaits curled round her ears)? And of course Miss MacGuiness and Miss Pipe and Miss Stone. Terrifying ladies!

    I remember Valerie Richards too. I think her best friend was Arlene Jeffries. They were a form or two above me.

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  8. OMG, what memories, I started my years at The Friary in 1963 (I was Lyn Baines then) I went from a small village school, The Dyott County Primary School in Whittington, to what seemed to me a huge city school after passing my 11+. I was raised on a farm opposite Whittington Barracks & I found I struggled for a long time with headaches caused by traffic fumes as the school was situated on a crossroads. I can’t imagine there could have been much traffic in 1963, but it certainly adversely affected me! I remember being terrified of the triumvirate of Miss Gent, Miss Stone & Miss MacGuiness. Miss Gent being the person you hoped you would never come in proximity to……..sitting cross legged in the Hall for assembly after filing in, in form order. Hearing Miss Gent as she walked in (she had rather swollen legs & her feet came out of her shoes slightly as she walked & you could hear a sigh of air as they went back in again) Tiny Miss Stone, who you also dreaded, who rose to her full height imperiously if you were called to face her. The Miss MacGuiness, head of PE, who walked with a rolling gait like a sailor on the high seas! I see no mention of the school hymn, written by Miss Gent, or marching to the Doges March on I think was prize giving. Standing in our form rooms whilst the school orchestra started playing, marching in time as we had practised (it seemed endlessly) in preparation. I can still hear the “Left, left, left”, muttered under our breaths as quietly as we could, as we marched out of our rooms to the stairs & down to the hall, all clad in grey gym slips, red & white striped shirts & grey socks ( only 6th formers were allowed to wear tights or stockings) Those awful threepenny bit shaped courdurouy berrets we put as far back on our heads as possible, secured by numerous hair grips. They were not my happiest memories, too much rigidity for a 60’s teenager, I stuck one term of 6th Form, then completed my studies at Tamworth College of Further Education…….I can smile at it all now though…..even the bit when I had my school badge physically torn from my blazer by Miss Gent herself, in Assembly, alongside two other friends, because we had played truant for one day. As you had to earn your badge, this meantstarting all over again!

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  9. Definitely no curtseying required in my time at The Friary. 1958-1965. I remember Gill Bullen and was also a boarder at Westgate. The regime seems so dated now and even the was probably clinging to past practices somewhat pointlessly. Mac (Miss McGuinness) wasn’t as scary as Miss Gent or Miss Stone. Miss Pipe (music…of course) was a somewhat frail creature as I recall. Other names to conjure with were Peach, Butter, Bratt, Pilkington and the unfortunately named Latin teacher…Shatwell. You couldn’t make it up! Liz Petley-Jones (Chapman)

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