Hospitality in Lichfield

One of the places I really wanted to see during the Lichfield Heritage weekend was St John’s Hospital. On my way I bumped into someone I know. ‘I’m just off to St John’s Hospital’, I said ‘Oh where’s that?’, was the reply. As soon as I told her it was the place with all the chimneys, she of course knew exactly where I meant!

Looking back through the entrance from the courtyard. I'm normally peeping through in the other direction!

Beyond the entrance is a lovely courtyard, where we were met by one of the residents who told us about the history of the hospital, which you can read more about on the St John’s website.  The Master’s house is now a Georgian building and you can see a drawing of it circa 1833 on Staffordshire Pasttrack. We were told today that some of the wooden beams inside came from galleons. I wonder if that’s true or just a story? I have done a quick search and it seems like quite a few old buildings claim to have beams reclaimed from ships.

Side of St John's with Masters House in the background

From the courtyard, we went to have a look around the chapel, which is the oldest of all of the buildings here.The most striking feature is the stained glass window by John Piper. I think I was suprised that this was so modern (it was created in 1984).

Clockwise from top left, the four corners represent the Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke & John


There are stones embedded in the top of the altar, collected by a former Master whilst in Jerusalem & the surrounding area.

After leaving the chapel we visited the accomodation of one of the residents, which was lovely & incredibly peaceful bearing in mind the windows are looking out onto St John St!  On the tour, I overheard someone say that the chimneys were the oldest domestic chimneys in the country. They are blocked off from the rooms now and I wonder when they were last used? Why do you always think of questions after the event?!

Finally, we were invited to have tea & cake. And then some more cake! One of the residents told us, ‘ We’re keeping up the tradition of hospitality!’. It’s true – on our visit we were made to feel incredibly welcome. As you can see I forgot to take any photos of the courtyard or indeed the aforementioned chimneys (I may have been distracted by the cake…). However, the grounds are open to the public, so you can go and have a look for yourself!

Edit 2/10/2011:
I came across a bit of an interesting snippet about Tudor nepotism relating to St John’s. In his book, ‘Note on a History of the Hospital of St John’s’, Harry Baylis says that the hospital lost none of its possessions in the reformation, as the Master at the time was the brother of Rowland Lee who officiated at the marriage of Henry VIII & Ann Boleyn, and later became the Bishop of Coventry & Lichfield. Wonder if this is true or not?

15 thoughts on “Hospitality in Lichfield

  1. That’s an interesting-looking building in the top picture – is that the bit with the oldest chimneys? Is it 15th century?

    St. Olaf’s Church in Wasdale in Cumbria claims to have beams made from Viking longships. Who knows whether it’s true or not – there were certainly Vikings there, albeit earlier than the date of the church – maybe these bits of timber had been hanging around for a bit looking for a home!


    • Yes I should have taken a photo of the chimneys really as they are quite a key feature of both the building & this post! ! I don’t seem to think of these things at the time :/
      That part of the building is the almhouse range and dates to 1495 .
      I’m quite interested in this kind of recycling (reclamation?) whether it’s porticos or beams from viking longships….


  2. Well done, this is excellent. I think it is the old hospital which has a window on the outside, but with no location of a room on the inside! I think it was in the 1970’s that I last saw smoke coming out of the chimneys, but not 100% sure.


    • Thanks again 🙂 The fact that I’d never seen smoke coming out of the chimneys hadn’t really occurred to me before. I bet the local chimney sweep was upset the day they decided not to use them anymore! And you think there might be a secret room too!


  3. Kate – I went here yesterday afternoon to relax for an hour with my book: I saw the lovely little Noah statue and spent a while perusing/gawping at it…I then strolled around the square and a resident on a bench said “I see you were looking at Noah”, I replied yes and that it was lovely, wasn’t it? “Bloody awful I think!” 🙂


    • How funny 🙂 I think that the stained glass window also may not be to everyone’s taste. Personally I like it & the sculpture too!


  4. I went back this evening, and they were about to have a Harvest Supper in the little church there, but they still, very kindly, allowed us to have a good look around, and couldn’t have been more welcoming. I’m getting my name down on the list for when I’m 60! 🙂 Lovely haven, and so friendly too. A nice gentleman I was talking to commented that he was trying to push it as a tourist attraction. I hope tourism doesn’t spoil it, but then the door does get locked at 7pm.


    • There’s a real warmth to the place. Think the people who live there are, quite rightly, very proud that they live in such a wonderful place.


  5. Scratching around amongst my late Dads effects and stuff Mother has thrown out, came accross MY notes (forgot I could write!! still can’t spell)
    After St Chad (theres a chap for a blog) was made a saint Bishop Clinton (?) founded the Hospital of St John (the)Baptist without barrs..outside the gates of the city for the travellers coming to visit the relics of St Chad, and another Bishop years later rebuilt it as a home for infirm men. I think the Victorians did the usual rebuilding.
    The chimneys were one to a room, but at some point the rooms were reorganised and a passageway created
    Great photo of the window…stunning glass work
    Its a wonderful place, and I must admit I have not visited it more than a few times in my life…an oasis at a buys crossroads


    • I should add..ladies were not forgotten and a Dr Milley in the 1400’s established Milleys Hospital, an almshouse for elderly women.


    • I think its a fabulous place. There’s a bid for some s106 money to carry out some archaeology and also add some historical intepretation boards etc. Just last week some old bones were found under the pavement. Apparently, the are to the south of the chapel was a medieval cemetery.


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  9. I was a boarder at The Friary in the 1960s, and we went to church every Sunday at St John’s. Harry Baylis was Master there when I was first at the school in 1963, but he soon retired and was replaced by a lovely, gentle man called Noel Strong; he has a memorial headstone just outside the church door.
    We girls (about 20 of us) plus three teaching staff from the school were almost all of the congregation apart from some of the old men from the almshouses (St John’s didn’t accept women then). But we used to visit the old ladies at Dr Milley’s Hospital regularly; our boarding house was the lovely Georgian house just downhill from the Angel Croft hotel, so Milley’s was very close to us. We each ‘adopted’ one old lady in particular, and got to know them well.
    What I would love to know is who paid for the stunning John Piper window? It can’t have been cheap, and St John’s is not a rich church. Does anyone know the answer?


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