Appeal of Bells

If you heard the bells of St Michael’s ringing out late yesterday afternoon, you were listening to the launch of a restoration fund for the bells, which are in need of essential maintenance work.

According to the churchwardens accounts, the bells have been rung in the past to mark important national occasions, and in the bell tower there are plaques commemorating some of these and more locally significant events.

The blue plaque commemorates the ringing of bells for the marriage of Charles & Diana; the brown one commemorates a farewell peal for the retirement of Prebendary P Howard in 1947

Bell Tower steps

After negotiating the narrow and windy staircase back down into the church, I had a look around the rest of this lovely building. According to the listed building description, although the church is thought to be 13th century in origin (with a 14thc tower), much of the building dates back to the restoration of 1842/3 by Thomas Johnson. However, the church history booklet (a snip at £1.50!) suggests that whilst the church had undoubtedly needed some restoration work at this time, much of this work was  unnecessary and things of historic interest may have been lost. The booklet goes on to say that some of the restoration work was undone at the end of the 19thc.

Royal coat of arms(1711) above the chancel

The royal arms, as seen above the chancel, are from 1711, and replaced an earlier version. I’ve read that after the reformation, anglican churches were encouraged to display the royal coat of arms somewhere prominent, reminding people that the monarch was also head of the Church of England. The custom of displaying the royal arms continued until Victorian times, but these days can be found in only around 15% of churches. You can read more about the Churches Conservation Trust’s guide to Royal Arms in English churches here.

Having previously read that the Marquis of Donegal had erected a spacious family mausoleum near the chancel, I have to confess I was a little disappointed to find no trace at all of the ostentatious Chichesters of Fisherwick Hall. However, the church booklet explained that the rabbit infested mausoleum had been replaced by a stokehold in the 1842/3 restoration, and the bones buried elsewhere. Seems like none of Donegal’s buildings were destined to last long….

The chap below fared a little better than Donegal. Whilst his bones also ended up elsewhere, his effigy survived the ‘restoration’ and is behind a bench in the chancel. It’s thought to be William de Walton who endowed the church with land and died around 1344. I particularly like the inclusion of the faithful dog watching over his master in death.

One man & his dog – William de Walton’s effigy

The church has several other monuments, including most famously, that of Samuel Johnson’s mother, father and brother.

Back outside in the churchyard,  a woman approached me and asked ‘Are you thinking the same as me?’. Actually I wasn’t, because whilst I was thinking about missing bones, the woman was thinking about missing apples. Apparently in previous years, rich windfall pickings were to be had from the trees growing alongside the footpath. This year it was hard to spot a single fruit.

Peals but no peel

One thing I read in the history booklet, which I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on,  is that around the year 2000, a pump was installed to keep the crypt from flooding. I read in an archaeology report that ‘St Michael’s is a low hill with natural springs’. Could this have anything to do with the flooding?  I’ll explore this ancient burial ground in a post of its own. In the meantime, perhaps we could get the University of Leicester involved in a hunt for William de Walton and the Marquis of Donegal. They seem quite good at that sort of thing…..

Part of the 9 acres making up St Michael’s churchyard

Sources:

St Michael’s Church. Lichfield – A Short History by Rev Carpenter 1947

A short account of the city and close of Lichfield – Thomas George Lomax, John Chappel Woodhouse & William Newling

Archaeological Desktop Survey OSA Report No. OSAO6DTO2 (Onsite Archaeology January 2006)

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11 thoughts on “Appeal of Bells

  1. Lovely photos – thank you! I didn’t realise Johnson’s family were buried there – I always assumed they worshipped at St Mary’s, but did they attend St Michael’s? Or would it have been the main cemetery for the city?

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    • Thanks. Can never get the light right but at least it gives a bit of an idea! I think that St Mary’s didn’t have a churchyard so its parishioners were buried at St Michael’s. The booklet says that the family’s bodies are under the stone. I think that St Mary’s was the Johnson’s church though as Michael Johnson was a churchwarden there. Hmmmm. Nothing is ever straightforward…but I think I quite like it that way 😉

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  2. St Mary’s was the Johnson’s church and the good Doctor’s name appears in the baptismal records. However, the parishioners of St Mary’s and the inmates of St John’s Hospital had the right to be interred in St Michael’s Churchyard, at the time. The Latin inscription is reportedly written by our celebrated lexicographer, although the stone he paid for had to be replaced through wear. The translation can be found in the porch.
    The Royal Arms of Queen Anne is nearly identical to those in Shenstone Parish Church.

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    • Thank you for explaining that! Interesting that there are Royal Arms in Shenstone church and that they are similar to those in St Michael’s. I read that Dr Johnson had funded the memorial stone through selling one of his works (The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia) is that true?

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  3. … I am now inspired to go and visit St Michaels – something I’ve been putting off for far too long. And fatastic blog – most enjoyable!

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    • Thank you Liz. It took me a long time to get to the church too! I’ve had many great times exploring places with my family, friends and even strangers! One of my reasons for doing this blog is to try and encourage people to go explore places themselves (the obvious and the not so obvious, the familiar and the unfamiliar) and connect with their surroundings & the stories of the places they live in, so I really appreciate it when people take the time to leave me a comment. Thanks once again!

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  5. Oh no, sounds like the wet weather has done for St Michaels’ apple crop this year! They were so plentiful a few years ago, I took photographs of them piled upon the grass. Some of the varieties are very old I think.

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    • I think the weather has done for pretty much everything except blackberries & runner beans. The woman I spoke to said there were loads last year. Would be nice to know what varieties the apples are – I do like a bit of pomology 😉

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