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.
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.
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 However, the church booklet explained that the rabbit infested mausoleum had been replaced by a stokehold in the 1842/3 restoration, and the bones buried elsewhere.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.
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.
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…..
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)