Ferry Cross the Minster

Yesterday, the second of March, was the feast day of St Chad. In 669, Chad founded a monastery near to the site where the church named after him now stands, making Lichfield the new centre of the Diocese of Mercia (it had previously been Repton). Anyone interested in learning more about the life of Chad should read Patrick Comerford’s post here.

Statue of Chad at St Chad’s church, Lichfield

Around this time last year,  I wrote about the history of the well at St Chad’s and a little about the pilgrimage route between Lichfield and Chester. This year once again I found myself possibly following in the footstep of pilgrims, when I took a walk down Bird St.

The latest incarnation of St Chad’s Well

The view from St Chad’s. A question – why was the Saxon church built to house St Chad’s bones and later to become the Cathedral, built over there, and not at the site of Chad’s Monastery and Well?

An alley (or gully or ginnel depending on where you’re from) runs from Bird St, past the George Hotel and then takes a sharp turn towards Minster Pool. In the early fourteenth century it was called Wroo Lane, a name thought to be derived from the Middle English word ‘Wro’ meaning corner. Shortly afterwards, the lane became known as Cock Alley.  According to Thomas Harwood, this ‘new’ name came from a carpenter named Slorcock who once lived there. I’ve done my best to show the route I think the lane took but please also take a look at  it on John Snape’s wonderful 1781 map of Lichfield, which Brownhills Bob very generously shared here on his blog. Although these days it’s probably mostly used as a shortcut to the car park, the Collections for a History of Staffordshire (Volume Six) suggests that this was once an important thoroughfare, leading pilgrims to the ferry which would carry them across the water to the Cathedral.

Cock Alley. Or possibly Wroo Lane.

Looking back up towards Wroo Lane. Or possibly Cock Alley.

How did the pilgrims get over those big railings?

At present, I am unsure whether the existence of a ferry for pilgrim traffic is a theory or whether it has actually been confirmed by evidence. I shall keep looking for this and in the meantime, may I suggest that when walking around Lichfield you keep looking too. Remember, it’s not just buildings that have a history, but also the spaces between them.


‘Lichfield: The place and street names, population and boundaries ‘, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 37-42. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=42340

The History and Antiquities of the Church and City of Lichfield, Thomas Harwood

Collections for a history of Staffordshire Volume 6, Part 2, Willam Salt Archaeological Society



13 thoughts on “Ferry Cross the Minster

  1. Very interesting; I have only briefly looked into the subject of how the landscape was in Lichfield, but the construction of the waterworks certainly bought about significant change.

    Both lakes were modified in shape and depth, in particular Stowe pool. I am lead to believe the museum gardens were the site of quite boggy ground, and a lake.

    I would say your theory around the ferry is a distinct possibility, but may have been used for more of a symbolic or ritual event as opposed to a practical one. There is still a ferry at Worcester Cathedral, and a bridge 200 yards away.

    Sometimes events and rituals disappear into history, without anyone noticing, and therefore the meaning gets lost in time.


    • I don;t think anyone really knows but I think originally it’s thought that there was one big pool, over which a bridge was built in 1310, giving Bird St its name and creating Minster Pool on one side and the Bishops Fishpond on t’other, eventually drained & turned into Museum Gardens I think (Bird St is thought to be a corruption of Brygge St). Some think that prior to the causeway or bridge, people had to cross the pool via a ferry. What I’m interested in is where the idea of a ferry stems from. It’s mentioned a few times in various sources, but with no indication where the evidence for a ferry comes from If there is any evidence of course, it may just be supposition?


  2. Great Piece Kate .. =) very interesting.. never knew about the history ..even though I used the alley so many times to return my MYM videos..lol =)


    • Thanks Simon, neither did I! I’ve found a few more bits out, but I guess as is often the case we’ll never know the full story. I do like the idea that you used to make the lane to make your own pilgrimage to the video shop. Of course, that’s history itself now that VHS (and Betamax!) belongs to the dim & distant past!


  3. Just passed through on a flying visit and was pleased to see how clean Lichfield was!! and still stunning.
    My understanding also is that the pools were linked and marshy ground with pathways through, hence the 3 chiefs/kings on the city seal who were killed with their tribe(s) trying to avoid the Romans by hiding in the marshes
    The waterworks changed the shape of the pools, and Minster was reshaped by Anna Seward (I think we have covered all of this but great to go over it all)
    Dr Johnson’s father had the parchment works of course…and somewhere was a engraving of a boat on Stowe pool.
    The (duck) gun used to kill Lord Brooke during the siege of Lichfield, was supposed to have been used on a punt on these pools
    Was the engraving duck hunting or fishing or the ferry???I can’t remember but there must have been some transport
    St Chad story is a great one and mentioned by the Venerable Bede in his history of the English Church
    HOWEVER we need to get the pilgrim route renamed…I think Wroo Lane would be a great asset (or as one of the kids has said looking over my shoulder….bring the Aussie tourists in…kangaroo???roo?? I thought it was bad too)


    • Hi David. Great to hear from you and glad to hear that the old place was looking good for your return home! Thanks for all the info as ever. I like the idea of marking the pilgrim route somehow – I imagine it would have been the pilgrims that came via the South and possibly stayed at St John’s if they arrived after hours? Not sure about calling it Kangawroo Lane though 😉
      I have found a few more snippets about St Chad and pilgrims and I’m hoping to do another post over the weekend.


  4. Lichfield Mercury July 1902

    Attack on the Swans.

    Without the swans the Minister Pool at Litchfield would lose one of its greatest charms. It was sad news to everybody to hear that these graceful creatures have been cruelly treated by some pernicious individuals, who belong to that party of inhuman wretches bent on destroying anything and everything that is beautiful. What object they could have in interfering with a couple of swans, it is hard to judge. They must have the bump of destructiveness thoroughly developed. We hope the story of the attack on the swans will be unravelled in the Police Court before long, and an example made these destroyers and birdlife.


    • Thank you very much Pedro. A sad snippet, but an interesting one. Part of me wonders what happened to the poor swans, but then the other part would probably rather not know.


  5. Pingback: Pilgrims’ Progress | Lichfield Lore

  6. I remember that in late 60’s and 70’s, a lot of fishing went on, but the lead weights were being eaten along with the remains of bait by the swans, and I think fishing stopped in the Minster pool but carried on at Stowe as a result


    • I think originally both pools were used to supply fish to the Bishop & others at the Cathedral. Unfortunately at the same time they were also being used as a sewer! I know there is definitely still fishing at Stowe – I walked past a man who’d caught a whopper last year! I’m quite interested in the bathhouse too….


  7. When I moved to Lichfield at age of about 4 years I remember, for some years thereafter, the waterlogged remains of a small boat, possibly a ferry, lying submerged in Minster Pool at the Dam Street. I never knew if it rated into the silt or was cleared away.

    Liked by 1 person

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