A Lost Place

A couple of years ago, I learned that there had once been a place in Lichfield known as Bessy Banks Grave. Appearing on several old maps, the name is also referred to in a newspaper advertisement from 1914, but seems to have disappeared shortly afterwards. The plot of land was in The Dimbles area and I suspect that the name may have been lost when the council began building houses there in the early twentieth century.

Attempts to discover the story behind the name led to a poem written by Anna Seward for her friend Honora Sneyd, at the place known as Bessy Banks Grave, which Miss Seward refers to as ‘the grave of a suicide’.

“It suits the temper of my soul to pour
Fond, fruitless plaints beneath the lonely bower,
Here, in this silent glade, that childhood fears,
Where the love-desperate maid, of vanish’d years,
Slung her dire cord between the sister trees,
That slowly bend their branches to the breeze,
And shade the bank that screens her mouldering form,
From the swart Dog-Star, and the wintry storm….”

David Garrick also knew the place, adding that it was supposedly haunted and in 1805, John Jackson remarked that the spot was ‘once the famous rendezvous of lovers….now no more is remembered than that poor Betsy (sic) is said to have fallen victim to hapless love’.

After reading the original post, “Margaret” left a comment to say that she had found a poem called ‘The Circuit Lane’, in the 1859 book ‘Rustic Rhymes’, by Frederick Price. The Circuit Lane marked part of the boundary of Lichfield, as can be seen in the following extract which appears in several history books from the early nineteenth century:

“… and so along that little cross lands unto another lane that leadeth from Lichfield to King’s Bromley and then along that lane towards Lichfield unto a little lane lying between the Grange Ground and Collin’s Hill Field commonly called the Circuit lane unto the further end of it betwixt two fields the one called Hic filius and the other Piper’s Croft and so over across a lane that leadeth from Lichfield to Elmhurst and then into another little lane between Stichbrooke Ground and Gifforde’s Crofte and so along that little lane to a green lane at the further side of the Lady Leasowe being the land of Zachary Babington Esquire and down that lane to a brook called Pone’s Brook and so over that brook into another lane called Stepping stones lane…”

As well as painting a picture of a disappeared landscape, Frederick Price’s poem also refers to the lost story of Bessy Banks. The full poem is here, but I have included an excerpt below

Daisy, ladysmock, and kingcup,
And the broad-leaved flag so gay,
With which we in pride would prink up
Doorsteps on the first of May –
Where bright flies their wings are sunning
Where shells strangely marked are found
Where the rippling brook is running
In which Bessy Banks was drowned.

Pass we these, and onward pressing
Where o’er head tall elm trees wave,
‘Tween banks rich in Nature’s dressing
Till we come to Bessy’s grave:
Here four cross-roads meet; a green mound
Indicates her place of rest;
Few spots are more lone, I ween, found
On old England’s face imprest.

Hawthorn blossoms fall and slumber
O’er where the betrayed one lies –
One more victim to the number
Sung in great Hood’s ‘Bridge of Sighs’
The betrayer, in corruption,
Lies in fetid church-yard soil,
Where e’en earthworms meet destruction
Fit ‘last home’ for one so vile.

Hence the lane has been neglected
From that time : the rustic swain
Since that hour the road rejectes
Nor dare traverse it again
Burdocks, thistles, nettles, tansy,
And the nightshade flourish there;
But the primrose or the pansey
Scarce are known to blossom near.

You’ll notice that Price’s version of the story differs from the earlier one told by Anna Seward. Perhaps the clue to this lies in the reference Price makes to ‘Hood’s Bridge of Sighs’, relating to the poem by Thomas Hood, written in 1844 and said by the Victoria and Albert Museum to be a ‘classic stereotype of the harlot and her destiny‘?

 

 

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6 thoughts on “A Lost Place

  1. Thank you for finding out this information. I am really fascinated by this story. Over the last 10 years I have often walked over the footpaths to Elmhurst from the now newly paved Christian Fields nature reserve. If you go past the new pond and down some steep steps you cross a brook and the path leads up, through woods, to Elmhurst. I feels like this path has been used for centuries and I have always found this part of the path a bit unnerving and creepy. Although I am not sure if ghosts and spirits exist, I wonder if this is near the spot where poor Bessy died. Thank you again for your knowledge and research.

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    • I think the path has been used for centuries Margaret. When I visited I did a bit of reading afterwards and I found some info on the nature reserve published by Lichfield District Council. According to them, there are still the remains of an ancient Saxon feature at the site known as a Dimble! I imagine that this was used as a route to Elmhurst since the year dot. There’s also talk of several deserted medieval villages in this area, something I must look at again. I have to be honest and say that I cannot pin down the supposed location of Bessy Banks Grave. On the 1845 tithe map it looked very much like it was near to Gaiafields, possible around where the Catholic church is, but then the stream part throws me. I think that is someone who was good with map type things put all the clues together, they may be able to come up with the right place. Thanks once again for sharing the poem you found. I’d like to know the actual reason the story disappeared (if indeed it did, there may still be people who know it!) I suppose it may just not have fitted in with its new surroundings.

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  2. Hi Kate, I think I sent you a map of the location of the Grave some time ago. I may still have the map somewhere on my pc. I think the location was near to the Willows Primary School. I also remember a story from a wartime Fireman that a German plane came down during the war near to the route up to Elmhurst. Not sure if it was ever true or just a story to stop us playing in that area.

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  3. Reminds me of a continuing search for information on Dead Lad’s Grave at Bradmore near Wolverhampton. It appears in this case that the story had endured.

    I would presume that the grave must be at a cross roads as was the custom. Looking on the link below for the enlarged 1890 map there appears to be a line of what might be trees alongside the road…”where tall elm trees wave?”

    Oh well, it would be nice to think so!

    http://www.british-history.ac.uk/mapsheet.aspx?compid=55137&sheetid=8289&ox=544&oy=1142&zm=1&czm=1&x=621&y=344

    Regards Pedro

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    • Thanks Pedro. I’d not noticed the trees and I think that the plot marked 303 is the plot of land marked as Bessy Banks on the tithe map. It’s the stream that was throwing me, but I’ve found the map’Born A Lichfeldian’sent me, so I’ll add that to the post. Also if you look at the original post on poor Bessy Banks https://lichfieldlore.co.uk/2011/07/09/the-grave-of-poor-bessy-banks/ , there are some comments from Nick Duffy of the West Mids Ghost Club, about unorthodox burials. He also mentioned Dead Lad’s Grave, so it might be of interest to you. Knox’s Grave is another one where I suspect we may never learn the truth. Fascinating stuff though! Cheers, Kate

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