Signs of Spring

Every visit to the churchyard of St Michael’s leaves me wondering about the significance of this ancient place in the early chapters of Lichfield history. Thanks to archaeology, some answers have been provided over the years and landscape features such as the natural springs beneath the churchyard may give further clues as to what first drew people to this site thousands of years ago.  Nigel Johnson from Lichfield Lock and Key had told me that the water still flowed, and could be seen seeping out near to the steps up to the churchyard before trickling down Greenhill (except last week when I visited and the water had frozen!)

This natural spring has flooded the church’s crypt in the past.

Last Tuesday’s visit – frozen spring water on a freezing Spring morning

The churchyard was once used as pasture (1) but now the cattle and sheep are long gone and wildlife has been allowed to reclaim much of the churchyard. Bird song fills the air and along the paths and amongst the graves are clusters of spring flowers. Snow drops are still hanging on in there, and primroses and daffodils are now well on their way. During my recent visits, I’ve also met several dogs (and their owners!) and some of the neighbourhood cats.

I noticed that Georgia Locock, a young wildlife enthusiast who has her own blog on Lichfield’s wildlife has also been along to the churchyard on the lookout for Spring recently and you can see her lovely photographs here.

On the south (I think!) side of the church itself, I noticed stone heads, very similar to those at Christ Church. A couple of years prior to working on Christ Church, Thomas Johnson, the Lichfield architect, carried out an extensive restoration here at St Michael’s in 1842/1843 and presumably these heads are one of his additions. Whilst his work at Christ Church is generally applauded, Johnson’s work at St Michael’s has been criticised by some, as much of the original medieval fabric of the church was destroyed during his renovation. (I don’t know much about architecture, and so am not really in a position to comment. However, there does seem to be a certain irony in removing original features, and adding new ‘medieval style’ ones, such as these heads.) Again, as at Christ Church, I wonder who these faces captured in stone belong to and who carved them?

Looks like someone was inspired to create their own head alongside the carved ones….

Many of the  headstones and memorials that surround the church feature the names of the stonemasons that created them – Joseph Johnson of St John St (was this any relation to Thomas?), John Winslow of Tamworth St, John Hamlet of Dam St, James and George Lamb of Sandford St amongst others. Did any of these craftsmen also work on the church itself?

It seems Joseph Johnson may have ended up in a debtors prison. His name appears in the London Gazette, in a section entitled ‘Pursuant to the Acts for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors in England. The following PRISONERS, whose Estates and Effects have been vested in the Provisional Assignee by Order of the Court for Relief of Insolvent Debtors, and whose Petitions and Schedules, duly filed, have been severally referred and transmitted to the County Courts hereinafter mentioned, pursuant to the Statute in that behalf, are ordered to be brought up before the Judges of the said Courts respectively, as herein set forth, to be dealt with according to Law’.  Mr Johnson is listed to go before the Judge of the County Court of Warwickshire, holden at Coventry, on Monday the 21st day of June 1852, at Twelve o’Clock at Noon and is described as,

Joseph Johnson, formerly of the city and county of the city
of Lichfield, Stone Mason and Builder, afterwards of the
same place, Stone Mason, Builder, and Licensed Victualler,
and at the same time of Snow Hill, Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, Stone Mason and Builder, and late of the city
and county of the city of Lichfield, Stone Mason, Builder,
and Licensed Victualler

 

The Edinburgh Gazette of January 16th 1863, notes that John Hamlet, listed as an architectural draughtsman and stonemason of Dam St, Lichfield, has been awarded bankruptcy. How did they fall upon such hard times?  I’d like to find out more about these craftsmen whose job it was to record the lives of others in stone.

Notes:

1 – I was surprised to read in the county history that the churchyard was once let as pasture, although in 1801, the grazing of cattle was deemed inappropriate due to the ‘damage and desecration’ caused and it was decided that only sheep should be allowed. However, this was ignored, with tragic consequences – in 1809, there is an entry in the church register for the burial of a child, Joseph Harper, who was killed by a cow in the church yard.

Sources

Lichfield: Churches’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 134-155.

http://www.london-gazette.co.uk/issues/21325/pages/1619/page.pdf

http://www.edinburgh-gazette.co.uk/issues/7293/pages/92/page.pdf

History, Gazetter and Directory of Staffordshire  (1834), William White

http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/STAFFORDSHIRE/2001-04/0986182998

 

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11 thoughts on “Signs of Spring

    • I pride myself on dodgy puns! And I think think there are some primroses in one of the photos. At least I think that’s what they are 😉

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  1. Another great blog Kate, One of the heads looks like William Shakespear and
    another looks like Milton,Maybe the stonemason was using poetic licence.

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    • Thanks Pat. I do wonder as some of them look contemporary (well for the 1840s that is!) but then others seem to be based on earlier periods. Also I keep comparing these and the Christ Church ones and thinking I see the same people but I’m not sure. I also have some photos of the many heads at Lichfield Cathedral. Nothing to do with Thomas Johnson I don’t think, but what’s interesting is that there you get old worn away (or wilfully damaged!) original heads next to ‘new’ and restored ones. I’ll have to put tome photos of these up too.

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      • I’ve just been looking at the archives catalogue and there are lots of records relating to the restoration of St Michael’s which may help answer the questions both here and at Christ Church.

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  2. I was thinking maybe the stonemasons made a range of stock heads for use
    in different locations ,The church then chose what they wanted,The spring
    is odd that it has not been diverted into a tank for use in the churchyard it
    would not be drinkable having passed through the crypt but could be used
    on flowers.

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    • It’s a possibility! On an old map there’s another Greenhill spring over where Tesco is . So many old springs & wells in & around Lichfield.Can’t help but wonder what their significance may have been.

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      • This may answer your question as to why the Cathedral
        was built where is was ,The land was easier to stablise
        for a platform to build the Cathedral on then when it came
        to the second Cathedral put several thousand tons of
        stone upon.

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  3. Hi my name is adam hamlet,was looking on the web and came across this page and noticed my relatives were mentioned(john hamlet)me and my father ,philip hamlet are still stonemasons in lichfield and have worked and will becworking on st micheals church again,you can see where i re-pointed thevwall in the photo of the face.

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  4. With reference to the springs at St Michael’s, there was (probably still is beneath the undergrowth) an old horse trough in Burton Old Road West, about twenty metres down the hill from the churchyard steps. Presumably fed from one such spring, I was told that it dated back to when this was the main road to Burton, when many horses would pass by on their long haul up the hill to Lichfield.
    The trough was clearly visible when I used to make my way to St Michael’s school, around fifty years ago!

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    • That’s so interesting thanks David. When I’m next over there I shall definitely have a look and let you know if it is still there!

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