I mostly associate Stowe and Minster Pools with the ducks (or to be more precise the mallards, moorhens, coots, Canada geese, mute swans, and common pochards) that live on these waters. However, for the purposes of this post, it’s what has been found beneath the surface of the pools that I’m interested in.
At a meeting of the Leicestershire Architectural Society in June 1858, the Rev J M Gresley produced a number of objects that had been discovered in the city’s pools, during the process of their conversion into reservoirs for the South Staffordshire Waterworks Company. As well as numerous cannon balls and shells, some of the other finds were described, including:
A small iron battle axe, seventeen inches in length
A spur singularly shaped of perhaps the last century
An ancient steel horse shoe by striking the holes for the nails several of which remain in them. The outer edge has a scalloped shape
Several narrow sharp pointed knives from 7 to 9 inches long of the sixteenth century. The shaft of one of them is of black bone inlaid with trefoils and ornaments of brass
A large clasp knife with buck’s horn haft twelve inches in length
Several keys of the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries and a small one of still older date
A piece of early English pottery perhaps of the twelfth or thirteenth century. It is of reddish and grey clay with a green glaze. The head and tail are broken off. It is hollow and has a large aperture at the breast but it does not look as if it could ever have been used as a jug or bottle The length of it is 6 inches
Fragment of the neck of a Flemish stone ware jug called a Greybeard or Bellarmine of the sixteenth or seventeenth century
Soles of shoes of the thirteenth or fourteenth century with small heels narrow instep broad across the ball of the foot and quite a sharp point at the toe
Soles of shoes of the fifteenth century much the same shape as the others but round at the toe
A leaden seal or bull of one of the Popes whose name is obliterated. Two rude faces upon the other side have over them S PA(ULUS) S PE(TRUS)
A number of brass counters commonly called Nuremburg tokens formerly used for making calculations…upon these tokens are various and interesting consisting of ornamental crosses, fleur de lis, heraldic bearings, ships, the globe surmounted by the cross. One was plainly an imitation of the silver pennies of Edward I and II but with pellats in place of the legend
Two leaden counters one of them with the letter K, the other apparently a saint’s head and glory about it
An angel of the seventeenth year of James I with a hole through it for suspension it having been given to a person when touched by the King for the evil. The reverse has a ship with the royal arms on the mainsail
Lichfield Coventry and Tamworth tokens of the seventeenth century
A considerable quantity of stags horns
Another discovery in Minster Pool led to a court case in 1896 between South Staffs water and a labourer named Sharman. This case is still quoted as an example in legal textbooks today. Sharman, the defendant, had been employed by the water company to clean the pool and in the course of this work found two gold rings. The court ruled that it was not a matter of finders keepers and ordered the rings to be handed over.
Whilst it seems reasonable to assume that the cannon balls and shells ended up in the pools after falling short of their intended targets during the civil war, how did these other objects end up in the water? Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find a description of the gold rings, not even a date range, and so for now we’ll have to imagine the stories behind them finding their way into Minster Pool! Perhaps we could have a more educated guess at the origin of some of the other objects though? In the past, both pools were used as mill ponds, with tenters to dry cloth set up along the stream which fed into Stow Pool. There were also tanyards in the area and the site of the parchment works of Michael Johnson (bookseller and father of Samuel) was nearby, as can be seen on the 1781 Snape map of Lichfield (a wonderful, big-res version of the map can be found here on BrownhillsBob’s Brownhills Blog). Possibly related to these industries, the tenant of a skinhouse claimed the privilege to wash skins in Minster Pool.
These objects have been lost and found once already, but where are they now? Is it possible to find them once again?
Edit: Philip just asked me about where the tanneries were, and in comparing the Snape map with Googlemaps, I found that in one of the spots marked as a tan yard on the former, there is a little road called the Tanyard (off Stowe St) on the latter!
A survey by the Lichfield Wildlife Group in 2009, looking at the natural heritage of The Close http://www.staffs-wildlife.org.uk/files/documents/250.pdf
Thanks to Philip Mantom for drawing my attention to the legal case South Staffs Water Co v. Sharman (1896)
Smith and Keenan’s English Law Text and Cases 15th Edition – Denis Keenan
Transactions, Volume 1, Leicestershire Architectural and Archaeological Society
Lichfield: Economic history’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield(1990), pp. 109-131