On the corner of Bore St and Breadmarket St is a building that I’ve never paid much attention to before. However, after hearing that someone carrying out some work there in the 1970s had uncovered a dolphin mosaic, I thought I’d fish a bit deeper into the building’s history…

The someone in question was Frank Clarke, a regular contributor to the fabulous Facebook group ‘You’re probably from Lichfield, Staffs if…..’. Frank found the mosaic under rotting floorboards when carrying out renovation work there in the 1970s. According to Frank, the mosaic was concreted over and may still be there to this day. Unfortunately, it seems that due to practicalities (involving concrete and money!) it’s unlikely we’ll ever know for sure.

What we do know though is that the Dolphin Inn once stood on the site, demolished in 1912 and replaced by the current building in 1913 by local builders JR Deacon to house the Walsall and District Co-operative Society Ltd Branch No.13. You can still see where the lettering for this ever so catchy name used to be, as shown in all its glory here, on the Staffs Past Track site. Burtons were the most recent occupiers, but they left in March this year, leaving the property empty. (1)

Built in 1913, this was once the Co-op, more recently Burtons.

According to John Shaw and his now legendary book, The Old Pubs of Lichfield, the Dolphin is first listed in 1818. However,after finding out that the original building on the site was timber framed, dating back to the 16th century, I was hoping to find out something about the building’s earlier uses. After reading the obituary of Rev John Kirk (d.1851),  it seems that prior to becoming an inn, the building had been occupied by a baker, with some of the upper rooms being used as a Roman Catholic chapel created in 1801.(2)

Rev Kirk had been the priest at the chapel at Pipe Hall from 1788 to 1793, where Catholics in Lichfield had previously worshipped. When this chapel was closed following the sale of the property to a non-Catholic he was asked to return to Lichfield as the resident priest at the new chapel. However, Kirk found the location and conditions far from ideal – the sanctuary was apparently directly above the baker’s oven and Kirk wasn’t happy about living in such close quarters with the baker and his family. By 1803, Rev Kirk had built a new chapel dedicated to St Peter and St Paul in Upper St John St.  Due to religious sensitivities, the chapel was originally designed to look like a dwelling house, but 1834 a turret and a new entrance was added, and the name changed to Holy Cross. The congregation was relatively small, but numbers were often boosted by those passing on their way to London and French Prisoners of War.

Holy Cross, Lichfield.
Source: Dennis Blenkinsopp (

Back to the mosaic, which started all of this off! You would have to assume that its depiction of a dolphin is a reference to the name of the Inn. No great mystery there (although I would like to know why that particular name was chosen for a Lichfield pub!). What is more of a puzzle is how the mosaic came to be in the new building. Was it rescued during the demolition of the old one? Was it created to reference the history of the building that previously stood on the site? Or was the previous building not fully demolished, just significantly altered? I don’t know, and it seems probably never will.

I’m very grateful to Gareth Thomas for bringing the matter to the attention of the experts at Lichfield District Council, and also to the Civic Society for making enquiries as well. I think it’s great that members of the facebook group, the Civic Society, the council and even me have all been able to contribute to the discussion. This is how it should be, and I would like to see people working together more in the future, building on the great work that Gareth has done to bridge the gap between council and its residents, not least by making historic photographs and documents available through his own blog, and elsewhere.

I understand that talks are ongoing, however, the general feeling at present seems to be that without further evidence, the cost and disruption arising from trying to retrieve the mosaic (if indeed it has survived the last forty years) could not be justified. A shame, but for now it seems we shall have to let sleeping dolphins lie….unless anyone out there knows any more?

Edit 12/5/2013 Just reading about the opening of the Co-op. Apparently the builder, Councillor Deacon handed the chairman of the Co-op a walking stick made from one of the wooden beams of the old Dolphin Inn, which is quite a nice little addition to the story. No mention of a mosaic yet though 😉 


(1) Burtons previously had a branch on Market St, where you can still see the two foundation stones commemorating the opening by two of business founder Montague Burton’s sons. The post I did on this ages ago is here 

(2) So that takes us back to 1800-ish. Still three hundred years or so of the building’s history to account for though!


Thanks to Frank Clarke for allowing me to share the story of his discovery here.

The Old Pubs of Lichfield, John Shaw

Catholic Staffordshire 1500 – 1850, M R Greenslade

The Gentlemans Magazine Volumes 191 – 192

Lichfield: Roman Catholicism and Protestant nonconformity’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 155-159

26 thoughts on “Co-operation

  1. The pub was first listed in 1818, and maybe the 18 June 1815, Battle of Waterloo could be significant…

    Origin of Pub names…

    Dolphin: Many establishments carrying this name are many miles from the sea. Those that are not are generally named from an Anglicised version of the French “Dauphin” ( eldest son ).

    Following assorted battles between England & France in which England were the winners, The victors { just to rub it in } decided to name various establishments as “Le Dauphin”. For example “The Dolphin” in Wellington, Somerset named by The Duke of Wellington, {who incidentally never set foot in Wellington, Somerset} after the battle of Waterloo. Many locals could either not pronounce the French version or were still unlikely to use any French expressions. { The more educated knew that dauphin stemmed from the Latin for dolphin }. Whatever the case “Le Dauphin” became “The Dolphin” as a popular name for public houses nowhere near the sea.

    Regards Pedro


    • That’s brilliant thanks. Now I’ve started thinking about it, all of the pub names in Lichfield are potentially interesting! The Waterloo explanation looks promising! Cheers, Kate


      • Pedro’s very nearly right about the Duke of Wellington never visiting Wellington, Somerset. My parents moved from this area to Wellington nearly thirty years ago, so I can fill in some details. Arthur Wellesley was an Irishman, and when they wanted to make him a Duke he had to be the Duke of Somewhere, so he chose Wellington because the landscape round there reminded him of his homeland. The locals had a monument erected to him on a local hilltop, and invited him to the opening. He turned up, which involved the people manhandling his coach up the hill, watched the opening ceremony, then they manhandled his coach back down the hill and he went home again. I don’t think he got out of the coach, so although he visited Wellington (once!) he never actually set foot in Wellington. You can see the Wellington Monument from the M5 – look to your left as you’re travelling between junctions 26 and 27, you’ll see a spike like Cleopatra’s Needle on top of the hill.


  2. Pingback: History is a mosaic | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog

  3. Great stuff Kate, Bit of a intriguing is it there is it not , has it survived or not! Kinda hurts for me to say this but if only they were knocking the building down! We would then certainly know and save it!!!!!

    Pedro, wow never knew all about the “dolphin” origin. That is brilliant thanks. Its good to go to that second level of information 🙂 Makes the story complete for me!


    • Thanks Gaz, and thanks for your help again. At least we have the story if nothing else! And I’m hearing rumours about geophys so who knows?!


  4. Kate,
    The Dolphin Hotel closed in the summer of 1907 and stood vacant until the Co-operative Society had re-located to this new building in March 1914. In January 1910 it was used as committee rooms for the election
    The photograph of the hotel was taken in the 1890s when TBland was the hotelier/landlord


    • Thanks for elaborating on the dates! Actually I did see an advert in the Mercury about it being sold in 1907. In the advertisement, it said the building would be easily convertible into high class shops. Obviously not everyone agreed as they decided to build a new shop instead! That’s interesting about it being used for the election in 1910 too. Cheers!


  5. There are several adverts around 1884 for the Dolphin.

    Under a strange sketch of a dolphin…

    The Dolphin Inn, Lichfield

    Superior Mild, Bitter and Strong Ales, Guiness’s Dublin Stout. London Porter always on Draught.


    Supplied with a large number of London, Provincial, Illustrated, Daily, and Weekly Newspapers.

    PRIME DEVONSHIRE CIDER at 1s 3d per Gallon

    Wines and Spirits, Mineral Waters. Cigars.

    Luncheons and Teas.

    W. Page Wood…Proprietor


    • Thanks again for another great find Pete. I just looked it up too – that is the oddest looking dolphin I’ve ever seen. Hope the one on the mosaic was better than that 😉 In fact, it’s not even a dolphin really is it, just a fish!


  6. How absolutely fascinating. Since discovering Brownhills Bob my knowledge of local history has grown unimaginably. Perhaps this is what they should be doing in local schools, rather than the tosh they go on about nowadays. Had they have done this when I was at school who knows what wold have happened it is fabulous and you can actually see and explore the stuff and find out your own things. Absolutely brilliant you lot and keep it up and thanks to Brownhills Bob too.


    • Brownhills Bob is brilliant. It was him and Mark from Tamworth Time Hikes that inspired me to start this blog. I think there is an increasing recognition of the importance of local history, and of the stories of ‘normal’ people and places. I also think that the internet has been a fantastic way of giving all of us the opportunity to get involved. Making records available online, facilitating discussion, to me it’s all good stuff! I think it’s really important that local people are able to decide what they think is important in the place that they live in. Just yesterday I was talking to Gareth and some of the others about the need for more community involvement in history/heritage Lichfield. I think there are so many benefits – increased sense of community, pride, learning new skills, people getting to know one another as well as learning more about the people that came before us. I genuinely think people get a sense of well being from exploring the place in which they live. I know I do! Watch this space! Cheers for the comment Edwina! Kate


    • It alludes to it in some documents i.e the building on the corner of Bore St & Breadmarket St, but in the obituary it actually says that it is the building now known as the Dolphin Inn. I’ll dig the references out for you later and you can see if I’ve got it right, or if I’ve read it wrong!


  7. I’m intrigued because it could mean the opposite side from the information in the Staffs History book, however if you consider the old Edgar Bates building which were located next door and they were part of the older Lichfield, it is quite probable that this would have been the “bakers” house in style and design.
    The Dolphin would then fit in neatly with the rebuild in the early 1800s as mentioned, though the buildings in Breadmarket Street next door to this property were also tall and Regency in appearance and possibly all done together.


  8. Looking in White’s Directory of 1834 the only other information that I can see is that the Dolphin was under the charge of Thomas Durham.

    Another Inn in Bore Street is the Queens Head. THE THEATRE…in Bore Street, erected in 1790, is a small structure, with some ornamental stucco work in front, and belongs to a company of shareholders.

    Also in Breadmarket Street is the Goat’s Head.

    The Catholic chapel, at the south end of St John-Street, is a neat Gothic building of brick, erected in 1802, by the Rev John Kirk, the present pastor. The altarpiece is a beautiful representation, in chiaro oscuro, of Redeemer on the cross, in the act of addressing his Blessed Mother and his beloved disciple John. It is a much admired production of De Bruyn, a Flemish painter.


  9. Pingback: The Dunk Cow | Lichfield Lore

  10. The truth about Lichfield is that half the buildings in the town centre have a timber frame. Simply walking behind the shops or nipping down the side passages show how many are timber framed..a real surprise. (I think we may have covered that before) They have a ‘ice cream’ facing around the old building.
    The Crown which was at the bottom of the precinct (now a opticians) was similar build, and whilst being rebuilt …fell down!!!!!
    The same fate nearly befell what is Neros next to Burtons / Co Op building, but someone walking their dog heard the sounds of creaking timber, and the building was saved. Many have speculated as to the reason for these sudden collapses.


    • I was led to believe that although they wanted to preserve the Old Crown they found that it was only the wallpaper holding it up, so had to demolish it. They apparently tried to save the fireplace which was a feature of the old pub but one of the builders coughed and that fell down as well. I must admit I’m inclined to believe them, because the building they put up on the site is pretty much the same shape as the Old Crown so I don’t think they gained much by knocking it down.

      I was also told at the time that when they were working on the old Co-op Travel building the shopkeepers opposite saw cracks developing in it so pointed them out to the builders. Various surveyors and other experts pronounced the building safe, then about three o’clock one morning a patrolling police officer heard a loud crash as the gable end fell off. (I believe they thought someone had got in to the building so the Fire Brigade were summoned to search the debris.) A bigger loss to that building was suffered after the Yorkshire Bank closed and it was converted into a coffee shop. The bank had preserved the chimney of the old bakery which had stood on the site and made a feature of it in the public area of the bank but the new owner had it knocked down. Five hundred years of history went in a skip so someone could sell a bit more overpriced coffee.


      • Thanks, it’s good to hear another side of the story. I do vaguely remember the chimney in Yorksire bank & its subsequent disappearance. Shame. Wonder if anyone got to record it?


  11. Walsall also had a Dolphin inn on George street until like a lot of fine buildings
    was demolished in the 1960s ,The terracotta dolphin from the corner of the
    roof was saved and is in the museum in Lichfield street it can be seen in
    old photographs of George street.


  12. On a recent day trip to Lichfield I was intrigued by the old co-op branch on the corner of Breadmarket St., having earlier in the year discovered the impressive Victorian co-op building in Tamworth. I determined to find out more about the building as I am particularly interested in architectural history. The Lichfield Mercury for Friday 27th March 1914 has a quite lengthy report of the formal opening of the building which occurred on Saturday 21st March 1914. The Chairman of the Building Committee, Mr S. Porter, declared the building open after giving a speech in which he praised the work of the architect Mr R. J. Barnes and the builder Mr Deacon. He also hoped that the building would add to the social life of Lichfield as well as help the development of cooperation in the city. After the opening a meeting was held in the Assembly Hall where there were more speeches. Mr Porter presided and the President of the Walsall Co-operative Society Mr William Abbotts was among those present. Porter spoke again at the meeting where he stated that some would ask what “vulgar” Co-operators wanted with such premises which were only fit for firms such as Harrod’s or Selfridge’s and he continued in answer that “what was fit for such firms was suitable for them as Co-operators”. Clearly co-operation in the city was on the rise and they were determined to make themselves felt in the general retail world of the times. Porter noted that their success was the result of co-operation between “working men and women” which involved people with enterprise, intelligence and business ability and nationally their supporters included earls, bishops and governor generals. The building appears to have been the result of an amalgamation of Lichfield with the Walsall Society and had brought about a dramatic increase in members and sales. The president then gave a very lengthy and worthy speech which was followed by short speeches from a number of others including the architect and the builder. The architect Mr Barnes referred to the kind way in which the committee had treated him and presented the chairman Mr Porter with a case of silver. Porter thanked the architect and hoped that he would soon have a similarly agreeable job.

    I have discovered a little more about this architect. He appears in local directories and newspaper notices of the 1910s and 20s as a Lichfield architect with offices in Bore Street and I have found through genealogy sites that he is Richard James Barnes (1882-1953). So at the time of the building of the Co-op he was about 30. I wonder if there are any other buildings surviving in the city that were designed by this architect and whether they are in a similar style?

    The co-op building I would say has a rather Baroque style with the surviving upper floor having mullioned and transomed cross-windows which have sculpted garlands of fruit below them. Between the windows are Ionic pilasters and two flank the corner stone panel (rather a pity to have lost the original lettering). The building has an impressive modillion cornice below the parapet which links with the corner pediment.

    An advertisement for the opening ceremony was placed in the Lichfield Mercury of Friday 13th March which notes that the ceremony was to be performed at 3pm on the 21st March with tea served for members on the following Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and a grand concert in the Assembly Hall at 7pm on Thursday 26th March with free admission.

    Incidentally, as a matter of interest on the name of the Dolphin Hotel which previously stood on this site – Derby has a Dolphin Inn which is thought to be the oldest pub in the city and was granted a licence in 1530. The name for that pub is also an English version of the French Dauphin and it is interesting to note that the word Dolphin is always used for Dauphin in the original versions of Shakespeare’s play King Henry V which was written about 1599.


    • Thanks so much for this. Some really interesting things to follow up. I’ll also pass this on to my colleague John Gallagher, who is especially interested in the old buildings and shops of Lichfield city centre.


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