Refusing to Bough Down

I didn’t spend as long as I normally do at the Bower yesterday, but I did wander around the busy streets, catching the end of the procession on Dam St, and I was glad to hear that the day had been a success. Something that I’ve always been interested in is the traditions associated with the event and today I found an interesting story from the 1950s about one of those customs.

At dawn on Bower Day in 1952, some of the male residents of Lower Sandford St were gathering elm branches near to Beacon Farm, on the edge of what is now Beacon Park. Apparently every year, for as long as anyone could remember, the boughs had been cut from the trees and used to decorate the houses in ‘Old San’ as the street was known. However, as the men gathered the boughs, a police officer arrived and instructed them to stop, on the orders of the Town Clerk and the Estates Committee of the City Council, as it had been reported that in previous years the trees had been damaged.

The residents of ‘Old San’ were angry that their ancient privilege was being threatened and sent a message back to the Town Clerk and the Mayor, Cllr. C Bridgeman, that if no further boughs were allowed to be cut, then those that had already been collected would be used to barricade Sandford St and prevent the Bower Procession from entering. As tensions rose, the Town Clerk and the Mayor arrived at the scene and gave their permission for residents to continue collecting boughs, providing that no trees were damaged in the process. The boughs were then used to decorate the houses of old Sandford St along with bunting, balloons and slogans, with prizes awarded for the best decorated properties.  One lady, born in Sandford Street in the late nineteenth century, told the reporter that when she was younger the boughs had been taken from the old brook near the Bowling Green Inn. In her opinion,  “When ‘Old San’ finishes, so has the Bower”.

What’s also interesting is that the incident seemed to awaken a fighting spirit within Sandford St. At the start of June, a committee was formed following a outdoor meeting held on some waste ground in the street. With Mr Frank Halfpenny, the former City and County Councillor, as chair, the committee asked Lichfield City Council to address not only the issues that had arisen during Bower Day, but also other matters affecting them. The wanted Sandford Street to be regularly swept and cleaned, the sites owned by the council on the street, described as being in a ‘neglected and disgraceful condition’ to be ‘cleaned up, fenced in and, at the earliest possible opportunity, built on’ and recreation facilities, such as a playground to be provided in the park. The committee also planned to organise the street’s coronation celebrations for the following year, and to send parcels to local men serving in the forces.

I usually watch the Bower procession from outside the Police Mutual on Queen St, not far from Sandford St. As far as I know, the houses are no longer decorated and I’d be interested to know more about this tradition and the Sandford Street community, who clearly had their own strong identity within the city.


Lichfield Mercury Archive

7 thoughts on “Refusing to Bough Down

  1. I can just about remember the decorating of the houses in Sandford Street, but I am not sure which year was the last. You may be interested that in some areas the old traditions are coming back whilst the memory still lives in the older element of society. Can this old tradition be re started in Sandford Street? I wonder.


    • I was thinking about this. I’m sure the bower house on Greenhill was decorated like that too.I suppose the tradition is continued with the Morris men carrying branches in a way but I like the idea of folks on the procession route decorating their houses a lot.


  2. I was interested in your article on Sandford Street and the Bower. I lived in Sandford Street from 1950 to 1960 and well remember the day that we thought we could not fetch the branches for the wood. In the past the farmer had allowed us access to the wood through his farm but that year he would not, perhaps it was a change of tenancy at the farm. I always went with my mother to collect the branches and it was the best day of the year for me.
    I know why the tradition started but no space to relate it here. The last time it was done was the year my mother and I left in 1960 it was never done again. I was the 4th generation of our family to live in Sandford Street. I am now 67. The plaque stating the Toll Gate and Bar used to be on a cottage next to the foundry on Sandford Street, I know it had been saved and put back up. Your website is fascinating, a joy to see as I now live in Derbyshire but I often ‘return home’. I look forward to hearing from you.


    • Thank you so much Valerie. It’s comments from people like you that remind me why I do this blog! What wonderful memories. Can I ask why/how the tradition started and why it came to an end in 1960? Best wishes, Kate


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  4. Pingback: Know Your Boundaries | Lichfield Lore

  5. Just read this to my Dad, George Quinn, of old San. He said his father, (also George Quinn), was one of the ringleaders of the Old San Bougher Revolt and demanded the Mayor come and speak to them. My family, the Quinn’s and the Russell’s lived on the street for generations. My great grandmother was known as Mrs 88 (88 Sandford St.), and was the go to person for midwifery, waifs and strays and those close to death who were looking for comfort / practical help. Dad remembers the milkman’s horse grasping the brass door knob with his teeth, coming through the door as far as he could as my great granny would give him a crust of bread every day. The stories I have! Fascinating street.


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