Orange Peel

In the mid 1930s, the Lichfield Mercury ran a series of articles called ‘The Beauty that is England’, featuring local country houses – ‘what they are and have been’ – around Lichfield. Each article blends the author’s description of the house (if still standing) and grounds with a heady mix of folklore, hearsay, historic records and poor quality photographs. Taken with a pinch off salt, they make for fascinating reading. As well as describing the past, they are now the past, providing us with a snapshot of almost eighty years ago – a ‘Now and Then and Then’, if you like.

The Orangery at the old Fisherwick Estate. Just about.

The Orangery at the old Fisherwick Estate. Photo from the Lichfield Mercury July 19th, 1935.

I was delighted that number eight in the series was Fisherwick, the site of a once grand mansion built for the Marquess of Donegal in the 1760s, but torn down and sold off to pay family debts after barely half a century. It’s a place I know well and I recognise much of it from the description from the 1930s – the beauty of its woods, the old arched bridges, the River Tame meandering through rich and colourful meadows. Yet of course in eighty years there have been changes. The red brick of the now demolished Elford Hall can no longer be seen in the distance, Fisherwick Hall’s ice house, ‘a brick enclosed fissure, built into the side of the hill’, near Home Farm has since disappeared, as has the pub in nearby Whittington which took its name from Robert Peel who purchased some of the dismembered Fisherwick estate.

Still hanging on in there just is the Orangery, although its portico (just visible in the above image), supported by four pillars with carved ionic capitals and reached by four worn steps has vanished since the 1930s, as has the frieze around the walls, said to have been carved in white stone with goats’ or sheep skulls linked by flowers. It’s a miracle anything survives at all. Even eighty years ago the author described its ‘crumbling sandstone, rotting bricks and decaying beams’, noting how ‘the ravages of time and nature are playing havoc with the beauty it barely possesses’. Then, in the 1970s, Nature upped her game and the Orangery was struck by lightening and scheduled for demolition. Why this never took place, I don’t know but I’m pleased it didn’t. It gives us an idea of what the rest of the estate may have looked like, and has the added interest of carved graffiti – the author thought everyone in Lichfield had added their signatures, based on the number and variety of names scribbled all over it.

Orangery

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Fisherwick 016

The Lichfield Mercury article ends with a tantalising yet unsubstantiated snippet of a story, saying that, ‘in 1800, a fatal duel was fought at Fisherwick, where a suitable enclosure near the hall had been lent for the combat’. I don’t know who the two gentlemen were, or what their quarrel was over, but this is just one of the many tales which have weaved their way around this intriguing place.  If you’d like to hear more Fisherwick Stories and explore the Orangery and whatever else remains of the estate today, including the community farm which has grown up in and around the former walled garden, then you are more than welcome to join us on our Lichfield Discovered walk –  2pm on Saturday 5th April at Woodhouse Farm and Garden.

 

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3 thoughts on “Orange Peel

  1. Pingback: A Study in Orange | Lichfield Lore

  2. Morning Post Feb 1804….Lady Spencer Chichester’s Ball…

    On Monday last, at Fisherwick Park, near Lichfield, the elegant set of Lord Spencer Chichester was given a grand ball and supper, to which were invited all the most distinguished personages for several miles around. Every preparation was made to give eclat to the scene. The splendid suite of apartments on the drawing room floor, were on the occasion all thrown open.

    The huge ballroom was decorated with several chandeliers of great beauty and lustre; the floor was chalked in an appropriate manner by one of the first artists; and to heighten the effect, a variety of natural flowers, as well as artificial, were fancifully disposed to much advantage.

    To complete the whole, an excellent band of music from town attended. About 9 o’clock the company assembled, and before ten the dancing commenced. The ball was opened by Lady Spencer Chichester and the Duke de Montpelier with The Countess of Sutherland, the Honourable Mr. Curzons followed with Lady A. Stewart.

    About twenty couple went down the first dance; but in the second the number of couples was increased. At twelve o’clock supper was announced. The entertainment was a sumptuous one, the tables being abundantly stored with the most costly viands, and the most delicate wines. At one o’clock the merry dance was resumed, and the goddess of the light fantastic toe continued successful in her inspirations until six o’clock, when fatigue took entire possession of her votaries; but even then they did not depart the temple of pleasure without regret. This is the third entertainment of the kind given this season by Lady S. Chichester.

    Bury and Norwich Post, 21 November 1804…

    The noble mansion and fine estate, Fisherwick Park, in Staffordshire, residence of Lord Spencer Chichester, was sold on Thursday at Garraway’s Coffee-House, for 143,000l to a gentleman in the potato trade.

    (I think this sale fell through as it is advertised for some time afterwards)

    Morning Post, July 1805…

    The valuble stock of wines belonging to Lord Spencer Chichester were sold on Friday last, at Fisherwick Park, by the hammer. They produced enormous prices. The old hock sold for nine guineas and a half, and the port at

    Staffs Advertiser, 8 July 1809…

    Building Materials…Of the Splendid Mansion, called Fisherwick Hall, near Lichfield, to be sold by private contract

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    • This is absolutely fantastic. Great to read something from when there were actually Chichesters at Fisherwick. Sometimes I forget that they were actually really people (for all their faults). I think the sale to the potato merchant did fall through, don’t think he could raise sufficient funds in the end.

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