I’ve always been a proponent of the idea that you don’t have to travel far from your doorstep to find stories and traces of the past. Even if you live on a spanking brand new estate there will be stories in the soil on which your new build was built. In more recent years, developers seem to have moved away from giving pretty but vacant names to the roads they create and instead are looking to local history and the disappeared landscape for inspiration. Good local examples of this include Fradley where street names honour those killed whilst serving at RAF Lichfield, and the Darwin Park estate in Lichfield where old field names have been preserved in the naming of new roads.
More recently, I’ve decided that when looking for those stories, I should make an extra effort to seek out those which tell us something about the women who lived in this old city and the lives they led.
This story starts at the end, in the graveyard at Christ Church which is currently strewn with primroses. Victorians once planted clumps of these flowers on the graves of children but here and now they cover the final resting places of both young and old.
At the edge of the churchyard is the grave of Edith Mary Heath and the matching monuments of members of her family. Edith died on 27th February 1952 at the age of 78. In her will she left £35, 365, a large proportion of which was left to Christ Church where she had served as vicar’s warden for twenty years, for the creation of ‘The Martin Heath Memorial Fund’. As part of this, a New Year’s gift of £1 was to be paid to 12 deserving poor persons (six men and six women) aged 60 and over in the parish.
In 1964, the fund was use to build ‘Martin Heath Hall’. It might surprise those coming to the hall to vote or to Brownies or to yoga classes, that it’s not named after a man called ‘Martin Heath’ but a local woman’s maiden and married names.
Edith lived at Angorfa, a house built on the Walsall Rd in the early 20th century and demolished in the 1960s, with flats and houses were built on the site. I had assumed for years that apart from the name ‘Angorfa Close’ (well done 1960s developers!), no trace of the original house remained. However, as I found out in a booklet produced by Richard Paulson for an open gardens and local history event in Leomansley back in 2015, two gate posts from Angorfa survived and can be seen from Christchurch Lane. Leomansley is a lovely place to live apart from the local weirdo who takes photos of her neighbours’ garages.
Edith’s father George Martin had lived at Sandyway on the Walsall Rd and he was a benefactor of the Lichfield Victoria Nursing Home which had opened at 15 Sandford Street in 1899.
On his death in 1908, he left an adjoining house on Sandford St to the Trustees who converted it into nurses quarters and offices. The institution became known as the ‘Lichfield Victoria Nursing Home and Cottage Hospital’ and moved to the Friary in the 1930s.
Despite opposition from many, the Victoria Hospital was demolished in 2007. In a blog post which discusses both street names and women, it would be remiss of me not to mention that on the Victoria Place development, built on the site of the hospital, there is a Mary Slater Road, named after a woman who left money in her will to help found The Lichfield Nursing Institution & Invalids’ Kitchen which later became the Victoria Hospital.
(I should insert a photo of the Victoria Hospital here but to my shame and annoyance, I did not ever take one! Take more photographs of your surroundings people – you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…)
The only physical trace of the hospital that survives on the site is the foundation stone which incorrectly states that it was laid by Mrs Swinfen Broun of Swinfen Hall, Lichfield, on Empire Day 1932. In fact, Mrs Swinfen Broun was too unwell to attend the occasion and so the honour of laying the stone instead fell to her husband. The stone also incorporated a time capsule of sorts, containing copies of the Lichfield Mercury, coins and other ephemera. I wonder if it still does?. At the time of the ceremony, the President of the Hospital was Edith Heath, a position which she retired from in June 1947 having served on the committee for 32 years.
The foundation stone may be the only part of the old Vic that survives onsite. However, there’s another bit of medical evidence of its existence elsewhere. In a twist of fate, as a result of a twisted ankle (that actually turned out to be a fractured tibia) and a broken toe, in-between taking the photos for this post and getting around to writing it, I’ve found myself at the Victoria’s successor, the Samuel Johnson Community Hospital, twice in the last two weeks. Whilst in the treatment room, I spotted the famous old chair from the Vic’s casualty department. I may be lacking in the ‘having a photograph of the hospital building’ department but I was determined to furnish the blog with a photo of the chair so that you don’t have to injure yourself in order to see this bit of hospital history. As a result of this public spirited act, someone should probably name a street after me. Anyone suggesting it should be a dodgy back alley will be escorted from the premises.
Lichfield Mercury Archive
‘Lichfield: Churches’, in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14, Lichfield, ed. M W Greenslade (London, 1990)