Car Parkaeology

Amongst the slightly more leftfield Lichfield Discovered ideas me and a comrade have had, is lurking at various places where there is a wondrous story to be told, and regaling unsuspecting passers-by with it. However, we thought people might think we were a bit creepy if we did that and so we put the brakes on that idea. Instead you’ll have to hear about how fascinating one of Lichfield’s car parks is from the safety of your own home, rather than have me leap out at you from a pay and display machine whilst you are trying to remember your registration number.

Cross Keys. Ye oldest evidence for ye olde city?

So, if I haven’t driven you away yet, then let’s head over to Cross Keys car park. Or is it Lombard Street? To be honest, we probably all still call it Carol’s anyway because ‘the superstore with a whole lot more’ was only demolished about two years ago, and I still hear Bird St car park being called Woolies when it’s been gone for at least ten. Anyway, evidence of Lichfield’s oldest building was uncovered here and I call that momentous. The time between the last days of Letocetum, abandoned in the 5th century and the arrival of St Chad in Lichfield in the 7th century and the relationship between the two sites has always intrigued me. The ‘stone-built post-Roman structure’ discovered at Cross Keys during excavations in 2007/8 incorporated masonry from a ‘substantial Roman building’ and this along with a construction date of 5th to 7th century, seems to provide a link between the two times and places. The Cross Keys building is believed to have been continuously occupied from AD 400 to AD 950, with the post Roman structure later being replaced by a sunken feature building known as a Grubenhaus when it burned down.

It’s also important because it’s evidence of an early settlement of some sort at Lichfield and it has been suggested that St Chad came to Lichfield as there was already a church or religious community here. We know that there was Christianity in the area based on the discovery of a 4th century bronze bowl with a Chi-Rho symbol in a grave at Wall. There is something else too, something that I’ve been avoiding for years because, frankly I thought it was as bonkers as my idea to recreate all of the statues in Lichfield using plasticine but it turns out it isn’t. There is a seventh century poem called ‘The Death Song of Cynddylan’ which recalls three battles fought by Prince Cynddylan of Powys. One of these was at a place called ‘Caer Luitcoed’, which translates to ‘the fortified grey wood’ or, as everyone, including proper historians, who has translated the poem calls it- Lichfield. Here’s the relevant extract:

My heart burns like a firebrand.
I enjoyed the wealth of their men and women.
They could not repay me enough.
I used to have brothers. It was better when they were
the young whelps of great Arthur, the mighty defender.
Before Lichfield they caused gore beneath the ravens and fierce attack
Lime-white shields were shattered before the sons of Cynddylan.
I shall lament until I would be in the land of my resting place for the slaying of Cynddylan, famed among chieftains.
Grandeur in battle, extensive spoils
Moriel bore off before Lichfield
1500 cattle from the front of battle,
80 stallions and equal harness.
The chief bishop wretched in his four-cornered house
The book clutching monks did not protect
those who fell in the battle before the splendid warrior.

So, if the poem is to be believed, Cynddylan’s mate Moriel plundered Lichfield, taking 1,500 cattle and 80 horses. The bookish monks were no match for the Welshmen (sometimes the pen just isn’t mightier than the sword unfortunately) and I think we can deduce from ‘gore beneath the ravens’ that this was a bloody affair. There is some debate around who the battle was actually between given that Cynddylan was a Mercian ally but that’s probably one for discussion in front of a fire over a goblet of mead. For now, let’s just focus on the fact that there appears to have been a battle at or near Lichfield in which religious men were slaughtered. Am I clutching at straws (eco friendly paper ones obvs) or does this not sound a bit like it might be where the Field of the Dead legend may have originated? You, know the one where early converts to Christianity were massacred by pagans and their bodies ‘left unburied, a prey to the birds and beasts of the forest’, an image that it doesn’t take too much imagination to get to from ‘gore beneath the ravens’. And what about those finds over at Toads Hole Piece (a meadow adjoining Christian Fields, near Pones Mill) in the early 19th century which included ‘a considerable quantity of human bone’ and ‘various piece of earthenware, some of which are Roman’? Yet I keep reading that there is no evidence that a massacre ever took place and it’s just a legend. It seems to me that this might just be a bit too dismissive and actually, maybe Robert Plot wasn’t just making it up after all but the story had become confused, as they often do. Or maybe I’ve just become confused as now I’m not quite sure how I got from Cross Keys to Christian Fields. Please do tell me if I’m losing the plot…

The Martyrs Plaque in Beacon Park is one of several places you can see an interpretation of the city shield which features the legend of the massacred martyrs

In the meantime, I’m off to the Fuse festival. Don’t worry, I won’t jump out on you and try to tell you the history of Bunker’s Hill cark park whilst you are waiting in the queue for the beer tent. Promise.

Sources:

https://finds.org.uk/staffshoardsymposium/papers/alexjones
Lichfield EUS Report Final

Some Place-Names in the Immediate Area of the Staffordshire Hoard Mattias Jacobsson (Jönköping University)

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