Good Omens

This latest post has taken a while to write and not just because I’ve been binge watching the complete adventures of Dogtanian but because, just like my New Years Eve outfit following a week bingeing on cheese and Baileys, there’s a lot to squeeze into it.

Firstly, glad tidings of great joy I bring, the Angel Croft is at last now off the Heritage At Risk Register, thanks to the work of Friels who have been renovating the former hotel since Spring 2017. Friels are now seeking planning permission to develop the adjoining Westgate House and Cottage plus the surrounding land to create a small spa hotel, houses, apartments and a new pedestrian route which connects Beacon Park to the Cathedral Close. For more information on the proposals and to see a walkthrough of how the site might look, take a look at https://youtu.be/4fEyzXbSLV0

It seems like a good time to remind people that change has to happen and that the places where we live are not preserved in aspic, like no doubt so many things on the menu at the Angel Croft were. Actually, I’ve just had an epiphany about how best to illustrate this. Let’s take a look at how the site has changed over the last 500 years.

The Angel Croft was built at the end of 18th century for a wine merchant called George Addams and was converted to a hotel in 1931. Some of the features from the time this was a house have been uncovered during the recent renovations, including a fragment of wallpaper which an expert has declared to be one of the oldest examples in the country.

Other discoveries include smoking ephemera, a collection of bottles, drawings, old newspapers and most interestingly of all, for me at least, a mismatched pair of boots. When I was shown a photo of the latter, I had one of those moments that thrills my sole. ‘Were these found under floorboards?’, I asked. ‘Yes they were!’ came the reply. I can’t be sure but I suspect they didn’t come to be there by accident. The Northampton Museum and Art Gallery keeps an index which has at least 2,000 examples of concealed shoes or boots being discovered up chimneys, in rooves or indeed, below floors (ironically, Lichfield no longer has a museum and keeps its entire collection hidden in an attic). The exact reason for this isn’t known but it’s thought to be a folk magic ritual designed to protect a property and its occupants from malevolent forces. I had thought it was the first example of this apotropaic custom to be uncovered in Lichfield but there is at least one other recorded discovery in the city. A 16th century house in Lichfield (not sure where. Yet.) had a shoe hidden up the chimney along with a chisel and a bunch of flowers (not sure why. Yet). There are also examples of more sinister discoveries concealed in the city’s walls and foundations (not sure if I’m ready to share these. Yet).

The Angel Croft was built on the site of an inn known as the Talbot. We know the pub dates back to at least 16th century Lichfield thanks to The Bawdy Courts of Lichfield blog, a fantastic Staffordshire Archives and Heritage project sharing quirky and scandalous stories emerging from the church court case papers of the Consistory Court of the Diocese of Lichfield and Coventry. By coincidence, at the start of December, I’d been asked if I knew where Christopher and Ann Hill’s house, also known as the Sign of the Talbott, was in Elizabethan Lichfield, as it was where Tamworth woman Grace Spooner called Ellen Allen ‘a whore, an arrant whore and a common strumpytt and whore and not worthie to be talked of’ leading to a defamation case. You can read the post about the case here. A later incarnation of the Talbot stood at the corner of Bore Street and Bird St and is mentioned in various books about Lichfield pubs including John Shaw’s classic Old Pubs of Lichfield and Neil Coley’s more recent Lichfield Pubs. Intriguingly, records now held at Stafford Record Office show that at some point the Beacon Street Talbot was known as the Three Crowns. Of course, this too had a later incarnation and The Three Crowns on Breadmarket St is famous for being frequented by Dr Johnson, as marked by a plaque on the early 18th century building.

The Angel Croft takes its name from another inn, the Angel, which stood to the south of the site and was in existence since at least 1498, when it was listed as the prebend of Freeford’s property. Harwood’s history of Lichfield describes it as being in what was known as Cardon’s Lane, later Guard Lane. It seems it was destroyed during the Civil War but again the name was resurrected when The Angel opened on Market Street in the 18th century, where it still remains, despite a spell in the wilderness as Samuels.

The third inn in our holy trinity is the Lamb, a baa owned by the Vicars Choral in 1592 where Westgate Cottage now stands. Presumably the former was demolished to make way for the latter as the Lamb shows up on Snape’s 1781 map of Lichfield and the listed building entry for Westgate Cottage describes it as being built in the 18th century. The adjoining Westgate House, was built on the site of another ancient building known as Pool Hall, again thought to have been destroyed by fire during the civil war and later rebuilt, before being replaced by the current Georgian building.

Time never stands still and neither should it (although it once seemed like it did waiting to be served in a pub which shall remain nameless). We’ve gone back five hundred years but I could take you back further still to where a Roman goblet or Neolithic tools were found (and perhaps next year I will). The past should shape us but not limit us and I think this bit of Lichfield deserves something more imaginative than a resurfaced car park (I always get back to car parks these days somehow). Development for me is about constructively building on the foundations of what’s gone before and adding the next layer. Making sure you incorporate an old shoe in there somewhere of course. Chisel optional.

Sources:

Lichfield: Manors and other estates’, in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14, Lichfield, ed. M W Greenslade (London, 1990)

A – Z of Lichfield, Jono Oates (2019)

4 thoughts on “Good Omens

  1. There is however an Elizabethan part to Westgate in the roof. Part of it made from the bow of a ship. I lived in Westgate in 1971 – 6. Many an unhappy time spent there!

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  2. Fascinating piece, Kate – thank you.
    I’m interested in the photograph of Westgate (where I lived from 1963 to 1970, and was extremely happy) with all the scaffolding around it; assuming this is a fairly recent photo, then presumably major work is being done on the roof, which suggests perhaps new ownership and a new direction for the house. Does anyone know what is happening to it? It’s too beautiful a house to be left to decay.

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