The Leomansley Witch Project

Imagine you’re watching a horror film. A woman heads into ancient woods which are shrouded in mist. And before long, she comes across a tree. With an eye stuck to it.

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Chances are at this point in the film, you’d be shouting, ‘Don’t go in there. Run away!, whilst feeling smugly confident behind your cushion that you’d never be as stupid as to stay hanging around in mist shrouded woods where there are eyes stuck to trees. Well, I was in Leomansley Woods earlier this week. It was shrouded in mist and there was an eye on a tree. But did I leg it? No. And not just because I don’t do running under any circumstances.

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If something wicked that way had come, I had Finn the swamp dog to protect me and my experience of fighting off a clown in Beacon Park earlier in the month to draw upon. Crucially though, I know and love these woods and consider the tokens and trinkets that have been appearing there since the summer more curious than creepy, possibly symbols of someone else’s affection for them.

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Back in 2004, when I was a newcomer to these parts, I remember getting a call from my sister telling me to go and take a look in the woods as somebody, or more likely somebodies, had created works of art in amongst the trees. There were mosaics created from leaves and petals, clay faces sculpted onto the trunks of trees and brightly coloured papers hanging from their branches. For reasons I can’t remember, I didn’t take any photographs but I can clearly recall the sense of mystery and magic someone had created in the woods that day. We never discovered who or why and there was no encore. The seasons turned and the years went by and then, early this summer, we began to notice things. At first it was subtle. A pebble placed here, a strip of silver birch bark there. It was the first piece of pottery appearing lodged in the knot of a tree that convinced us this was more than the handy work of squirrels and our overactive imaginations. Dog walks took on a new dimension as every day seemed to bring something new. I’m sure at its peak, others were joining in and making their own contributions. And this time I did bring my camera.

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As the summer faded, the activity seemed to wane, and I’d assumed there would be no more. The other half took over the dog walks for a while but recently, for reasons involving a prolapsed disc, I took up the lead once again. Many of the original tree decorations had vanished but a handful of hawthorn berries, melted candle wax and a tickle of feathers (that’s genuinely and rather pleasingly the collective noun for them) had taken their place. Interestingly, others seem to be joining in once again, including the Leomansley contingent of the One Direction fan club.

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Once again, the who and why is a mystery, and perhaps that is how it should remain. Whether activity continues beyond the season of the witch or not, for me, Leomansley Woods will always remain a magical place.leomansley-cobweb

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On the Rocks

Lichfield is about as far as you can get from the sea. Somebody once wrote to the Guardian to say there was a plaque somewhere in the city making this claim but I’ve never seen it. However, being stuck in the middle of the country has not prevented the formation of the Lichfield Lighthouse Company, a group who meet at the Kings Head to sing sea shanties each month. It also didn’t stop me from heading out to look for shells in the city centre yesterday.

I’d read about the London Pavement Geology project over breakfast and I persuaded the other half to put his geology degree to good use and help me find out what Lichfield is made of, other than the ubiquitous sandstone (lovely though it is).

Lichfield Cathedral on Martyrs Plaque, Beacon Park

Lichfield Cathedral on Martyrs Plaque made from sandstone

Our first port of call was another of landlocked Lichfield’s nautical links. Unless you live under a rock, you’ll probably be familiar with Beacon Park’s statue of Captain Smith which someone from Hanley in Stoke on Trent tries to appropriate whenever there’s a new chapter in the Titanic story, due to the mistaken belief that the statue was originally intended for their town. On this occasion, it wasn’t the bronze captain but the plinth he was stood on that interested me. The nearby plaque told me it was Cornish Granite, a material which has also been used at the Titanic Memorial in London and the memorial at Belfast. I wonder whether there are any symbolic reasons for choosing this stone alongside the practical and aesthetic ones?

Captain Smith plaque, Beacon Park

Captain Smith plaque, Beacon Park

Not far from the Captain, King Edward VII stands on a base made of Hopton Wood stone. Get up close and you can see that the limestone is full of fossils including (and please correct me if I’m wrong) corals, crinoids and brachiopods from around 350 million years ago when the area that was to eventually become Derbyshire was under water. Lichfield wasn’t always so far from the sea!  It seems a similar stone has been used for the plinth Samuel Johnson sits on in the Market Square, as that too is full of fossils.

Samuel Johnson statue, Market Square, Lichfield

Samuel Johnson statue, Market Square, Lichfield

Fossils in Dr Johnson statue Fossils in Dr Johnson statue 2Of all the building materials we saw on our travels, the most unusual were to be found in a wall on Christchurch Lane. According to a booklet on the history of Leomansley compiled by the Friends of Christ Church, it was built by Cloggie Smith who used anything suitable that he had in his yard at the time. So, no Portland Stone here, just two Belfast Sinks. Are there any other examples of unorthodox construction materials used in and around the city?

Wall mounted Belfast sink

Wall mounted Belfast sink

You’ve probably guessed that I am way out of my depth when talking about geology, but the point is that after eleven years, seven months and two days here in Lichfield, someone made me look afresh at things so familiar that I barely saw them any more. Sometimes, the most amazing things are right under your nose. Or, in this case, under Dr Johnson’s and King Edward VII’s noses.

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King Edward VII statue Lichfield Fossils in King Edward VII statue Lichfield

 

Made of Stone

During the last couple of weeks, if you’ve walked along the path that runs along the top of Beacon Park (between the A51 and the football pitches), chances are that you might have spotted this pile of moss covered stones. A lot of the vegetation in this area has been removed recently, making their presence much more obvious than when I first came across them in Spring last year.

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Back when I first noticed them, I did a bit of asking around and I was given three different stories regarding their provenance. The most likely explanation came from someone at Lichfield District Council who said that the stonework was a section of the balustrade which runs around the park at the Beacon Street/Bird Street entrance, which had been removed to make a new corner entrance (near to the Chandlers kiosk/public toilets) sometime in the 1980s. However, someone else thought that the stones were what remained of a structure belonging to the farm which once occupied this area of the park and another person suggested that they were part of some sort of tower which was at Stowe Pool until it was dismantled after becoming structurally unsafe.

Last week, Bob Houghton, from the Burntwood Family History Group and Lichfield and Hatherton Canal Restoration Trust noticed them and sent me an email to say that some of the people who work at the park had told him that they were from the old post office which once stood on Bird Street, where Ego now is. So now we have yet another explanation!

To be honest, I’m torn between the truth and enjoying the ongoing speculation about what the stones are and how they came to be in a patch of woodland in the park. As the moss grows fat on these old stones, I hope that the stories keep growing too.

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The last time I walked past the stones,  I found a handful of bits and bobs scattered around them.  I’m pretty sure these are jigsaw pieces to other stories and nothing at all to do with this little puzzle. However,  if you want to include a scrabble tile, some pottery, a piece of tile and an old clay pipe into your version of the story, then please feel free!

 

Banned Stand

How do you make a bandstand? Take away the chairs. Or if you’re lucky, a local dignitary will provide you with one. In July 1893, during his third stint as Mayor of Lichfield, Major John Gilbert presented the city with a bandstand to mark the marriage of Princess Mary of Teck and the Duke of York (later George V and Queen Mary).

The Bandstand in 1905, taken from Wikipedia Commons

The Bandstand in 1905, taken from Wikipedia Commons

It stood in the Recreation Grounds of what is now Beacon Park but by 1925, Major Gilbert’s gift had become a bit of a problem. In March, the secretary of the Lichfield Cycling Institute wrote to the City Council saying that since the cycle track had been created in the Recreation Grounds, many thought that the bandstand should be removed. Even with padding around the structure, there was the risk of an appalling accident. Councillor Perrins agreed with the cyclists. In his opinion the bandstand was a death-trap and should be removed, or the track shut. Alderman Winter wanted the wishes of the late donor’s family to be taken into account but Councillor Tayler thought this was ‘sentiment before service’. In the end, the matter was referred to the Museum Committee. In December 1925, the Mercury gave an update on ‘that bandstand’. Lichfield City Council had decided to keep it where it was as it would collapse if it was moved. It was fortified with concrete, bricks and stone (some of which came from the old Friary – more bits of that ancient building can supposedly be found at the toilets in the park).  One member of the council defended the bandstand’s retention on the grounds it was an object of beauty.  However, the Mercury correspondent’s view was that ‘it is even less useful than it is beautiful’. One concession that was made to public demand was that the railings near to the cycle track were taken in line with the base of the stand. The Mercury concluded by suggesting that Lichfield be grateful for these small mercies, ‘even if the circumstances do not incline us to raise a song of joy about them’.

I think the bandstand was round abouts here

I think the bandstand was round abouts here

I believe that eventually the bandstand was eventually removed due to costs of upkeep. I’m not sure exactly when this was but believe it to have been sometime in the 1960s (it doesn’t show on a 1966 map of Lichfield). When I went to have a look at where the bandstand once stood, I spotted this old metal post. It looks to me as if it was part of the old gates leading into the recreation grounds, which you can see on the postcard above.

You never know what's lurking in the shrubbery...

You never know what’s lurking in the shrubbery…

Rumour has it that the bandstand itself is also still to be found in the park somewhere… Sounds a little unlikely? You’d be amazed at what people leave lying around gathering moss. I’ve heard that over the years people have called for a new Beacon Park bandstand. Yet, prior to its removal the original doesn’t seem to have been that popular or well used (although some blamed the lack of interest on Lichfield’s junior citizens for running around the bandstand making a noise, and driving the spectators away). Is a new bandstand a good idea or rose tinted nostalgia? Either way, I’d love to know if you find any bits of the old one in the shrubbery.