Trailgating

Perhaps the biggest faux pax you can commit about the place that gave the world Samuel ‘Dictionary’ Johnson is to spell the name incorrectly. Outsiders, please note that these days the only acceptable ‘T’ in Lichfield comes with biscuits and/or cake. The other way to wind up a Lichfeldian is to refer to Staffordshire’s premier heritage city as a town. En-route to the Guildhall Cells, perpetrators of this crime are taken past our central railway station to illustrate just how wrong they were.

"Lichfield City Station (6668724487)" by Elliott Brown from Birmingham, United Kingdom - Lichfield City StationUploaded by Oxyman. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lichfield_City_Station_(6668724487).jpg#/media/File:Lichfield_City_Station_(6668724487).jpg

“Lichfield City Station (6668724487)” by Elliott Brown from Birmingham, United Kingdom – Lichfield City StationUploaded by Oxyman. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Once they are in the stocks, heretics are then read to from the charters, currently held at the museum in St Mary’s, which include Queen Mary’s declaration of 1553 that Lichfield was not only to be a city, as granted by her brother Edward five years earlier, but also a county in its own right.

stocks

“OK it’s a city. I get it. I’m sorry. I’m from Tamworth”

This is the charter which gave rise to the annual Sheriff’s Ride (and its much more recent and considerably shorter spin-offs), a twenty mile perambulation of the current boundary of Lichfield. I had often sat and wondered whether at any point, the boundary was physically marked in someway (I do need to get out more) and just recently found an article written in the late nineteenth century which says it was, “formerly marked by wooden posts, but they have much deteriorated and in some instances disappeared. A renewal in iron of the most important has recently taken place”.

The Sheriff perambulating Cross in Hand Lane in 2014

The 2014 Sheriff perambulating Cross in Hand Lane.

Descriptions of the boundary of the City of Lichfield date back to the late 1700s. Back then it was only a sixteen mile round trip. Although in 1806, local historian Harwood said they were based on ‘ancient writings’, I understand there is no earlier written description of exactly what constituted Lichfield. However, there are piecemeal records showing some of the boundary changes over the centuries. And there must have been a fair few changes to get from a medieval town you could walk around in an hour to a city with a circumference of sixteen miles.

Last week I spent a sunny morning trying to trace the boundary of what would have been the medieval town. With the help of John Snape’s 1782 plan of Lichfield, it’s actually fairly easy to do, even for someone as illiterate at map reading as me.  Bishop Roger de Clinton surrounded the south part of the new town he had laid out in the late twelfth century with a bank and ditch and fortified the shared northern boundary of the town and Cathedral Close. Apart from a couple of inconveniently placed walls, you can pretty much walk the whole way around.

The moat marking the northern boundary of both medieval Lichfield and the Close. Described on Snape's map as a dry ditch or dumble.

The moat marking the northern boundary of both medieval Lichfield and the Close. Described on Snape’s map as a dry ditch or dumble.

Remains of the NE Tower, part of the Close's fortifications.

Remains of the NE Tower, part of the Close’s fortifications.

Thanks to archaeological investigations, we know that the town ditch in the St John’s Street area was about five metres wide, two metres deep and inevitably, was also used as a public tip.

Castle Ditch plaque

The driveway passing the LD Council Offices follows the line of the town ditch, and there's a plaque there telling you that.

The driveway passing the Lichfield District Council Offices follows the line of the town ditch, and there’s a plaque there too.

When a section in the Council House car park was excavated in 2008, archaeologists discovered the sole of a woman’s shoe from the twelfth century, part of a medieval jug and the remains of a medieval dog’s head.

This plaque is located at the junction of Lombard St, Stowe Rd and George Lane

This plaque is located at the junction of Lombard St, Stowe Rd and George Lane.

Back to plaque, looking up George Lane which was actually once part of the town ditch

Back to plaque, looking up George Lane which was actually once part of the town ditch, possibly until the 16thc

Snape’s plan also marks the gates, or bar(r)s, at the main entrances into and out of Lichfield, and there are plaques at each of the locations, with the, hopefully temporary, exception of the Sandford Street gate. The building it was mounted on has recently been demolished but I’m sure the plaque is being kept safely somewhere….

Perhaps the best known of the gates is the one at St John Street which is still recalled in the name of St John the Baptist without the Barrs. You know, the place with all the chimneys. As the name indicates, this stood just outside the gate and started out as a hostel for those arriving when Lichfield was closed for business for the night, many of them pilgrims on their way to see the shrine of St Chad at the Cathedral.

st john sign

On the subject of names, the section of the ditch running from the gate on Tamworth Street, to the gate near St John’s Hospital was known as Castle Ditch, and this, alongside hard evidence in the form of stones turning up nearby and evidence of a slightly more fluffy nature in the form of myth and folklore, has caused endless speculation as to whether Lichfield ever had a castle proper alongside the fortified Close with its towers, turrets and strong walls.

Remains of south gate tower leading from dam Street to The Close. Excavated in the 1980s

Remains of one of the towers which were part of the south gate between Dam Street and The Close. Excavated in the 1980s.

So, plenty of opportunities to get out more here. I think the two mile-ish walk around the ditch will make an excellent Lichfield Discovered adventure. I would also happily walk sixteen miles to find one of those old iron boundary markers although I may be on my own with this. It’d also be interesting to see how Lichfield has burst its boundaries over the years gobbling up all of the surrounding settlements, so much so that it’d take you six hours and twenty four minutes to perambulate the current perimeter, according to this walking calculator I’ve found.  And that doesn’t even include getting distracted by other things or stopping off at the pub. It’ll have to wait though, as right now I’m off on an expedition to Borrowcop to see if I can capture Lichfield Castle.

1)  If we’re doing names, then I have to mention that Bakers Lane was once known as Peas Porridge Lane. Just because.

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Ferry Cross the Minster

Yesterday, the second of March, was the feast day of St Chad. In 669, Chad founded a monastery near to the site where the church named after him now stands, making Lichfield the new centre of the Diocese of Mercia (it had previously been Repton). Anyone interested in learning more about the life of Chad should read Patrick Comerford’s post here.

Statue of Chad at St Chad’s church, Lichfield

Around this time last year,  I wrote about the history of the well at St Chad’s and a little about the pilgrimage route between Lichfield and Chester. This year once again I found myself possibly following in the footstep of pilgrims, when I took a walk down Bird St.

The latest incarnation of St Chad’s Well

The view from St Chad’s. A question – why was the Saxon church built to house St Chad’s bones and later to become the Cathedral, built over there, and not at the site of Chad’s Monastery and Well?

An alley (or gully or ginnel depending on where you’re from) runs from Bird St, past the George Hotel and then takes a sharp turn towards Minster Pool. In the early fourteenth century it was called Wroo Lane, a name thought to be derived from the Middle English word ‘Wro’ meaning corner. Shortly afterwards, the lane became known as Cock Alley.  According to Thomas Harwood, this ‘new’ name came from a carpenter named Slorcock who once lived there. I’ve done my best to show the route I think the lane took but please also take a look at  it on John Snape’s wonderful 1781 map of Lichfield, which Brownhills Bob very generously shared here on his blog. Although these days it’s probably mostly used as a shortcut to the car park, the Collections for a History of Staffordshire (Volume Six) suggests that this was once an important thoroughfare, leading pilgrims to the ferry which would carry them across the water to the Cathedral.

Cock Alley. Or possibly Wroo Lane.

Looking back up towards Wroo Lane. Or possibly Cock Alley.

How did the pilgrims get over those big railings?

At present, I am unsure whether the existence of a ferry for pilgrim traffic is a theory or whether it has actually been confirmed by evidence. I shall keep looking for this and in the meantime, may I suggest that when walking around Lichfield you keep looking too. Remember, it’s not just buildings that have a history, but also the spaces between them.

 Sources:

‘Lichfield: The place and street names, population and boundaries ‘, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 37-42. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=42340

The History and Antiquities of the Church and City of Lichfield, Thomas Harwood

Collections for a history of Staffordshire Volume 6, Part 2, Willam Salt Archaeological Society

 

 

A Stone's Throw Away

I recently read a great post about the map maker John Ogilby on Kate Shrewsday’s wonderful blog. In 1675, Mr Ogilby was the creator of the first ever British road atlas, and after reading Kate’s post, I took another look at the section of his map of the London to Chester road, as it passed over the Warwickshire border into Staffordshire and on through Lichfield. You can see the map here.

The majority of the place names are recognisable and in use today, albeit with some changes to the spelling –  Burowcop Hill, Cank Wood and Sutton Cofield amongst others.There are however a handful of names that appear to have been lost over the last three hundred or so years. One intriguing feature marked on the route is the ‘Bishop’s Heap of Stones’, eight miles or so from Lichfield, between Canwell Hall (or Sir Francis Lawley‘s Cannell Hall as it’s shown on the map) and Hints.

The name seems to refer to a literal heap of stones, and it seems there are at least two  possible explanations for why this pile of pebbles was associated with a bishop. Thomas Pennant, when writing about his journey from Chester to London, discovered a handwritten note in a copy of William Dugdale’s ‘Warwickshire’, added by Dugdale himself, which read as follows:

There is a common report (which passeth for currant amongst the vulgar) that the great heape of stones, which lyeth near the road way from Litchfeild towards Coleshill, upon Bassets heath, called the Bishops Stones, and those other lesser heapes, which lye in the valley below; were at first laid there in memorie of a bishop and his retinue, who were long since rob’d and killed, as they were travailing upon that way: but this is a meere fabulous storye: for upon an inquisition made in King James his time, concerning the extent of common upon that heath, betwixt Weeford and Sutton;there was an old woman, called old Bess of Blackbrooke, being then above an hundred yeares of age, who deposed (inter alia) that the Bishop of Exeter living then at Moore Hall: taking notice how troublesome such a number of pibble stones as then lay in the roade thereabouts, were to all passengers, caused them to be pickt up, and thus layd upon heapes

In 1769, in his book The History and Antiquities of Shenstone, in the County of Stafford, the Reverend Henry Sanders, gives a similar but more detailed explanation. Sanders says that a woman from Blackbrook came to the inquiry into the parish boundaries and testified that in the reign of Henry VIII, or just after, John Vesey, the Bishop of Exeter had decided to become a benefactor to his birthplace of Sutton Coldfield. Bishop Vesey obtained a charter of incorporation for the town, revived the market and also built a number of stone houses (1) as part of an attempt to create an industry manufacturing Kersey, as they did in Devon. Bess (I’m assuming that she is ‘the woman from Blackbrook’ Sanders refers to), also told how when the Bishop was at Sutton he was annoyed by the rolling pebbles on the road which caused travellers’ horses to stumble and sometimes fall and so he employed poor people to gather them and lay them in heaps. Sanders describes the position of these heaps as follows:

On the hollow way between Weeford Hills or rather between Swynfen and Canwell lie divers heaps and one great one at the top of the hill at Weeford park corner which according to the tradition of the country people were placed there in memory of a bishop of Lichfield who riding with many attendants was slain with those servants by robbers and that these heaps were where the bodies were found which agreeable to this account and to honest and accurate antiquaries is entirely fabulous

I also think these stories are fabulous, but I suspect not quite in the way that the Reverend meant! It seems the tale of the murdered bishop didn’t ever hold much weight, but what about the version given by the local centenarian (who sounds like a legend in her own right!)? Were the stones gathered by the poor at the request of a Bishop or did they serve another purpose?  It’s interesting that there may have been more than one heap. Piles of stones are of course found across the world, and have many meanings and significances. I suspect that the Bishop’s heaps of stones will have been swept away, perhaps gradually scattered back onto the roads from where they came. It’s interesting to think that even a humble pebble beneath your feet may once have been part of a much bigger story.

Notes:

1 You can see one of the stone houses built by Vesey here

2 Kersey was a coarse cloth, often used to make servants clothing, and although it takes its name from the village in Suffolk, I understand that in Vesey’s time it was Devon that was at the centre of the Kersey industry in England.

 

Time On Our Hands

On my way to do some Christmas shopping in Lichfield,  I went to Beacon Park to see our new old friend Erasmus Darwin properly now that the crowds had dispersed. I thought it would just be me and the good doctor this Saturday lunchtime, but in fact there were already people reading the plaque, when I arrived and another small group turned up whilst I was there. I touched the shell in Darwin’s hand, and continued over to The Close, as with all the talk of water and conduits recently, I also wanted to have another look at the old pump outside the Cathedral.

Wall of Bishop’s Palace, North East corner of The Close

I then continued my walk north of the Cathedral, along the wall of the Bishop’s Palace, wondering about the provenance of the stone used to build it. In the north east corner of The Close, next to a pile of old grass cuttings and leaves, I peered over into what would have been the old ditch surrounding The Close. Something on one of the worn sandstone blocks caught my eye. Graffiti carved into the wall! Was there any more? Retracing my steps back along the wall I found several more examples.

Unfortunately, most of the markings either aren’t dated, or the dates have weathered away. So we are left with a series of initials, and not much else to work with. They may have been carved within weeks of each other or centuries apart. They may belong to pupils of the school, or they may belong to someone passing by with time on their hands. All that we really know, is that at various points in time, people decided to make their presence known in this quiet corner of The Close

One of the only legible dates on the wall. 188?

The listed building description for the wall (which can be found here) tells us that it’s probably over 300 years old. I haven’t yet been able to find where the stone was quarried from but the variation in colour and texture is beautiful. (Yes, I touched this too!)

The wall dates back to the rebuilding of the Bishops Palace in 1687. The original palace sustained severe damage in the Civil War and since then has actually only been the residence of the Bishop of Lichfield for a relatively short period. Bishop Selwyn took up residence in the 1860s and just under a hundred years later, in 1953, Bishop Reeve moved into a house on the south side of The Close. Since then the Palace has been part of Lichfield Cathedral School.

I have a photograph of the Bishop’s Palace from the back, but not the front. I do wonder about my thought process sometimes…

Of course, if anyone has any insights or information, please do get in touch. If it was you that stood here and added your initials to this old wall, I’d love to know when and why. However, I think that sometimes we have to accept that we will never know all the answers and just enjoy the time spent asking the questions.

Sources:

Lichfield: The cathedral close’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 57-67