Tame Adventures

The Spring Bank Holiday weekend is almost upon us which means it’s Bower time again! If you’re a Lichfeldian, the Greenhill Bower needs no introduction. If you aren’t, then their website here will tell you everything you need to know.

Lichfield’s oldest community event takes place on Monday, but in the meantime there’s a brand new one taking place in Coleshill, which looks fantastic. On Saturday 23rd May, the first ever TameFest will be celebrating the heritage of the Tame Valley, between Coleshill and Tamworth, with a range of stalls and free activities including woodworking, willow weaving, bird walks, stone carving and ale tasting with Church End Brewery. Normally, it’s the latter of these would be the biggest draw of the day for me. However, I’m even more excited about the fact that my old mate Mark Lorenzo and his Museufy group will be there leading TimeHikes walks which explore the history of Coleshill through its hidden places. If the name sounds familiar, it may well be that you remember Mark’s brilliant ‘Tamworth Time Hikes‘ blog.

TameFest is taking place at The Croft in Coleshill between 11am and 4pm, and if you want to go on a free TimeHike, get yourself to the Museufy stand at 11.30am or 2.45pm. Further information on the event and the other activities taking place can be found here.

farewell

A little closer to home, on Sunday, we’re doing a walk along the hedges and holloways of Abnalls Lane, across to the spring and church at Farewell, and back down the pilgrims’ path of Cross in Hand Lane. Via a pub of course. We’re meeting at 10.30am in the car park next to the football pitches on the Western Bypass. There’s more information on the Adventures in Lichfield blog or on the Facebook page. If ‘adventures’ conjures up images of zipwires and sleeping in subzero temperatures for you, let me reassure you that our adventures are more teddy bears’ picnic than they are Bear Grylls.

The idea for Adventures in Lichfield came about after talking to another old friend about the importance of getting people together for no other reason than to have fun and enjoy themselves. We’ve got other adventures coming up including ghost hunting in Cannock Wood, paddling and a picnic on Pipe Green and we’re just working out the details of a wildlife walk at dusk. So please come along and join in – you have only your socks to lose.

Muddy SockWherever you end up this bank holiday weekend, have a good one 🙂

 

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Refusing to Bough Down

I didn’t spend as long as I normally do at the Bower yesterday, but I did wander around the busy streets, catching the end of the procession on Dam St, and I was glad to hear that the day had been a success. Something that I’ve always been interested in is the traditions associated with the event and today I found an interesting story from the 1950s about one of those customs.

At dawn on Bower Day in 1952, some of the male residents of Lower Sandford St were gathering elm branches near to Beacon Farm, on the edge of what is now Beacon Park. Apparently every year, for as long as anyone could remember, the boughs had been cut from the trees and used to decorate the houses in ‘Old San’ as the street was known. However, as the men gathered the boughs, a police officer arrived and instructed them to stop, on the orders of the Town Clerk and the Estates Committee of the City Council, as it had been reported that in previous years the trees had been damaged.

The residents of ‘Old San’ were angry that their ancient privilege was being threatened and sent a message back to the Town Clerk and the Mayor, Cllr. C Bridgeman, that if no further boughs were allowed to be cut, then those that had already been collected would be used to barricade Sandford St and prevent the Bower Procession from entering. As tensions rose, the Town Clerk and the Mayor arrived at the scene and gave their permission for residents to continue collecting boughs, providing that no trees were damaged in the process. The boughs were then used to decorate the houses of old Sandford St along with bunting, balloons and slogans, with prizes awarded for the best decorated properties.  One lady, born in Sandford Street in the late nineteenth century, told the reporter that when she was younger the boughs had been taken from the old brook near the Bowling Green Inn. In her opinion,  “When ‘Old San’ finishes, so has the Bower”.

What’s also interesting is that the incident seemed to awaken a fighting spirit within Sandford St. At the start of June, a committee was formed following a outdoor meeting held on some waste ground in the street. With Mr Frank Halfpenny, the former City and County Councillor, as chair, the committee asked Lichfield City Council to address not only the issues that had arisen during Bower Day, but also other matters affecting them. The wanted Sandford Street to be regularly swept and cleaned, the sites owned by the council on the street, described as being in a ‘neglected and disgraceful condition’ to be ‘cleaned up, fenced in and, at the earliest possible opportunity, built on’ and recreation facilities, such as a playground to be provided in the park. The committee also planned to organise the street’s coronation celebrations for the following year, and to send parcels to local men serving in the forces.

I usually watch the Bower procession from outside the Police Mutual on Queen St, not far from Sandford St. As far as I know, the houses are no longer decorated and I’d be interested to know more about this tradition and the Sandford Street community, who clearly had their own strong identity within the city.

Source:

Lichfield Mercury Archive

A Flag Post

Hanging in the main hall of Lichfield’s Guildhall are banners representing the city’s wards. I’ve read on an information sheet about the Guildhall that these flags were created in 1975, by students from Lichfield’s School of Art. However, I’m wondering if they are based on anything earlier or if they are just recent(ish) designs? It does seem possible that each ward may have had its own symbol in the past – talking about The Court of Array in 1805, Thomas Harwood said,

“The public officers of the city attend and various processions are made by the constables and dozeners of each ward who in these processions anciently bore tutelary saints but which are now converted into garlands of flowers or emblems of their trade”.

 

Now, I had written down which flag in the Guildhall related to which ward on a piece of paper but I left it at the pub over the jubilee weekend (Ye Olde Windmill in Gentleshaw where I had a lovely steak & ale pie.  In fact, as the name suggests there is a ruined old windmill in the grounds, so the pub probably deserves a post of its own). I’ve been back to the Guildhall several times since, but haven’t been able to get into the main hall for one reason or another.

I can remember all but two. I think. Some are definitely more obvious than others. I reckon the best thing to do is put the photos up and see if anyone has any ideas about which flag relates to which ward and why. In the meantime I’ll try and get back to the Guildhall to make another list and hold onto it this time!  

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By the way, there is no flag for Leomansley, so I’ll just have to design my own. If anyone from the Lichfield School of Art Class of 1975 wants to get in touch to give me a hand with this, or to share the story of how the other banners came to be made,  that would be fantastic!

(1) History, Gazeteeer & Directory of Staffordshire William White 1834

A Short Account of the City & Close of Lichfield’ by Thomas George Lomax, John Chappel Woodhouse, William Newling (1819)

Lichfield: Town government, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 73-87

 

Lichfield Armour

On Wednesday, Pat sent me a link to a British Pathe film. The short film is from 1938 and shows boys and men dressed in armour for the Lichfield Bower. This on its own is fascinating stuff. However, this week it’s not only an interesting piece of footage but also a topical one!

The lead story in this week’s Mercury tells how the Bower Committee feel they have no choice but to sell off two of the four suits of armour they own (presumably some of those featured in the film?), to ensure the survival of the event.  You can read the full article here.

There’s so much more to be said on the Bower, about its history & its future and also its place in the Lichfield psyche. There is a great site for the Bower which explores some of the history behind this Lichfeldian tradition, as well as giving updates on this year’s festivities.

You can view a copy of the film by clicking here. I think the procession is travelling down Beacon St in the film, what does anyone else think? Huge thanks to Pat for his great contribution, as ever.

I don’t have any photos of the Bower Armour, but I do have a photo of a suit of armour I took somewhere else in Lichfield. Anyone else spotted this chap in ye olde city?

 

 

Edit 23/2/2012

Over on twitter, the Beacon Street Blog have spotted a story in the Lichfield Mercury, saying that the armour has been withdrawn from the sale, due to a dispute over ownership with Lichfield District Council.

Standing Stones

Police Mutual is on my route into central Lichfield. It’s also our spec for watching the Bower procession (from where my parents always tut about the Festival Gardens being used as a car park, but I digress…..).

I always think of the sea when I look at the sculpture in the entrance. However, I’ve never gone up to the front door for a closer look. So whilst out for a walk on a Sunday, with the office closed, I decided to have a peep through the glass doors.

Standing Stones – Please DO NOT attempt to skim these across Minster Pool

On reflection it was probably a you had to be there moment, but at the time I was delighted to discover the stones weren’t actually behind glass. “They’re are outside! Look!”, I yelled to an unenthusiatic Mr G. I walked around the stones a couple of times, because I could! It’s fast becoming something of a cliche, but once again I found myself thinking, “All the times I’ve walked past here & I didn’t know!”. On my third or fourth lap, a man walking past gave me a bemused look (possibly thinking I’d come straight from the Queens Head) and Mr G was trying to shuffle off in the direction of Greggs. As there was no further clue to what the stones represented or their purpose,  I took a photo and followed.

Back home, I discovered that the sculpture is called ‘Standing Stones’, and is an abstract in glass fibre reinforced concrete, designed by Marcus Hole in 2000.  And the sea connection? Well,  they are supposed to be larger versions of the water-smoothed pebbles that, if you’re anything like me, you pick up on the beach for closer examination. Go and have a look at the giant Lichfield ones & see what you think….they’re outside you know!

As always, one thing leads to another, and it got me thinking more about public sculpture & art. I believe the most recent in Lichfield,  is said to be the “Formation of Poetry”, by Peter Walker (who coincidentally shares the name with the author of the PMAS book!). It was commissioned to celebrate Dr Johnson’s Tercentenary and can be found in the Tesco carpark.

The Formation of Poetry

Intriguingly though, Pat has told me about an artwork commissioned to celebrate the millenium in Lichfield, that seems to have disappeared. It looks like an angel and answers to the name ‘Vision & Youth’. Perhaps a bit of detective work is needed, which is quite appropriate as it was the Police Mutual book which started all this off 😉

Sources:

Public Sculpture of Staffordshire & the Black Country – George T Noszlopy & Fiona Waterhouse

http://www.malvern-net.co.uk/mal-net/m_biznes/carlytinkler/news/2000_12.htm

http://52weeksofart.com/main.php/2010/11/21/the-formation-of-poetry-model

A Bower Queen in Beacon Park

This beautiful photograph is of Clara Talbott, and it was her prize for being chosen as the Lichfield Bower Queen in 1931. Clara was the third Queen to be crowned and although other parts of the Bower date back to much earlier, it seems this tradition only began in 1929. The Lichfield Mercury reported that Clara’s ‘long auburn hair had provided a very favourable comparison with the more modern ‘bobs’ and ‘shingles’. It goes on to tell us that Clara was assisted by her ‘fair maids of honour’ Misses R Orton, M Barker, F Nevill and K Carroll.

A mirror was used to give the impression of a reflection in water.

The photograph belongs to Vickie Sutton, Clara’s granddaughter. She told me that the photograph was taken in woods around Leomansley, where the A51 western bypass now cuts through the woodland. I understand that these trees here were planted by the owners of the now vanished Beacon Place.

Woodland at the edge of Beacon Park and the old carriage driveway from Christ Church to Beacon Place, with the A51 through the middle!

Clara’s family farmed land on Beacon Park and once married, Clara and her husband Frederick Hatchett lived in The Lodge in Greenhough Rd. As the name suggests this was a lodge for Beacon Place and at one point was used as a laundry for the house – it was known as Laundry Lodge in 1891! Vickie has heard from a family member that it may also have been used a some sort of cafe for soldiers in the first world war. I haven’t been able to find any specific references to this yet but records show that Beacon Place was used by officers during WWI and was purchased by the war department in 1922. Cuthbert Brown remembers military figures entering Beacon Place in his wonderful book ‘Lichfield Remembered’.

Once again huge thanks to Vickie for allowing me to share this. The Beacon Place Estate is definitely on my list of things to explore. It may be long gone, but traces of it still linger on….

Sources:

Lichfield Mercury May 1931
A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990)
1891 Census
Lichfield Remembered by Cuthbert Brown
Chatting to Vickie Sutton, font of Lichfield knowledge!