All Alongside the Watchtower

At the church of St Michael’s and All Angels, in Hamstall Ridware I was greeted by four arms waving (a sword) at me from a tomb. It belongs to the splendidly named Thomas Stronginthearm, who left this small village for the bright candles of Chicago in 1803, before making a final journey back home home to rest in the Staffordshire soil which his family had toiled upon – according to the church booklet, the Stronginthearms were yeoman famers.

Stronginthearm

The name appears several times in the Hamstall Ridware parish registers, available online here, recording all those who were baptised, married and buried here between 1598 and 1812. There are also other snippets of information on life in the village, including an entry in June 1806 when the Rector Edward Cooper led twenty five parishioners on a procession around its boundaries, beginning at Gallows Green, going along the Yoxall Rd as far as Sutton’s Farm, and then proceeding towards the Trent. Later that Summer, Edward’s cousin Jane Austen came to stay with him for five weeks, and it’s believed that she may have used Hamstall Ridware as inspiration for the fictional ‘Delaford’ in Sense and Sensibility. http://www2.lichfielddc.gov.uk/hamstallridware/about/

font 1

 

font 2

On the subject of baptism, there are three fonts here. Inside the church is the one that is currently used, which dates from nineteenth century and there’s the lovely Norman bowl which was relocated here from the church of St James at Pipe Ridware. Outside, and being used as a flowerpot, is the third, also said to be Norman. At the time of the Burton Scientific Society’s visit to the church in 1924, this font was on the vicarage lawn. One of the society members, a Mr Noble claimed that it was the relatively recent work of an Armitage mason who did a good trade in producing mock ancient stonework, for people with antiquarian tastes. However, the Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in Britain and Ireland seem happy that the font is twelfth century, and presumably they know what they are talking about.

churchyard

There’s also the base of a medieval churchyard cross here to which a much later shaft and cross have been added, although a fragment of the original shaft remains nearby.  It was while I was having a look at this, that I noticed the ruins of a brick building, looming up behind the church tower.  This is the late 15thc/early 16thc watch tower, once part of the now derelict manor house, Hamstall Hall. When the Burton Scientific society visited, they climbed a wooden staircase to the roof where they enjoyed ‘a good view of the surrounding area’ – it’s said that you can see four counties from the top. Given that that the hall features on the ‘Heritage at Risk’ List and is considered to be at risk of collapsing, it’s probably best to take their word for it. There are other remains of the hall here too, which I missed, including a Tudor gateway, and the porch to the old hall.

watch tower

 

Showing St Michaels Church and the tower of Hamstall Hall in the background.   © Copyright Graham Taylor and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Showing St Michaels Church and the tower of Hamstall Hall in the background.
© Copyright Graham Taylor and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

In June 1939, the Derbyshire Times did a feature on a ninety three year old woman known as ‘Grannie Shelton’, who worked as a parlour maid and nurse at the hall, and married her husband on 19th March 1863 at St Michael’s. She told the paper that she had never seen a ghost but had once, ‘been down amongst the dead men’ – when a member of the Squire of Hamstall Hall’s family died she entered the family vault to have a look around and saw six coffins inside, each covered by a black cloth but with the white face of each of the corpses visible through the glass. Mrs Shelton also once dressed up as a ghost to scare the pantry boy that she suspected of stealing fruit from the Hall, causing him to run for his life shouting ‘The Devil is in the pantry!’ The devil may not have been in the pantry, but apparently he was found in a small hollow compartment in one of the bedrooms of the old manor house in the form of a stone image, complete with horns, depicted as ‘shaving a pig with red skin’ (I swear that I haven’ t made this up!). The report suggests that the Hall was formerly a Nunnery, and this hollow would have been somewhere nuns would carry out penance for breaking the rules. I can’t see any reference anywhere else to hall being used as a convent and I can’t help but wonder if it could have been a priests’ hole?  The hall belonged to the Catholic Fitzherbert family from 1517 to 1601. Sir Thomas Fitzherbert was imprisoned in the Tower of London for thirty years until his death on 2nd October 1591. All pure speculation on my part.

Feel like I’ve only just dipped my toe into the (holy) water when it comes to the history of Hamstall Ridware…

Daisy, Daisy

Recently, I’ve spent more time in churches than ever before in my life (with the possible exception of the Summer of 2004, when I went to so many weddings that I was able to recite 1 Corinthians 13 off by heart). When I was younger, history for me was all about the castles. Churches were boring. The only remotely interesting thing about them was that, with their crenellations, some of them looked a bit like castles. Now I know that they can tell stories just as good as any castle, but you just need to know where to look.

SAM_1851

Before even stepping inside All Saints in Kings Bromley, there are plenty of interesting tales. ‘Lady Godiva’s’ cross in the churchyard, originally dates back to the 14th century, but was restored in 1897.

SAM_1842

I was delighted but intrigued to see a reference to one of my childhood heroines here. The story I knew as a little girl was that Godiva pleaded with her husband Leofric, Earl of Mercia, to reduce the taxes he imposed on the people of Coventry. Leofric tried calling her bluff by saying he would do so, if she rode through the marketplace in the buff. Unfortunately for him, his wife not only had compassion, but also really, really long hair which according to Roger of Wendover who first recorded the story, ‘covered the whole of her body like a veil’, as she climbed onto her horse and successfully carried out her legendary protest. The connection with Kings Bromley is that Godiva and Leofric had a summer residence or hunting lodge here, where Leofric died in 1057 and may well have been involved with an earlier church which could have stood on this site.

SAM_1844

Unlike others I’ve seen recently, I’m pleased to say the church itself hasn’t been fully restored by those pesky Victorians, but has a range of architectural styles and features dating back to at least the eleventh century, but possibly even earlier than that – the HER description says that this is an Anglo-Saxon wall, and somewhere within it there is possibly even a Romano-British brick. On a buttress near to this ancient wall is a medieval scratch dial which, with the assistance of the sun, would once have helped the priest be on time for mass. On the buttress in-between the porch and the sixteenth century tower there is another carving, but unlike the scratch dial, no-one is quite sure of its significance.

SAM_1845

The daisy wheel carving is described as a mason’s mark in the churches information sheet. Although this is the first I’ve seen, this symbol regularly crops up on old buildings, especially churches. Whilst some believe these carvings have a practical function, others believe they were carved for good luck or protection against evil spirits.

SAM_1846

On a bit of a tangent, on the subject of childhood and daisies and folklore, I did wonder about some of the little rituals surrounding these flowers that we unthinkingly carried out as kids. The name is thought to come from the old English ‘Daes Eage’ meaning ‘day’s eye’, and refers to the way the flower opens and closes with sunlight. I’ve read that wearing daisy chains was thought to protect you from being abducted by fairies (must work, I’m still here!) and that one of its folk names is ‘Measure of Love’, from the game where you pull off the petals one by one, chanting, ‘He loves me, he loves me not’. Apparently, there is another less risky version of this game in which you chant, ‘He loves me, he loves me lots’. If only someone had told me this at the time, I wouldn’t have had to cheat so much.

SAM_1858

Anyway, as it says in those half remembered lines from Corinthians, I’ve put away childish things. Well, most of them anyway….

SAM_1866

Sources

http://www.medievalgraffitisurrey.org/circles.html

All The World's a Stage

Apparently, somewhere in the graveyard of what was once the church of St James in Pipe Ridware are the remains of a medieval cross. The churchyard is overgrown and the grass is long, but it’s not so much of a wilderness that you’d miss a 1.6metre high stone shaft. Except that I did and so now I’m kicking myself and planning a return visit of course. The churchyard cross, wherever it may be, would have been a communal memorial to those who have had their exits and are buried here.  Of the individual monuments here, the inscription on this one caught my eye.

SAM_1499

In January 1805, Joseph Alldritt died and his remains were ‘interr’d’ here with his ‘feet East from the Foot of this Stone’. I know that Christians are buried with their head west and feet east, but why was it felt necessary to point this out on the gravestone? Any ideas?

SAM_1490

The church itself was deemed surplus to requirements by the Church of England in 1983, and has been used as a theatre since July 1985. I’m hoping that the Ridware Theatre is still up and running, although it looks as though their website hasn’t been updated for a while. In 1842, the church was completely rebuilt by the Victorians (a phrase I am encountering frequently and beginning to dread) but one original feature that they did leave was an early Norman font, which can now be found at Hamstall Ridware church. There’a a drawing of it on Staffordshire Past Track here and there are also several drawings of the old church here too, which shows that it had a small bell turret and not many windows.

SAM_1506

There was a pub in the village until 1919 but apparently, its license wasn’t renewed after one of the punters threw a tankard at the bells, whilst a service was going on. Seems the residents of this little village pride themselves on creating a scene…

SAM_1495

SAM_1492

 

An Old Wives' Tale

Inside the south porch of St James the Great at Longdon, above the inner door which leads in to the rest of the church, there is a Norman archway. There’s a Green Man (more information on him and his mysterious origins here) here, carved onto one of the capitals, and below this is the ‘Bride’s Hand’, a rough carving of a hand, with a heart in its centre. According to the church’s visitor guide, the name relates to the old tradition that women arriving at the church to be wed would place their own hand on the carved one, in the hope that it would bring happiness and fertility to their marriage. Apparently, some Longdon brides still observe this custom.

Until I did some reading on the subject,  I had no idea how much the rite of marriage has changed over the centuries. I understand that until the Reformation, the majority of the wedding ceremony, including the exchanging of rings and vows, would take place here at the doors of the church and it seems it was only after the couple were husband and wife that they would enter the church, for a nuptial mass.

SAM_1571

The Bride’s Hand

SAM_1552

Inner door of south porch with Norman arch

 

SAM_1567

Green Man at Longdon

The Staffs Past Track site has a photograph of the ‘Bride’s Hand’ taken in 1950 and as well as mentioning the above custom, the caption also says that it is believed to be a talisman against the evil eye. Until a fortnight ago, I knew nothing of the symbolism that could be contained within a hand. In Hoar Cross, I came across a hand shaped door knocker, something I assumed meant nothing more than a quirky taste in door furniture. However, when Joss Musgrove Knibb, of the Lichfield Gazette, told me that a similar style of knocker was popular in the Mediterranean, I did more reading. I know that jumping to conclusions about ancient beliefs based on an hour of googling is not advisable. But I’m going to do it anyway.

SAM_1272

Door knocker at Hoar Cross

It seems that the symbol of a hand predates the three Abrahamic religions, but that it appears in all three. In Islam, it is the ‘Hamsa’, sometimes known as ‘the hand of Fatima’ and in Judaism it is known as ‘Hamesh’,or ‘the hand of Miriam’. Although the symbol seems less popular in Christianity, it is apparently known as ‘the Hand of Mary’.

SAM_1566

Madonna’s Head in between the arches of the Stonywell Chapel, inside the church

So, it seems this symbol is associated with women, and I’ve seen it mentioned a couple of times, although admittedly only on Wikipedia and a couple of other non-academic sites, that it has connections to fertility and pregnancy.  I’ve also read that an eye was sometimes added to the centre of the palm, to make its power to avert the evil even stronger. Here at Longdon, in place of an eye, we have a heart. Don’t we?

Of course, the hand at Longdon may ‘just’ be a bit of graffiti, that’s been adopted as a bit of superstition, but who carved it here at Longdon, and when and why? I’ve been to a fair few churches, and have never come across this before. The positioning and the known use of the hand as a protective symbol, does make you wonder….gives the concept of a ‘hand in marriage’ a whole new perspective!

Sources:

The Parish Church of St James the Great – A Guide for the Visitor

For Better, for Worse: British Marriages, 1600 to the Present by John R. Gillis

http://voyseyandjones.wordpress.com/tag/fatima-hand-door-knocker/

http://israelity.com/tag/archeology/

 

 

Angel Delight

Inspired by Brownhills Bob’s love of the place and the inclusion of Holy Angels in Simon Jenkins’ list of England’s Thousand Best Churches, I finally visited Hoar Cross last weekend.

SAM_1271

As Nikolaus Pevsner says in his book on Staffordshire buildings,‘The story of Hoar Cross is well known enough’, but it bears repeating here. Work on the red brick, Jacobean style hall, now used as a spa resort, began in 1862, shortly before Hugo Meynell Ingram married Emily Charlotte Wood. The hall was completed in 1871, but in that same year Hugo was killed in a hunting accident. The widowed Emily employed George Frederick Bodley and his partner Thomas Garner to build a church in his memory, in the grounds of the home they had shared. Emily died in 1904, her remains interred near to those of her husband, whose body had been brought here from the parish church at Yoxall, after the dedication of Holy Angels in 1876. It’s said that Emily was never completely satisfied with her creation, but from what I’ve read it’s considered a masterpiece by all those who know their stuff architecturally. For what it’s worth, I think it’s beautiful too.

SAM_1245

If anyone wants to give me a lesson in how to take photos of windows & getting the light right I will be eternally grateful.

The contribution of Lichfield sculptor and stone mason Robert Bridgemans is acknowledge on thois tablet, decorated with a mallet, chisel and other tools.

You wouldn’t be able to tell, because the photo is so bad, but this tablet acknowledges the contribution of Lichfield sculptor and stone mason Robert Bridgeman and is decorated with a mallet, chisel and other tools.

However, as well as this story of love, loss and incredible architecture, I’m also interested in the earlier chapters in Hoar Cross’s history.  According to Horovitz’s Staffordshire place name study, the name of the village was first recorded in 1230 as ‘Horcros’ and is thought to refer to a grey cross or boundary cross. Whether this was a marker for the point where the four wards of Needwood Forest once met, or whether it indicated the extent of land owned by Burton Abbey in these parts, or whether something else entirely is a matter for ongoing speculation. Whatever its purpose, the cross that gave the place its name is long gone and now it is only the name that remains.

SAM_1172

There is another boundary marker on one of the grass verges in the village. It appears on a 1923 Ordnance Survey map as a ‘boundary stone’ and seems to mark a parish boundary – Hoar Cross sits between Yoxall and Newborough.

SAM_1191

I’d also like to know more about the original Hoar Cross Hall – the medieval moated house, known as the ‘Manor of the Cross’. According to Stebbing Shaw’s History of Staffordshire, the hall was destroyed in the 1700s and a farmhouse built on the site. According to the English Heritage Pastscape record, there is little in the form of maps or archaeology to back up this anecedotal evidence but the fact that there is an 18thc farmhouse known as Hoar Cross Old Hall suggests that Shaw was probably correct.

Meynell Ingram Arms

Despite not setting foot in the spa (not really my cup of herbal tea), my trip to Hoar Cross left my mind and spirit feeling indulged. Before leaving, I stopped off to indulge my body too, with a drink at the Meynell Ingrams Arms. Dating back to the seventeenth century, this former farm house became a coaching inn known as the Shoulder of Mutton. The name was changed in the 1860s, around the time of Emily and Hugo’s wedding, and the rebuilding of the Hall. Sadly, there was no sign of Basil, the horse who attracted media attention several years ago for actually walking into the bar and enjoying a pint of pedigree, but after a couple of hours at Hoar Cross, I had anything but a long face as I headed back to Lichfield.

SAM_1188

Sources:

Click to access Hoar%20Cross.pdf


Midlandspubs.co.uk
‘A Survey and Analysis of the Place-Names of Staffordshire’ by David Horovitz, LL. B https://lichfieldlore.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/397633_vol2.pdf
Lichfield Mercury Archive
http://www.patrickcomerford.com/2014/04/art-for-lent-36-two-portraits-of-emily.html
Staffordshire (A Shell Guide) by Henry Thorold
The Buildings of England – Staffordshire by Nikolaus Pevsner

Encrypted

I first heard of the crypt beneath St Editha’s in Tamworth town centre a couple of years back when Mark from Tamworth Time Hikes visited and wrote about the place (see here). A recent article in the Tamworth Herald reminded me of its existence and so with an hour or so to kill in the town before an appointment, I went to take a look for myself.

St Editha's from Tamworth Castle

St Editha’s from Tamworth Castle

Exisiting stonework shows that the church dates back to at least 1080 but it’s thought the Normans may have built on the site of an existing Saxon church. It’s a wonderful mixture of architectural styles, with some beautiful stained glass and monuments to the great and good (and probably not so good) of Tamworth, plus a rare double spiral staircase in the tower. However, with only limited time, all of these wonders would have to wait for another day as I wanted to focus on the crypt.

SAM_1148

In the 1860s, the entrance was apparently down through a trap door and along a narrow passage. These days the crypt is reached via a flight of steps, making it far more accessible, but perhaps a little less atmospheric, especially as what looks like a Mothercare stairgate has been installed to prevent people tumbling to their doom.  Rightly or wrongly, I’m not the sort of woman who goes around opening stairgates without first seeking permission and so I went over to the bookshop to ask.  Here, I got a little distracted from the task in hand and ended up buying a book on ‘The Castles and Moated Mansions of Staffordshire’ (within which I’m sure lie the beginnings of many future wanderings) but soon got back on track and asked about going down into the crypt. Luckily for me, the church guide was sat in a nearby pew reading a newspaper and he offered to take me down there and tell me all about its history.

SAM_1137

One theory is that seven hundred years ago the crypt was part of a stand alone chapel, that may even have been Saxon in origin. At some point in the fourteenth century it was incorporated into the main church. During the reign of Elizabeth I, it started to be used as a charnel house to accommodate the old bones that were disturbed when new graves were being dug in the churchyard. This remained its purpose until 1869, when the crypt was needed to house a boiler and the bones were returned to the churchyard, reburied in the north east corner. I nearly fell off my plastic chair when we were told that there was a plague pit beneath our feet and coffin lids in the roof above our heads, including one thought to have belonged to a crusader and on which faint carvings can still be seen.

You can just about make out the carvings on what is said to be the stone coffin lid of a crusader

You can just about make out the carvings on what is said to be the stone coffin lid of a crusader

I’m assuming the coffins themselves were destroyed during the Victorian renovations, although one does survive in the main body of the church, near the entrance to the Comberford chapel.

One of the stone coffins can now be found outside the Comberford chapel

One of the stone coffins can now be found outside the Comberford chapel

When Mark wrote about the crypt he included this brilliant drawing of it from a Victorian account of Tamworth by Charles Ferrers Raymund Palmer.

According to Ferrers, when he entered the crypt, the bones were stacked up in very regular order and occupied the whole of the east end, where local folklore had it that a passageway ran from here to the Castle. In trying to find this passageway, Ferrers says he made a path through the bones by ‘carefully piling them aside’ but found ‘nothing there, except the remains of the ancient altar; the stone slab of which is gone’. He was unable to examine the floor at the base of the altar as there was nowhere to store the bones, which were ‘so rotten, that they crumbled to pieces beneath our feet’ as ‘in spite of all our efforts, they returned to our feet, and their dull clatter seemed a reproach to us, for disturbing their long and quiet repose in the sacred place’.

Ferrers is clearly made out of sterner stuff than me. Stood in near darkness with the bones of ancient Tamworthians rolling around his feet he even stayed down the crypt long enough to examine an ancient Latin inscription on the wall. Still visible today, the verse is thought to date back to the fourteenth century and is now protected by glass. Apparently it translates as:

O Lord of wealth and power
Thou shalt not live for evermore
Do well whilst life thou hast
If thou should live when death is past

SAM_1121

Crypt Tamworth

SAM_1141

All the guide wanted in return for his time and knowledge, was a comment in the visitor book. So, if you ever go, and I really hope you do because it’s such an incredible place, don’t forget to sign it on the way out (you may notice a comment from a very enthusiastic and delighted Kate Gomez of Lichfield…)

Sources:

The history of the town and castle of Tamworth by Charles Ferrers Raymund Palmer

A Short History and Tour of St Editha’s Church, Tamworth by Stan T Parry

http://tamworthtimehikes.wordpress.com/2010/12/24/the-crypt/

 

Wolverhampton Wandering

I had to pop into Wolverhampton today. I knew from my search for an ancient cross in Lichfield a couple of years back that there was a Saxon cross shaft here and went to find it.  Unlike the Lichfield cross, I didn’t have to try too hard – it’s huge! Its size, and also the fact that it is made from sandstone not found in Wolverhampton, has led some archaeology types to suggest that it is probably a reused Roman column, possibly from Wroxeter or even just up the road in Wall.

Saxon Cross Shaft, WolverhamptonThe elements and pollution have not treated the shaft kindly but its still clear that this was an incredible piece of craftmanship – the Black Country History website describes it as, ‘one of the finest cross shafts in the Midlands’. The carvings of acanthus leaves which decorate the shaft alongside those of birds and beasts have given archaeologists some problems when trying to establish a date as they suggest different periods. The plaque accompanying the shaft in the churchyard has decided to go with the earlier date of the ninth century, whilst others believe late tenth century is more accurate.

Cross Shaft Wolverhampton

On the way out of the churchyard I noticed another stone with a good back story. Known as the Bargain Stone, its said to be where the good (and probably not so good) folk of Wolverhampton would agree sales and make deals by shaking hands through the hole. The nearby plaque suggests it is an old gargoyle and the hole is what remains of its mouth.

SAM_0031

Talking of hands, why didn’t it occur to me to put my hands over the railings to take a better photo?

As if ancient crosses and stones weren’t enough of a treat, we also found Holden’s Brewery’s Great Western near to the train station. This is a proper pub – cobs on the bar, Holden’s Golden Glow (amongst other delights) on tap and really friendly staff. Although we were tempted to sit outside in the sun, the interior was so quirky and there was such a nice atmosphere, we sat inside.

Great Western

Wished I’d got the train. Definitely not driving next time.

The Great Western

The great Great Western

We walked off our pork baps with a little bit of a wander around the city streets. This building caught my eye, not only because it has no floors, meaning you can see down into the cellar, but also because of the handwritten sign someone had stuck to the window.

SAM_0045SAM_0046I’m not sure a traffic warden would be the person I’d turn to in a trapped bird scenario but maybe they do things differently in Wolverhampton.

Another perplexing sign is the one suggesting that the half timbered building on the junction of Victoria St and St John’s Lane was built in AD1300. It wasn’t and no-one knows the reason behind the claim – the best suggestions anyone has seems to be that it was some kind of joke to emphasise that it was a really, really old building! It more likely dates back to the seventeenth century when it was once an inn known as The Hand. These days its home to Wolverhampton Books & Collectables, where you can buy anything from an ancient tome on the history of Staffordshire to a souvenir 1950s Wolverhampton Wanderers hankerchief (which you may, or may not, wish to blow your nose on, depending on your allegiances…).

SAM_0053

SAM_0055

We took the scenic route back to Lichfield (not through choice but because I went the wrong way on the ring road), passing through Wednesfield, Sneyd, the intriguingly named New Invention and Brownhills before stopping off at Waitrose for a couple bottles of Golden Glow.

Sources:

http://blackcountryhistory.org/collections/getrecord/WOHER_MBL337/

http://www.historywebsite.co.uk/listed/lindylou.htm

Lamb Carvery

Just a very quick update on the old church tower at Shenstone. I haven’t had chance to get over there since writing the previous posts on the subject and so this morning, I was really grateful to receive a couple of photographs, taken just today, which show the carved stone on the tower really clearly.

In the churchyard at the top of the hill is an old tower...

In the churchyard, at the top of the hill, there is an old tower…

...and in the old tower is a door...

…and in the old tower, there is a door…

The carved stone at the ruined old church at Shenstone

…and next to the door is this carved stone

Although centuries of exposure to the elements has worn away much of the detail, including the lamb (which Mr Foulkes may have been referring to when he reported seeing a stone with a carving of a lamb near to the north door in the late 1890s), it can be identified as the arms of the Merchant Taylors, one of the twelve great Livery Companies of London. It shows a tent (which apparently the Taylors would once have made for jousting tournaments) with an ermine robe either side (another nod to their trade) beneath a lamb within a sun. The lamb represents John the Baptist, the saint whose name was given to both the old church and the more recent church here.  It looks like there is some graffiti carved into the old sandstone blocks of the tower too, which may also be of interest.

St Michael's Church at Lichfield's version of the arms

St Michael’s Church at Lichfield also has a version of the arms on the porch.

There was a story that after the old church was abandoned as it was deemed unsafe, ‘it was found to be so remarkably sound that blasting operations were required to demolish the masonry’. Eventually they succeeded and materials from the old church were sold in 1853/54 for £111 2s 8d.

I am not sure what the connection between the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors of the City of London, and parish churches at Shenstone and Lichfield could have been, but I’ll keep looking and if anyone has any ideas or suggestion in the meantime, please share them!

Sources:

Parliamentary Papers, House of Commons and Command, Volume 48

Nail Art

As objects are the theme of our Lichfield Discovered meeting on Monday, and I had an hour to myself this afternoon, I decided to head over the border to have a look for the nailers’ stones that I’d been told were in the churchyard at Christ Church, Burntwood. The only reference to them I’ve found is on the Christ Church website which says,

‘Visitors will firstly note the magnificent west doors, believed to be original. The huge nails which have been used are indicative of Burntwood having been a nail making area due to the plentiful supply of charcoal and iron ore. (Nail making was very much a cottage industry, and should the visitor wish to, enter the churchyard, will find there several nail stones of different sizes).’

I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for and had to rely on the, ‘I’ll know it when I see it’ method, which I’ve used many times before, with varying degrees of success. On this occasion it worked out just fine.

Nailer's Stone. Burntwood

Nailer's Stone. Burntwood 2

Group of nailers' stones

The above arrangement of stones reminds me of a stone circle of sorts

Group of nailers' stones, Burntwood 2

I wonder whether the nails in this door really were created locally?

I wonder whether the nails in this door really were made locally?

The first church in Burntwood. Apparently before it opened in 1820, the area was part of the St Michael's, Lichfield parish meaning a very long walk on a Sunday morning!

Before Christ Church opened in 1820, the area was part of the parish of St Michael’s, Lichfield, meaning a very long walk on a Sunday morning!

I couldn’t come all the way to Burntwood and not visit the world’s smallest park (is this official now?) with its trees known as Faith, Hope and Charity and so I had a five minute sit down and a bit of ‘We need a bigger park’ banter with a passerby, before heading to the Star Inn.

World's Smallest Park...or is it?

SAM_9977

According to the Burntwood Heritage Trail booklet, the Star Inn was where local nailers would take their products to be be weighed and paid for by ‘middle men’, who would also replenish their supplies of iron. The pub building itself is relatively modern but, according to the booklet, there has been a drinking establishment on this site since at least 1600 when a local blacksmith was licensed to keep an alehouse here, becoming known as the Star Inn by 1790.

The Star Inn. Burntwood

Unintentionally shining Star

Star Inn Plaque

One of the blue plaques on the Burntwood Heritage Trail, created by the fantastically named ‘Keepers of the Archive’.

Back home, I had a look for other examples of nailers’ stones and found that the Black Country History website has a photograph here of one very similar which they describe as a nail making anvil from St Peter’s Rd, Darby End.

I notice that there appear to be initials or names on the stones and it would be fantastic to know more about their provenance. The heritage booklet says that making nails was a way for a farming family to make extra money, and that the work was often carried out by the woman of the household.

I know these are Burntwood objects, rather than Lichfield ones but they tell the story of everyday folk trying to make a living for themselves and their families in an industry that’s now long gone, and that’s got to be worth sharing.

(For more on the nailmaking industry, please see the ‘Nailed it’ post on Brownhills Bob’s Brownhills Blog here)

Walsall Legends

My husband grew up in the Highgate area of Walsall, where the malty aroma from the local brewery used to hang in the air and the local kids would tell stories about the mysterious ruined windmill. Thought to have been built in the late 1600s to grind corn, Highgate windmill has a fascinating history which you can read more about here in this article by Walsall historian and writer Stuart Williams. If you want to go and have a look yourself, go sooner rather than later. Once spring gets properly underway, it’ll be hard to see the mill for the trees.

Highgate Windmill

Highgate Windmill, Walsall

Last Summer I could barely see the windmill but did spot this painted board through the trees.

Last Summer I could barely see the windmill but did spot this painted board through the trees.

Sadly, there’s not even a whiff of brewing in the air at the moment – the Grade II Listed Highgate Brewery hasn’t been operational since 2010 and stands unused behind the locked centenary gates (purchased and installed by the Friends of Highgate Brewery in 1998), its future uncertain at present.

Highgate Brewery

Highgate Brewery

Yesterday, as well as visiting the family, we went to have a look around the Art Gallery and the town. On the way back we passed the pub that we once knew and loved as the Brewery Stores & Vaults. Back in the late 1990s, it was one of the liveliest places in town but now, like the brewery whose name it bears, it stands empty, expect perhaps for the hooded figures and disembodied heads said to lurk in the cellars

SAM_9911

We continued our way back over the limestone hill where the church of St Matthew’s has dominated the Walsall skyline since at least the thirteenth century (although it has only been know by that name since the eighteenth century – it was previously ‘All Saints’). The first time we walked up this hill together, Mr Gomez told me that it was paved with medieval cobbles. I’m not sure if that is true but it’s something that has fascinated me ever since, as has the arched passage on the east end of the church, covered in graffiti and with curious niches on the east side.

As well as this overground passageway, there are supposedly underground tunnels running from here to the White Hart Inn at Caldmore, Barr Beacon and Rushall Hall.  In a history section of the Walsall Council website, there’s a quote from a Mr G of Bath St who in the 1950s said one of the entrances to the tunnels was located at the bottom of some steps of a toilet which once stood on Caldmore Green. He also added that he had been told by some old women that during the reformation, some priests went down the tunnels to escape and were killed after they were filled in.

St Matthew's Walsall

St Matthew’s church, Walsall

Wasall from the Art Gallery.

St Matthew’s Walsall as seen from the Art Gallery.

Medieval cobbles

Medieval cobbles leading up the hill?

Passageway under the chancel of St Matthew's

Passageway under the chancel of St Matthew’s

SAM_9929

Niches in St Matthews passageway

Niche interest

One of my favourite stories about St Matthew’s and Walsall is one I read recently in a book of Staffordshire folktales.  Apparently, the church was originally supposed to have been built on a meadow at the ‘Churchery’, now known as the Chuckery. However, this was where the fairy folk danced and so, naturally, they objected to the plans and took matters into their own tiny hands, moving the foundations of the new church up the hill to the site where it stands today. In another version of the story, the church was moved by witches who had transformed themselves into white pigs.

We walked up a good appetite in Walsall and so we finished our day at the legendary Hargun’s Sweet Centre on the Caldmore Rd, intending to take some goodies back to Lichfield, although they never actually made it past Walsall Wood in the end. Anyway, what I learned today is not only that you can eat a lot of baklava in a twenty minute car journey, but also that once in a while, it’s good fun to explore what’s on someone else’s doorstep.

Sources

Walsall: Economic history’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17: Offlow hundred (part) (1976), pp. 180-208.

http://www2.walsall.gov.uk/History_Projects/Caldmore/A_Walk_Around_the_Green/18.asp

http://www.stmatthews-walsall.org.uk/info/mainhistory.shtml

http://www.blackcountrybugle.co.uk/TALE-WALSALL-PARISH-CHURCH-FAIRIES/story-20122807-detail/story.html

Staffordshire Folk Tales by The Journeyman