Rode Trip

The 462nd Sheriff’s Ride and its spin-off take place this coming Saturday (5th September) and I’m marking the occasion with a post about posts. For those who don’t know, the Sheriff’s Ride is an annual perambulation of the boundary of the City (and between 1553 and 1888 the County) of Lichfield on the Saturday nearest to the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary aka the eighth of September.

The Sheriff perambulating Cross in Hand Lane in 2014

The Sheriff perambulating Cross in Hand Lane in 2014

In the past, where the border wasn’t defined by natural features, such as the Circuit Brook in the North, man-made boundary markers were used. The ride traditionally began (and ended) at Cross in Hand Lane, where a long since vanished cross indicated the city limits and in a talk on the Sheriff’s Ride in 1937 (1), Percy Laithwaite described how a headless cross marked the half way point of the ride at Freeford.  Between these two ancient crosses, in the nineteenth century at least,  a series of wooden posts staked out the boundary. I know this because in 1878, at the half way point of the Sheriff’s Ride, Colonel Dyott of Freeford Hall complained that nearly half of them were missing. Concerned that the true purpose of the ride i.e. inspecting and maintaining the City of Lichfield’s boundary had been lost, the Colonel offered to point out the boundary as he knew it so that the decayed and disappeared posts could be replaced. That year’s Sheriff, Thomas Sherrat, added that he could remember a series of white posts marked with a letter L along the boundary and Mr Coxon of Freeford Farm recalled that there had been nine posts in the vicinity of his property when he first arrived there, but only one remained.

It seems that the matter of the missing posts didn’t quite make it onto anyone’s to-do list that year, as in 1879 the Sheriff (Dr Browne) reported that he had perambulated the boundary as best he could but found it difficult and unsatisfactory due to the disappearance of many of the boundary posts. According to his reckoning, twenty seven of the forty timber posts were missing in total and due to the ‘injurious consequences to which their absence might easily lead’, he requested that they be replaced. He went onto suggest that the whole lot should be replaced by iron markers. Were they?

Even more important that the physical markers which defined the boundary was the knowledge of it held within the collective memory of the city’s residents. The Sheriff’s Ride was not just a civic event, but a community one.  Laithwaite says that as late as 1645, the Lichfield Court ordered at least one member of each household to accompany the Sheriff on the ride or be fined.  Lichfield’s younglings would follow in the footsteps (ok, hoofsteps) of Lichfield’s senior citizens who, after decades of perambulating, knew their Lady Leasowe from their Austin’s Coat. Knowledge was passed down the generations and when it came to disputes, it was used as evidence. Laithwaite referred to a case in 1656, when there was a disagreement over where Lichfield began and Lord Paget’s land ended (and vice versa). The bailiffs of the city produced four city elders as witnesses, who swore under oath the route of the boundary line that they had followed since they were boys.

The earliest written description of the boundary is thought to date back to the late eighteenth century but I suspect you’d still need to know where you were going in order to be able to follow it, if that makes sense. I wheel it out every year but just in case you haven’t seen it before, here is the description of the route which dates back to the late 18th century. Some places are recognisable, some just about fathomable (it took me a while to decipher Whisich as Wissage) and some are…..Hic-filius.

It begins at a place called the Cross and Hand near the end of a street there called Bacon street and from thence goeth northward along the lane leading to Longdon Church unto a little lane at the further side of Oakenfields and so along that little cross lands unto another lane that leadeth from Lichfield to King’s Bromley and then along that lane towards Lichfield unto a little lane lying between the Grange Ground and Collin’s Hill Field commonly called the Circuit lane unto the further end of it betwixt two fields the one called Hic-filius and the other Piper’s Croft and so over across a lane that leadeth from Lichfield to Elmhurst and then into another little lane between Stichbrooke Ground and Gifforde’s Crofte and so along that little lane to a green lane at the further side of the Lady Leasowe being the land of Zachary Babington Esquire and down that lane to a called Pone’s Brook and so over that brook into another lane called Stepping Stones lane and so along that lane taking in the land of Richard Dyott Esq Pone’s Fields unto a lane leading from Lichfield to Curborough Somerville so along that lane towards Lichfield until you come to the upper end of the grounds called Scott’s Orchard and then leaving that lane turn into a field of Lichfield called Whisich at a stilt going into the fields called Browne’s Fields and so taking in the field called Whisich then go by the closes called Browne’s Fields Hedge unto the grounds called God’s Croft Hedge and so along that hedge taking in the field called Whisich lane called Goslinge’s lane and along Goslinge’s Lane unto a lane called Matthew Coal Lane and so over across that lane into a field called Cross field at or near an elm tree and so along a head land about the middle of Cressfield unto the nearer end of Gorsty Bank into the lane leading from Lichfield to a cross way called Burton turnings and from thence along Ikenield street taking in Spear Hill and Boley unto a cross way leading from Lichfield to Whittington and so along that lane towards Whittington unto the south end of Austin’s Coat Grounds then turning upon the left hand at that brook to a gate going into Fulfin Grounds unto the moors called Dernford Moors and so along by the hedge of those moors unto the nether side of Dernford Mill stream and so going by the mill door to the pool dam and going along by the pool and the brook taking in Horslade and a meadow belonging to Freeford House unto a bridge called Freeford Bridge in a lane leading from Lichfield to Tamworth and so from that bridge up the sandy lane to Freeford House and along that lane to the corner of the meadow and then turning into Bispells at the corner of the meadow and so going by the meadow hedge until you come to the brook that runneth to Freeford Bridge and so going up a little pool taking in all Bispells unto a ford called Baltrex ford and then entering into Old field turn up the left hand to the brook that runs from Freeford Pool and so along that brook to Freeford Pool and along by the pool and the brook that comes from Swynfen Mill until you come into the lane that leads from Swynfen unto the mill and so along that lane to a gate that leads from Lichfield unto Swynfen called Old Field Gate and then not coming in at that gate but going to the corner of the hedge adjoining to Cley Lands come in at a gap and taking in all Old field come by the demesnes of Swynfen unto a place called Long bridge and so entering into a little lane between Long furlong and Long bridge grounds leading to Well crofts and so taking in all Well crofts along by the Knowle Leasowes being the Hospital Land unto Ikeneld street and so along Ikeneld street unto the further side of a close called Gorsty Leasowe and leaving the hedge on the left hand taking in that close going along by that hedge leading to Hare house Ground and so along that hedge unto the top of Dean’s Slade taking in all Hare house Ground northward enter into Park field leaving the hedge on the right hand and so following that hedge unto a little lane at Aldershawe that comes down that lane to the gate and through the gate then turn upon the left hand by Aldershawe Hedge taking in the barn and so go into the Wheat Close leaving the hedge on the left hand unto the road called the Fosse way up to the top of Mickle hill then crossing over Pipe green along an old decayed cart way into a lane end that leads to Pipe grange lane to the further side of Padwell’s and so taking in Padwell’s leaving the hedge on the left hand to a little lane that leadeth into Ashfield leaving the hedge on the left hand into the grounds called Lammas Grounds and leaving the hedge on the left hand and so into Lemondsley then following the brook to Pipe green gate and so along the brook in Pipe green into a little lane that butteth upon the lane that leadeth from Lichfield to Pipe and crossing that lane into Smithfield at the corner of Abnell Hedge and so taking in all Smithfield leaving Abnell Ground on the left hand unto the Cross and Hand where it began.

Say it aloud!

Whisich/Wissage. Try saying it aloud! No idea what it means though….

Percy Laithwaite rounded off his talk in 1937 by hoping that in another four centuries time someone would still be talking about the annual delights of perambulating what had been called ‘the jolliest sixteen miles in Staffordshire’ (although perhaps not if you were riding with Dr Browne in 1879). Well, we’re still doing it seventy eight years on (although due to boundary changes it’s now a twenty mile round trip) and I hope everyone taking part in the rides has a great day on Saturday. Of course, if anyone ever spots one of those old boundary markers, please keep do me posted!

(1) One of a series of ‘Our City’ talks arranged by the Higher Education Committee of Lichfield City Council.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Sources

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

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.

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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…).

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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

Water Tower

I pass by the Clock Tower at the Friary several times a week and in the stillness of the night, I can hear it chime, slightly out of synch with the Christ Church clock. According to Annette Rubery‘s wonderful new book, Lichfield Now and Then, the tower was built in 1863 to mark the 300th anniversary of the Conduit Lands Trust. When the new Friary Rd was built, the tower was moved to its present location. The Wikipedia entry here has some photos of it in its original site at the junction of Bird St and Bore St. The Staffordshire Past Track has some great photos of the tower being dismantled, including one of the bells being lowered down (is this one of those I can hear?).

The tower was originally built over the site of an ancient water conduit, known as the Crucifix conduit. Some say this name came from a crucifix on top, others say it derived from its location near to The Friary.  Back in 1865*, someone called CW wrote in to ‘Notes and Queries’ (a publication resembling a magazine, but actually sold under the description of ‘A Medium of Inter-Communication for Literary Men, General Readers, etc’!) on the subject:

At Lichfield is a structure The Crucifix Conduit. It has been rebuilt within the last few years and now there is a plain cross on the top. Did the original have a crucifix? Was the crucifix, if any, destroyed in Puritan times?  Is there any drawing of the building in existence And if so where can see it?

A literary man (or possibly a general reader!) replied as follows:

The old conduit at the Friary gate does not appear have been surmounted with a crucifix but was so called from Crucifix being the name of the locality on which stood. Gregorius Stoneing receiver of the rents of possessions of the Fryars Minors of Lichfield after dissolution thereof in his account in the court of Augmentation answered, and so was charged with, and the rent of a certain water course within the compass circuit of the late house of Fryars aforesaid running from Poolefurlonge to Lichfield street, viz to a certain called the Crucifix demised to John Weston at the will of the Lord. (Shaw’s Staffordshire  1820) A engraving of the old crucifix conduit will be found A Short Account of the Ancient and Modern State Lichfield 1819′.

A quick search on the invaluable googlebooks finds that book, and as promised, a drawing of the crucifix as it looked in 1819.

I had thought that the Crucifix conduit was no longer in use by the time the clock tower was built – the listed building description says it was built over the ‘redundant conduit’. However, different accounts suggest that the conduit was still used as a public water supply beyond this date.  The County History says ‘In 1863 it (the Crucifix Conduit) was adapted as the base of a clock tower designed in a Romanesque style by Joseph Potter the younger, but the conduit continued in use’.This probably explains why what look like drinking fountains can be seen built into this section of the tower!

I find this next bit confusing and am happy to be corrected! What I understand is that the water came from a spring at Aldershaw. In 1301, Henry Bellfounder granted the Fransican monks the right to built a conduit head over the spring, and to pipe the water to the Friary. He apparently did this for motives of charity and for the sake of his and his ancestors’ souls’ health.  Although it seems the water was supposed to be for the friars’ use only, a public conduit was built outside the Friary gates.  When the Friary was dissolved in the mid-16th century, I understand that the Conduit Lands Trust took over the responsibility for maintaining the water supply to Lichfield when the spring at Aldershaw was granted to the ‘Burgesses, Citizens and Commonalty’ of the City of Lichfield. A fountain marks the approximate site of the original public conduit (and of course the later clock tower) near to  the library and record office. Although the water is no longer suitable for drinking, it serves as a symbolic reminder of the water supply that was once available here.

A stone conduit head dating back to 1811 can apparently still be found over the spring at Aldershaw. The spring was known as Foulwell which may not sound like the most appealing place to get water from, but as BrownhillsBob explained to me that the name ‘foul’ is most likely to mean ‘obstructed’ in this context. What’s also interesting is that the well seems to have an alternative name – Donniwell, which crops up in some transcriptions of old documents (dating back to the 4th year of the reign of Edward VI which would be 1551. I think.) that Thomas Harwood made in 1806.

Funnily enough, searching to find an interpretation of the name lead me back to another edition of ‘Notes and Queries’, (this earlier issue from 1855 was described as a ‘Medium of Inter-Communication between for Literary Men AND Artists, Antiquaries, Genealogists etc). Someone else had questioned the meaning of Donniwell in relation to the spring near Lichdfield, and received the following answer from WLN of Bath.

The word Donni or Donny in Donniwell is merely the old Keltic (sic) vocable don (otherwise on or an), water,  with the diminutive y, and signifies the little stream or brook The word is still retained in the name of the rivers Don in Yorkshire, the Don which falls into the sea at Aberdeen, another Don in county Antrim Ireland, and in the Don in Russia. Hence, too, the Keltic name for the Danube, Donau, latinised Danubius. There is also Donnyland in Essex and the two rivers Oney in Salop and Herts, Honiton or Onyton in Devon and the Uny in Cornwall are all different forms of the same root.

I might offer many other illustrations but will refer only to the same word in the primitive nomenclature of Palestine the Dan which, with the later Hebrew prefix Jor (river) we now by a double pleonasm, call the river Jordan

So there’s one idea…..anyone have any other ideas of where this name may have derived from?

Coincidentally yet appropriately, today is the 8th December, the Feast of the Conception of St. Mary, the date on which two wardens were appointed each year to keep the conduits and watercourses of Lichfield’s water supply in repair.  I also like the idea that the chiming bells of the Clock Tower provide an appropriate, yet coincidental link to the name and occupation of the man who originally gave the spring at Aldershaw which fed the conduit (at least I think its coincidental….). I also find it interesting that back in the mid 19th century people were asking similar questions to the ones that I’m asking today. It seems it’s not just me that is fascinated by the idea of springs, wells, conduits and water in general!

Now I know a little more about where the water came from, and where it went to, I’d like to know more the inbetween part i.e. the actual route of the water. That also goes for the conduit between Pipe Hill and the Cathedral Close too. As it looks unlikely that I’ll be able to go looking for the conduit head at Aldershaw (it’s on private property) as I did with the one at at Pipe Hill, I shall have to concentrate instead on tracking down the archaeology reports and journals that reveal more about our medieval conduits,  at Lichfield Record Office.

Also, for more about the Friary, Gareth Thomas has added some original deeds and plans to his blog All About Lichfield.

*This date is a little strange as the Clock Tower was built in 1863. Perhaps the letter was written before this time and not published until 1865.

Edit: 10/12/12

I’ve just been reading part of The History of the South Staffordshire Water Works Company. This suggests that a public water conduit of some description, pre-dates the granting of the spring at Aldershaw to the Friars. Apparently, there was a public conduit in the early 13thc, and there are also references in the Cathedral records to a Conduit St, and a conduit in the high street.  Are these are connected to the Crucifix conduit or separate? And where did this water come from?

The document also gives some really interesting information on the pipes themselves. It says that originally wooden pipes were used (bored tree trunks). It refers to a document from 1707, that says the pipes ‘being made of alder had become rotten, leaky and in decay and accordingly taken up and replaced by leaden pipes’. Interesting that the pipes were made of Alder, and the water came from Aldershaw. It also says that in 1801, the Conduit Lands Trust replaced a small gauge lead conduit from Aldershaw with a larger diameter cast iron main, which enabled a greater volume of water to be carried to the City. It also gives this interesting information on what happened when supply started to exceed demand.

By 1821, Aldershaw was proving to be inadequate source and a scheme was devised to supplement the spring’s supply, by collecting the surface water from Tunstalls Pool, the Moggs and other pools and diverting water into the common conduits. When the situation worsened in the mid 1850’s, the trustees acquired the Trunkfield Mill and Reservoir and a pumping engine was installed to increase the supply. In 1868 the supply of Aldershaw yielded 15,000 gallons a day. Trunkfield supplied 160,000 gallons a day, all of which was pumped to Crucifix Conduit. Water was provided to fifty seven public pumps, thirteen standpipes and public taps, thirty fire hydrants and three hundred and forty three houses.

The document isn’t too specific about their sources, so having to take what they say on face value for now. Lots more reading to do I think….Luckily for me, local historian Clive Roberts is going to send me some information he has on the Conduit Lands Trust!

Sources:

Lichfield Then and Now Annette Rubery

A short account of the city and close of Lichfield by Thomas George Lomax, John Chappel Woodhouse, William Newling

The History & Antiquities of the City of Lichfield by Thomas Harwood (1806)

Lichfield: Public services’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield(1990), pp. 95-109

Water Technology in the Middle Ages: Cities, Monasteries, and Waterworks after the Roman Empire by Roberta J Magnusson

Walsall Road, Lichfield, Staffordshire. A Report on an Archaeological Evaluation
Marches Archaeology Lyonshall : Marches Archaeology, 2000, 18pp, figs, tabs
Work undertaken by: Marches Archaeology

History of the city and cathedral of Lichfield by John Jackson

Notes and Queries 12th Volume 1855

Notes and Queries 3rd Series Volume 8, 1865

Paths that Cross

On my way to pick up some tickets from the Garrick the other day, I passed Lichfield Library. I couldn’t resist popping in to have a quick peek at the local history section to see if they had any more information on the history on the grammar school,  following on from Gareth’s graffiti photographs.  (They did. A whole book in fact and I’ve updated the post accordingly!). So inevitably, my quick peek turned into two hours.

There was an added bonus to the visit too. Anyone who read my Cross City and Cross County posts will know that I was hoping there would be an ancient cross somewhere in Lichfield. Well, I finally found one! Actually that’s a fib. What I found is a photograph in a book of archaeologists finding one. A decorated cross shaft was discovered built into the foundations of the north wall of the nave of Lichfield Cathedral. It’s thought to be Saxon or Saxo-Norman, and could be a surviving remnant of the earlier church on the site. I wish I could share a photograph here, but all I can do is tell you that it’s on plate 1 in the ‘South Staffordshire Archaeological and Historical Society Transactions 1980-1981 Volume XXII’ book, on the local history shelves at the library!.

I have a confession to make. Generally, I’ve thought that places like the Cathedral are so well known, there’s nothing much left to say. Yet, now I recognise that this was wrong. Whether it’s the magnificent discovery of the Lichfield Angel in 2003, the downright curious tale of a live frog embedded in one of the stones used to repair the Cathedral during the restoration*, or rolls of parchment, beer and tobacco found in the gilded balls on the top of the central spire – the Cathedral, as everywhere, is made of stories, as much as it is made of stone. There are those we know well, those we don’t, and those that haven’t even been told yet.  We need to make sure we  are listening, just as Gareth was when he discovered and questioned that graffiti on the walls of the old Grammar school.

*I’m not making this up…..but someone else may well have been!

Fools & Hobby Horses

The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance takes place each year on Wakes Monday (the first Monday following the first Sunday after 4th September), which means that this year it will be on 10th September.

As far as I can gather, the horn dance is one of those traditions where no-one is quite sure what it’s all about. There are six dancers carrying reindeer antlers, a fool, a hobby horse, Maid Marian, a boy with a bow and arrow, an accordion player & a triangle player. The horns are collected from the church of St Nicholas at 8am and are returned 12 hours later after the participants have danced around the village and out to Blithfield Hall. According to the horn dance of Abbots Bromley website, when one of the horns was damaged in 1976, a piece was sent to be carbon dated. It was found to date back to 1065 (plus or minus 80 years) although the general consensus is that this doesn’t really help to date the dance itself.

I’m ashamed to say that every year I’ve planned to go and watch the dance, but haven’t made it for one reason or another. I have been to the village on several non-horn dance occasions though and it is a lovely place.  However, Mr J Carver, in his 1779 book ‘The Universal Traveller’ wasn’t impressed , saying,

It stands at the distance of a hundred and twenty eight miles from London but contains nothing worthy of note

(Lichfield fares a little better. In Mr Carver’s opinion, ‘It is a long, straggling place but has some handsome houses’).

Walking through the village, to my 21st century eyes, practically every building looks worthy of note. Amongst many others, there’s the Butter Cross (or Burger Cross as a practical joker would have it in 2002), the Goat’s Head Inn (which is thought to date back to the early 1600s, with possibly even older cellars and of course, a secret passage story!) and Almshouses (above the doors are the Bagot family arms and the inscription Deo et Igenis DDD Lamberius Bagot Arm Anno 1705).

The Butter Cross, The Goats Head Inn & St Nicholas Church

View of St Nicholas, where the horns are displayed throughout the year.

Church of St Nicholas, from the High St

Almshouses

A couple of years ago the BBC made a programme about folk dancing in England and you can see the clip about the horn dance here. There are also some photographs of the tradition taking place in the 1930s here on the Staffordshire Past Track website.

I believe that the horns never leave the parish boundary (when not in use they are stored in the church of St Nicholas) although the dance can be performed elsewhere (another set of antlers is used on these occasions). I’ve also just discovered that this year the third annual Abbots Bromliad will take place in California, where they are hoping to beat their own record for most people dancing the horn dance at once (144 in 2010). You can even order your own set of acrylic antlers for $20 to help you feel the part! Hmmm, I wonder what the postage & packaging would be to get a pair sent to Lichfield….and would they get here in time to wear on the 10th September?

Seriously, we’re lucky to live so near to a place where one of the country’s best known (and possibly one of the oldest) traditions takes place and I really must make an effort to go this year to see it for myself.

 

Cross County

Looking for ancient crosses in Lichfield, has so far lead only to hints of their existence – a one line reference in an old book here, a placename there. Nothing concrete (or should I say stone?).  So imagine how happy I was when I visited Ilam Park yesterday and found that were two thought to date back to the 10thc standing in the churchyard with a third shaft incorporated into the church wall…..

Church of the Holy Cross, Ilam, Staffs

 

…..and imagine how much I kicked myself when I got home and found out there was yet another stone, known as ‘The Battle Stone’, located in the grounds of Ilam Hall that I had missed!

However, as a consolation, I learnt at home that this spring near to the church is thought by some to be St Bertram’s Well (although others place this on a hillside near to the village).

St Bertram’s Well?

The Shrine of St Bertram (also known as St Bertelin or maybe Beorhthelm of Stafford) is inside the church. As you might expect, there is more than one account of St Bertram’s life. The most well known version seems to be the tragic story that he was a Mercian Prince whose wife gave birth to a child in a forest. The wife and baby were killed by wolves and St Bertram became a hermit near to Ilam, It’s thought this story might be represented on the churches font, which dates back to around the 12thc.

You can decide for yourself, if you look at this website on Romanesque sculpture, which gives a detailed description of the font, together with photos.

However, Stafford Borough Council have this version on their website, which doesn’t feature the tragic part of the legend.

The legend of St Bertelin derives from the 14th century account of him by Capgrave in his ‘Nova Legenda Anglie’, retold by Dr Robert Plot in his ‘Natural History of Staffordshire’ (1686). He is reputed to have been the son of the Mercian prince, the friend and disciple of St Guthlac who, after St Guthlac’s death c 700, continued his holy vocation on the islet of Betheney now Stafford. Here, he remained until forced to retreat from the ill-will of jealous detractors, when he repaired to Ilam, in Dovedale, Derbyshire where ultimately he died. His burial place in Ilam church was once a place of pilgrimage.

His burial place still seems to be a place where people come, not just seeking out history like me, but for spiritual reasons. As you can see from the photo of the shrine, prayers (I didn’t read them) and candles are still left there.

I have found a copy of the ‘Nova Legenda Anglie’, but as my Latin only stretched to ‘Caecilius est pater’, I need a bit of time alone with google translate.  So, I’ll leave the legend of St Bertram/Bertelin there for now other than to say that it’s believed that the remains of St Bertelin’s chapel in Stafford were excavated in the 1950s and they discovered part of a 1,000 year old cross. And this one is made of wood!

Ilam, Stafford and I’ve seen references to existing crosses in Wolverhampton, Leek, Chebsey (between Eccleshall & Stafford), amongst other places. With the discovery of the ‘Battlestone’ in Ilam (the one that I missed!) in the foundations of a cottage, during a restoration in 1840, I’m still clinging to the hope that at least a fragment of one survives somewhere in Lichfield!

Sources:

http://www.heritagegateway.org.uk/gateway/

http://list.english-heritage.org.uk/ (Entry numbers 1038113, 1012654, 1012653,

Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in Britain & Island http://www.crsbi.ac.uk/index.html

http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/705619

http://www.megalithic.co.uk/ (St Bertram’s Well http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=14731)

http://www.staffordbc.gov.uk/in-touch-with-the-past