Far From the Madding Crowd

Once, when Cuthbert Brown was a boy and the circus came to town (sorry, city), one of the elephants died and was buried on Levett’s Fields. Mr Lichwheeld and I had joked that we should organise a community archaeological dig to look for Nelly but with work starting on the demolition of Lichfield’s Fire Station recently, this may prove unnecessary.

Demolition of Lichfield fire station tower, January 2015.Photo by Joe Gomez

Demolition of Lichfield fire station tower, Levett’s Fields January 2015.Photo by Joe Gomez

Welephant wins 2011 Lichfield Pancake Race. Image from Lichfield Live

Nelly is not the only elephant with links to Lichfield Fire Station. Image from Lichfield Live

In the pre-Friary Road days, the Big Top also used to pitch up at the Bowling Green fields. Presumably at that time the Bowling Green pub was still a seventeenth century timber framed building. The only image of this I can find online is included in the 1732 engraving of the south west prospect of the city, as seen here on Staffordshire Past Track (zoom in and it’s the building in the foreground, beneath the central spire of the cathedral). The pub was rebuilt in the 1930s but the Victoria County History mentions that a clubhouse still in existence in the 1980s may be the same one which existed in 1796. Definitely worth a trip to the pub.

The Friary prior to development. Taken from Gareth Thomas' (GIS Officer for Lichfield District Council) Pinterest site

The Friary prior to development. Taken from Gareth Thomas’ (GIS Officer for Lichfield District Council) Pinterest site

One of the best things about looking through old newspapers is that you come across stories that you wouldn’t even think to look for. Whilst searching for more information on the Bowling Green, I came across the following obituary from March 1820.

At Lichfield, aged 67, John Edwards, the Hermit of the Bowling Green in that city. He came to the neighbourhood in the prime of life – a perfect stranger, retiring with disgust or disappointment from other and brighter scenes of life; but further particulars have never transpired respecting his history. The subscriptions of the benevolent have contributed to shed a comparative comfort on his latter days. A short time previous to his decease, he published a short “Essay on Freemasonry”. The medical gentlemen gratuitously attended his during his illness.

So many questions about Mr Edwards arise from this small snippet but I suppose if further particulars respecting his history had not transpired back then, the chance of uncovering anything now is fairly slim. Is it fair to say that Mr Edwards’ attempts to distance himself from society seem to have inadvertently made him into a celebrity of sorts? I wonder what became of his Essay on Freemasonry?

Whatever Mr Edwards’s reasons for preferring a life a solitude, it seems that in the eighteenth century it could be a career choice. Of sorts. Apparently, always on the lookout for opportunities to impress or outdo their friends and neighbours,eighteenth century land owners employed professional hermits to sit and be mystical amidst their fake temples and other follies. I found an example in the form of Mr Powys of Morcham (Morecambe?) near Preston, Lancashire, who advertised an annuity of £50 per annum for life to,

…any man who would undertake to live seven years underground, without seeing anything human, and to let his let his toe and finger nails grow, with his hair and beard, during the whole time.

Board and lodging was provided in the form of apartments said to be, ‘very commodious with a cold bath, a chamber organ, as many books as the occupier pleased, and provisions served from his (Mr Powys’) own table’.  By 1797, it was reported that the ‘hermit’, a labouring man,  was in his fourth year of residence, and that his large family were being maintained by Mr Powys. Just what quality of life must a man with a family have been leaving behind to agree to live like this? If this was about showing off to others, it’s curious that Powys stipulated that his ‘hermit’ was to live without seeing anything human.

Great Haywood Cliffs by Jason Kirkham

Great Haywood Cliffs by Jason Kirkham

In August 2002, around two hundred years after this dark appointment, notices appeared in The Guardian, The Stage, The London Review of Books and the Staffordshire Newsletter, advertising for an ‘ornamental hermit’ to take up residence at the Great Haywood Cliffs near the Shugborough estate in Staffordshire, as part of an exhibition called ‘Solitude’. The Shugborough Hermit would be required to live in a tent near to the cliffs (living inside them was deemed too risky) and only had to commit to the weekend of the 21st and 22nd September 2002. Out of  two hundred and fifty enquiries from all over the world,  artist Ansuman Biswas was chosen and I’d love to hear from anyone who visited him at Shugborough that weekend. Mr Biswas went on to spend forty days and forty nights alone in the Gothic Tower at Manchester Museum in 2009, with the aim of becoming, ‘symbolically dead, renouncing his own liberty and cutting himself off from all physical contact”‘.

I think I’d rather run away and join the circus.

Sources:

The Hermit in the Garden: From Imperial Rome to Ornamental Gnome, Gordon Campbell,  Oxford University Press 2013

 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/2205188.stm

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Friars on the Run

On Monday morning we’ll learn if human remains found beneath a car park in Leicester are those of Richard III, buried in the city’s Greyfriars church after his defeat at Bosworth in 1485.

Archaeological Dig Open Day at Greyfriars Leicester. 8th September 2012.
Image by RobinLeicester, Wikimedia Commons.

Naturally, the possible discovery of England’s lost king has generated a huge amount of interest and last week I had an email from someone in Lichfield who has been doing some background reading on the subject. In trying to find out more about the story of Greyfriars and King Richard III, they found that the Greyfriars were also linked to King Richard II. The reason for the email was to see if anyone knew anything more about the role of Lichfield in the story, as per the the following passage from the ‘History of the County of Leicestershire’.

The sympathies of the Leicester Franciscans for Richard II brought serious consequences upon the friary in 1402. A Franciscan declared to Henry IV that he and ten other friars of the house at Leicester, together with a master of divinity, had conspired in favour of the deposed Richard. In consequence eight Franciscans of Leicester, with the master of divinity, were arrested and brought to London for trial. The remaining two friars escaped. After two juries had failed to convict, a third jury found the prisoners guilty, and they were executed. Two other Franciscans from Leicester, presumably the two who had at first escaped, were executed at Lichfield about the same time.  In 1402, at a general chapter of the Franciscans held at Leicester, it was forbidden to any of the Order to speak against the king.

 

My anonymous correspondent wondered why the friars were executed here in Lichfield? What had brought them here in the first place, and was there any sympathy for them or Richard II amongst the Franciscan population here?

Remains of North Wall of Nave of Lichfield’s Franciscan Friary.

Other sources expand on the story a little to tell us that it was Prince Henry, the future Henry V (or at least members of his household) who caught and beheaded the friars at Lichfield. Our own county history tells us that in 1402, Henry IV had ‘ordered knights, squires, and yeomen from various parts of the country to meet him at Lichfield for his campaign against Owain Glyn Dŵr‘. This explains perhaps in part why the friars came to be executed here, but if there’s anyone who can add anything further to this story of fugitive Leicester friars in Lichfield, it’d be great to hear from you.

Notes:

A programme called ‘Richard III:The King in the Car Park’ will be shown on Channel 4 at 9pm on Monday 4th February.

Talking of archaeology digs in car parks, I believe that the report on the Friary Outer is due out anytime now – as far as I’m aware Victorian cellars and medieval pottery were the main discoveries. Of course, everyone knows that if you want to find lost kings in Lichfield, it’s Borrowcop you need to investigate….

Richard II visited Lichfield several times. Most famously he spent Christmas in 1397 at the Bishops Palace, returning to the city two years later as a prisoner of his cousin Henry Bolingbroke, soon to be Henry IV.

Edit 4/2/2013 – I probably don’t need to tell you this but it’s been confirmed beyond any reasonable doubt that it is him! King Richard the Third’s remains will now be interred at Leicester Cathedral. I believe there may be a link between this story and Elford too?

Sources:

Friaries: Friaries in Leicester’, A History of the County of Leicestershire: Volume 2(1954), pp. 33-35. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=38172

Historical Dictionary of Late Medieval England, 1272-1485, page 212 edited by Ronald H. Fritze and William Baxter Robison

Lichfield: History to c.1500′, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield(1990), pp. 4-14. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=42336

Familiar Looking

Always happy to be distracted from shopping, I had a wander down Quonians Lane to take a photo of a door (that’s a whole different post!).  Everyone loves Quonians Lane with its strange name and its carvings and plaques. Annette Rubery wrote a lovely piece about it back in May, which you can read here.  I love Quonians Lane too, although now my visits are tinged with sadness that the company, whose workers created these wonderful objects and many more across the city, the county and the country, is no more.

I saw the triangular roof of a small outbuilding above the brick wall and went to have a look, thinking it would be quite interesting in its own right. It was a lovely surprise to find these two marble statues stood in the doorways. If you want to see them for yourselves, go down Quonians Lane, and just after you get to the headless angel take a right, through the wall.

So the moral of this story once again is what I say in my ‘About Lichfield Lore‘ spiel.  “Go out and have a look at what’s around you. Then when you’ve done that, go back and have another look!”  I believe this more with each day I do this blog. I think that you can make new discoveries in the same place, depending on a whole range of things including the weather, your mood, what you’re thinking about at the time, the time of day or year or who you’re with. Actually I might change that to include having a smell/touch/listen too. Not sure about taste because I’m not sure I should be encouraging the kind of thing this young man got up to here…..

Anyway, today is a perfect day for me to bang on about this, as it’s the day we heard the news that around ninety further objects had been found at the Staffordshire Hoard site, three years after the original discovery was made. If that doesn’t convince you of the merits of having at least a second look, then I don’t know what will….

 

 

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!

Potholes

After visiting the Christian Fields Local Nature Reserve, it seemed a good time to revisit the story that gave a name to the immediate area, and according to some, to the wider city as well.

Legend has it that in around 300AD, one thousand (or 999 depending on which version you read) Christians were massacred by a Roman army and their bodies left unburied in a place that would become known as the ‘Field of Corpses’ aka Lichfield (from the OE lic – body/corpse).   From 1548, versions of this story were depicted on the city seal, examples of which can still be seen in several places across the city, including the Martyrs Plaque at Beacon Park, 19thc police badges on display in the City Gaol, and in the main hall at the Guildhall.

Version of the City Seal from 1688, Main Hall, Guildhall

Several fairly obvious locations in the city have been mooted as possibilities for the specific location of the massacre, including Borrowcop Hill, St Michael’s Churchyard and the site of the Cathedral. However, what was it about this parcel of land, a mile north of the Cathedral that convinced people to such an extent, that it was given the name ‘Christian Fields’?

The image below is an aerial view of the area from 1971. Christian Fields is south of Eastern Avenue, between Dimbles Lane and Curborough Rd.  (Shortly afterwards, a new housing estate was built on the field. Perhaps as a nod to the site’s legendary history, the streets were named after saints. Funnily enough, one of these new houses was my husband’s childhood home – I must ask my in-laws if they ever found anything of interest in the garden!)

An aerial view of Christian Fields, 1971. Reproduced with thanks to Gareth Thomas, Lichfield District Council

Lichfield District Council’s information on the site says,

In the 17th-century the antiquarian Robert Plot declared that the area, now known as Christian Fields, had been the site of the martyrdom and it has born the name ever since. Needless to say Robert Plot’s claim has never been substantiated and no archaeological evidence has ever been presented in its support.

Looking at John Speed’s 1610 map of the city, I wonder whether the idea that the massacre took place at Christian Fields actually pre-dates Robert Plot? At the end of a road leading north from the Cathedral (possibly Dimbles Lane?), in the vicinity of Christian Fields, is an illustration depicting a scene that looks like a representation of the legend, similar to that found on the city seal.

John Speed’s 1610 map of Lichfield

In the early 1800s, local historians wrote about a series of discoveries near to the site, that persuaded them that the legend was true. The pastscape record has the following description, taken from a history book of the time,

In a meadow adjoining CHRISTIAN FIELDS, known by the name of the TOAD’S HOLE PIECE, have been recently found a considerable quantity of human bones, various pieces  of earthenware, some of which are Roman, a stone bowl or dish perhaps used for grinding corn, a stone ball, fragments of weapons including the head of a pike or halberd and several horseshoes  pierced for nails at the top as well as the sides. The objects  were discovered nearly four feet below the surface in a peaty soil, amongst and covered by great quantities of roots and decaying branches.

I found the book (1) on googlebooks and found it contained illustrations of the objects.

 

A letter to the Gentleman’s Magazine in November 1817 gave a little more information,

The articles of which I have sent you drawings were found near some land known by the singular names of Hic Filius and Christian’s field so called, according to tradition, from having been the place where the early converts to Christianity had used to assemble  and where the massacre from which Lichfield derives its name took place.

The letter goes on to describe what I think are these drawings from the Staffordshire Past Track site. – “a stone dish one foot diameter used perhaps for grinding was placed in the earth as a cover for a smooth red earthenware broken by the eagerness of the workmen to examine the contents (proved earth only). The black spots arc metallic. Also, the head of a weapon in preservation the wooden staff was broken off near the head, the iron is 21 inches in length.  There are also weapons found in 1817 in the foundation of one of the canons houses on the North side of the Close with some bones and broken armour”.

I’m not suggesting that the objects are proof of the legend, which along with the ‘Field of the Dead’ explanation of the place name of Lichfield is generally accepted to be untrue (the current favoured explanation of the name is ‘the common pasture in or beside the the grey wood).  However, and I may be reading into things too much here, I do think it’s a little curious that these items seem to almost be a tick list of props for the martyrs’ story…. Bones? Check. Horses & weapons? Check. A link to the Romans? Check.  The question I’m finding it hard to find an answer to is, if it’s agreed that these objects aren’t part of the story of the Christian Martyrs, in some way, shape or form, then whose story or stories are they part of?

Edit 6/10/2012

A further reference from the same book says the following,

About three quarters of a mile from (St Chad’s Well) are Hic filiius and Christians Fields where the converts of Ampbibalus are said to have been massacred; a considerable quantity of human bones have been found in the adjoining fields a few feet beneath the surface.

It has been the custom of civilized nations to collect and burn or bury the bodies of those slain in battle here fragments of bones are found scattered through a space exceeding half a mile and in one place only have they been met with under the appearance of having been buried which was in a field near Pones mill on the east side of the brook these had probably been dug up and thrown into an excavation as were several cart loads found in the field adjoining to that in which the earthen ware before noticed was discovered which were thrown into a marl pit near the spot. Tradition says the bodies of the massacred christians were left unburied a prey to the birds and beasts of the forest.

On maps from the later 1800s, there is a marl pit in the corner of the field marked as ‘Christian Fields’.

Sources

(1) A Short Account of the City and Close of Lichfield by Lomax, Woodhouse & Newling (1819)

(2) Derbyshire Record Office Online Catalogue

(3) Holinshed’s Chronicles ofEngland, Scotland & Ireland

http://www.english.ox.ac.uk/holinshed/index.php

http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=42340#s1

 

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

Lost in the Woods

Whenever I see an object out of place it intrigues me.  I’m not talking litter here, I mean the things that are dropped by accident, things that are left behind. Lost property. Things that might (or might not!) interest future archaeologists if they were to discover them in a couple of centuries time.  I want to know the story behind them, who they belonged to & how they ended up lost, but I realise that I might be on my own with this one! 

I’ve put together a gallery of things found on the path past Leomansley Wood to Pipe Green and on the Green itself.

Lost by a horse, found by a friend. Brownhills Bob told me that it's not that old. Still lucky though!

 

 

Dropped by someone in need of a lucky horseshoe? Or on the way home from the fair?

Lost whilst blackberrying?

 

Dropped after an impromptu paddle in the brook?

 

See above!

 

In the rough. Not sure Leomansley Wood makes a great fairway.

Or a great rugby pitch either.

I guess the robber escaped from the cop.

 

The remnants of an overenthusiastic dog's toy?

I would ask people to send me photographs of things they’ve found, but I appreciate that I might be the only person in Lichfield who goes around taking photographs of old socks!