A Study in Orange

The fascination for all things Fisherwick Hall continues. Recently, I discovered that the Marquess of Donegal’s Orangery once sported a rather fine portico supported by four carved pillars. Although the Orangery itself is still miraculously standing in the grounds of what is now Woodhouse Farm, despite being struck by lightning and used as a cow shed for decades, the portico has disappeared. We know it was still there in July 1935, when the Lichfield Mercury ran their, ‘The Beauty that is England’ feature on local country houses past and present, and included both a description and a photograph of it. However, it was gone by January 1947 when an article by ‘A Contributor’ suggested that the portico had been made use of at Moor Hall and Shenstone Court before eventually being purchased by the Lichfield Corporation in the 1930s to mark the entrance to the public gardens on the site of the old Friary opposite what is now the Library and (not for much longer sadly) the Record Office. However, although the portico at the Friary is thought to have come from Shenstone Court I think its highly unlikely that it started out at Fisherwick.

Much more convincing is the detective work carried out by Patti Wills.  Patti contacted me last week to say she knew of a farmhouse in Elford with a portico. Although locally it had been suggested that the structure originated at Elford Hall, Patti noticed the similarity between the portico at Upfields Farm and the old photograph of the Fisherwick Orangery portico. What’s more, the listed building description for Upfields says, “The porch is reputed to have come from Fisherwick Hall (demolished) by Capability Brown”. I think Patti is right but have a look below and see what you think.

Upfields Farm, Elford. Photograph used with kind permission of Patti Wills

The Orangery, Woodhouse Farm, part of Fisherwick Estate taken from the Lichfield Mercury

The Orangery, Woodhouse Farm, part of Fisherwick Estate taken from the Lichfield Mercury

I’m very grateful to Patti for this information and so pleased that another piece of the Fisherwick jigsaw puzzle has been found.  It’s not over yet though! It’s said that a staircase from Fisherwick was taken to a house on Beacon Street known as Ardmore, solid mahogany doors were made use of at 15, Bird Street and various bits and bobs can be found in Tamworth, including monogrammed wrought iron gates at Bole Hall On a slightly more macabre note, the location of the remains of the Marquess of Donegall and other members of his clan is also a mystery, after the family mausoleum was destroyed during work on St Michael’s church in the mid nineteenth century. The Fisherwick treasure hunt continues….

Sources:

Lichfield Mercury Archive

Parishes: Bolehall and Glascote’, A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 4: Hemlingford Hundred (1947), pp. 248-249.

Orange Peel

In the mid 1930s, the Lichfield Mercury ran a series of articles called ‘The Beauty that is England’, featuring local country houses – ‘what they are and have been’ – around Lichfield. Each article blends the author’s description of the house (if still standing) and grounds with a heady mix of folklore, hearsay, historic records and poor quality photographs. Taken with a pinch off salt, they make for fascinating reading. As well as describing the past, they are now the past, providing us with a snapshot of almost eighty years ago – a ‘Now and Then and Then’, if you like.

The Orangery at the old Fisherwick Estate. Just about.

The Orangery at the old Fisherwick Estate. Photo from the Lichfield Mercury July 19th, 1935.

I was delighted that number eight in the series was Fisherwick, the site of a once grand mansion built for the Marquess of Donegal in the 1760s, but torn down and sold off to pay family debts after barely half a century. It’s a place I know well and I recognise much of it from the description from the 1930s – the beauty of its woods, the old arched bridges, the River Tame meandering through rich and colourful meadows. Yet of course in eighty years there have been changes. The red brick of the now demolished Elford Hall can no longer be seen in the distance, Fisherwick Hall’s ice house, ‘a brick enclosed fissure, built into the side of the hill’, near Home Farm has since disappeared, as has the pub in nearby Whittington which took its name from Robert Peel who purchased some of the dismembered Fisherwick estate.

Still hanging on in there just is the Orangery, although its portico (just visible in the above image), supported by four pillars with carved ionic capitals and reached by four worn steps has vanished since the 1930s, as has the frieze around the walls, said to have been carved in white stone with goats’ or sheep skulls linked by flowers. It’s a miracle anything survives at all. Even eighty years ago the author described its ‘crumbling sandstone, rotting bricks and decaying beams’, noting how ‘the ravages of time and nature are playing havoc with the beauty it barely possesses’. Then, in the 1970s, Nature upped her game and the Orangery was struck by lightening and scheduled for demolition. Why this never took place, I don’t know but I’m pleased it didn’t. It gives us an idea of what the rest of the estate may have looked like, and has the added interest of carved graffiti – the author thought everyone in Lichfield had added their signatures, based on the number and variety of names scribbled all over it.

Orangery

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Fisherwick 016

The Lichfield Mercury article ends with a tantalising yet unsubstantiated snippet of a story, saying that, ‘in 1800, a fatal duel was fought at Fisherwick, where a suitable enclosure near the hall had been lent for the combat’. I don’t know who the two gentlemen were, or what their quarrel was over, but this is just one of the many tales which have weaved their way around this intriguing place.  If you’d like to hear more Fisherwick Stories and explore the Orangery and whatever else remains of the estate today, including the community farm which has grown up in and around the former walled garden, then you are more than welcome to join us on our Lichfield Discovered walk –  2pm on Saturday 5th April at Woodhouse Farm and Garden.

 

Holy Stones

Although St Peter’s Church at Elford was largely rebuilt in the nineteenth century, it is famous for its medieval monuments.  The most well known is the ‘Stanley Boy’, said to depict young John Stanley, last of the male line, holding a tennis ball in his left hand, and pointing to the place where it fatally hit him with his right. On face value, it’s a great story, but the fact that it has been cast into doubt by some makes it even more interesting in my opinion. Nikolaus Pevsner and an article called ‘The so-called Stanley boy monument at Elford’ by Sophie Oosterwijk for the Church Monument Society date the monument as thirteenth century whereas, according to the story, John Stanley died in around 1460. It has been suggested that at some point the effigy may have been modified to add weight to the local legend. It’s a nice reminder that when it comes to history, you can’t even trust what’s carved into stone. There’s a drawing of the effigy from the eighteenth century here on Staffordshire Past Track.

Unfortunately, on my recent visit, I didn’t manage to see the Stanley Boy (or whoever it may be!) close up. The wooden gates separating the Stanley Chapel from the rest of the church seemed to be locked and I didn’t try to hard to open them.  A lady doing her stint on the flower rota had told me that the church had suffered from a recent lead theft and I didn’t want to add to its troubles by breaking anything. Anyway, there were plenty of consolations including the beautiful Minton tiles, stained glass and another curious monument outside.

Just one of the lead pipes stolen for scrap metal, leaving the church vulnerable to water damage.

I’ve walked around my fair share of churchyards and although I’ve seen plenty of worn and weathered stones,  I can’t remember having ever seen a hole in one like this before and would be grateful for any explanations (or failing that, guesses!) for what’s happened here.

Malus John Downie

I’ve been going on about the Elford Pippin since before the summer, but a few days ago I noticed this at the Friary by the Festival Gardens in Lichfield.

First raised in Whittington in 1875

Another local apple. Unlike the Elford Pippin this one is still around. Actually, I looked for its ‘rich, orange red fruits’ today (it’s in season in October) but I couldn’t find any evidence of the tree at the Festival Gardens. However,  you can still buy it from all good tree shops! It was apparently raised by a Mr E Holmes at Whittington & was named after his friend and fellow nurseryman John Downie.  I hear that the apples are the finest of all crabs – good to eat when ripe and make an excellent jelly.

It seems quite an appropriate day to do this post, as there is an association between apples & Halloween. Along with apple bobbing, I can also remember being told that if I peeled an apple and threw the peel over my shoulder it would show me the initial of who I’d marry. I seem to recall doing this several times over until I got the initial I wanted…..There was something about sticking apple pips to your face as well!

I had thought aboutdoing a post about spooky goings on in the area, mainly because I wanted to do a post with the title ‘Witchfield’ 😉 Sadly,  I ran out of time but if anyone does have any tales to share…….

 

Elford Revisited

The estate that Mr Paget handed over to Birmingham City Council in July 1936 was made up of over 600 acres, including the Hall & associated gardens, Home Farm inc. the Park, Cottages, Woodland and part of the River Tame. You can see Elford Hall circa 1790 to the left of the Chruch in the above picture and there are more recent photographs of the Hall on Staffordshire Pasttrack

According to the 1936 Estate Agent’s report, the Hall obtained water from various wells, although water was pumped to the ground floor of the house via a petrol engine (South Staffordshire Water Co was in the process of laying pipes in the village at the time and the agent recommends that the Hall be connected). Sewage was collected in cesspits. Lighting in the Hall’s 16 bedrooms and other rooms was still from oil lamps and candles, although a public electricity supply had recently arrived in the village.

One thing I’m interested in is the relationship Elford Hall & its owners had with the rest of the village. What effect did the unexpected decision to hand over the estate to a public body have on the villagers?  Perhaps a small hint of the role played by the Pagets can be seen in the meeting notes of the Elford Hall Committee held at Birmingham Council House on 17th Februrary 1937. It says:

“A communication was submitted from the Chairman of the Elford Village Hall Committee asking for a contribution from the council towards the coronation celebrations in Elford Village. The Chairman undertook to communicate with Mr Paget as to his action on the occasion of the silver jubilee. Decision deferred.”

Another thing I’ve been wondering about is what would have happened had Mr Paget kept Elford Hall? The England’s Lost Country Houses site lists over 50 demolished country houses in Staffordshire alone. Most disappeared after the First World War. Although of course eventually demolished in 1964,  Elford Hall is one of the longest surviving on the list. Would retention by the Paget family have ensured its survival or hastened its demise?

I’m off to one of Staffordshire’s surviving country houses on Tuesday. Shugborough Hall – offered to the National Trust in lieu of death duties on the death of the 4th Earl of Lichfield in 1960 and managed by Staffordshire County Council.

Elford, Fisherwick, Beacon Place, Drayton Manor or Shugborough – I’m finding the world of country houses and the families that dominated our area fascinating. The social and political changes that led if not to their complete demise, to a change in their use. And of course discovering the remaining fragments of those disappeared estates.

Actually, I am now regretting not watching Downton Abbey as research….

War & Elford Hall – Updated

 I went to Birmingham archives today, to hopefully see some records that would reveal more about the now demolished Elford Hall, on the Tamworth/Lichfield border.

Why did I have to go into Birmingham to see the records of somewhere in Staffordshire? Well, the Elford Estate has been under the ownership of Birmingham City Council since 29th September 1936. It was given by Mr Francis Howard Paget for the ‘healthy recreation of the inhabitants of the City of Birmingham’. Mr Paget took the decision to donate his Staffordshire estate to a public body, after he witnessed his friend being blinded by a grenade in the trenches of WWI.

Council House, Birmingham.

The records I looked at today were the minutes of the Elford Hall committee meetings held at the Council House between July 1936 and June 1945. I may be wrong, but I get the impression that the committee which included the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, weren’t quite sure how to make best use of this generous gift, especially the Hall. There is talk of  the Municipal Officers Guild taking over house & gardens as a rest home for members of staff, or if not them the NUT. Whilst such decisions were being made, the Estate Agent’s report of December 1937 tells how the Hall was ‘being kept aired as far as possible. Some bedding & soft furnishinings stored.’ He also suggests that pensioners from the estate should be recruited as park keepers to look after the grounds, with the assistance of a woman from Fisherwick.

Elford Hall’s history had already been changed by one war and then a second, different conflict also left its mark. On 21st May 1937, almost 4,000 Basque children seeking refuge from the Spanish Civil war arrived in Britain. Some were eventually sent to Elford.  There are only a few mentions of this in the minutes – in the meeting notes dated 12th June 1939, the committee was reminded that since their last meeting, arrangements had been made, after consultation with Mr Paget to accommodate number of Spanish children at Elford Hall. Also, in December 1938, when an application for the hall to be used to house young German male refugees (who after agricultural training would be sent to Palestine) was rejected on the grounds it was fully occupied by Spanish children. However, it seems that by the time the committee went to visit in June 1939, the Hall was once again vacant. It was recorded that the Hall had sustained a considerable amount of damage.

Other subsequent applications for use (German/Czechoslovakian refugees and as a children’s hostel) were deemed unsuitable. On 17th July 1939, another suggestion – a convalescent home – was put forward. I imagine such discussions were interrupted by the declaration of war less than two months later. The only other reference I could find to the Estate during the period the records covered (June 1936 to June 1945) was in July 1940, when an allegation of trespass and damage to trees & fences by soldiers manning a searchlight at Elford was made. The Hall was demolished in 1964 but as I mentioned in my The Garden of Elford post, the walled garden and some of the associated buildings are in the process of being restored.

There wasn’t as much information on the Basque refugees as I had hoped. There is however some uncatalogued material held at the library which may add to the story and which I will seek out in the not too distant future.

Edit:

Whilst having a look at Mr Paget’s family tree, I found out that his daughter, Elizabeth Beatrice Rochfort-Boyd had been a prisoner of war at Camp Holmes in the Philipines. In September 1943 she wrote to her father, as can be seen here. Elizabeth was born in January 1913, making her around 30 years old at the time of her imprisonement. The Camp was liberated in February 1945.

Mr Francis Howard Paget died on 9 April 1945 aged 58 at his home in Kent.

Edit 2:

For context, I found a news report dated 28th April 1937 from The Guardian archive regarding the bombing of Guernica, which can be read here.

Also a 10 minute report from the Witness program on the BBC World Service, in which Snr. Hermino Martinez talks about his evacuation can be listened to here. This doesn’t directly relate to Elford but gives some idea of the experience of the Basque evacuees.

Also of interest is an article in The Black Country Bugle about the Basque children who stayed at Aldridge Lodge in Walsall. You can read it here.

Edit 3: A report in the Lichfield Mercury edition of August 13th 1937 describes a meeting of Elford Parish Council. The refugees were due to arrive at Elford in mid-August and the meeting records the concerns of the Council about the effect that housing the refugees in the Hall may have on the village.

Sources:

Elford Hall Sub-Committee Minutes 1936 to 1945

www.elfordhallgarden.org.uk/history

http://www.basquechildren.org