Fallen Angel

I’m certainly not the first person to write about the deteriorating condition of the Angel Croft hotel, and I suspect that I won’t be the last – it doesn’t look like it will be relinquishing its place on the English Heritage at Risk register any time soon.

Personally, I have no connection with the building, I’ve never even been inside. As awful as it sounds, I can barely remember the days when it actually was a hotel.  It seems to have taken on a new identity as a case study in decaying grandeur, about which regrets are expressed and rumours abound, but about which no one seems to know quite what to do.

Of course other people will have memories of the Angel Croft – a wedding reception,  a work do, a meeting, a reunion dinner, or even a weekend stay. Walking through The Close recently, I saw this plaque on a bench, and it reminded me of an intriguing story I’d seen on the subject of the Angel Croft and memories a while back.

It features on a blog about a man’s research into his great uncle Jack Purcell’ s time in the Royal Australian Air Force. Jack Purcell was posted to RAF Fradley and in the collection of his documents handed down to his great nephew Adam Purcell was a postcard of a view across Minster Pool marked with a small ‘x’. Adam believes the cross could be marking the Angel Croft Hotel… you can read the whole post in full here.

It’s a fascinating story, but also a good reminder that it’s not only buildings that are  vulnerable to the ravages of time, but memories too. Of course, it’s important to preserve architecture of note, but I have to ask, what are we doing to preserve the memories and stories that make buildings so much more than an entry on a list or register?

Note – I hope Adam Purcell doesn’t mind me featuring the story of his Great Uncle’s time in Lichfield. I shall contact him.

 

Halfpenny For Your Thoughts

There’s a saying ‘It’s what is on the inside that counts…’, and it’s rather appropriate for describing Frank Halfpenny Hall, a plain and unassuming building half way up George Lane. The hall is home to the wonderful Abacus Pre-School, and inside is a place full of colour and music, imagination and laughter.

Frank Halfpenny Hall, George Lane, Lichfield

People have many fond memories of the hall. Responses to requests for information on  the Lichfield Facebook group show that this is a building that’s been an important part of the community over the years. People talked about attending Sunday school there, still having the ‘Peter and Jane Go to School’ book from their last day at playgroup, eating school dinners there when at St Chad’s school and regular jumble sales being hosted. It was even the venue for one woman’s wedding reception!

The hall is named after Frank Halfpenny, a Labour councillor, who I believe went on to become Lichfield’s first Labour mayor in 1965. He was the Sheriff of Lichfield, when war broke out in 1939 and the photograph below shows him maintaining the tradition of the Sheriff’s ride that September, accompanied by just one other rider.

Frank Halfpenny ensuring the tradition of the Sheriff’s Ride is maintained. Photograph used with thanks to Annette Rubery http://www.annetterubery.co.uk/

Cllr Halfpenny bought the hall and in 1958, donated it to the Lichfield and Tamworth Constituency Labour Party. I’ve been told that the hall was used as the Labour Party HQ during the two general elections of 1974 (in May the Conservative Party held the Lichfield and Tamworth seat but lost it to Labour in the October election later that year). It had originally been built as a Primitive Methodist Chapel in 1848 and a map from 1884 shows it had 130 seats for the congregation. It the 1930s, it was used by the Salvation Army.

Sources:

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

Lichfield: Roman Catholicism and Protestant nonconformity’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 155-159

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lichfield_and_Tamworth_(UK_Parliament_constituency)

Features and Reviews

Hopefully, anyone reading the blog recently has found the old graffiti interesting. I know that Gareth and I, and (for a few days at least!) a large broadcasting corporation did. After all of the excitement, I thought it was time for a bit of musing….

The discoveries (or perhaps rediscoveries is more accurate) in the Lichfield District Council offices got me thinking about the potential for other ‘unseen’ history out there. There’s unseen in the sense of being hidden away from view –  in attics, down pub cellars and down the bottom of the garden. However, I also think that something in plain view can be unseen –  people may pass by everyday, but no longer see what’s actually there or the potential of it, due to familiarity. During discussions about the graffiti, someone said to me, “I’ve walked past that graffiti loads of times and never even thought about it”.

The bread oven above is in the house of someone I know. I remember them buying the property years ago and excitedly telling me after their first viewing with the estate agent, “It has an old bread oven!”. When they moved in we all keen to peer inside but prior to taking the photo, it was last interacted with as part of an Easter Egg hunt.  However, taking the photo to show a friend, sparked a whole new conversation about the oven. Was it original? If so, would this have been the kitchen? Wasn’t it once divided into two houses? How was it laid out back then? Why was the house built in the first place? And so on….My point is, sometimes, we need to look with a fresh pair of eyes to see what’s in front of our nose.

I don’t think that the history in question even has to be a specific feature like the bread oven. I find the traces of people’s everyday lives fascinating. I visited a house in The Close last Christmas. Unfortunately, I hadn’t had nearly enough mulled wine to pluck up the courage to ask if I could take photos, so I’ll have to describe it. There were stone steps down into the cellar, worn away in the centre by centuries worth of footsteps. There were attic beams with layers of fading wallpaper still clinging to them up in the attic. To describe the place as ‘lived in’ would be an understatement.  The next question inevitably is ‘lived in by who’? Actually, photos wouldn’t really have done the place justice anyway because it was more than a visual thing. You wanted to touch, as well as see. ….

I’m really hoping that Lichfield District Council open their offices up for the next heritage weekend, so that people get to look around what was one the Old Grammar School for themselves. I’m not suggesting people throw the doors of their homes open to the public, but perhaps if we want to explore the history of the city and all its inhabitants, we sometimes need to look at the ‘normal’ buildings and places, where people lived and worked, and still do! I’m by no means detracting from those special, extraordinary buildings like the Cathedral, just saying that sometimes it might be worth looking again a little closer to home.

One of these terraced houses in Leomansley still has a tall chimmney at the back. An old washroom?

A wall brace on Greenhill. Does that say R Crosskex? Who was that? See edit below.

 

A selection of objects found in the garden Of Vicky Sutton’s Nan’s house near to Beacon Park (not including the pink flowery plate!).

The remains of a cherry orchard can still be found near…Cherry Orchard!

Edit:

After I woke up properly, I realised this actually said R Crosskey. I found a book about Henry William Crosskey, a geologist and Unitarian minister from Lewes (1) and found that his younger brother, Rowland Crosskey came to Lichfield as an apprentice ironmonger. He emigrated to Australia for a while and then,  after he returned to England, he started a business in Birmingham. Afterwards, he took over the Lichfield firm where he had served his apprenticeship. In 1868 he became Mayor of Lichfield and donated a civic sword to the City (Is this the one still used in processions today?).  He died in 1890. From census records, it looks like his home and business premises were initially in Market St. In 1888, he was in Bore St, trading as a ‘Military Camp and Store Furnisher’ with premises on the Burton Rd in partnership with Charles John Corrie. Also, just as a point of interest, Rowland was his Mother’s maiden name.

 

(1)Henry William Crosskey, LL.D., F.C.S. : his life and work by Richard Agland Armstrong; with chapters by E. F. M. MacCarthy and Charles Lapworth. http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/e-f-m-maccarthy-richard-acland-armstrong.shtml

(2) London Gazette 1888

 

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!

Making a Mark

I’m pleased to say that Gareth took my hint and very kindly sent me some great photographs of the names carved into old attic doors in the Lichfield District Council office building on St John St.  This part of the offices was the old school master’s house, dating back to 1682 and it’s thought the attic was used as a dormitory for boarders at the old grammar school.

One of the carvings seems to be dated 1715. If authentic, it means this door could be around 300 years old, possibly even original? Also there’s a rogue 4 nearby, is this a red herring or something to do with the change in calendar from Julian to Gregorian? This is about as clear as a pint of guinness to me, so any possible explanation would be welcomed!

 

Gareth also sent me a scan of a document – an indenture outlining the sale of the school buildings to Theophilus Basil Percy Levett, dated Christmas Eve 1902, and signed by the the school’s governors. It’s a fascinating document, there’s  information about the buildings,  the stamp of the Birmingham Paper and Parchment dealer, the seals and the names and professions of the governors (some are more familiar than others -Lonsdale, Cooper, Lomax, Ashmall and Andrews stand out for me).   In 1903 the school moved from St John St to Upper St John’s St, merging with Kingshill Secondary Modern in 1971, to form the present King Edward VI school.

Gareth’s photographs and images from the last few days are fascinating, but what I also think is interesting is the contrast.  The inky signatures of men who have already made their way in the world, compared with names carved into wood and brick by children starting out in life.  And what about the contrast of these grammar school boys with their peers?  Whilst they may or may not have gone on to fulfil their potential (see the comments on my previous post)  what of those other children that never even had the opportunity?

A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to the headteachers of our state secondary schools here in Lichfield talk about what their school offered to students. Each of them spoke convincingly about their commitment to giving each and every pupil in their care, regardless of ability or background, the opportunity to reach their potential in life.   I found myself moved by their words. This is how it should be.

Edit 2/11/2012

Yesterday at Lichfield Library, I found the book ‘A Short History of Lichfield Grammar School’ written by Percy Laithwaite in 1925. Mr Laithwaite refers to the graffiti, and I suspect this may be the original source (I found out about the existence of the graffiti on a Lichfield District Council document. I also saw it referenced in Howard Clayton’s Coaching City, whilst I was at the library yesterday). As well as providing small biographies of some of the masters and pupils of the school,  Mr Laithwaite also mentions that wooden panelling from the old school room is now used in the council offices, and that an oak desk from the school room was used as a locker at Bridgeman’s on Quonians Lane. If we could track that down, that’d be something!

Footnote:

 

I’m really pleased to say that Gareth Thomas who provided me with the graffiti photos and the indenture document, as well as other information over the last weeks has started his own blog http://lichfield.keepsblogging.com/ Gareth’s going to be sharing the things he discovers and judging by the gems he’s come up with so far, it’s going to a great read for those of us who enjoy exploring the history of this old city.

Sources:

http://www.lichfielddc.gov.uk/info/100004/council_and_democracy/588/history_of_district_council_house/2

http://www.kingedwardvi-lichfield.staffs.sch.uk/history.html

https://wiki.leeds.ac.uk/index.php/HIST2530_Building_the_literate_nation:_the_historical_debate#Literacy_Rates

Pay Days

“Nothing really seems to happen in this sleepy old town, except plenty of work….”, begins the Summer 1935 entry for Lichfield in The Royal Army Pay Corps Journal.

For at least 20 years, possibly longer, Lichfield was home to one of the army’s regimental pay offices.  The Army Pay Corps (known as Royal Army Pay Corps from 1920) if my understanding is correct, was the payroll department for the army. The office at Lichfield seems to have been based at Beacon Place, the house whose grounds formed much of what is now Beacon Park. This staff photo was taken outside there in May 1918. The photo is huge and so is in three parts.

The quarterly journal entries that I have copies of begin in Spring 1931 and focus mainly on sports, but inbetween the reports of cricket, tennis, football, bridge and table tennis there are other snippets of life at Beacon Place, and in Lichfield as a whole, during the period.

Here are some extracts from Spring 1937:

Spring must be on the way: the surest sign here is that the white lines on the tennis courts have been painted….Flannels are being sent to the cleaners, rackets are being plonked banjo fashion and sent to be restrung, and the good players are looking up the season’s catalogues and deciding on something really posh for this season….

Lichfield, in common with other great cities, is according to the press, going to do itself well for the Coronation. Flood lighting of the Cathedral and other important buildings, sports in the recreation grounds, glee-singing on Minster Pool (of course, this may be a stunt to make spome of these three-feet pike give themselves up), presentation of mugs to the children in the Market Place, after they have watched and cheered the Lord Mayor and all the City’s dignitaries. It will be a fine rehearsal for the Lichfield Bower which happens the following Monday and all who know Lichfield know what a fine day that is.

SQMS H Horan and Sgt R Mackreth have left us for Woolwich and Egypt respectively and Sgt R Tolley and L/Sgt J Duckworth, to whom we also extend the welcome mitt, have joined us from Palestine and Egypt respectively.

The decision to close the Lichfield office, due to a reorganisation of the system, was reported in The Tamworth Herald on April 24th 1937. Documents were transferred to York and Shrewsbury and it was said that,

The closing of Beacon Place, with the resultant removal of the entire staff would be a great loss to Lichfield

The last entry for the Lichfield office in the Royal Army Pay Corps journal that I have is Autumn 1937. I understand that Beacon Place was taken over by The Royal Army Service Corps during the Second World War, something I haven’t even begun to look at yet!

The photo and the journal entries were sent to me by Mr Bailey, curator of the AGC Museum in Winchester, after I made some enquiries for a walk I was doing in Beacon Park.  Mr Bailey has been incredibly helpful in helping me to discover more about the use of Beacon Place by the Army Pay Office and in telling me more about the RAPC generally. I have several other pieces of information that Mr Bailey has sent me, including lists of some of the employees at various times . One thing he mentioned that I find particularly interesting is that research by Dr John Black has indicated that following the campaign on the Somme in 1916, Army Pay Corps staff were sent to the Western Front and women were recruited locally to replace these men. Are these the women in the 1918 staff photo? Unfortunately, Mr Bailey hasn’t been able to find any records of names for the soldiers who departed or of the women who replaced them.

I’m especially interested in finding out more about the local people who worked at the Beacon Place office. If anyone has any further information regarding any of the above, it’s be great to hear from you.

Back to Black

After finding out about the Millenium Gates at Christ Church, created by contemporary Master Blacksmith, David Tucker, at his Derbyshire forge, I was interested to see if there was any trace of the many smithys and forges Lichfield once had. Using a town plan of Lichfield from 1884 & trade directories from the late 19th and early 20th century, I came up with a list of those whose location I thought I could roughly identify.

A weathervane I spotted on my travels

The locations are: Upper St John St;  Lombard St; Bakers Lane (3 in this area according to the map!) and Beacon St.

I headed to Lombard St first but it occured to me on the way over, I wasn’t sure exactly what I was looking for anyway? There might be some sort of clue I suppose, but surely there wouldn’t be a sign saying this used to be a forge…..

Well almost! Apparently, behind this facade is a building dating back to the late 17th century. To the right of the house is the workshop in the photo below – the listed building description describes it as ‘an interesting building where further investigation might reveal other early features’.

Workshop on Lombard St.

Before getting too carried away though, on the 1884 map of Lichfield, the smithy is shown on the other side of Lombard St. So this contradiction is a bit of a puzzle…. At home I tried to find out more – on the 1881 census for Lombard St is a Mr Joseph Baxter, blacksmith and his wife Catherine. On the 1896 directory, there is a Mrs J Baxter, blacksmith, Lombard St and the 1901 census seems to confirm that Catherine Baxter, now a fifty year old widow, took over her husband’s trade and was working as a shoeing smith, at 3 Lombard St.

1884 map indicated the Lombard St smithy may have been around here?

Next stop was Bakers Lane. I wasn’t holding out any hope for anything here but in the interests of a comprehensive search I had a look. Plus I needed some milk. As suspected, on face value there doesn’t appear to be much left of anything here.

So I headed for Upper St John St, where it looks as though a smithy (possibly listed to Fred Meacham in 1900) existed either alongside or within the Lichfield Brewery. I couldn’t find anything obvious here on the street, but later at home I did find a newspaper story telling how in July 1903, Mr Meacham, a blacksmith at the City Brewery had a terrible accident being run over by a horse float, after helping in a hayfield. Although Mr Meacham sustained a serious injury, the 1911 census shows that he did return to work as a blacksmith.

Whilst looking at the newspaper archive I found this notice taken out by William Goodwin in the Friday July 11 1902 edition of the Mercury. In it, he advised ‘Nobility, Gentry, Farmers & Others’, that he had taken over the blacksmith’s shop on Beacon St, lately occupied by George Goodwin.

Is there any physical trace of the forge on Beacon St though? Well yes and no. While nothing seems to remain of the building (as far as I could see), the road next to The Feathers pub is ‘Forge Lane’ and the road off this one is ‘Smithy Lane’.

 Footnotes!

In exploring this subject and related matters, I’ve had some great discussions with and help from BrownhillsBob so a big thank you to him.

Although I couldn’t see anything at some of the locations, that’s not to say there is nothing there…..

A few doors up from Catherine Baxter on Tamworth St, in 1881, another widow, Louisa Wood is listed as a ‘Plumber & Decorator’. Ann Tricklebank on Sandford St seems to take over her husband’s trade as a tin worker. I’d not ever thought about the role of women in these traditionally male trades before, so this is something I’d like to find out more about.

Even in 2007, the idea of a female blacksmith seemed to create much excitement in a national ‘newspaper’ with talk of ‘hot stuff’ and ‘unladylike professions’ and ‘an ancient art more traditionally associated with barrel-chested macho men’.

Almost 200 years ago, there are seven blacksmiths listed in the 1818 Lichfield Directory and by 1834 there were 10 – in Market St, Birmingham Rd, Sandford St & Tamworth St, as well as some of those mentioned above.

In surrounding areas there are of course also traces of blacksmiths. For example, in Burntwood there’s a Forge Lane, an Old Forge at Fisherwick, and an old smithy in Fradley. Even further afield, you can see some photos of Staffordshire smiths on the Staffs Past Track website.  

Using the town plan for Lichfield prompted me to see if there was one for Cirencester, where in the late 19th century, my g-g-g-grandfather ran a pub. I had read a while back that it’s no longer a pub so I had a quick look at it on the town plan to see where it would have been. Funnily enough, at the rear of the pub is a smithy and in the 1901 census my g-g-g-grandfather is listed as a Blacksmith & Innkeeper. Maybe that explains why I’m interested in blacksmiths and erm, pubs 😉

Update 19.2.202

Bob has very kindly put a post on his blog about the forge, with four great old maps of Lichfield. There are some great comments and based on these it looks as though the workshop was the smithy & the 1884 town plan may have it wrong. Also, you’ll see that Roger (@ziksby on twitter) has found 34 blacksmiths on the 1881 census. 34!

Sources:

Lichfield Mercury Archives

1884 Town Plan Lichfield

Staffordshire General & Commercial Directory 1818

Whites History, Gazeteer & Directory of Staffordshire `1834

Kellys Directory of Staffordshire 1896, 1900 & 1912