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.

 

Gathering Moss

Walking around the edge of Beacon Park, I noticed a pile of moss covered stones in the undergrowth that I’d never seen before.  To me, they look like part of an old building, possibly pillars? It’s a long shot I know, but does anyone recognise them or have any idea as to where these pillars (if that’s what they are!) may have come from?

Whilst on the subject of ‘parts of old buildings found in unexpected places’, I have to mention my old favourite Fisherwick Hall. Back in January, I wrote an article for the Lichfield Gazette which mentioned that the hall had been demolished, but that parts of it had been reused elsewhere. After lying around for some years covered in moss, the pillars from Fisherwick went to the George Hotel in Walsall – you can read the great post written about the hotel by Stuart Williams of Walsall Local History Centre here. However,  I had no idea what had happened to the pillars, following the demolition of the hotel in the 1930s. Therefore, I was delighted when Paul (the editor of the Lichfield Gazette) told me that someone had contacted him, saying that some years ago he had seen them lying on a patch of ground near to the cricket ground in the Highgate area of Walsall. The gentleman described them as lying in pieces and covered with moss and lichen. Sounds familiar! Coincidentally, the site the gentleman described is a stone’s throw from where some of my relatives live, and so the next time I visited I went to take a look, but I had no luck in finding them. So near, yet so far….

Back to our Beacon Park stones, and someone from the Beacon Street Area Residents’ Association has very kindly said that he will ask the people in the know i.e. the Parks team and the Civic Society if they can shed any light on the matter. In the meantime, he’s left me pondering the fact that parts of the old bandstand and cycle track are also apparently also still around in the park somewhere…

Beacon Park bandstand c.1905
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Appeal of Bells

If you heard the bells of St Michael’s ringing out late yesterday afternoon, you were listening to the launch of a restoration fund for the bells, which are in need of essential maintenance work.

According to the churchwardens accounts, the bells have been rung in the past to mark important national occasions, and in the bell tower there are plaques commemorating some of these and more locally significant events.

The blue plaque commemorates the ringing of bells for the marriage of Charles & Diana; the brown one commemorates a farewell peal for the retirement of Prebendary P Howard in 1947

Bell Tower steps

After negotiating the narrow and windy staircase back down into the church, I had a look around the rest of this lovely building. According to the listed building description, although the church is thought to be 13th century in origin (with a 14thc tower), much of the building dates back to the restoration of 1842/3 by Thomas Johnson. However, the church history booklet (a snip at £1.50!) suggests that whilst the church had undoubtedly needed some restoration work at this time, much of this work was  unnecessary and things of historic interest may have been lost. The booklet goes on to say that some of the restoration work was undone at the end of the 19thc.

Royal coat of arms(1711) above the chancel

The royal arms, as seen above the chancel, are from 1711, and replaced an earlier version. I’ve read that after the reformation, anglican churches were encouraged to display the royal coat of arms somewhere prominent, reminding people that the monarch was also head of the Church of England. The custom of displaying the royal arms continued until Victorian times, but these days can be found in only around 15% of churches. You can read more about the Churches Conservation Trust’s guide to Royal Arms in English churches here.

Having previously read that the Marquis of Donegal had erected a spacious family mausoleum near the chancel, I have to confess I was a little disappointed to find no trace at all of the ostentatious Chichesters of Fisherwick Hall. However, the church booklet explained that the rabbit infested mausoleum had been replaced by a stokehold in the 1842/3 restoration, and the bones buried elsewhere. Seems like none of Donegal’s buildings were destined to last long….

The chap below fared a little better than Donegal. Whilst his bones also ended up elsewhere, his effigy survived the ‘restoration’ and is behind a bench in the chancel. It’s thought to be William de Walton who endowed the church with land and died around 1344. I particularly like the inclusion of the faithful dog watching over his master in death.

One man & his dog – William de Walton’s effigy

The church has several other monuments, including most famously, that of Samuel Johnson’s mother, father and brother.

Back outside in the churchyard,  a woman approached me and asked ‘Are you thinking the same as me?’. Actually I wasn’t, because whilst I was thinking about missing bones, the woman was thinking about missing apples. Apparently in previous years, rich windfall pickings were to be had from the trees growing alongside the footpath. This year it was hard to spot a single fruit.

Peals but no peel

One thing I read in the history booklet, which I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on,  is that around the year 2000, a pump was installed to keep the crypt from flooding. I read in an archaeology report that ‘St Michael’s is a low hill with natural springs’. Could this have anything to do with the flooding?  I’ll explore this ancient burial ground in a post of its own. In the meantime, perhaps we could get the University of Leicester involved in a hunt for William de Walton and the Marquis of Donegal. They seem quite good at that sort of thing…..

Part of the 9 acres making up St Michael’s churchyard

Sources:

St Michael’s Church. Lichfield – A Short History by Rev Carpenter 1947

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

Archaeological Desktop Survey OSA Report No. OSAO6DTO2 (Onsite Archaeology January 2006)

Bell Vista

A while ago, I wrote about the architect Thomas Johnson and how he had been involved in the restoration of the church of St Michael on Greenhill in 1842/3. In the newspaper archive, I found a report of a meeting of parishioners held at the church, prior to these restoration works.

The article is a bit blurry and hard to read but after much squinting it seems that there was concern that the church was at risk of ‘being reduced to ruins’ and that the churchwardens had appointed Mr Johnson to assess the extent of the dilapidations.  His diagnosis was that the roof, ceiling, spire and a portion of the walls were so unsafe that a large sum of money would be needed to keep up the building. The parishioners expressed their surprise at how bad the situation was. To illustrate just how bad things had got, it was revealed that rabbits had managed to get into the mausoleum of the Marquis of Donegal (he of Fisherwick) and were breeding in the coffins. The outcome was that the land owning parishioners agreed to increase their rates to pay for the necessary work which according to the County History included

 “the reroofing of the nave, the repair of the side aisles and the nave clerestory, the reintroduction of Perpendicular windows in the north aisle, the rebuilding of the north porch, and the remodelling of the south aisle with new buttresses and a south door in place of a window. The gallery was removed. The mausoleum and the vestry room were replaced by a stokehold over which a clergy vestry was built with doors into the chancel and the south aisle; an organ loft was built over the vestry”.

St Michael’s above Stowe Pool

I have never been into the church myself. However, I notice via facebook that the church will be open for viewing tomorrow (between 3pm & 5.30pm) during the launch of the Bell Restoration Fund. You can find out more on their facebook page here and you can read the great article Annette Rubery wrote about the fund here.

The church is of course featured on the ward banner for this part of Lichfield (along with what I had assumed was the Greenhill Bower House, although looking at it again now I’m not so sure…)

Although I’ve never been inside the church, I have been to the churchyard. With claims on Wikipedia that it could be a Mercian tribal necropolis, the site of one of the earliest settlements in Lichfield or the burial place of followers of St Amphibalus, it certainly merits a post of its own one day!

Steps leading up to the churchyard

Edit: I’ve just been thinking about the building on the ward flag, below the church. Could it in fact be the gateway to the old Lichfield Union Workhouse (subsequently St Michael’s Hospital).

Sources:

Lichfield Mercury Archive

Lichfield: Churches’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 134-155

 

Tree following: In theory

I know I haven’t updated about the cider orchard at The Walled Garden at Woodhouse Community Farm for a while. This is because nothing much has happened!

 

More is going on in our cider co-operative than with our cider trees however. We’re meeting up soon to discuss the theory of cider, with a more practical day planned for the autumn. Will we have any apples by then? Maybe, but not from this orchard…..

There’s an open day at the farm this Sunday from 2pm to 5pm, which is a great opportunity to go along and have a look at this lovely place and find out more about the brilliant Community Supported Agriculture scheme they run. Say hi to the trees for me!

Tree Following: Sticking it out

To contrast with Leomansley Woods, I’m also following the newly planted cider orchard at The Walled Garden at Woodhouse Community Farm.

The majority of the orchard was planted on a cold but sunny day in January, but there were 8 more trees to be planted and so I went along last Sunday. Another sunny day, but a bit warmer this time!

There will be apples.....

 

.....one day.

Some buds are starting to form, but other than that, there’s not much change.  So it looks like it might be some time before we get to make any cider. Until then, sitting & chatting in the sun in the beautiful surroundings of the farm,  a cup of tea and one of Annamarie’s cakes will do just fine 🙂

By the way, The Walled Garden have their own website here where you can find out more about the farm and sign up for their community supported agriculture scheme.

Wood Work

This week started with a brand new orchard and ended with an ancient woodland.

Last weekend, I helped to plant cider trees at Woodhouse Community Farm in Fisherwick. It wasn’t just the potential liquid reward that got me out of bed on a cold and frosty Sunday morning, there were a couple of other reasons!

It's got a lot of potential....

 

Orchards are becoming a rare habitat – according to Natural England, it’s estimated that the overall orchard area in England has declined by 63% since 1950. A traditional orchard can support around 1,800 species of wildlife. Although it will clearly take a while for the new cider orchard to reach this stage, I’m hoping that it will help to redress the balance a little bit! The People’s Trust for Endangered Species recently created an inventory of the traditional orchards in England, and you can read the summary of their findings for Staffordshire here.

Being involved with the orchard will also give me an opportunity to learn something about some disappearing traditional skills and knowhow. Growing fruit trees is a fascinating business, although I clearly have much to learn as I was the only person whose tree had to be dug up and replanted. Hopefully I’ll be better at the cider making bit, but if not, there’s always the cider drinking part which I’m fairly confident about.

In contrast to this budding orchard, on Friday I found myself amongst much older trees. Merrion’s Wood is a lovely nature reserve, just outside Walsall town centre and looked after by Walsall Countryside Services. Bluebells are already starting to shoot up all over there and countryside ranger Morgan told me that these plants were an indicator of ancient woodland, along with several other species.

Ancient Woodland in Leomansley

Leomansley Wood is full of bluebells in springtime. An interactive map of habitats from DEFRA confirms it as ‘ancient replanted woodland’. This means that although the site has been continuously wooded since 1600 (at least), the trees are more recent. It’s interesting that the place name is thought to include the celtic element ‘lemo’, meaning an elm (1) or possibly ‘leme’, lime tree.  The ‘-ley’ suffix is thought to come from the Anglo Saxon ‘leah’ meaning ‘clearing’ (2).

I think that to find a nearby semi natural ancient woodland, you need to visit Hopwas Woods near Whittington Barracks.  I should probably do this myself at some point! It’s worth pointing out that only 1.2% of the UK is made up of this kind of habitat and that it is irreplaceable. (3)

The DEFRA map also shows a traditional orchard between Maple Hayes and Jubilee Wood (where the conduits are!) with several others around Burntwood and Chorley. Perhaps even more interestingly, it seems there are two patches of traditional orchard in a built up residential area of Lichfield. I don’t know if I should say where, it might encourage scrumping!

I’ve also noticed several apple trees growing alongside the A51. How did these get here – discarded apple cores from car windows or remnants of something else? Perhaps more importantly, can I use these to make cider? 😉

Footnotes:

Don’t just take my work for how brilliant Woodhouse Community Farm is! There is a snowdrop walk on Sunday 5th February at 10.30am, where you can also see some of the things they have planned for the future.

The Woodland Trust point out that although many ancient woodlands have been recorded on inventories, there may also be unidentified fragments out there. Although bluebells don’t always indicate ancient woodland, if you do spot any growing this spring it might be worth having a closer look to see what else is around! The Woodland Trust have a really interesting guide to ancient woodland that you can read by clicking here.

Sources:

1) ‘Lichfield: The place and street names, population and boundaries ‘, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 37-42.
 2) http://finds.org.uk/staffshoardsymposium/papers/mattiasjacobsson

(3)http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-1437

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….

The Lost Estate of Fisherwick

I’m really enjoying taking part in Pastorm, a new collaborative history experiment created by Mark of Tamworth Time Hikes. Here’s a link to the site, which explains exactly what Pastorm is and what it hopes to achieve.

Horseshoe carved into Fisherwick Hall gate pier

My contributions so far have focused on the Fisherwick Estate, which  was purchased by Arthur Chichester, 5th Earl of Donegall (later to become the first Marquess of Donegall), in 1761.  With the involvement of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, he remodelled the grounds and replaced the ‘fine old timbered and gabled’1  hall from the 16th century with an extravagant new mansion which left some visitors ‘at a loss whether most to admire the beauty of its proportion, or the elegance of its embellishments’2.

After the death of the Marquess, the estate passed to his second son, Lord Spencer Chichester.  From what I understand, Chichester could not afford to keep the estate and in 1808 it was put up for sale. Furniture, artwork and even some of the building itself were auctioned off. One of the items sold was a virginal belonging to Queen Elizabeth I3 and the portico of the house itself was eventually found a new home, at The George Hotel in Walsall (now also demolished)4.

The Hall was demolished by its new owner, Richard Howard, in around 1814 and what was left of the estate was split up. Today, the remnants are scattered across Fisherwick and they’re being documented over on Pastorm, where there are photographs and some more information. There’s the Walled Garden & Orangerybridges, a pair of gate piers covered in carvings, and the stables, a ha-ha and part of the estate’s wall boundary.  It’s a bit like doing a treasure hunt! On the subject of treasure, take a look here at the gold ring with a mermaid seal that someone found in one of the fields around Fisherwick.

There is still a whole lot more to discover about Fisherwick, from the Iron Age right up until the present day. If anyone has anything to contribute on this or wants to take part in the Pastorm project in a different way, here’s how to get involved.

 Sources:

  1. The Natural History of the County of Stafford by Robert Garner
  2. A Companion to the Leasowes, Hagley and, Enville with a sketch of Fisherwick
  3. The New Monthly Magazine, Vol 4 1815
  4. History of the Borough & Foreign of Walsall by E L Glew

Townships: Fisherwick with Tamhorn’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 237-252.

The Historic Gardens of England: Staffordshire by Timothy Mowl and Dianne Barre