Landscape Gardening

I’m still not sure whether I live in Leomansley or Leamonsley but what I do know is that this area of Lichfield grew up around a fulling mill opened on Leomansley brook in the late eighteenth century, somewhere around where Leomansley Manor now stands. In the 1830/40s, a row of cottages, once home to many of the mill’s workers, was built along what was then the Walsall Road and the area has continued to develop since then.

Token for Leomansley Mill taken from Lichfield District Council flickr stream.

Token for Leomansley Mill taken from Lichfield District Council flickr stream. Hard to believe this once stood alongside the brook in the woods. The mill may be long gone, but traces of the mill pond can still be seen.

Victorian terraced houses, 1930s semis, new build apartments on the site of the former Carpenter’s Arms pub (boo!), a former lodge at what was once an entrance to the demolished Beacon Place, vicarages old and new, post first world war council houses, a 1960s community hall and housing estate and a much extended Edwardian school – to walk around Leomansley is to take a trip through the story of domestic architecture during the last two hundred years.

christ-church-gardens

There’s also a rather lovely Victorian gothic revival church too, and on the weekend of 4th and 5th July 2015, Christ Church is combining an Open Gardens event with an exploration of the social history of the area.  Organisers, the Friends of Christ Church, have studied census records, deeds and maps, and collected oral histories which they’ve used to produce a guide which will tell you not only about the history of the twelve houses opening up their gardens but also the story of Leomansley’s development from an area of common pasture on the western boundary of Lichfield, to the place it is today.

Christ Church. Photo by David Moore.

Christ Church. Photo by David Moore.

Admission to the gardens is between 2pm and 6pm on both days, and programs will be available from Christ Church itself, plus any of the participating gardens, at £4 each. There will be refreshments at 19 Christchurch Lane, and there will also be plant stalls, for anyone feeling inspired by what they’ve seen. I know I’m biased but Leomansley is as lovely as it is interesting, and I hope that people from not just the immediate area, but also from far-flung and distant places like Boley Park come along and find out more about our bit of Lichfield.

 

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

SAM_5150

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.

 

Passing Time

Happy New Year! A couple of days ago, many of us will have seen in 2013 to the bongs of Big Ben. Rather appropriately, Gareth Thomas from Lichfield District Council has found another fantastic document in his treasure trove, relating to our very own clock tower here in Lichfield, said to have been inspired by that famous London landmark. Gareth, in his characteristic generosity, has scanned it on and sent it over for me to share here. A while back I did another post on the Clock Tower (which you can read here), and it’s fantastic when more parts of the jigsaw come to light!

Entitled ‘ Agreement for sale and purchase of the Clock Tower situated in Saint John Street in the City of Lichfield’, the document describes how on 24th August 1927, the Lichfield Conduit Lands Trustees (some of their names will be familiar I’m sure!) agreed to sell the Clock Tower to the Mayor Alderman and Citizens of the City of Lichfield for £50. One of my favourite parts is where it states that:

‘any coins or other articles of value or antiquity which may be discovered shall be considered the property of the Trustees and shall be handed over to the Warden immediately they are found (sic)’

I wonder if they did find anything? And if so, did they hand it over?!

A plaque recording this event can be found on the Clock Tower:

The document can be seen by clicking on the PDF links below (it was too big to add as one whole document!)

Clock 1

Clock 2

Clock 3

Clock 4

As you may know,  the Clock Tower was erected in 1863, making it 150 years old this year. I think it would be fantastic if, as a celebration, we could give people  a closer look at the tower that they pass by and the clock that they hear each day, by opening it up to the public (I did go up Birmingham’s ‘Big Brum’ clock tower once so I don’t think it’s too harebrained an idea).

Here is a bona fide harebrained idea though – what about starting a new tradition of seeing in the New Year with the bongs of the Lichfield Clock Tower? I wonder if there are any records of people doing this in the past, when we didn’t have Jools Holland on the tellybox to see in the New Year with. Shall we make a date then?  New Year’s Eve 2013 in the Festival Gardens. I’ll bring some party poppers….

Sources:

http://www.lichfielddc.gov.uk/info/200161/tourism/760/heritage_trail/9

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lichfield_Clock_Tower

Gareth Thomas and his magical storeroom 😉

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

 

Bell-ow the Water

Water is in abundance at the moment, so Sandford Street seems quite an appropriate topic.   The street was once split into two parts -Sandford St and Sandford St, below the water. I believe that the latter is now known as Lower Sandford St, lay outside the city gate, and was once the main road to Walsall.

This plaque is near to the traffic lights on Swan Rd (confusing!) & the corner of Lower Sandford St

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hopefully, this will make more sense in conjunction with John Snape’s 1781 map.

John Snape 1781 map, taken from wikipedia

I’ve only just found out that around the same time as this map was made, an artist called John Glover painted a view of  Lichfield Cathedral from Sandford St. It’s in the Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum and can be seen here.

The water in question seems to be Trunkfield Brook (formerly Sandford Brook) which still flows, with varying success, through the Festival Gardens. It’s thought that the name Sandford (earlier Sondeforde) might relate to a crossing over the brook, near to the gate. Apparently, a bridge was built there around 1520. I wonder if the brook was bigger in the past, as I’m pretty sure even I could jump over it. Almost.

Trunkfield Brook, often more mud than water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In view of the above, I think that the symbol on the Sandford St below the water ward banner, as shown below, is pretty self explanatory.

More of a challenge to decipher is the banner for the other part of Sandford St (i.e the bit within the city). Why did they choose to represent this with a bell?

In the absence of anything I can find that links this part of Lichfield specifically to bells, so far all that I can think of is that it might relate to the iron & brass foundry set up in Sandford St in 1879. On an 1884 town plan, it’s shown behind the Queen’s Head. Although it was set up by a Yoxall based firm called Perkins & Sons, Tuke & Bell, who already had a foundry on Beacon St bought it in 1923 and renamed it the Lichfield Foundry Ltd. The Sandford Street works lasted right up until 1983, so there must be plenty who remember it, or even worked there.

On a street somewhere in Lichfield. I’ll be honest, I forgot to note down which one!

So, does this explain the bell? If so, it’s interesting that the foundry wasn’t in existence until 1879, and so the design on the ward banner is unlikely to date to before then. If not…..???

Sources:

‘Lichfield: Economic history’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 109-131. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=42349&strquery=sand  Date accessed: 07 July 2012.

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

Verdun Acorns

 

 

This plaque is in Lichfield’s Garden of Remembrance.  It seems that the planting of acorns from Verdun was not unique to Lichfield and that there are oaks grown from Verdun acorns at many other places in the country, including Kew Gardens, Coventry, and Reading.

In a forum (1), I found a possible explanation for this. It suggests that a box of chestnuts and acorns were sent from Verdun to the London and North-West Railway Company, so that they could be sold to raise funds  for the benefit of the War Seal Foundation (L & N-W Section). It also says that sample boxes were sent to towns and cities along the route of the railway (of which Lichfield would be one?).

I’m going to have a look throught the newspaper archive to see if there is any information on this. In the meantime, it would be great to know if anyone has ever heard of this before or has any further information. I wonder who Mr Knights was?

Oak tree thought to be grown from an acorn, from an oak tree grown from a 'Verdun Acorn'.

 

Edit 16/4/2012

I had a quick look through the British Newspapers archive and there is this snippet from the Western Times, Tuesday 24th July 1917.

“A resident of Ealing has presented the town with two chestnut trees and an oak tree grown from chestnuts and an acorn gathered by the Mayor of Verdun from the devasted forests of Vaux and Douaumount. They are to be planted in the Walpole Park as a memorial to the defence of Verdun’.

 Sources:

Take a Bough

I’ve heard about a project called Tree Following via Gary Webb on Twitter, who is following a London Plane at Compton Verney. The project is being run by Lucy Corrander on her Loose and Leafy blog and the idea is to follow the life of a tree or a group of trees, returning at various points in the year to note the changes and what’s going on.

I love how trees reflect the changing seasons but also what they can tell us about our changing surroundings. For example, some like those at Beacon Park, are reminders of an old estate, when the buildings themselves are long gone.  I like the idea that each species of tree has a history, with its own uses and customs and also that there have been trees in the past which have been so important they have given their name to an area, such as the Shire Oak at Walsall Wood.

Which tree(s) should I follow though? Here are some contenders, in and around Lichfield.

My current thoughts are that I’ll choose a tree at Leomansley Wood and also our cider orchard at Fisherwick. I hope the comparison between a mature woodland tree and an orchard sapling will be interesting. Although, as you can see from the photo, the cider trees aren’t much more than sticks at the moment, so we’ll see!