The Leomansley Witch Project

Imagine you’re watching a horror film. A woman heads into ancient woods which are shrouded in mist. And before long, she comes across a tree. With an eye stuck to it.

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Chances are at this point in the film, you’d be shouting, ‘Don’t go in there. Run away!, whilst feeling smugly confident behind your cushion that you’d never be as stupid as to stay hanging around in mist shrouded woods where there are eyes stuck to trees. Well, I was in Leomansley Woods earlier this week. It was shrouded in mist and there was an eye on a tree. But did I leg it? No. And not just because I don’t do running under any circumstances.

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If something wicked that way had come, I had Finn the swamp dog to protect me and my experience of fighting off a clown in Beacon Park earlier in the month to draw upon. Crucially though, I know and love these woods and consider the tokens and trinkets that have been appearing there since the summer more curious than creepy, possibly symbols of someone else’s affection for them.

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Back in 2004, when I was a newcomer to these parts, I remember getting a call from my sister telling me to go and take a look in the woods as somebody, or more likely somebodies, had created works of art in amongst the trees. There were mosaics created from leaves and petals, clay faces sculpted onto the trunks of trees and brightly coloured papers hanging from their branches. For reasons I can’t remember, I didn’t take any photographs but I can clearly recall the sense of mystery and magic someone had created in the woods that day. We never discovered who or why and there was no encore. The seasons turned and the years went by and then, early this summer, we began to notice things. At first it was subtle. A pebble placed here, a strip of silver birch bark there. It was the first piece of pottery appearing lodged in the knot of a tree that convinced us this was more than the handy work of squirrels and our overactive imaginations. Dog walks took on a new dimension as every day seemed to bring something new. I’m sure at its peak, others were joining in and making their own contributions. And this time I did bring my camera.

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As the summer faded, the activity seemed to wane, and I’d assumed there would be no more. The other half took over the dog walks for a while but recently, for reasons involving a prolapsed disc, I took up the lead once again. Many of the original tree decorations had vanished but a handful of hawthorn berries, melted candle wax and a tickle of feathers (that’s genuinely and rather pleasingly the collective noun for them) had taken their place. Interestingly, others seem to be joining in once again, including the Leomansley contingent of the One Direction fan club.

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Once again, the who and why is a mystery, and perhaps that is how it should remain. Whether activity continues beyond the season of the witch or not, for me, Leomansley Woods will always remain a magical place.leomansley-cobweb

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On the Rocks

Lichfield is about as far as you can get from the sea. Somebody once wrote to the Guardian to say there was a plaque somewhere in the city making this claim but I’ve never seen it. However, being stuck in the middle of the country has not prevented the formation of the Lichfield Lighthouse Company, a group who meet at the Kings Head to sing sea shanties each month. It also didn’t stop me from heading out to look for shells in the city centre yesterday.

I’d read about the London Pavement Geology project over breakfast and I persuaded the other half to put his geology degree to good use and help me find out what Lichfield is made of, other than the ubiquitous sandstone (lovely though it is).

Lichfield Cathedral on Martyrs Plaque, Beacon Park

Lichfield Cathedral on Martyrs Plaque made from sandstone

Our first port of call was another of landlocked Lichfield’s nautical links. Unless you live under a rock, you’ll probably be familiar with Beacon Park’s statue of Captain Smith which someone from Hanley in Stoke on Trent tries to appropriate whenever there’s a new chapter in the Titanic story, due to the mistaken belief that the statue was originally intended for their town. On this occasion, it wasn’t the bronze captain but the plinth he was stood on that interested me. The nearby plaque told me it was Cornish Granite, a material which has also been used at the Titanic Memorial in London and the memorial at Belfast. I wonder whether there are any symbolic reasons for choosing this stone alongside the practical and aesthetic ones?

Captain Smith plaque, Beacon Park

Captain Smith plaque, Beacon Park

Not far from the Captain, King Edward VII stands on a base made of Hopton Wood stone. Get up close and you can see that the limestone is full of fossils including (and please correct me if I’m wrong) corals, crinoids and brachiopods from around 350 million years ago when the area that was to eventually become Derbyshire was under water. Lichfield wasn’t always so far from the sea!  It seems a similar stone has been used for the plinth Samuel Johnson sits on in the Market Square, as that too is full of fossils.

Samuel Johnson statue, Market Square, Lichfield

Samuel Johnson statue, Market Square, Lichfield

Fossils in Dr Johnson statue Fossils in Dr Johnson statue 2Of all the building materials we saw on our travels, the most unusual were to be found in a wall on Christchurch Lane. According to a booklet on the history of Leomansley compiled by the Friends of Christ Church, it was built by Cloggie Smith who used anything suitable that he had in his yard at the time. So, no Portland Stone here, just two Belfast Sinks. Are there any other examples of unorthodox construction materials used in and around the city?

Wall mounted Belfast sink

Wall mounted Belfast sink

You’ve probably guessed that I am way out of my depth when talking about geology, but the point is that after eleven years, seven months and two days here in Lichfield, someone made me look afresh at things so familiar that I barely saw them any more. Sometimes, the most amazing things are right under your nose. Or, in this case, under Dr Johnson’s and King Edward VII’s noses.

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King Edward VII statue Lichfield Fossils in King Edward VII statue Lichfield

 

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.

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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.

 

Off the Mark

I’m supposed to be revising right now, but it does you good to have a little diversion now and again. So, just a quickie but it’s an interesting one. On my way to Wall last Monday, I spotted this marker stone outside Redlock Cottage on the Birmingham Rd. As this isn’t too far from the route that the Wyrley and Essington canal once took through Lichfield, I assumed that it was some sort of boundary marker, with ‘L.C’ standing for ‘Lichfield Canal’, possibly salvaged by previous owners of the cottage when this stretch of the Curly Wyrley was filled in.

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Turns out my theory was as rubbish as a shopping trolley at the bottom of the cut. Christine Howles, one of the Lichfield & Hatherton Canal Restoration Trust’s volunteers, reminded me on Facebook that the name ‘Lichfield Canal’ only came in to use when the trust started their restoration work. So, what else could ‘L.C’ stand for? Having done a bit of digging (her pun, not mine!), Christine thought it may be part of a boundary marker for the Lichfield Conduit Lands, with an ‘L’ missing?

As I was writing this, I remembered that back in October 2013, on one of our Lichfield Discovered walks around Leomansley, my friend and neighbour Kerry showed me a mystery stone that had turned up in her garden….marked with a letter L. I’ll blame a head full of phonology for not making the association sooner but surely there is some connection between these two stones? Really do need to book myself in for a week at L.R.O. After the exams though, must concentrate on those kinds of marks first….

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Bit Map

Here’s a map of the Christ Church Lane area of Leomansley in Lichfield which Chris Pattison very kindly sent to me recently. The map is dated 1935 and as with everywhere, some things have changed (including the spelling of the name), whilst others have stayed the same.

South Staffordshire Waterworks Company map of Leomansley. Thanks to Chris Pattison

South Staffordshire Waterworks Company map of Leomansley. Thanks to Chris Pattison

Yet, all is not what it seems.  Christ Church school is shown in its original location, yet in 1910 it was rebuilt on the opposite side of the road. As someone else pointed out to me, the row of terraced houses known as Leomansley Villas was built in 1903 and so they should also appear but don’t. Another curious omission is the cottage near to the gates of Christ Church.  This dates back to at least August 1875, as there are documents at Lichfield Record Office which show it was used as the residence of the schoolmaster or mistress of Christ Church school (who of course had to be ‘competent, of good character and a member of the Church of England’) at the time. Prior to this, it was a lodge for Beacon House (or Place) in what is now Beacon Park.

The Cottage, Christ Church, Lichfield

The Cottage, Christ Church, Lichfield

The obvious answer is that this plan was drawn in 1935 but was based on a much older map. However, whilst this would explain most of the ‘errors’, it doesn’t account for all of them.

A group of buildings on the far left of the map are labelled ‘Leomansley Mill’, yet I’m sure that this is actually Leomansley Mill Farm. The mill itself, disused and dismantled by 1860, stood somewhere near the site marked as ‘Leamonsley Cottages’ (now known as ‘Leomansley Manor’).

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

Token for Leomansley Mill c.1815 taken from Lichfield District Council Flickr stream.

Errors aside, it still gives us a glimpse of when all this were fields. Well, when a lot of it was anyway. If anyone’s interested in exploring the history of Leomansley further, there are some notes to accompany a walk around the area which I produced a couple of years back which you can access here.

Pubs and Publishing

There’s been a lot of curiosity about what’s happening at the site of the former Three Tuns Inn on the Walsall Road. Panache Restaurant closed some months back and since then there has been a fair bit of activity at the site. Judging by accounts set up on social media, it seems it will be reopening in Spring 2015 as a pub/bar/restaurant known as The Barn.

Former Three Tuns Inn, Walsall Road Lichfield. Photo by John Gallagher

October 2014. Former Three Tuns Inn, Walsall Road Lichfield. Photo by John Gallagher

Panache Restaurant, former Three Tuns Inn, December 2012

Panache Restaurant, former Three Tuns Inn, December 2012

Whilst we wait to see what the future holds for the pub, I thought I’d have a quick look at its past. As always in hostelry related matters I had a look in John Shaw’s ‘The Old Pubs of Lichfield, which tells us that the Three Tuns inn was first recorded in 1771 and would originally have served the wagon trade as a roadhouse of its day.

Local historian J W Jackson’s ‘Victorian Lichfield’ column, written for the Mercury in the 1930s, talks about the ‘Cherry Wakes’ held at the inn. Crowds of visitors would arrive to enjoy the ripe white heart cherries grown in an adjoining orchard, and wash them down with ale. I wonder when the orchard was grubbed up and if any of the trees are still there?

In September 1938, F H Shilcock took over from Peter Radford as landlord and remained at the Three Tuns for fifteen years.Mr Shilcock was also a poet and in 1950 an anthology of his work,‘Poems by a Lichfield Innkeeper’ was published. From time to time, his verses appeared in the Lichfield Mercury, including this one published in August 1943 about the gathering in of the harvest in the fields behind the pub.

Near to the quiet of a country inn,
I daily watched the field of wheat
The summer wind made wave,
And swayed the ears of corn,
The sun did change the shades of green to golden brown,
And nature gave each head a golden crown.
Then harvest time drew near,
And reapers made a way;
The binder came that day
And laid the precious grain in sheaves upon the ground.
Now the field is still,
And fowl from farm are taking fill,
With duck and sparrow joining in the band –
No doubt they think life is grand.
Enjoying fallen grain upon the stubble,
Where once the partridge had his cover.
Dame Nature, be so kind:
By peaceful ways
Another sanctuary find.

Along with every other pub in Lichfield, the Three Tuns gets a mention in this poetical pub crawl, published in the Mercury in September 1922. It’s a long poem (there were a lot of pubs to get round back then!) so here’s an abridged version:

King George the Fourth one day
Stood on the Bowling Green
‘Midst Staffordshire Nut and Acorn,
Where Bluebell had been seen.

A frown was seen upon the face
Of Little George the brave;
For Prince of Wales, his royal grace
Would not a pardon crave.

He’d frankly said at Windsor Castle
The Earl of Lichfield’s land
Contained a freak, a Bald Buck rascal.
Pleasing all the courtly band.

The reason for this conduct,
Which seemed so out of bounds,
The George who ruled the country
Sought for here around

Also from the forest
Whence Robin Hood had come-
The Royal Oaks rocked with laughter
At what the King had done

He’d come one day with Greyhound bay
Horse and Jockey colours gay,
Ere long he saw the ghastly freak
The reason of his son’s outbreak

So all, who knew the Fountain head
Of our Britannia’s shore
Could never hope for laurel green
Hunting Swan or else the boar.

As fierce Red Lion, his anger grew,
And in his rage he swore,
His Constitution could not stand
His heart in great uproar.

That night, beneath the Hollybush.
With Rodney and with Smithfield
A duel was fought (and our sons are taught)
The one duel fought in Lichfield).

On one side stood the Old Crown
The hero of the tale,
And ‘cross the great Queen’s Head was seen
Like Angel, sad and pale.

‘Three Crowns I’ll stake, they won’t checkmate’
Was said by Anglesey,
And Gresley Arms were held aloft
(These never could agree)

The King’s Head man from rivals ran,
The father and the son;
Brave Duke of York was standing there
With Duke of Wellington.

Others, too, were there that day
Beneath the greenwood tree,
All Chequers of a bloody end,
Assistant hopes to be.

The Duke of Cambridge afterwards
Most thoroughly agreed
The Scale ne’er turned, nor honour burned
By foul or ugly deed

The nighttime fell and Malt Shovel
Ceased its plying hire
Carpenters’ Arms from work bench strayed
To pewters round the Turk’s Head fire.

The tenants of the land that night,
O’er Three Tuns, ‘neath the trees,
Spoke of duel and fighting
And many of Cross Keys

The Goat’s Head too, looked o’er the wall
Of cottage old and grey
Saw he the George and Dragon
Cross the Bridge at break of day

At night the Hen and Chickens
Made the Feathers fly;
One thought perhaps they visioned-
A Spread Eagle in the sky.

I leave the rest and how the test
Of rivals, youth and age.
And parentage – the end I leave
To fill another page.

So visions fill my thoughts,
Because I am a glutton
I long to see Hotel Trent Valley
So near Shoulder of Mutton

I’ve strayed far from the tale
The Sheriff told to me,
A Bridge I’ve built between the years
Of Lichfield’s memory.

Now Railway runs where duels were fought
Of which no book has ever taught
Ten bells ring out – Cathedral, keep
Guard over Lichfield while we sleep

To waken with a startling cry
The Sheriff has now said ‘Goodbye’
But satisfied I’ve made the test
At the Hen and Chickens find the best.

G W Gardner, Lichfield

Some of the pubs featured in the verse can be found amongst the old photos of Lichfield added to Flickr by Lichfield District Council GIS Manager Gareth Thomas. .

Robin Hood, Frog Lane. I think! Taken from Lichfield GIS flickrstream

Robin Hood, Frog Lane, Lichfield. I think! Taken from Lichfield GIS flickrstream

Holly Bush pub, Tamworth Street, Lichfield

Holly Bush pub, Tamworth Street, Lichfield

Delivery to the Earl of Lichfield, Conduit Street, Lichfield

Beer delivery to the Earl of Lichfield, Conduit Street, Lichfield

You can see more of the photos here. Some are long gone, but Lichfield is still a great place for pubs. Just last Thursday, mid eighteenth century Angel Inn on Market Street re-opened, reverting back to its earlier name, after having been known as Samuels since the late 1970s. ‘Sammies’ may not have enjoyed the best reputation, but it’s still part of our history and it’s good to see the old sign, with its portrait of Dr Johnson, hanging on the wall. It seems only right to give our most famous poet and lexicographer the (much-quoted) last words on the subject of pubs – ‘There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced by a good tavern or inn’.

Joules delivery to the Angel Inn, Market St, Lichfield. Unintentionally echoing the Marstons/ Earl of Lichfield photo above!

Joules delivery to the Angel Inn, Market St, Lichfield. Unintentionally echoing the Marstons/ Earl of Lichfield photo above! Autumn 2014

Update: I had a fascinating email from Mike Cooper (appropriate name!) who told me that his great grandfather (x4) bought the Three Tuns Estate in 1777 for the princely sum of £1100.00 pounds of which £700.00 was in the form of a mortgage. The estate covered the pub, its outbuildings and 22 acres of land. He bought the pub from the estate of one Fettiplace Nott Esq (splendid name!), former High Steward of Lichfield, who died on the 6th of June 1775 & who decreed in his will that the sale of the Three Tuns & other possessions were to pay off the gambling debts of his son who was also named Fettiplace Nott. Back in 1777,  Lichfield Racecourse, now where Whittington Golf course stands, was in full swing & where Fettiplace Nott Jnr was want to spend his spare time! On the 6th of May 1801 Thomas Cooper sold the land but not the pub to Henry, Earl of Uxbridge for the sum of £1498.5s. In February 1818, Thomas Cooper, who by then was in his eighties sells the Three Tuns to his son-in-law James Neville & his brother John Neville who then sell it to their younger brother Charles on November 27th 1818. Thomas Cooper died in Lichfield on the 28th January 1828 & is buried in the churchyard at St John’s Hammerwich.

 

I’m really grateful to Mike for providing this information on the early days of the Three Tuns. Mike – I owe you a drink when it re-opens!

Starry Eyed

Walking through Leomansley Wood (or was it Sloppy Wood? I’m never sure where one stops and the other starts), I came across hundreds of wood anemones growing alongside Leomansley Brook. Up until now, I can only ever remember seeing two small patches of these pretty star like flowers – one near to the path that skirts the edge of the woods and the other near to the old mill culvert on Pipe Green.  As they are growing in one of the muddier areas of the woods (actually it was probably Sloppy Wood!), it may be that I’ve always missed them, having turned off to find a drier route. At the risk of sounding like one of the motivational sayings people share on Facebook, it just shows that sometimes it’s worth persevering with the trickier path!

Anemones in Leomansley

As well as their obvious beauty, the thing I love about wildflowers is their associated folklore and their alternative names. Nicholas Culpeper tells me that the anemome, “is called the windflower because they say the flowers never open unless the wind bloweth”. Wet weather has the opposite effect, and the flower also closes as night falls, giving rise to the story that fairies use anemones both as somewhere to shelter from the rain, and somewhere to sleep, tucked beneath the petals.

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For superstitious folk, I imagine that disturbing sleeping fairies was probably best avoided and may be why it’s generally considered unlucky to pick the plant, especially here in Staffordshire. According to Roy Vickery,  the wood anemone was known as ‘thunderbolt’ in the county, because, as as the name suggests, picking it would result in a storm. Mr Vickery also relays the experience of the Rev E Deacon, a member of the North Staffordshire Field Club in 1930.  One day, Deacon arrived at a farm where a wedding party was taking place. Apparently, the expression of the smiling person who opened the door changed to one of alarm when he or she realised that Mr Deacon had brought bad luck to the wedding in the form of a wood anemone in his lapel.

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Along with several other species, including bluebells which are just starting to appear, anemones are indicator species of ancient woodland i.e. one which has been around since 1600AD. The way I understand it, their presence in Leomansley Wood isn’t proof that it is an ancient woodland (or more accurately, a replanted ancient woodland, where the area has been continuously wooded but trees have been felled and replanted), but a suggestion that it might be. Ancient or not, it’s always a beautiful place for a walk but especially at this time of year.

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Edit: you know how in Finding Nemo, he can’t say anemone? Well ‘m having trouble spelling it – anemone, that’s right isn’t it?

Sources:

Roy Vickery, Oxford Dictionary of Plant Lore