Lily's Medieval Jigsaw Puzzle

Recently, twelve year old Lily made a very interesting discovery in Lichfield. Here’s her account of how the contents of a cardboard box found in an old gaol cell turned out to be far more exciting than than anyone could have imagined….

“In November 2014, I went to the Lichfield Gaol Cells in the Guildhall. It was a Lichfield Discovered event, and we were going to look and see if we could find any graffiti, names, or dates on the gaol cell doors. About 7 or 8 of us came to the event all in all, I came with my Dad. Everyone else managed to find lots of writing and names on the doors, I didn’t find much. Near the end of the session, we were looking inside the third jail cell, the one that is not normally open to the public. My Dad pointed out 2 boxes of old looking tiles on the floor, we took a quick look, but we didn’t pay much attention to them.

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Tiles in cardboard boxes in gaol cell now used for storage

The next time we came to the gaol cells was on 21st February, we had come back to see if there was any more graffiti that we had missed, also to take a second look at the boxes of tiles (Jo at the museum said it was ok). This time I had come with my Mom and there was around 8 people that turned up this time. Me and my Mom started looking through the tiles, we had picked about 5 up and we laid them on a chair to photograph them, but they werereally dusty so we couldn’t see if there were any other patterns on them.

There were so many tiles that we couldn’t fit any more on, we decided to move all of the tiles into the 4th cell, onto a wooden bed that the prisoners used to sleep in, (personally I would NEVER think of sleeping on one of them). We started taking some more tiles out of the box and moving them onto the bed. We moved them a few at a time, because the box was too heavy to lift. I had realised that there were a few tiles with the same pattern on. I really wanted to get a better look at what the patterns looked like, so my mom went to Wilko (just up the road) to buy 2 paintbrushes. When she got back we started brushing off the dust and dirt from the tiles we had got out, we could see the patterns a lot clearer. We had nearly finished emptying out the first box of tiles, and at the bottom my Mom found a bit of tile with ‘Lichfield Friary’ written on the back. She showed it to Kate and she said “Maybe it came from the old Friary!” and then we all got really excited!

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Tile with Lichfield Friary writing on the back

We had found lots of bone shaped tiles that were exactly like the one that said ‘Lichfield Friary’ on it.

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“Bone” shaped tiles

Whatever the floor was, it was really big. We had found LOADS of tiles that looked the same, and maybe they belonged to the same floor. I started trying to see if any of the tiles might fit together, there were loads of circular tiles, some with patterns on, and some without. There was one round tile, with a triangle and circles intertwined in a pattern. There were also pizza shaped tiles, without a tip, like someone had taken a pizza and cut the middle out with a cookie cutter, if you get what I mean. Those tiles had a kind of moon, with a starfish shape in the middle.

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Circular “pizza” tiles with moon and star pattern

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Plain “pizza” tiles

We had found one of these tiles that was complete and one that was broken, but fitted back together again. All the rest were broken, but I managed to get a full circle out of the fragments we had found. It was like a massive jigsaw-puzzle, but I did it in the end, and what was even more exciting, was that the circular tile fit perfectly inside the ring of pizza shaped tiles! Same with the tiles with no pattern on, but we didn’t find another circular tile.

There was also another set of tiles. We had found about 8-10 of the same type, they were square, and they all had the same pattern on, the kind that can make 2 different types of patterns, depending on which way you put them.

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Square tiles with pattern – my faves 🙂

Most of them were complete, apart from 3-4 of them which we only had corners of. I put them together, and they nearly made a 9 square pattern. These were my favourite tiles, and I hoped we found some more of them, we only had half a box or so left to get out. We did find a couple more of these tiles eventually. We finished emptying out the box, and then we started taking pictures of all the tiles. There wasn’t much time left, so we took all of the photos really quickly. As a result, not many of the pictures were very good. And the light was quite dim in the cells, so the light wasn’t the best either.

It was nearing the end of the session, so we had to put all of the tiles back in the boxes. I couldn’t help thinking that the tiles were from the old medieval Friary. At least some of them.

Kate asked me if I could do some research to see if the tiles were from the Friary, Me and my Mom went to the Lichfield Records Office, to go and look at ‘The Lichfield Friary’ by P. Laithwaite, which was reprinted from the Transactions of the Birmingham Archaeological Society where a report of Councillor T. Moseley’s findings from his exploration of the site in 1933 was given.

Laithwaite BAS 1934

D77/23/67 Copyright Lichfield Record Office

There were only 6 pages in the book. Page 5 had a drawing of some if the exact tiles we had found (the ones that looked like pizzas with the middle cut out) some with patterns, and some without.

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D77/23/67 The Lichfield Friary by P.Laithwaite Copyright Lichfield Records Office

Me and my mom were like O-O (AMAZED!). On the next page (page 6) there was a drawing on 3 tiles with different patterns on, all of which we had found in the box of tiles! 😀 (and my favourite one, the one that we had got like a 9 block square of the floor.)

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D77/23/67 Drawing of square tiles from The Lichfield Friary by P.Laithwaite Copyright Lichfield Records Office

We had found what we had come looking for, proof that the tiles in the boxes were Medieval from The Grey Friars’ Church at The Friary!”

Note – this is not where the story ends! Lily is having an afternoon on the tiles with Jo Wilson, Lichfield City Council Museum and Heritage Officer and medieval tiles expert, Karen Slade this week, so look out for an update soon. Lily’s doing such a great job – the initial discovery, the ongoing research, and writing it all up afterwards – that I’m thinking of joining the Right Revd Jonathan Gledhill in retirement and leaving Lichfield Lore in her more than capable young hands.

 

Bad Neighbours

Legend has it that in July 1403, two feuding neighbours from opposite sides of the River Trent set out to fight on opposite sides at the Battle of Shrewsbury. Sir William Handsacre was for the rebel Sir Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy and loyal to King Henry IV was Sir Robert Mavesyn, whose name was said to derive from the French malvoisin meaning ‘dangerous neighbour’. At Bridge Meadow, near to the site of High Bridge, it’s believed that the paths of the two enemies crossed, as did their swords. Living up to his name, Mavesyn killed Handsacre but his victory was short-lived and he met his end at the Battle of Shrewsbury, ‘standing with the King and fighting by his side even unto death’, if the epitaph on his tombstone in the church of St Nicholas at Mavesyn Ridware is to be believed.

The church dates to the mid-twelfth century and stands near to the site of the manor house, which Sir Robert would have once called home. The medieval house was replaced in the early eighteenth century by what William Pitt described in 1817 as, ‘a convenient box, pleasantly situated for a summer residence’. However, still in existence and visible from the churchyard is the ancient timber framed gatehouse, built using trees felled in late 1391 or before the spring of 1392, according to dendrochronology.

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The Church of St Nicholas, Mavesyn Ridware

The old gatehouse at Mavesyn Ridware, seen from the churchyard of St Nicholas

The old gatehouse at Mavesyn Ridware, from the churchyard of St Nicholas

The final resting place of Sir William is unknown but in 1866, William Painter of The Red Lion Inn at Handsacre wrote a letter on the matter to George Griffith, author of ‘The Two Houses: A Staffordshire Tragedy’, a dramatic work based on the events of 1403. According to Mr Painter, when the church of St John the Baptist in Armitage was rebuilt in the mid-nineteenth century, a stone coffin was discovered in the north wall. Inside was a skeleton, with a full set of teeth and a sword. Local tradition had it that these were the mortal remains of Sir William Handsacre. (1)

In 1972, Sir William must have turned in his grave (whether in St John’s or elsewhere) when vandals destroyed much of his former home, Handsacre Hall. In a bid to preserve what remained, I understand that the surviving fragments were moved to Avoncroft Museum in Bromsgrove, where again dendrochronology was used to date the timbers, giving a suggested date of around 1310, with some reused timbers from an earlier hall. According to the report by the Staffordshire Archaeological Society, the house had been derelict for at least six years prior to this and a photograph of the building taken around this time can be found on Staffordshire Past Track here. In its heyday it looked like this.  

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Information board at the site of Handsacre Hall

Nowadays the site is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, still surrounded by a moat, ten metres wide and four feet deep, but also by a housing estate. It’s said that on the island in the centre there are visible brick and sandstone remains and no doubt there is plenty of evidence of past lives at the hall below ground. Visiting in high summer, the only thing I could see (and feel unfortunately), were stinging nettles. Will be interesting to see what a return visit in winter will reveal.

Part of the moat which once surrounded Handsacre Hall

Part of the moat which once surrounded Handsacre Hall. And nettles. Lots of nettles…

Sources

Staffordshire Archaeological and Historical Society Volume XV Transactionf for 1973/4 – Stanley R. Jones Handsacre Hall, Armitage: a note on its destruction

http://ridwarehistory.yolasite.com/mavesyn.php

Staffordshire HER 09638

Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales, 1300 – 1500: Volume 2 by Anthony Emery

A topographical history of Staffordshire by William Pitt.

Angel Delight

Inspired by Brownhills Bob’s love of the place and the inclusion of Holy Angels in Simon Jenkins’ list of England’s Thousand Best Churches, I finally visited Hoar Cross last weekend.

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As Nikolaus Pevsner says in his book on Staffordshire buildings,‘The story of Hoar Cross is well known enough’, but it bears repeating here. Work on the red brick, Jacobean style hall, now used as a spa resort, began in 1862, shortly before Hugo Meynell Ingram married Emily Charlotte Wood. The hall was completed in 1871, but in that same year Hugo was killed in a hunting accident. The widowed Emily employed George Frederick Bodley and his partner Thomas Garner to build a church in his memory, in the grounds of the home they had shared. Emily died in 1904, her remains interred near to those of her husband, whose body had been brought here from the parish church at Yoxall, after the dedication of Holy Angels in 1876. It’s said that Emily was never completely satisfied with her creation, but from what I’ve read it’s considered a masterpiece by all those who know their stuff architecturally. For what it’s worth, I think it’s beautiful too.

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If anyone wants to give me a lesson in how to take photos of windows & getting the light right I will be eternally grateful.

The contribution of Lichfield sculptor and stone mason Robert Bridgemans is acknowledge on thois tablet, decorated with a mallet, chisel and other tools.

You wouldn’t be able to tell, because the photo is so bad, but this tablet acknowledges the contribution of Lichfield sculptor and stone mason Robert Bridgeman and is decorated with a mallet, chisel and other tools.

However, as well as this story of love, loss and incredible architecture, I’m also interested in the earlier chapters in Hoar Cross’s history.  According to Horovitz’s Staffordshire place name study, the name of the village was first recorded in 1230 as ‘Horcros’ and is thought to refer to a grey cross or boundary cross. Whether this was a marker for the point where the four wards of Needwood Forest once met, or whether it indicated the extent of land owned by Burton Abbey in these parts, or whether something else entirely is a matter for ongoing speculation. Whatever its purpose, the cross that gave the place its name is long gone and now it is only the name that remains.

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There is another boundary marker on one of the grass verges in the village. It appears on a 1923 Ordnance Survey map as a ‘boundary stone’ and seems to mark a parish boundary – Hoar Cross sits between Yoxall and Newborough.

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I’d also like to know more about the original Hoar Cross Hall – the medieval moated house, known as the ‘Manor of the Cross’. According to Stebbing Shaw’s History of Staffordshire, the hall was destroyed in the 1700s and a farmhouse built on the site. According to the English Heritage Pastscape record, there is little in the form of maps or archaeology to back up this anecedotal evidence but the fact that there is an 18thc farmhouse known as Hoar Cross Old Hall suggests that Shaw was probably correct.

Meynell Ingram Arms

Despite not setting foot in the spa (not really my cup of herbal tea), my trip to Hoar Cross left my mind and spirit feeling indulged. Before leaving, I stopped off to indulge my body too, with a drink at the Meynell Ingrams Arms. Dating back to the seventeenth century, this former farm house became a coaching inn known as the Shoulder of Mutton. The name was changed in the 1860s, around the time of Emily and Hugo’s wedding, and the rebuilding of the Hall. Sadly, there was no sign of Basil, the horse who attracted media attention several years ago for actually walking into the bar and enjoying a pint of pedigree, but after a couple of hours at Hoar Cross, I had anything but a long face as I headed back to Lichfield.

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Sources:

Click to access Hoar%20Cross.pdf


Midlandspubs.co.uk
‘A Survey and Analysis of the Place-Names of Staffordshire’ by David Horovitz, LL. B https://lichfieldlore.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/397633_vol2.pdf
Lichfield Mercury Archive
http://www.patrickcomerford.com/2014/04/art-for-lent-36-two-portraits-of-emily.html
Staffordshire (A Shell Guide) by Henry Thorold
The Buildings of England – Staffordshire by Nikolaus Pevsner

Waterfall

I’d heard from enigmatic Lichfield news satirist Five Spires Live that there was a waterfall near to the newly re-opened Horns Inn in Slitting Mill. When I read that there were also several boundary stones nearby, I raced from the hole I call home* to have a look.

I understand that the waterfall isn’t a natural force but the remnants of an industry reflected in the village’s name and in the surrounding waters. Horns Pool (sometimes known as Dutton’s Pool) behind the pub was a mill pond for what is thought to have been the first slitting mill in the Midlands, dating back to the 1620s. Iron arriving here from forges in North Staffordshire was split into rods using the power of water. Between 1694 and 1710, ironmongers from the Midlands brought around an average of 600 tons of iron rod each a year.  I wonder if any found its way to Burntwood where I found the nailers’ stones in the churchyard?

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Other than the pool, and the sluice gates along Rising Brook, no other traces of the mill are thought to remain. I understand that it was pulled down to make way for the South Staffordshire Waterworks electrically operated pumping station, built in 1932. There’s an interesting story about the demolition of the mill – the British Numismatic Society Journal notes that, “An uncertain number of coins, said in one report to date from the seventeenth century, and in another to be of both that and the following century were found ‘in the walls’ of the Old Mill House when it was pulled down to make way for a new pumping station for the South Staffs Waterworks Company. It is not absolutely certain that these constituted a hoard; they may have been a number of stray coins.”

According to the information board which appears alongside the brook (part of the Cannock Chase Heritage trail), there was also a cottage on the site.  The last inhabitants were Mary Sant and her husband, a blacksmith, who lived there until the cottage was demolished in the 1930s, around the same time that the pumping station was built.. The part of the brook which ran past their home became known as Sant’s Brook, and you can see a photograph of Mary outside the cottage here.

Pumping Station

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I’ve been reading for two hours now and information on exactly how many mills were along the brook seems a little hazy (to me at least!). Archaeological investigations continue to try and establish more information about the extent of the industry here. You can read about the latest discoveries made near to Horns Pool by the Stoke on Trent Museum Archaeology Society in May 2011 here.

Boundary Stones

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There are three boundary stones that I could see – a pair either side of the brook behind Horns Pool, and nearby, another on the path. Thought to date from the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century they are made from local stone. None of them have any kind of markings or lettering, and the pair on the brook are facing different ways. Together with the brook, they appear to mark a border of some sort but according to their listed building description don’t appear on any maps. Curious.

I’m even more curious about why a bridge over the stream as it flows towards Rugeley is called Father Cannock Bridge on maps. Where does this name come from?

Is this Father Cannock Bridge? Where does the name come from?

Is this Father Cannock Bridge? Where does the name come from?

Rising Brook Bridge

Whether this is Father Cannock bridge or not, its ornamental nature makes me wonder whether it’s a leftover relic from the days when this area was part of the Hagley Hall estate. Few traces of the estate remain today. I believe the hall itself was demolished in the 1980s. However, a little further downstream there is one remarkable feature which has survived and you’d never even know it was there, until you looked a little deeper…

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*It’s a bit messy as we’re having a carpet fitted.

Sources:

http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-431001-boundary-stone-at-grid-reference-sk-0271/osmap

Click to access cannockchasedistricthea-appendix3-rugeleyareaheczassessments.pdf

The British Numismatic Journal: Including the Proceedings of the British Numismatic Society, Volume 40

Masters and Men: In the West Midland Metalware Trades Before the Industrial Revolution by Marie B Rowlands

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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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.

 

A Lost Place

A couple of years ago, I learned that there had once been a place in Lichfield known as Bessy Banks Grave. Appearing on several old maps, the name is also referred to in a newspaper advertisement from 1914, but seems to have disappeared shortly afterwards. The plot of land was in The Dimbles area and I suspect that the name may have been lost when the council began building houses there in the early twentieth century.

Attempts to discover the story behind the name led to a poem written by Anna Seward for her friend Honora Sneyd, at the place known as Bessy Banks Grave, which Miss Seward refers to as ‘the grave of a suicide’.

“It suits the temper of my soul to pour
Fond, fruitless plaints beneath the lonely bower,
Here, in this silent glade, that childhood fears,
Where the love-desperate maid, of vanish’d years,
Slung her dire cord between the sister trees,
That slowly bend their branches to the breeze,
And shade the bank that screens her mouldering form,
From the swart Dog-Star, and the wintry storm….”

David Garrick also knew the place, adding that it was supposedly haunted and in 1805, John Jackson remarked that the spot was ‘once the famous rendezvous of lovers….now no more is remembered than that poor Betsy (sic) is said to have fallen victim to hapless love’.

After reading the original post, “Margaret” left a comment to say that she had found a poem called ‘The Circuit Lane’, in the 1859 book ‘Rustic Rhymes’, by Frederick Price. The Circuit Lane marked part of the boundary of Lichfield, as can be seen in the following extract which appears in several history books from the early nineteenth century:

“… and so along that little cross lands unto another lane that leadeth from Lichfield to King’s Bromley and then along that lane towards Lichfield unto a little lane lying between the Grange Ground and Collin’s Hill Field commonly called the Circuit lane unto the further end of it betwixt two fields the one called Hic filius and the other Piper’s Croft and so over across a lane that leadeth from Lichfield to Elmhurst and then into another little lane between Stichbrooke Ground and Gifforde’s Crofte and so along that little lane to a green lane at the further side of the Lady Leasowe being the land of Zachary Babington Esquire and down that lane to a brook called Pone’s Brook and so over that brook into another lane called Stepping stones lane…”

As well as painting a picture of a disappeared landscape, Frederick Price’s poem also refers to the lost story of Bessy Banks. The full poem is here, but I have included an excerpt below

Daisy, ladysmock, and kingcup,
And the broad-leaved flag so gay,
With which we in pride would prink up
Doorsteps on the first of May –
Where bright flies their wings are sunning
Where shells strangely marked are found
Where the rippling brook is running
In which Bessy Banks was drowned.

Pass we these, and onward pressing
Where o’er head tall elm trees wave,
‘Tween banks rich in Nature’s dressing
Till we come to Bessy’s grave:
Here four cross-roads meet; a green mound
Indicates her place of rest;
Few spots are more lone, I ween, found
On old England’s face imprest.

Hawthorn blossoms fall and slumber
O’er where the betrayed one lies –
One more victim to the number
Sung in great Hood’s ‘Bridge of Sighs’
The betrayer, in corruption,
Lies in fetid church-yard soil,
Where e’en earthworms meet destruction
Fit ‘last home’ for one so vile.

Hence the lane has been neglected
From that time : the rustic swain
Since that hour the road rejectes
Nor dare traverse it again
Burdocks, thistles, nettles, tansy,
And the nightshade flourish there;
But the primrose or the pansey
Scarce are known to blossom near.

You’ll notice that Price’s version of the story differs from the earlier one told by Anna Seward. Perhaps the clue to this lies in the reference Price makes to ‘Hood’s Bridge of Sighs’, relating to the poem by Thomas Hood, written in 1844 and said by the Victoria and Albert Museum to be a ‘classic stereotype of the harlot and her destiny‘?

 

 

All The Small Things

Tomorrow’s walk will be different to today’s walk….I have walked past Christ Church three times in as many weeks. Each time was different. The first was a bleak midwinter day, the biting cold numbing my fingers as I photographed the stone heads around the church. By the second, the scene had changed and even the heads were capped in snow.

Whether somehow related to the snow or whether the weather was incidental, numbers on the reverse of head stones that I had previously passed were suddenly evident where I had never noticed them before. Interesting that only two of the several stones I could see from the road had numbers on them, so I’m guessing that they were some sort of reference mark made by the stone mason? Naturally, we look to the inscriptions on the front of headstones for information, but can the back sometimes tell us something as well?

On my third visit yesterday, the snow has been replaced by snowdrops and crocuses, the first flowers of the year and a welcome reminder after last week’s mini ice age that spring is on its way (I know we’re not out of the winter woods yet, but I’m optimistic!).

Another weather and season influenced walk was up Abnalls Lane on a wet and windy day.  Tipping my head back to gather my hair in a pony tail to stop it blowing in my eyes caused me to look up and notice fungi growing half way up a tree up high on a bank that may have been missed on a calm and sunny wander. On the same walk the bareness of winter revealed some sort of post in a hedge (I have no idea what this is – some sort of utilities marker?)

The light was poor and Abnalls Lane was more of a stream in places. With the amount of cars passing, it was only a matter of time before I ended up soaked or worse….so I changed my route. Later, outside the derelict Sandyway Farm, a pub known as the Royal Oak for the first half of the nineteenth century, one of the bricks had worked its way free of the decaying shell and lay under brambles alongside the Walsall Rd. I understand that the stamp ‘NCB Hamstead’ means it came from brickworks at the Hamstead Colliery in Birmingham, when it was part of the National Coal Board.

Is the C the wrong way around or is it me?

Admittedly, all of the above are small things but whether small things help you to build a bigger picture of the place you live in or even if they just make you smile, I think they’re worth noticing.

 

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)

Cross County

Looking for ancient crosses in Lichfield, has so far lead only to hints of their existence – a one line reference in an old book here, a placename there. Nothing concrete (or should I say stone?).  So imagine how happy I was when I visited Ilam Park yesterday and found that were two thought to date back to the 10thc standing in the churchyard with a third shaft incorporated into the church wall…..

Church of the Holy Cross, Ilam, Staffs

 

…..and imagine how much I kicked myself when I got home and found out there was yet another stone, known as ‘The Battle Stone’, located in the grounds of Ilam Hall that I had missed!

However, as a consolation, I learnt at home that this spring near to the church is thought by some to be St Bertram’s Well (although others place this on a hillside near to the village).

St Bertram’s Well?

The Shrine of St Bertram (also known as St Bertelin or maybe Beorhthelm of Stafford) is inside the church. As you might expect, there is more than one account of St Bertram’s life. The most well known version seems to be the tragic story that he was a Mercian Prince whose wife gave birth to a child in a forest. The wife and baby were killed by wolves and St Bertram became a hermit near to Ilam, It’s thought this story might be represented on the churches font, which dates back to around the 12thc.

You can decide for yourself, if you look at this website on Romanesque sculpture, which gives a detailed description of the font, together with photos.

However, Stafford Borough Council have this version on their website, which doesn’t feature the tragic part of the legend.

The legend of St Bertelin derives from the 14th century account of him by Capgrave in his ‘Nova Legenda Anglie’, retold by Dr Robert Plot in his ‘Natural History of Staffordshire’ (1686). He is reputed to have been the son of the Mercian prince, the friend and disciple of St Guthlac who, after St Guthlac’s death c 700, continued his holy vocation on the islet of Betheney now Stafford. Here, he remained until forced to retreat from the ill-will of jealous detractors, when he repaired to Ilam, in Dovedale, Derbyshire where ultimately he died. His burial place in Ilam church was once a place of pilgrimage.

His burial place still seems to be a place where people come, not just seeking out history like me, but for spiritual reasons. As you can see from the photo of the shrine, prayers (I didn’t read them) and candles are still left there.

I have found a copy of the ‘Nova Legenda Anglie’, but as my Latin only stretched to ‘Caecilius est pater’, I need a bit of time alone with google translate.  So, I’ll leave the legend of St Bertram/Bertelin there for now other than to say that it’s believed that the remains of St Bertelin’s chapel in Stafford were excavated in the 1950s and they discovered part of a 1,000 year old cross. And this one is made of wood!

Ilam, Stafford and I’ve seen references to existing crosses in Wolverhampton, Leek, Chebsey (between Eccleshall & Stafford), amongst other places. With the discovery of the ‘Battlestone’ in Ilam (the one that I missed!) in the foundations of a cottage, during a restoration in 1840, I’m still clinging to the hope that at least a fragment of one survives somewhere in Lichfield!

Sources:

http://www.heritagegateway.org.uk/gateway/

http://list.english-heritage.org.uk/ (Entry numbers 1038113, 1012654, 1012653,

Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in Britain & Island http://www.crsbi.ac.uk/index.html

http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/705619

http://www.megalithic.co.uk/ (St Bertram’s Well http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=14731)

http://www.staffordbc.gov.uk/in-touch-with-the-past