Fools & Hobby Horses

The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance takes place each year on Wakes Monday (the first Monday following the first Sunday after 4th September), which means that this year it will be on 10th September.

As far as I can gather, the horn dance is one of those traditions where no-one is quite sure what it’s all about. There are six dancers carrying reindeer antlers, a fool, a hobby horse, Maid Marian, a boy with a bow and arrow, an accordion player & a triangle player. The horns are collected from the church of St Nicholas at 8am and are returned 12 hours later after the participants have danced around the village and out to Blithfield Hall. According to the horn dance of Abbots Bromley website, when one of the horns was damaged in 1976, a piece was sent to be carbon dated. It was found to date back to 1065 (plus or minus 80 years) although the general consensus is that this doesn’t really help to date the dance itself.

I’m ashamed to say that every year I’ve planned to go and watch the dance, but haven’t made it for one reason or another. I have been to the village on several non-horn dance occasions though and it is a lovely place.  However, Mr J Carver, in his 1779 book ‘The Universal Traveller’ wasn’t impressed , saying,

It stands at the distance of a hundred and twenty eight miles from London but contains nothing worthy of note

(Lichfield fares a little better. In Mr Carver’s opinion, ‘It is a long, straggling place but has some handsome houses’).

Walking through the village, to my 21st century eyes, practically every building looks worthy of note. Amongst many others, there’s the Butter Cross (or Burger Cross as a practical joker would have it in 2002), the Goat’s Head Inn (which is thought to date back to the early 1600s, with possibly even older cellars and of course, a secret passage story!) and Almshouses (above the doors are the Bagot family arms and the inscription Deo et Igenis DDD Lamberius Bagot Arm Anno 1705).

The Butter Cross, The Goats Head Inn & St Nicholas Church

View of St Nicholas, where the horns are displayed throughout the year.

Church of St Nicholas, from the High St

Almshouses

A couple of years ago the BBC made a programme about folk dancing in England and you can see the clip about the horn dance here. There are also some photographs of the tradition taking place in the 1930s here on the Staffordshire Past Track website.

I believe that the horns never leave the parish boundary (when not in use they are stored in the church of St Nicholas) although the dance can be performed elsewhere (another set of antlers is used on these occasions). I’ve also just discovered that this year the third annual Abbots Bromliad will take place in California, where they are hoping to beat their own record for most people dancing the horn dance at once (144 in 2010). You can even order your own set of acrylic antlers for $20 to help you feel the part! Hmmm, I wonder what the postage & packaging would be to get a pair sent to Lichfield….and would they get here in time to wear on the 10th September?

Seriously, we’re lucky to live so near to a place where one of the country’s best known (and possibly one of the oldest) traditions takes place and I really must make an effort to go this year to see it for myself.

 

Cross City

There’s some evidence that there were several stone crosses in Lichfield, although as far as I know, no physical remains have ever been found.

The most well documented of these is the market cross. According to the Lichfield volume of the History of the County of Stafford (1), a market cross stood north of St. Mary’s in the late Middle Ages and then some time around 1530, Dean Denton surrounded it with eight arches and added a roof  to keep the market traders dry. The building was topped with eight statues of apostles, two brass crucifixes on the east and west sides, and a bell, as you can see in this picture on the Staffordshire Past Track site.    The cross was destroyed in the civil war, and replaced with a market house, as shown in the illustration below (although it is referred to as a cross on the notes?) which has also now disappeared.

Taken from John Jackson’s book, History of the City and Cathedral of Lichfield, 1805

There is a possibility that there was a preaching cross in the grounds of St John’s Hospital as documentation shows that Dean FitzRalph preached outside in the cemetery. (2) Information on this specific example is really sketchy, but there is a surviving preaching cross in Bloxwich which you can read about in a great article on The Borough Blog.

More evidence exists for a cross at the junction of Tamworth St and Lombard St. There is a cross like structure shown there on John Speed’s 1610 map, and in 1805 Thomas Harwood wrote that there was a stone cross in Tamworth St. (3) There are also a couple of references in old property deeds such as one from April 1316 describing a ½ burgage in street between the Stone Cross and Stow Gate.(4)

The Market Cross and the Stone Cross at Tamworth St can be seen depicted on John Speed’s 1610 map of Lichfield

A cross apparently stood near Cross in Hand Lane in Lichfield, giving rise to a theory that it this is where the lane got its name from (the other theory is that is was a pilgrimage route, to St Chad’s shrine, where people would walk with ‘cross in hand’. The route has recently been incorporated into a new pilgrimage and heritage route called Two Saints Way). Harwood said,  “(Beacon Street) extends from the causeway over the Minster pool which separates it from Bird Street to houses at the extremity of the city called the Cross in the Hand and where stood an ancient cross ad finem villas.’ The pastscape record for the cross is here.

This week I came across another reference, this time Bacone’s Cross, and which was also thought to be in Beacon St, at the end of the town. Was the ancient cross at Cross in Hand Lane and Bacone’s Cross the same cross?

The Bacone’s Cross/The Cross in Hand and the Tamworth St cross were both situated at the ends of the town. Does this mean that they were boundary markers of some sort?  If so, could there have been more crosses marking other places on the City’s boundary.  There were city gates at both Beacon St and Tamworth St.  However, the probable sites of the gates don’t correspond exactly with the probable sites of the crosses e.g. the above example says ‘between the Stow Gate and the Stone Cross’.

Tamworth Gate plaque on Lee Garden Chinese Restaurant Credit: Ell Brown (taken from flickr photostream).

In the absence of more information about Lichfield specifically, I looked elsewhere to see if crosses would have been used to mark boundaries. St Albans was surrounded by a ditch, like Lichfield (and there’s a link with the story of the  Christian martyrs but that’s a bit too much of a tangent for now!). The History of the County of Hertford, says this about the city’s boundary (5)

Crosses were at an early date erected at important points in the line of boundary, and at each of the entrances to the town, namely, the Stone Cross or North Gate Cross  at the north on the Sandridge Road, the Red Cross in Sopwell Lane, at the entrance by the old road from London, the Cross with the Hand in Eywood Lane, the Black Cross, probably at the angle where Tonmans Dike goes from the boundary of the houses in Fishpool Street towards the Claypits, and St. John’s Cross at an angle of the boundary in what is now known as Harley Street, but lately as Mud Lane.

It’s interesting to see that some of the names are the same – Stone Cross, Cross with the Hand – but I don’t want to start jumping to conclusions until there is much more evidence!

Finally, there is a document relating to property in Freeford (4), which describes ‘three selions of land at Lichfield, near Le Hedeless Cross, on the road towards Freeford’ in the time of Edward III – Henry V. Does this refer to the Tamworth St Stone Cross, or another cross altogether?

What happened to these crosses? Time? Religious differences? Where did they end up? There’s something in one of my all time favourites book that gives me hope (possibly misguided) that there is a chance, no matter how slim, that things that have long been thought to have vanished might turn up again one day in some form or another. In England in Particular (6), in the section on Wayside and Boundary Crosses, it says that,

Some crosses have been found in hedgebanks, with shafts used as gateposts. A number have been found by researching field names:two fields called Cross Park revealed previously undiscovered stones.

Fingers crossed!

Edit:

In view of the above, I thought it’d be worth having a look at field names etc, in Lichfield. There is an entry in an transcribed inventory relating to the real estate of the vicars that says Deanslade: Falseway to cross called Fanecross (4). There’s a Banecross on another transcription and I think one of these could be down to a typo and that they could be the same place, There is also an entry for a place known as Croscroft, which was on the road to Elford, near St Michael’s Churchyard (3)

Another edit:

I was hoping there would be an ancient cross somewhere in Lichfield. Well, I finally found one! Actually that’s a fib. What I found is a photograph in a book of archaeologists finding one. A decorated cross shaft was discovered built into the foundations of the north wall of the nave of Lichfield Cathedral. It’s thought to be Saxon or Saxo-Norman, and could be a surviving remnant of the earlier church on the site. I wish I could share a photograph here, but all I can do is tell you that it’s on plate 1 in the ‘South Staffordshire Archaeological and Historical Society Transactions 1980-1981 Volume XXII’ book, on the local history shelves at the library!.

Sources:

(1) Lichfield: Economic history’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield(1990), pp. 109-131http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=42349#s6

(2) Hospitals: Lichfield, St John the Baptist’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 3(1970), pp. 279-289

(3) The history and antiquities of the church and city of Lichfield by Thomas Harwood

(4) Collections for a History of Staffordshire Part II- Vol VI (1886), William Salt Archaeological Society

(5)  ‘The city of St Albans: Introduction’, A History of the County of Hertford: volume 2 (1908), pp. 469-477

(6) England in Particular, Sue Clifford & Angela King for Common Ground

Back to the Future

In the March 15th 1907 edition of the Lichfield Mercury, there’s an article written by Clifford Mackay entitled ‘Lichfield in 2007 – A Dream of the Future’. Old Ben Wallace, a Lichfield cobbler, takes a trip through the city streets and discovers how things have changed over one hundred years.

Here’s a heavily abridged version, so that you can see for yourself where Mr Mackay got it right (a new theatre called ‘The Garrick’, new houses, mixed schools), got it wrong (a tube station at the Friary, a model Venetian village hiring out gondolas) and sometimes got it very wrong indeed (meeting visitors from Mars on the way to Minster pool).

New houses, a large new theatre of varieties, and an entire renovation of the Market, now Dr Johnson’s Square, are amongst other things which come before his astonished eyes, besides a tremendous building called the ‘Royal Garrick’ Theatre, many shops bearing familiar names but entirely rebuilt, and all the streets reconstructed on an absolutely novel, yet excellent plan.

Garrick Theatre by Bs0u10e01 (image taken from Wikipedia)

….the old man noticed the date of the year – 2007- for the first time he also sees one of the airships from London come in. A tube station now stands at the Friary corner, and a large new hotel – the Savoy- has been erected. Sandford St is now a magnificent thoroughfare, and the ‘George’ and ‘Swan’ hotels have also been rebuilt. They encounter some of the visitors from Mars, and arrive at Minster pool, which has undergone great changes. The two pools, Minster and Stowe have been purchased by the council and now form magnificent pleasure lakes. The former is now illuminated every night, while a band plays from the wonderful new stand erected in the middle

They visit Elysia – the large new pleasure gardens formed out of the late Museum Gardens and Recreation Grounds, and take a trip round in a gondola hired from the model Venetian village

Museum Gardens early 20thc

Inevitably, old Ben finds himself at the Cathedral and it’s here where you begin to wonder if there is more of a point to this article than just a bit of fun. I don’t know enough about the protestant religion to comment but amongst other things, Ben the cobbler is told that,

 The church had grown very worldly – it was neither one thing nor the other – so it had to be purged. It was disestablished and set to rule itself, with the result that many parsons came to believe that after all they were not the demi-gods and worldly magnates that some of them imagined themselves to be. These people here took the lead and set the example to the rest of England – and it was quickly followed everywhere. They gave up their large houses and went to live in smallest ones(the bishop giving his up to be a hospital for the poor and needy)

…..the people are religious as anything – it is a reality to us and not a sham. The Cathedral is packed every Sunday, at all services too, it’s hard to get a seat.

Soon though whatever point is being made, has been made and Ben finds himself

…close to the new marvel, which stood in the field before the Stowe Pool….raised in five lofty square iron towers, nearly sixty feet in height, one being at each corner, and one in the middle was a gigantic platform…..Inside each of ther four corner towers the old man could distinguish lifts ascending from, and descending to the ground floor. Tethered to one of the sides her engines still throbbing, and having an indication with the word Aberdeen printed on it, affixed to its side, lay a huge aeroplane.

Away from the Cathedral Ben is surprised to learn  about the changes in another religion –  Lichfield City FC are doing well having won the English Cup seven times, fielding four international players and getting an an average gate of gate of 12 to 14,000 per match. Of course,the Lichfield manager does it for the love of the game and the reputation of the City rather than as a money making concern.

Ben also learns that the grammar school has been moved from its position near Borrowcop Hill due to drainage issues and that,

…all the schools are mixed in England now. Girls and boys all work together…its a splendid system

At the end of the walk it all goes a bit ‘Life on Mars‘ as old Ben is knocked down by a car on Wade St. But of course, as with all the best stories, it turns out to be just a dream, and he wakes back in his workshop back in 1907.

I know that a prediction of the year 2007, made a hundred years previous is a bit of an  easy target.  I’m sure if I were to make predictions here and now about the year 2112, it would be mostly ridiculous. Could we predict the next 50 or even the next 10 years? In looking to the future of Lichfield, would it reveal anything about our present? Maybe we should give it go. It’d give future generations a good laugh if nothing else. Any volunteers?

 

 

 

Woe unto the bloody City of Lichfield

 

Plaque on St Marys Church. Lichfield Market Square

 

You may have guessed from the fact that George Fox ‘stood without shoes on a market day in this Market Place and denounced the City of Lichfield’, that his visit was a little out of the ordinary! Here is the full story, based on the founder of the Quaker’s own version events.(1)

Following his release from Derby Gaol, Fox was walking with friends when he noticed the three spires of Lichfield Cathedral in the distance.Leaving his companions behind, he headed towards the City.When he was within a mile of Lichfield, he was commanded by God to remove his shoes.Leaving the footwear with some startled shepherds, he carried on into the City, where God once again spoke to him, telling him to “Cry woe unto the bloody City of Lichfield”. Fox made his way into the bustling Market Place, where he did exactly that.He continued to wander the streets of Lichfield, crying out the phrase over and over again.Whilst doing this, Fox had a vision that there was a channel of blood running through the streets and the market place appeared to him like a pool of blood.Eventually, he returned to the shepherds for his shoes, but found that the fire of the Lord was still in his feet where it remained until he washed them.

Spence, Robert 1871-1964.
“Woe to the Bloody City of Lichfield”
From Lichfield District Council collection


The reaction of the people of Lichfield is interesting. Rather than be frightened or hostile towards this strange man ranting in their midst, they seem to have been concerned.Fox says “friendly people came to me and said, ‘Alack George, where are thy shoes?'”. It’s not recorded but they may have asked if he’d like a nice cup of tea too!

Some people believe that Fox’s behaviour was caused by a fragile mental state, having been recently released from prison. However, Charles Haddon Spurgeon had a theory that it was some kind of PR stunt – no one would take notice of yet another dull sermon, but few could fail to ignore the dramatic ravings of a barefooted man in the snowy market place. Explaining the events of that day, Fox claimed that God had wished him to preserve the memory of the thousand Christian Martyrs slaughtered by the Romans at Lichfield in the time of the Emperor Diocletian. It had been their blood that had filled the streets and market place during his vision.

It’s been suggested that the martyrs Fox actually had in mind were those burnt in the Market Place for heresy.(2) Why would he claim otherwise? Perhaps, on reflection, he thought better of associating himself so publicly with heretics, having been so recently imprisoned for the same crime.

George Fox may have made a lasting impression in Lichfield, but surely not in the way he’d have hoped.  He founded the Society of Friends the following year, but according to a talk given by one of the Friends in Lichfield Cathedral in 1996, Quaker meetings scarcely feature in Lichfield history.(3)

Sources:

1Autobiography of George Fox
2.Classic Encylopedia (based on the 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica 1911)
3.Talk in Lichfield Cathedral by Lichfield Friend Anthony Wilson