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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Concrete Evidence

Due to a vague notion I had that canals had to follow a straight line, my previous attempt to follow the route of the Wyrley & Essington canal from the London Rd bridge to Sandfields Pumping Station had not been a resounding success. Determined to find the stretch of the Curly Wyrley (the canal’s nickname derived from the way it, ahem, doesn’t follow a straight line) that I’d missed,  I had a walk along the Birmingham Rd. Near to the Duke of Wellington, half a canal bridge and two modern street names – ‘Wyrley Close’ and ‘Essington Close – confirmed that this had once been part of the route of the canal between Shortbutts Lane and Sandfields.

Canal where?

Essington Close and Wyrley Close to the left as you look at the photo.

Standing in Essington Close looking back up the line of the canal towards the bridge.

In fact, I’d already been over the bridge plenty of times before but just never taken any notice of the clues staring me in the face. My excuse is that my head is always turned the other way, ready to look out for the old Maltings on the other side of the road.

Lichfield Maltings

One of my first friends in Lichfield used to live on the site.  One of our favourite topics of conversation, inevitably, was the history of the building we could see from her house, especially on those occasions when my friend had chatted with one of the employees and was able to regale me with tales of burning buildings, footsteps and orchards.  Through these chats and a bit of reading, we discovered that the malthouse had belonged to The City Brewery Company (Lichfield). In October 1916, a fire destroyed most of the brewery leaving only this building, and the red brick brewery manager’s house and offices (see my earlier post on the fire here). Shortly afterwards, Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries took over the site.

What we didn’t appreciate enough at the time is that as we were scouring the archives for events that took place nearly a century ago, history was also happening right there under our noses – in 2004, this was one of only six remaining operational floor maltings in the country.The following year, it closed and the building was eventually purchased by a propery developer. Thanks to a Historic Building Assessment and photographs from urban explorers, the architectural features of the building have been documented. However, I wish we’d have talked to more people and asked more questions and recorded the first hand experiences of people doing a job that would very shortly cease to exist, in a building that would soon no longer be used for its primary purpose. You live and learn….

After standing unused for several years, scaffolding now surrounds the malthouse, and the adjoining modern shed has now gone. This could be an indication that the building’s transformation from industrial to residential use is now underway.  It seems to me that giving new life to an old building like this is a good way to balance the need to protect the past and the need to look to the future.  I hope that wherever possible the old features that tell the story of the building’s old life are retained, as recommended by the Historic Building Consultant’s assessment.

On the opposite side of the road to the Maltings, I followed a drive that lead under a railway bridge to some rusting gates. Until I got home and looked at an old map, I had no idea that this had formerly been a concrete works. Back in 1986, the Domesday project recorded that this was once the site of Bison Concrete. Unlike the canal and the maltings, I can see no reference to the site’s recent history. Maybe the time when we celebrate concrete is still to come…

I think that those of us that don’t have the nerve to explore & photograph the inside of derelict buildings or the necessary funds to pay for the physical restoration of a building, do have another weapon that we can employ in the defence of our history – the ability to listen.

The three places I visited above are all a part of Lichfield’s industrial heritage. On my way over to them, I passed a fourth – Sandfields Pumping Station. David Moore is gaining a lot of support for his campaign to safeguard this overlooked yet important part of our social and industrial history. You can listen to what he has to say by visiting his blog here!

Notes

I think my research could also be described as a bit ‘curly wurly’ as I never seem to be able to resist taking the scenic route instead of going from A to B. When I was on the Domesday site, I read some of the other entries for the Birmingham Rd area and the one that especially caught my eye was ‘Shire Horses – Lichfield’, with an accompanying photograph of said horses emerging from stables on the Birmingham Rd. Does anyone know anything about these in addition to the short description here?

On a final curly wurly note, this tree on the Birmingham Rd looks like it has teeth.  The one next to it doesn’t, so I’m not sure why…

Bark worse than its bite?

Sources:

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/publications/maltings

Fallen Angel

I’m certainly not the first person to write about the deteriorating condition of the Angel Croft hotel, and I suspect that I won’t be the last – it doesn’t look like it will be relinquishing its place on the English Heritage at Risk register any time soon.

Personally, I have no connection with the building, I’ve never even been inside. As awful as it sounds, I can barely remember the days when it actually was a hotel.  It seems to have taken on a new identity as a case study in decaying grandeur, about which regrets are expressed and rumours abound, but about which no one seems to know quite what to do.

Of course other people will have memories of the Angel Croft – a wedding reception,  a work do, a meeting, a reunion dinner, or even a weekend stay. Walking through The Close recently, I saw this plaque on a bench, and it reminded me of an intriguing story I’d seen on the subject of the Angel Croft and memories a while back.

It features on a blog about a man’s research into his great uncle Jack Purcell’ s time in the Royal Australian Air Force. Jack Purcell was posted to RAF Fradley and in the collection of his documents handed down to his great nephew Adam Purcell was a postcard of a view across Minster Pool marked with a small ‘x’. Adam believes the cross could be marking the Angel Croft Hotel… you can read the whole post in full here.

It’s a fascinating story, but also a good reminder that it’s not only buildings that are  vulnerable to the ravages of time, but memories too. Of course, it’s important to preserve architecture of note, but I have to ask, what are we doing to preserve the memories and stories that make buildings so much more than an entry on a list or register?

Note – I hope Adam Purcell doesn’t mind me featuring the story of his Great Uncle’s time in Lichfield. I shall contact him.