Orange Peel

In the mid 1930s, the Lichfield Mercury ran a series of articles called ‘The Beauty that is England’, featuring local country houses – ‘what they are and have been’ – around Lichfield. Each article blends the author’s description of the house (if still standing) and grounds with a heady mix of folklore, hearsay, historic records and poor quality photographs. Taken with a pinch off salt, they make for fascinating reading. As well as describing the past, they are now the past, providing us with a snapshot of almost eighty years ago – a ‘Now and Then and Then’, if you like.

The Orangery at the old Fisherwick Estate. Just about.

The Orangery at the old Fisherwick Estate. Photo from the Lichfield Mercury July 19th, 1935.

I was delighted that number eight in the series was Fisherwick, the site of a once grand mansion built for the Marquess of Donegal in the 1760s, but torn down and sold off to pay family debts after barely half a century. It’s a place I know well and I recognise much of it from the description from the 1930s – the beauty of its woods, the old arched bridges, the River Tame meandering through rich and colourful meadows. Yet of course in eighty years there have been changes. The red brick of the now demolished Elford Hall can no longer be seen in the distance, Fisherwick Hall’s ice house, ‘a brick enclosed fissure, built into the side of the hill’, near Home Farm has since disappeared, as has the pub in nearby Whittington which took its name from Robert Peel who purchased some of the dismembered Fisherwick estate.

Still hanging on in there just is the Orangery, although its portico (just visible in the above image), supported by four pillars with carved ionic capitals and reached by four worn steps has vanished since the 1930s, as has the frieze around the walls, said to have been carved in white stone with goats’ or sheep skulls linked by flowers. It’s a miracle anything survives at all. Even eighty years ago the author described its ‘crumbling sandstone, rotting bricks and decaying beams’, noting how ‘the ravages of time and nature are playing havoc with the beauty it barely possesses’. Then, in the 1970s, Nature upped her game and the Orangery was struck by lightening and scheduled for demolition. Why this never took place, I don’t know but I’m pleased it didn’t. It gives us an idea of what the rest of the estate may have looked like, and has the added interest of carved graffiti – the author thought everyone in Lichfield had added their signatures, based on the number and variety of names scribbled all over it.

Orangery

SAM_5150

Fisherwick 016

The Lichfield Mercury article ends with a tantalising yet unsubstantiated snippet of a story, saying that, ‘in 1800, a fatal duel was fought at Fisherwick, where a suitable enclosure near the hall had been lent for the combat’. I don’t know who the two gentlemen were, or what their quarrel was over, but this is just one of the many tales which have weaved their way around this intriguing place.  If you’d like to hear more Fisherwick Stories and explore the Orangery and whatever else remains of the estate today, including the community farm which has grown up in and around the former walled garden, then you are more than welcome to join us on our Lichfield Discovered walk –  2pm on Saturday 5th April at Woodhouse Farm and Garden.

 

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Bell Vista

A while ago, I wrote about the architect Thomas Johnson and how he had been involved in the restoration of the church of St Michael on Greenhill in 1842/3. In the newspaper archive, I found a report of a meeting of parishioners held at the church, prior to these restoration works.

The article is a bit blurry and hard to read but after much squinting it seems that there was concern that the church was at risk of ‘being reduced to ruins’ and that the churchwardens had appointed Mr Johnson to assess the extent of the dilapidations.  His diagnosis was that the roof, ceiling, spire and a portion of the walls were so unsafe that a large sum of money would be needed to keep up the building. The parishioners expressed their surprise at how bad the situation was. To illustrate just how bad things had got, it was revealed that rabbits had managed to get into the mausoleum of the Marquis of Donegal (he of Fisherwick) and were breeding in the coffins. The outcome was that the land owning parishioners agreed to increase their rates to pay for the necessary work which according to the County History included

 “the reroofing of the nave, the repair of the side aisles and the nave clerestory, the reintroduction of Perpendicular windows in the north aisle, the rebuilding of the north porch, and the remodelling of the south aisle with new buttresses and a south door in place of a window. The gallery was removed. The mausoleum and the vestry room were replaced by a stokehold over which a clergy vestry was built with doors into the chancel and the south aisle; an organ loft was built over the vestry”.

St Michael’s above Stowe Pool

I have never been into the church myself. However, I notice via facebook that the church will be open for viewing tomorrow (between 3pm & 5.30pm) during the launch of the Bell Restoration Fund. You can find out more on their facebook page here and you can read the great article Annette Rubery wrote about the fund here.

The church is of course featured on the ward banner for this part of Lichfield (along with what I had assumed was the Greenhill Bower House, although looking at it again now I’m not so sure…)

Although I’ve never been inside the church, I have been to the churchyard. With claims on Wikipedia that it could be a Mercian tribal necropolis, the site of one of the earliest settlements in Lichfield or the burial place of followers of St Amphibalus, it certainly merits a post of its own one day!

Steps leading up to the churchyard

Edit: I’ve just been thinking about the building on the ward flag, below the church. Could it in fact be the gateway to the old Lichfield Union Workhouse (subsequently St Michael’s Hospital).

Sources:

Lichfield Mercury Archive

Lichfield: Churches’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 134-155

 

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?

 

 

 

Lichfield Armour

On Wednesday, Pat sent me a link to a British Pathe film. The short film is from 1938 and shows boys and men dressed in armour for the Lichfield Bower. This on its own is fascinating stuff. However, this week it’s not only an interesting piece of footage but also a topical one!

The lead story in this week’s Mercury tells how the Bower Committee feel they have no choice but to sell off two of the four suits of armour they own (presumably some of those featured in the film?), to ensure the survival of the event.  You can read the full article here.

There’s so much more to be said on the Bower, about its history & its future and also its place in the Lichfield psyche. There is a great site for the Bower which explores some of the history behind this Lichfeldian tradition, as well as giving updates on this year’s festivities.

You can view a copy of the film by clicking here. I think the procession is travelling down Beacon St in the film, what does anyone else think? Huge thanks to Pat for his great contribution, as ever.

I don’t have any photos of the Bower Armour, but I do have a photo of a suit of armour I took somewhere else in Lichfield. Anyone else spotted this chap in ye olde city?

 

 

Edit 23/2/2012

Over on twitter, the Beacon Street Blog have spotted a story in the Lichfield Mercury, saying that the armour has been withdrawn from the sale, due to a dispute over ownership with Lichfield District Council.

City Brewery Co (Lichfield) Fire 1916

Lichfield Maltings taken from Magnet car park
moments before my camera broke!



During the 19th century beer boom, brewing was the most important industry in Lichfield(1), which was home to five breweries during the period(2). Eventually, most of these merged and were taken over by some of the big companies but we do still have some interesting buildings around the City to remind us of the industry.

One of these is the former Lichfield Maltings (a grade II listed building), on the Birmingham Rd, once the malthouse for The City Brewery Co, formed in 1874. Along with the manager’s house/offices, it survived the huge fire that destroyed the rest of the brewery.

The fire started a few hours before dawn, on an October morning in 1916. The Lichfield Mercury reported that ‘Never has a conflagration of such magnitude ever been witnessed in the City’. The fire burned for around 10 hours, and it took five local Fire Brigades and 750,000 gallons of water to extinguish it.

The Mercury suggested that the people of Lichfield would ‘extend their sincerest sympathies to the directors and shareholders for the severe loss’, with estimates for the damage running to ‘not less than £30,000’, although this was covered by insurance. I’m sure the people of Lichfield’s sincerest sympathies would be also have been extended to the 70 workmen, left without a job following the blaze.(3)

In the days that followed, the City’s provision for dealing with fires was criticised. People wanted to know why it had taken thirty minutes for the Lichfield brigade to arrive at the scene of the fire, when other brigades in surrounding areas were said to turn out in less than ten. It added fuel to the ongoing campaign for a motor fire engine in Lichfield. Presumably, the brigade was still using the steam engine presented to Lichfield by Albert Worthington (the brewer!) in 1898, which was housed in the former police station at the Guildhall5. Opponents of a motor engine had argued that when attending rural fires (which most fires at the time were), the wheels wouldn’t be able to grip ploughed land and fields. It took another six years, but in 1922 the city got its first motor engine, with half the cost being met by the City’s rural district.(4)

Another view of the Maltings, taken at dusk, hence the gloom

Following the fire, the City Brewery was bought by Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries and the Maltings remained in operation until 2005. A visit by the Brewery History Society to the site at this time suggests a range of economic and practical reasons led to its closure, including a reduction in demand for floor made malt and new hygiene regulations. The building is currently owned by a property development company, who submitted an successful application to Lichfield District Council in 2008 for the building to be converted into apartments. Perhaps I should get out more, but the planning application actually makes for interesting reading as it includes a historic building assessment.

I’ll try and have a look at some of the other old breweries in the coming weeks.

Sources:

1 & 4 Lichfield: Public services’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990)
2 The Old Pubs of Lichfield – John Shaw
3 The Lichfield Mercury Archives, accessed at Lichfield Records Office