Sole Trader

Whilst having a browse in Lichfield Record Office,  I came across an account of more archaeological finds discovered at Minster Pool.  During the construction of a storm water sewer in the 1970s, surplus soil was taken from the pool to a council rubbish tip. One day Mr Miller, from the city’s Engineering and Surveyoring department, happened to notice fragments of Cistercian ware amongst the peaty earth and alerted local experts. On examining the tip more closely, they discovered that the soil from Minster Pool also contained lots of fragments of leather.

Mr Miller and the others had discovered the remains of medieval leather shoes from a cobbler’s workshop that had been operating near to Minster Pool between the years 1400 and 1550. It’s thought that after being repaired several times, the shoes were in such bad condition that they were discarded by the cobbler (only for them to resurface on another rubbish heap some five hundred years later!). The account I read said that after their discovery, the shoes had been taken to Lichfield Museum. On returning home I was delighted to see that some kind soul had photographed some of them and added them to the Lichfield District Council flickr stream. However, in two and a half years they’ve only had sixteen views (and I think three of those were me!) so now you know the story behind how they were found, please pop and over and take a look at them here! It’s a shame that we’ll probably never know the story of the people the shoes belonged to, or the story of the cobblers who patched them up time and time again….

Three examples of 500 year old leather shoes found in soil from Minster Pool on the council rubbish dump! Image taken from Lichfield District Council flickr stream.

Sources:

South Staffordshire Archaeological and Historical Society (SAHS) Transactions XIV – XVI, 1972 – 1975

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Deep and Meaningful

I mostly associate Stowe and Minster Pools with the ducks (or to be more precise the mallards, moorhens, coots, Canada geese, mute swans, and common pochards) that live on these waters. However, for the purposes of this post, it’s what has been found beneath the surface of the pools that I’m interested in.

Ducklings making their way over Stowe Pool last summer

Nesting on Stowe Pool, 2011

At a meeting of the Leicestershire Architectural Society in June 1858, the Rev J M Gresley produced a number of objects that had been discovered in the city’s pools, during the process of their conversion into reservoirs for the South Staffordshire Waterworks Company. As well as numerous cannon balls and shells, some of the other finds were described, including:

A small iron battle axe, seventeen inches in length

A spur singularly shaped of perhaps the last century

An ancient steel horse shoe by striking the holes for the nails several of which remain in them. The outer edge has a scalloped shape

Several narrow sharp pointed knives from 7 to 9 inches long of the sixteenth century. The shaft of one of them is of black bone inlaid with trefoils and ornaments of brass

A large clasp knife with buck’s horn haft twelve inches in length

Several keys of the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries and a small one of still older date

A piece of early English pottery perhaps of the twelfth or thirteenth century. It is of reddish and grey clay with a green glaze. The head and tail are broken off. It is hollow and has a large aperture at the breast but it does not look as if it could ever have been used as a jug or bottle The length of it is 6 inches

Fragment of the neck of a Flemish stone ware jug called a Greybeard or Bellarmine of the sixteenth or seventeenth century

Soles of shoes of the thirteenth or fourteenth century with small heels narrow instep broad across the ball of the foot and quite a sharp point at the toe

Soles of shoes of the fifteenth century much the same shape as the others but round at the toe

A leaden seal or bull of one of the Popes whose name is obliterated. Two rude faces upon the other side have over them S PA(ULUS) S PE(TRUS)

A number of brass counters commonly called Nuremburg tokens formerly used for making calculations…upon these tokens are various and interesting consisting of ornamental crosses, fleur de lis, heraldic bearings, ships, the globe surmounted by the cross. One was plainly an imitation of the silver pennies of Edward I and II but with pellats in place of the legend

Two leaden counters one of them with the letter K, the other apparently a saint’s head and glory about it

An angel of the seventeenth year of James I with a hole through it for suspension it having been given to a person when touched by the King for the evil. The reverse has a ship with the royal arms on the mainsail

Lichfield Coventry and Tamworth tokens of the seventeenth century

A considerable quantity of stags horns

Another discovery in Minster Pool led to a court case in 1896 between South Staffs water and a labourer named Sharman. This case is still quoted as an example in legal textbooks today. Sharman, the defendant, had been employed by the water company to clean the pool and in the course of this work found two gold rings. The court ruled that it was not a matter of finders keepers and ordered the rings to be handed over.

Whilst it seems reasonable to assume that the cannon balls and shells ended up in the pools after falling short of their intended targets during the civil war, how did these other objects end up in the water? Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find a description of the gold rings, not even a date range, and so for now we’ll have to imagine the stories behind them finding their way into Minster Pool!  Perhaps we could have a more educated guess at the origin of some of the other objects though? In the past, both pools were used as mill ponds, with tenters to dry cloth set up along the stream which fed into Stow Pool. There were also tanyards in the area and the site of the parchment works of Michael Johnson (bookseller and father of Samuel) was nearby, as can be seen on the 1781 Snape map of Lichfield (a wonderful, big-res version of the map can be found here on BrownhillsBob’s Brownhills Blog). Possibly related to these industries, the tenant of a skinhouse claimed the privilege to wash skins in Minster Pool.

Mill House, Dam St in the vicinity of the old mill

This ward banner in the Guildhall relates to Dam St, and I think it represents the mill between Minster and Stow Pool.

These objects have been lost and found once already, but where are they now? Is it possible to find them once again?

Edit: Philip just asked me about where the tanneries were, and in comparing the Snape map with Googlemaps, I found that in one of the spots marked as a tan yard on the former, there is a little road called the Tanyard (off Stowe St) on the latter!

Sources:

A survey by the Lichfield Wildlife Group in 2009, looking at the natural heritage of The Close http://www.staffs-wildlife.org.uk/files/documents/250.pdf

Thanks to Philip Mantom for drawing my attention to the legal case South Staffs Water Co v. Sharman (1896)

Smith and Keenan’s English Law Text and Cases 15th Edition – Denis Keenan

Transactions, Volume 1,  Leicestershire Architectural and Archaeological Society

Lichfield: Economic history’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield(1990), pp. 109-131

Ferry Cross the Minster

Yesterday, the second of March, was the feast day of St Chad. In 669, Chad founded a monastery near to the site where the church named after him now stands, making Lichfield the new centre of the Diocese of Mercia (it had previously been Repton). Anyone interested in learning more about the life of Chad should read Patrick Comerford’s post here.

Statue of Chad at St Chad’s church, Lichfield

Around this time last year,  I wrote about the history of the well at St Chad’s and a little about the pilgrimage route between Lichfield and Chester. This year once again I found myself possibly following in the footstep of pilgrims, when I took a walk down Bird St.

The latest incarnation of St Chad’s Well

The view from St Chad’s. A question – why was the Saxon church built to house St Chad’s bones and later to become the Cathedral, built over there, and not at the site of Chad’s Monastery and Well?

An alley (or gully or ginnel depending on where you’re from) runs from Bird St, past the George Hotel and then takes a sharp turn towards Minster Pool. In the early fourteenth century it was called Wroo Lane, a name thought to be derived from the Middle English word ‘Wro’ meaning corner. Shortly afterwards, the lane became known as Cock Alley.  According to Thomas Harwood, this ‘new’ name came from a carpenter named Slorcock who once lived there. I’ve done my best to show the route I think the lane took but please also take a look at  it on John Snape’s wonderful 1781 map of Lichfield, which Brownhills Bob very generously shared here on his blog. Although these days it’s probably mostly used as a shortcut to the car park, the Collections for a History of Staffordshire (Volume Six) suggests that this was once an important thoroughfare, leading pilgrims to the ferry which would carry them across the water to the Cathedral.

Cock Alley. Or possibly Wroo Lane.

Looking back up towards Wroo Lane. Or possibly Cock Alley.

How did the pilgrims get over those big railings?

At present, I am unsure whether the existence of a ferry for pilgrim traffic is a theory or whether it has actually been confirmed by evidence. I shall keep looking for this and in the meantime, may I suggest that when walking around Lichfield you keep looking too. Remember, it’s not just buildings that have a history, but also the spaces between them.

 Sources:

‘Lichfield: The place and street names, population and boundaries ‘, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 37-42. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=42340

The History and Antiquities of the Church and City of Lichfield, Thomas Harwood

Collections for a history of Staffordshire Volume 6, Part 2, Willam Salt Archaeological Society