On the Rocks

Lichfield is about as far as you can get from the sea. Somebody once wrote to the Guardian to say there was a plaque somewhere in the city making this claim but I’ve never seen it. However, being stuck in the middle of the country has not prevented the formation of the Lichfield Lighthouse Company, a group who meet at the Kings Head to sing sea shanties each month. It also didn’t stop me from heading out to look for shells in the city centre yesterday.

I’d read about the London Pavement Geology project over breakfast and I persuaded the other half to put his geology degree to good use and help me find out what Lichfield is made of, other than the ubiquitous sandstone (lovely though it is).

Lichfield Cathedral on Martyrs Plaque, Beacon Park

Lichfield Cathedral on Martyrs Plaque made from sandstone

Our first port of call was another of landlocked Lichfield’s nautical links. Unless you live under a rock, you’ll probably be familiar with Beacon Park’s statue of Captain Smith which someone from Hanley in Stoke on Trent tries to appropriate whenever there’s a new chapter in the Titanic story, due to the mistaken belief that the statue was originally intended for their town. On this occasion, it wasn’t the bronze captain but the plinth he was stood on that interested me. The nearby plaque told me it was Cornish Granite, a material which has also been used at the Titanic Memorial in London and the memorial at Belfast. I wonder whether there are any symbolic reasons for choosing this stone alongside the practical and aesthetic ones?

Captain Smith plaque, Beacon Park

Captain Smith plaque, Beacon Park

Not far from the Captain, King Edward VII stands on a base made of Hopton Wood stone. Get up close and you can see that the limestone is full of fossils including (and please correct me if I’m wrong) corals, crinoids and brachiopods from around 350 million years ago when the area that was to eventually become Derbyshire was under water. Lichfield wasn’t always so far from the sea!  It seems a similar stone has been used for the plinth Samuel Johnson sits on in the Market Square, as that too is full of fossils.

Samuel Johnson statue, Market Square, Lichfield

Samuel Johnson statue, Market Square, Lichfield

Fossils in Dr Johnson statue Fossils in Dr Johnson statue 2Of all the building materials we saw on our travels, the most unusual were to be found in a wall on Christchurch Lane. According to a booklet on the history of Leomansley compiled by the Friends of Christ Church, it was built by Cloggie Smith who used anything suitable that he had in his yard at the time. So, no Portland Stone here, just two Belfast Sinks. Are there any other examples of unorthodox construction materials used in and around the city?

Wall mounted Belfast sink

Wall mounted Belfast sink

You’ve probably guessed that I am way out of my depth when talking about geology, but the point is that after eleven years, seven months and two days here in Lichfield, someone made me look afresh at things so familiar that I barely saw them any more. Sometimes, the most amazing things are right under your nose. Or, in this case, under Dr Johnson’s and King Edward VII’s noses.

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King Edward VII statue Lichfield Fossils in King Edward VII statue Lichfield

 

Made of Stone

During the last couple of weeks, if you’ve walked along the path that runs along the top of Beacon Park (between the A51 and the football pitches), chances are that you might have spotted this pile of moss covered stones. A lot of the vegetation in this area has been removed recently, making their presence much more obvious than when I first came across them in Spring last year.

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Back when I first noticed them, I did a bit of asking around and I was given three different stories regarding their provenance. The most likely explanation came from someone at Lichfield District Council who said that the stonework was a section of the balustrade which runs around the park at the Beacon Street/Bird Street entrance, which had been removed to make a new corner entrance (near to the Chandlers kiosk/public toilets) sometime in the 1980s. However, someone else thought that the stones were what remained of a structure belonging to the farm which once occupied this area of the park and another person suggested that they were part of some sort of tower which was at Stowe Pool until it was dismantled after becoming structurally unsafe.

Last week, Bob Houghton, from the Burntwood Family History Group and Lichfield and Hatherton Canal Restoration Trust noticed them and sent me an email to say that some of the people who work at the park had told him that they were from the old post office which once stood on Bird Street, where Ego now is. So now we have yet another explanation!

To be honest, I’m torn between the truth and enjoying the ongoing speculation about what the stones are and how they came to be in a patch of woodland in the park. As the moss grows fat on these old stones, I hope that the stories keep growing too.

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The last time I walked past the stones,  I found a handful of bits and bobs scattered around them.  I’m pretty sure these are jigsaw pieces to other stories and nothing at all to do with this little puzzle. However,  if you want to include a scrabble tile, some pottery, a piece of tile and an old clay pipe into your version of the story, then please feel free!

 

Nail Art

As objects are the theme of our Lichfield Discovered meeting on Monday, and I had an hour to myself this afternoon, I decided to head over the border to have a look for the nailers’ stones that I’d been told were in the churchyard at Christ Church, Burntwood. The only reference to them I’ve found is on the Christ Church website which says,

‘Visitors will firstly note the magnificent west doors, believed to be original. The huge nails which have been used are indicative of Burntwood having been a nail making area due to the plentiful supply of charcoal and iron ore. (Nail making was very much a cottage industry, and should the visitor wish to, enter the churchyard, will find there several nail stones of different sizes).’

I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for and had to rely on the, ‘I’ll know it when I see it’ method, which I’ve used many times before, with varying degrees of success. On this occasion it worked out just fine.

Nailer's Stone. Burntwood

Nailer's Stone. Burntwood 2

Group of nailers' stones

The above arrangement of stones reminds me of a stone circle of sorts

Group of nailers' stones, Burntwood 2

I wonder whether the nails in this door really were created locally?

I wonder whether the nails in this door really were made locally?

The first church in Burntwood. Apparently before it opened in 1820, the area was part of the St Michael's, Lichfield parish meaning a very long walk on a Sunday morning!

Before Christ Church opened in 1820, the area was part of the parish of St Michael’s, Lichfield, meaning a very long walk on a Sunday morning!

I couldn’t come all the way to Burntwood and not visit the world’s smallest park (is this official now?) with its trees known as Faith, Hope and Charity and so I had a five minute sit down and a bit of ‘We need a bigger park’ banter with a passerby, before heading to the Star Inn.

World's Smallest Park...or is it?

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According to the Burntwood Heritage Trail booklet, the Star Inn was where local nailers would take their products to be be weighed and paid for by ‘middle men’, who would also replenish their supplies of iron. The pub building itself is relatively modern but, according to the booklet, there has been a drinking establishment on this site since at least 1600 when a local blacksmith was licensed to keep an alehouse here, becoming known as the Star Inn by 1790.

The Star Inn. Burntwood

Unintentionally shining Star

Star Inn Plaque

One of the blue plaques on the Burntwood Heritage Trail, created by the fantastically named ‘Keepers of the Archive’.

Back home, I had a look for other examples of nailers’ stones and found that the Black Country History website has a photograph here of one very similar which they describe as a nail making anvil from St Peter’s Rd, Darby End.

I notice that there appear to be initials or names on the stones and it would be fantastic to know more about their provenance. The heritage booklet says that making nails was a way for a farming family to make extra money, and that the work was often carried out by the woman of the household.

I know these are Burntwood objects, rather than Lichfield ones but they tell the story of everyday folk trying to make a living for themselves and their families in an industry that’s now long gone, and that’s got to be worth sharing.

(For more on the nailmaking industry, please see the ‘Nailed it’ post on Brownhills Bob’s Brownhills Blog here)

Park Views

When Lichfield District Council applied for Lottery Funding to improve and develop Beacon Park, Minster Pool & Walk and The Garden of Remembrance, the ‘Friends of Lichfield’s Historic Parks Group’ was set up as part of the bid. Although the work has now been completed, the Friends group has continued and have now also taken Stowe Pool and Fields under their wing.

People enjoying Fuse Festival 2013 in Beacon Park

The Friends are independent of LDC, made up of a group of residents who want these beautiful and well loved places in the heart of Lichfield to be enjoyed and valued by people of all backgrounds, ages, abilities and interests. Part of their role is to facilitate discussion between Lichfield District Council and users, volunteers, friends and local residents, so that everyone can be involved in decisions made about their parks.

Getting ready to light up Minster Pool with hundreds of flames – Minster Pool June 2012

As a way of connecting with a wider range of park users, the Friends have set up a new Facebook account https://www.facebook.com/FoLHP and want to encourage people to use this forum to share their views on the park, making suggestions and asking questions. Those not on Facebook can email their views to parks@lichfielddc.gov.uk or call the parks team on 01543 308869.

Stowe Pool Regatta June 2012.

I think it’s a great opportunity to have your voice heard, so please join in the discussion. I know I will be! Of course, if you’d like to be more than a Facebook friend, and would like to join the Friends Group itself,  they would be delighted to welcome new members. More information can be found on their leaflet here – Friends of Lichfield’s Historic Parks

Gathering Moss

Walking around the edge of Beacon Park, I noticed a pile of moss covered stones in the undergrowth that I’d never seen before.  To me, they look like part of an old building, possibly pillars? It’s a long shot I know, but does anyone recognise them or have any idea as to where these pillars (if that’s what they are!) may have come from?

Whilst on the subject of ‘parts of old buildings found in unexpected places’, I have to mention my old favourite Fisherwick Hall. Back in January, I wrote an article for the Lichfield Gazette which mentioned that the hall had been demolished, but that parts of it had been reused elsewhere. After lying around for some years covered in moss, the pillars from Fisherwick went to the George Hotel in Walsall – you can read the great post written about the hotel by Stuart Williams of Walsall Local History Centre here. However,  I had no idea what had happened to the pillars, following the demolition of the hotel in the 1930s. Therefore, I was delighted when Paul (the editor of the Lichfield Gazette) told me that someone had contacted him, saying that some years ago he had seen them lying on a patch of ground near to the cricket ground in the Highgate area of Walsall. The gentleman described them as lying in pieces and covered with moss and lichen. Sounds familiar! Coincidentally, the site the gentleman described is a stone’s throw from where some of my relatives live, and so the next time I visited I went to take a look, but I had no luck in finding them. So near, yet so far….

Back to our Beacon Park stones, and someone from the Beacon Street Area Residents’ Association has very kindly said that he will ask the people in the know i.e. the Parks team and the Civic Society if they can shed any light on the matter. In the meantime, he’s left me pondering the fact that parts of the old bandstand and cycle track are also apparently also still around in the park somewhere…

Beacon Park bandstand c.1905
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Take a Bough

I’ve heard about a project called Tree Following via Gary Webb on Twitter, who is following a London Plane at Compton Verney. The project is being run by Lucy Corrander on her Loose and Leafy blog and the idea is to follow the life of a tree or a group of trees, returning at various points in the year to note the changes and what’s going on.

I love how trees reflect the changing seasons but also what they can tell us about our changing surroundings. For example, some like those at Beacon Park, are reminders of an old estate, when the buildings themselves are long gone.  I like the idea that each species of tree has a history, with its own uses and customs and also that there have been trees in the past which have been so important they have given their name to an area, such as the Shire Oak at Walsall Wood.

Which tree(s) should I follow though? Here are some contenders, in and around Lichfield.

My current thoughts are that I’ll choose a tree at Leomansley Wood and also our cider orchard at Fisherwick. I hope the comparison between a mature woodland tree and an orchard sapling will be interesting. Although, as you can see from the photo, the cider trees aren’t much more than sticks at the moment, so we’ll see!

Changes – New Mental Health Support Service in Lichfield & Burntwood

Ian’s been in touch to ask if I can help to publicise a new organisation doing some great work in our area……

Changes is a mental health organisation offering a range of services including friendly mutual support groups, social activities and opportunities for accredited training via the National Open College Network. These services can be accessed for free, without the need for a GP referral. Local volunteers are helping to run the service in the Lichfield area.

In addition to these services, Changes also run wellness courses for people in mental distress, and the next one starts on Monday 23rd January between 10.30am & 12pm at the Pavilion in Beacon Park. The course is free of charge and public transport costs can also be met.

Changes was formed by people with experience of using mental health sevices, to help both themselves and others in the same situation. They aim to provide personalised support and services,  greater independence and to help people with their social skills, to regain confidence and to become active members of their community.

If you would like to find out more about the course, or to find out more about the service generally, you can visit the website www.changes.org.uk or contact Ann at the Lichfield Wellbeing Centre on 01543 309 770 or Samatha at the Burntwood Wellbeing Centre on 01543 679 000 who would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.

Elford Revisited

The estate that Mr Paget handed over to Birmingham City Council in July 1936 was made up of over 600 acres, including the Hall & associated gardens, Home Farm inc. the Park, Cottages, Woodland and part of the River Tame. You can see Elford Hall circa 1790 to the left of the Chruch in the above picture and there are more recent photographs of the Hall on Staffordshire Pasttrack

According to the 1936 Estate Agent’s report, the Hall obtained water from various wells, although water was pumped to the ground floor of the house via a petrol engine (South Staffordshire Water Co was in the process of laying pipes in the village at the time and the agent recommends that the Hall be connected). Sewage was collected in cesspits. Lighting in the Hall’s 16 bedrooms and other rooms was still from oil lamps and candles, although a public electricity supply had recently arrived in the village.

One thing I’m interested in is the relationship Elford Hall & its owners had with the rest of the village. What effect did the unexpected decision to hand over the estate to a public body have on the villagers?  Perhaps a small hint of the role played by the Pagets can be seen in the meeting notes of the Elford Hall Committee held at Birmingham Council House on 17th Februrary 1937. It says:

“A communication was submitted from the Chairman of the Elford Village Hall Committee asking for a contribution from the council towards the coronation celebrations in Elford Village. The Chairman undertook to communicate with Mr Paget as to his action on the occasion of the silver jubilee. Decision deferred.”

Another thing I’ve been wondering about is what would have happened had Mr Paget kept Elford Hall? The England’s Lost Country Houses site lists over 50 demolished country houses in Staffordshire alone. Most disappeared after the First World War. Although of course eventually demolished in 1964,  Elford Hall is one of the longest surviving on the list. Would retention by the Paget family have ensured its survival or hastened its demise?

I’m off to one of Staffordshire’s surviving country houses on Tuesday. Shugborough Hall – offered to the National Trust in lieu of death duties on the death of the 4th Earl of Lichfield in 1960 and managed by Staffordshire County Council.

Elford, Fisherwick, Beacon Place, Drayton Manor or Shugborough – I’m finding the world of country houses and the families that dominated our area fascinating. The social and political changes that led if not to their complete demise, to a change in their use. And of course discovering the remaining fragments of those disappeared estates.

Actually, I am now regretting not watching Downton Abbey as research….

Beacon Place Part Two

Following on from my last post about Beacon Place, here are my initial attempts to discover what’s left of the estate.

Here’s a map of the Beacon Place area from 1921. It shows the the Greenhough Rd lodge, the Beacon St lodge and the Sandford St lodge (although this isn’t indicated, it’s the building near to the PH on Lower Sandford St, in the parcel of land marked 332).  It doesn’t show the Christ Church Lane lodge, but I’ve covered this elsewhere anyway. Apart from the Sandford St Lodge, which I think would have been located near to Bunkers Hill car park, the lodges are still in existence. A lot of the trees are also still there, the line running down from the icehouse to Christ Church is still very much in evidence. The fish ponds also remain of course.

As we know the mansion no longer exists, and houses were built on the area. I think it was located somewhere in the region of Seckham Rd. What’s interesting, although I suppose it makes sense, is that the new roads in this area  seem to follow the line of the old carriage drives shown on the 1921 map. For example, if you compare the google map* below, the route of Swinfen Broun Rd is similar to the that of the carriageway from the Greenhough Rd lodge. Beaconfields seems to follow the line of the carriageway from the Beacon St lodge.

I think that the icehouse shown on the map is located between the Shaw Lane carpark and the pavilion near to the playground, where there is a definite bump in the ground which seems to correspond with the map. It doesn’t come over particularly well in the photograph unfortunately, so the next time you’re in Beacon Park, you’ll have to go and have a look yourself!

The footpath marked next to it on the map is also still in existence.

I think part of the estate’s boundary walls are between Beacon Mews and Beaconfields, on Beacon St.

There are also some walls running alongside Shaw Lane. I wonder what that gap in the wall was for? I should have taken a better picture of it!

So, these are my findings so far. I’m hoping there will be more. The map shows a couple of other buildings (e.g.two fairly near to Christ Church, some near to where the ice house), so I’d be interested to know what these were. 

If anyone has anything to add (or if I’ve made any mistakes – I’m not great with maps!), please let me know. Oh and if any one wants to see any other bits of the 1921 Lichfield map, get in touch.

*just a quick HT to Pastorm as that’s where I heard about scribblemaps from

Beacon Place Part One

Much of what is now Beacon Park in Lichfield once belonged to the Beacon Place (sometimes known as House) estate. The house is long gone, demolished in 1964, but I know that there are some remnants left over! I enjoyed my ‘treasure hunt’ around the old Fisherwick Estate and thought it might be interesting to do something similar a bit closer to home. To avoid this being too long a post, I’m doing it in two parts. Part one is a very brief history of the estate.

George Hand built Beacon Place in the late 18th century. 1 On the death of his widow Ann in 1826, the house was sold in an auction at the George Hotel on Tuesday 28th March 1826. Amongst other things, it was described as having contained a handsome staircase of Hopton Stone, lit by a skylight, a kitchen garden with hothouses and orchards, and good cellars under an excellent kitchen.2

From 1837, Beacon Place was the home of Richard and Ellen Jane Hinckley. As well as extending the house itself, they also gave land for the construction of Christ Church in 1847.  The Hinckley’s had their own pew at the church3, and could see it from the house. As I’ve mentioned before, the lane running alongside the church, over the A51 and into Beacon Park, is an old carriageway that would have led to the house (I think it was also the old Walsall Rd until 1832).4

The path between Christ Church and Beacon Park in winter

Richard and Ellen Jane Hinckley are buried in two of the three tombs behind Christ Church. The third tomb is that of Ellen’s son Hugh from her previous marriage to Hugh Acland. Hugh jnr. was one of the first people to be buried in the graveyard.5

Hinckley Tombs, Christ Church

A document at Lichfield Record Office gives an insight into how some of the rooms were furnished. The Inventory and Valuation of Beacon House for Probate on 2nd November 1870, following the death of Mrs Hinckley lists furniture, artwork and decorative items, and even some of the books that she owned.  For example, Mrs Hinckley’s dressing room contained a fire screen, bookshelves, a weather house, an easy chair, a small ivory bust, two cases of insects in glass, a Bible and five pieces of ornamental china. I think there were also portraits of her Father and second husband. The best dinner service used in the house was Ironstone China (from Staffordshire of course!). Some of the Hinckley’s silverware was engraved with family crests or initials. I wonder if there is any still around in someone’s cabinet!6

On Mrs Hinckley’s death the estate passed to her husband’s nephew Arthur Hinckley7  and it was sold at The Swan Hotel on Wednesday 27th October 1880 at 6 o’clock to Samuel Lipscomb Seckham (who I believe was renting Hanch Hall at the time and later also purchased Whittington Old Hall)8. Some of the items listed on the sales particulars are extensive pleasure grounds, flower and kitchen gardens, vineries, peach and hothouses, a coach house, stabling for 6 horses and a labourer’s cottage.  It was described as standing on an elevation which commands beautiful views of the Cathedral and of the open country with ornamental pools and plantations in view of the windows.9

So that’s a brief description of how it was, but what remains of the estate today? Part two to follow shortly!

*Ellen Jane Hinckley was the mother of Marianne and Ellen-Jane Robinson, who are the subjects of the ‘Sleeping Children’ monument in Lichfield Cathedral. The plaque behind the monument belongs to her first husband, and father of the children, Rev Robinson. I learned something new about this well known sculpture recently from a friend who had been on a tour of the Cathedral. Sir Francis Chantrey, the sculptor, apparently left an uncarved piece of marble on the foot of one of the children, as he believed that only God was able to create perfection.

Edit 6/9/2011

There’s a program on BBC iPlayer called Romancing The Stone: The Golden Ages of British Sculpture. In part 2, Mavericks of Empire there is a section on Chantrey and the presenter Alistair Sooke visits Lichfield Cathedral and discusses the monument with the Head Verger. This link should take you to this part of the program http://www.bbc.co.uk/i/yml9v/?t=26m04s

An old photograph of The Sleeping Children Monument in Lichfield Cathdral

Sources:

1. ‘Lichfield: Manors and other estates’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 67-72.

2. Sales particulars of Beacon House estate 1826, accessed at Lichfield Records Office

3. The Gentlemans Magazine By Sylvanue Urban Vol XXIX

4. ‘Lichfield: The 19th century’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 24-32.

5. Cathedral City by Howard Clayton

6. Inventory & Valuation of Beacon House for Probate accessed at Lichfield Records Office

7. ‘Lichfield: Manors and other estates’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 67-72.

8. https://lichfieldlore.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/howell.pdf

9. Sales particulars of Beacon House estate 1880, accessed at Lichfield Records Office