Midnight on the Hill

borrowcop

Borrowcop Hill is a place that doesn’t want to give up its secrets easily. What interests me about places like this is how gaps in our knowledge create a space where legends and folklore can grow unchecked. It’s not just a hill with a nice view. It’s the burial place of kings and martyrs, the site of Lichfield Castle.

to borrowcop gazebo

Stand at the summit and you’re standing at the highest point in Lichfield. Beacons have been lit here certainly for celebrations, possibly as warnings. The grammar school moved here from St John Street in 1903 and in 1971, merged with the adjacent Kings Hill secondary modern school to form the current King Edward VI School.  Interesting how the folklore was even referenced in the school name here. Another school on the site, the just as evocatively named Saxon Hill, was opened in 1979.

borrowcop sign

Christmas 1940

At last year’s Lichfield Discovered talk by Peter Young on Philip Larkin’s connections to the city, he told us that that whilst staying with relatives at Cherry Orchard in 1940, Larkin had written three poems. Only one, ‘Out in the Lane’, was published but all three were inspired by his temporary surroundings. Peter believes the arched field of ‘Christmas 1940’ refers to Borrowcop Hill. I’ve reproduced it here from a folio collated by The Philip Larkin Society for their celebration of his birthday in August 2001. I hope they don’t mind, but I can’t find it anywhere else!

The name ‘Borrowcop’ does hint that there was once something here. Its earliest written forms, Burwey or Burwhay, feature the Old English element ‘burh’,  suggesting a fortified place (1).  Whilst there are vague reports of Erasmus Darwin recovering bits of burnt bone from somewhere up here, according to the Heritage Environment Report, ‘more recent excavations have so far failed to recover any evidence for human activity’. Well, I went up there on Sunday and I found this:

borrowcop chair

And this:

"The bubbles up your nose, spill on your summer clothes"

“The bubbles up your nose, spill on your summer clothes”

And this:

borrowcop graffiti

Plenty of human activity in what Five Spires Live , the Lichfield satirist who also doesn’t give up his secrets easily, yesterday described as  “… the perfect setting for bit of Larkin”. See, as much as I like legends, I also like the real.  I like layers of history that celebrate everything a place is and not just what we want it to be. The way our own memories of a place form our own folklores. The title for this post is one I’ve appropriated from one of my favourite songs by one of my favourite bands. It’s summer nights, it’s cheap cider (or ‘energy and guava’, if you’d rather), it’s messing about with your mates in a space maintained by the council because you’ve nowhere else to go. It’s perfect. Borrowcop or not, we’ve all been there. And like it or not, that’s as much a part of history as those kings and castles are.

1) A Survey and Analysis of the Place-Names of Staffordshire’ by David Horovitz, https://lichfieldlore.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/397633_vol1.pdf

Waterfall

I’d heard from enigmatic Lichfield news satirist Five Spires Live that there was a waterfall near to the newly re-opened Horns Inn in Slitting Mill. When I read that there were also several boundary stones nearby, I raced from the hole I call home* to have a look.

I understand that the waterfall isn’t a natural force but the remnants of an industry reflected in the village’s name and in the surrounding waters. Horns Pool (sometimes known as Dutton’s Pool) behind the pub was a mill pond for what is thought to have been the first slitting mill in the Midlands, dating back to the 1620s. Iron arriving here from forges in North Staffordshire was split into rods using the power of water. Between 1694 and 1710, ironmongers from the Midlands brought around an average of 600 tons of iron rod each a year.  I wonder if any found its way to Burntwood where I found the nailers’ stones in the churchyard?

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Other than the pool, and the sluice gates along Rising Brook, no other traces of the mill are thought to remain. I understand that it was pulled down to make way for the South Staffordshire Waterworks electrically operated pumping station, built in 1932. There’s an interesting story about the demolition of the mill – the British Numismatic Society Journal notes that, “An uncertain number of coins, said in one report to date from the seventeenth century, and in another to be of both that and the following century were found ‘in the walls’ of the Old Mill House when it was pulled down to make way for a new pumping station for the South Staffs Waterworks Company. It is not absolutely certain that these constituted a hoard; they may have been a number of stray coins.”

According to the information board which appears alongside the brook (part of the Cannock Chase Heritage trail), there was also a cottage on the site.  The last inhabitants were Mary Sant and her husband, a blacksmith, who lived there until the cottage was demolished in the 1930s, around the same time that the pumping station was built.. The part of the brook which ran past their home became known as Sant’s Brook, and you can see a photograph of Mary outside the cottage here.

Pumping Station

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I’ve been reading for two hours now and information on exactly how many mills were along the brook seems a little hazy (to me at least!). Archaeological investigations continue to try and establish more information about the extent of the industry here. You can read about the latest discoveries made near to Horns Pool by the Stoke on Trent Museum Archaeology Society in May 2011 here.

Boundary Stones

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There are three boundary stones that I could see – a pair either side of the brook behind Horns Pool, and nearby, another on the path. Thought to date from the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century they are made from local stone. None of them have any kind of markings or lettering, and the pair on the brook are facing different ways. Together with the brook, they appear to mark a border of some sort but according to their listed building description don’t appear on any maps. Curious.

I’m even more curious about why a bridge over the stream as it flows towards Rugeley is called Father Cannock Bridge on maps. Where does this name come from?

Is this Father Cannock Bridge? Where does the name come from?

Is this Father Cannock Bridge? Where does the name come from?

Rising Brook Bridge

Whether this is Father Cannock bridge or not, its ornamental nature makes me wonder whether it’s a leftover relic from the days when this area was part of the Hagley Hall estate. Few traces of the estate remain today. I believe the hall itself was demolished in the 1980s. However, a little further downstream there is one remarkable feature which has survived and you’d never even know it was there, until you looked a little deeper…

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*It’s a bit messy as we’re having a carpet fitted.

Sources:

http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-431001-boundary-stone-at-grid-reference-sk-0271/osmap

https://lichfieldlore.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/cannockchasedistricthea-appendix3-rugeleyareaheczassessments.pdf

The British Numismatic Journal: Including the Proceedings of the British Numismatic Society, Volume 40

Masters and Men: In the West Midland Metalware Trades Before the Industrial Revolution by Marie B Rowlands

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)

Banned Stand

How do you make a bandstand? Take away the chairs. Or if you’re lucky, a local dignitary will provide you with one. In July 1893, during his third stint as Mayor of Lichfield, Major John Gilbert presented the city with a bandstand to mark the marriage of Princess Mary of Teck and the Duke of York (later George V and Queen Mary).

The Bandstand in 1905, taken from Wikipedia Commons

The Bandstand in 1905, taken from Wikipedia Commons

It stood in the Recreation Grounds of what is now Beacon Park but by 1925, Major Gilbert’s gift had become a bit of a problem. In March, the secretary of the Lichfield Cycling Institute wrote to the City Council saying that since the cycle track had been created in the Recreation Grounds, many thought that the bandstand should be removed. Even with padding around the structure, there was the risk of an appalling accident. Councillor Perrins agreed with the cyclists. In his opinion the bandstand was a death-trap and should be removed, or the track shut. Alderman Winter wanted the wishes of the late donor’s family to be taken into account but Councillor Tayler thought this was ‘sentiment before service’. In the end, the matter was referred to the Museum Committee. In December 1925, the Mercury gave an update on ‘that bandstand’. Lichfield City Council had decided to keep it where it was as it would collapse if it was moved. It was fortified with concrete, bricks and stone (some of which came from the old Friary – more bits of that ancient building can supposedly be found at the toilets in the park).  One member of the council defended the bandstand’s retention on the grounds it was an object of beauty.  However, the Mercury correspondent’s view was that ‘it is even less useful than it is beautiful’. One concession that was made to public demand was that the railings near to the cycle track were taken in line with the base of the stand. The Mercury concluded by suggesting that Lichfield be grateful for these small mercies, ‘even if the circumstances do not incline us to raise a song of joy about them’.

I think the bandstand was round abouts here

I think the bandstand was round abouts here

I believe that eventually the bandstand was eventually removed due to costs of upkeep. I’m not sure exactly when this was but believe it to have been sometime in the 1960s (it doesn’t show on a 1966 map of Lichfield). When I went to have a look at where the bandstand once stood, I spotted this old metal post. It looks to me as if it was part of the old gates leading into the recreation grounds, which you can see on the postcard above.

You never know what's lurking in the shrubbery...

You never know what’s lurking in the shrubbery…

Rumour has it that the bandstand itself is also still to be found in the park somewhere… Sounds a little unlikely? You’d be amazed at what people leave lying around gathering moss. I’ve heard that over the years people have called for a new Beacon Park bandstand. Yet, prior to its removal the original doesn’t seem to have been that popular or well used (although some blamed the lack of interest on Lichfield’s junior citizens for running around the bandstand making a noise, and driving the spectators away). Is a new bandstand a good idea or rose tinted nostalgia? Either way, I’d love to know if you find any bits of the old one in the shrubbery.

 

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