Rode Trip

The 462nd Sheriff’s Ride and its spin-off take place this coming Saturday (5th September) and I’m marking the occasion with a post about posts. For those who don’t know, the Sheriff’s Ride is an annual perambulation of the boundary of the City (and between 1553 and 1888 the County) of Lichfield on the Saturday nearest to the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary aka the eighth of September.

The Sheriff perambulating Cross in Hand Lane in 2014

The Sheriff perambulating Cross in Hand Lane in 2014

In the past, where the border wasn’t defined by natural features, such as the Circuit Brook in the North, man-made boundary markers were used. The ride traditionally began (and ended) at Cross in Hand Lane, where a long since vanished cross indicated the city limits and in a talk on the Sheriff’s Ride in 1937 (1), Percy Laithwaite described how a headless cross marked the half way point of the ride at Freeford.  Between these two ancient crosses, in the nineteenth century at least,  a series of wooden posts staked out the boundary. I know this because in 1878, at the half way point of the Sheriff’s Ride, Colonel Dyott of Freeford Hall complained that nearly half of them were missing. Concerned that the true purpose of the ride i.e. inspecting and maintaining the City of Lichfield’s boundary had been lost, the Colonel offered to point out the boundary as he knew it so that the decayed and disappeared posts could be replaced. That year’s Sheriff, Thomas Sherrat, added that he could remember a series of white posts marked with a letter L along the boundary and Mr Coxon of Freeford Farm recalled that there had been nine posts in the vicinity of his property when he first arrived there, but only one remained.

It seems that the matter of the missing posts didn’t quite make it onto anyone’s to-do list that year, as in 1879 the Sheriff (Dr Browne) reported that he had perambulated the boundary as best he could but found it difficult and unsatisfactory due to the disappearance of many of the boundary posts. According to his reckoning, twenty seven of the forty timber posts were missing in total and due to the ‘injurious consequences to which their absence might easily lead’, he requested that they be replaced. He went onto suggest that the whole lot should be replaced by iron markers. Were they?

Even more important that the physical markers which defined the boundary was the knowledge of it held within the collective memory of the city’s residents. The Sheriff’s Ride was not just a civic event, but a community one.  Laithwaite says that as late as 1645, the Lichfield Court ordered at least one member of each household to accompany the Sheriff on the ride or be fined.  Lichfield’s younglings would follow in the footsteps (ok, hoofsteps) of Lichfield’s senior citizens who, after decades of perambulating, knew their Lady Leasowe from their Austin’s Coat. Knowledge was passed down the generations and when it came to disputes, it was used as evidence. Laithwaite referred to a case in 1656, when there was a disagreement over where Lichfield began and Lord Paget’s land ended (and vice versa). The bailiffs of the city produced four city elders as witnesses, who swore under oath the route of the boundary line that they had followed since they were boys.

The earliest written description of the boundary is thought to date back to the late eighteenth century but I suspect you’d still need to know where you were going in order to be able to follow it, if that makes sense. I wheel it out every year but just in case you haven’t seen it before, here is the description of the route which dates back to the late 18th century. Some places are recognisable, some just about fathomable (it took me a while to decipher Whisich as Wissage) and some are…..Hic-filius.

It begins at a place called the Cross and Hand near the end of a street there called Bacon street and from thence goeth northward along the lane leading to Longdon Church unto a little lane at the further side of Oakenfields and so along that little cross lands unto another lane that leadeth from Lichfield to King’s Bromley and then along that lane towards Lichfield unto a little lane lying between the Grange Ground and Collin’s Hill Field commonly called the Circuit lane unto the further end of it betwixt two fields the one called Hic-filius and the other Piper’s Croft and so over across a lane that leadeth from Lichfield to Elmhurst and then into another little lane between Stichbrooke Ground and Gifforde’s Crofte and so along that little lane to a green lane at the further side of the Lady Leasowe being the land of Zachary Babington Esquire and down that lane to a called Pone’s Brook and so over that brook into another lane called Stepping Stones lane and so along that lane taking in the land of Richard Dyott Esq Pone’s Fields unto a lane leading from Lichfield to Curborough Somerville so along that lane towards Lichfield until you come to the upper end of the grounds called Scott’s Orchard and then leaving that lane turn into a field of Lichfield called Whisich at a stilt going into the fields called Browne’s Fields and so taking in the field called Whisich then go by the closes called Browne’s Fields Hedge unto the grounds called God’s Croft Hedge and so along that hedge taking in the field called Whisich lane called Goslinge’s lane and along Goslinge’s Lane unto a lane called Matthew Coal Lane and so over across that lane into a field called Cross field at or near an elm tree and so along a head land about the middle of Cressfield unto the nearer end of Gorsty Bank into the lane leading from Lichfield to a cross way called Burton turnings and from thence along Ikenield street taking in Spear Hill and Boley unto a cross way leading from Lichfield to Whittington and so along that lane towards Whittington unto the south end of Austin’s Coat Grounds then turning upon the left hand at that brook to a gate going into Fulfin Grounds unto the moors called Dernford Moors and so along by the hedge of those moors unto the nether side of Dernford Mill stream and so going by the mill door to the pool dam and going along by the pool and the brook taking in Horslade and a meadow belonging to Freeford House unto a bridge called Freeford Bridge in a lane leading from Lichfield to Tamworth and so from that bridge up the sandy lane to Freeford House and along that lane to the corner of the meadow and then turning into Bispells at the corner of the meadow and so going by the meadow hedge until you come to the brook that runneth to Freeford Bridge and so going up a little pool taking in all Bispells unto a ford called Baltrex ford and then entering into Old field turn up the left hand to the brook that runs from Freeford Pool and so along that brook to Freeford Pool and along by the pool and the brook that comes from Swynfen Mill until you come into the lane that leads from Swynfen unto the mill and so along that lane to a gate that leads from Lichfield unto Swynfen called Old Field Gate and then not coming in at that gate but going to the corner of the hedge adjoining to Cley Lands come in at a gap and taking in all Old field come by the demesnes of Swynfen unto a place called Long bridge and so entering into a little lane between Long furlong and Long bridge grounds leading to Well crofts and so taking in all Well crofts along by the Knowle Leasowes being the Hospital Land unto Ikeneld street and so along Ikeneld street unto the further side of a close called Gorsty Leasowe and leaving the hedge on the left hand taking in that close going along by that hedge leading to Hare house Ground and so along that hedge unto the top of Dean’s Slade taking in all Hare house Ground northward enter into Park field leaving the hedge on the right hand and so following that hedge unto a little lane at Aldershawe that comes down that lane to the gate and through the gate then turn upon the left hand by Aldershawe Hedge taking in the barn and so go into the Wheat Close leaving the hedge on the left hand unto the road called the Fosse way up to the top of Mickle hill then crossing over Pipe green along an old decayed cart way into a lane end that leads to Pipe grange lane to the further side of Padwell’s and so taking in Padwell’s leaving the hedge on the left hand to a little lane that leadeth into Ashfield leaving the hedge on the left hand into the grounds called Lammas Grounds and leaving the hedge on the left hand and so into Lemondsley then following the brook to Pipe green gate and so along the brook in Pipe green into a little lane that butteth upon the lane that leadeth from Lichfield to Pipe and crossing that lane into Smithfield at the corner of Abnell Hedge and so taking in all Smithfield leaving Abnell Ground on the left hand unto the Cross and Hand where it began.

Say it aloud!

Whisich/Wissage. Try saying it aloud! No idea what it means though….

Percy Laithwaite rounded off his talk in 1937 by hoping that in another four centuries time someone would still be talking about the annual delights of perambulating what had been called ‘the jolliest sixteen miles in Staffordshire’ (although perhaps not if you were riding with Dr Browne in 1879). Well, we’re still doing it seventy eight years on (although due to boundary changes it’s now a twenty mile round trip) and I hope everyone taking part in the rides has a great day on Saturday. Of course, if anyone ever spots one of those old boundary markers, please keep do me posted!

(1) One of a series of ‘Our City’ talks arranged by the Higher Education Committee of Lichfield City Council.

Not All About that Bass

Last Sunday, I had an appointment at Burton upon Trent and wanted to make an afternoon of it. However, it seemed unfair on my designated driver to make him explore the town’s famous brewing industry without being able to sample a drop of ale and so I thought we’d base our trip on water instead, and whilst doing a bit of research for this, I found a great story about air.

Winshill tower

Winshill Water Tower, also known as Waterloo Tower as it stands in front of woodland planted in 1815 to commemorate the battle, was built by the South Staffordshire Water Company in 1907 to improve water pressure in the area. Since the 1990s, the 50,000 gallon capacity tank has been empty and the tower’s only practical purpose has been to host communications aerials and masts on its summit. It’s a much loved Burton landmark though, supposedly visible from wherever you are in the town. (1)

Winshill water tower

During Burton Aviation week, held from 26th September to 1st October 1910, flags were flown from the tower to signal to the crowds gathered on on Bass Meadows (1) whether flights had been suspended due to wind or whether another flight was imminent. An advertising poster for the event announcing that Helene Dutrieu (2) would be one of the seven fliers and carrying passengers can be seen here.

Helene Dutrieu (image from wikipedia)

Helene Dutrieu, pioneering aviator and much, much more. Image from Wikipedia

Due to high winds, nothing much happened on the first day of the show. On day two however, things got very exciting, and not just for people gathered on Bass Meadows. News had reached Lichfield that some of the pilots would be flying around the Cathedral in an attempt to win a cup given by the Marquis of Anglesey for the fastest round trip. Large crowds assembled around Minster and Stowe Pools, in the Cathedral Close (it was even reported that there were people up the central spire) and on the Burton Road. At quarter past five in the afternoon, Julien Mamet whirred into sight on his Bleuriot plane, swept around the north side of the Cathedral, flew south over Christ Church and the Bowling Green and headed back for Burton where he arrived at fourteen minutes later. There was a lot of cheering and waving of hats and hankies (what would we wave nowadays? Nothing probably, we’d be too busy trying to record it on our phones). An hour later, a shout went up as another Bleuriot, this time piloted by Paul de Lesseps, was spotted. The Mercury reports that although De Lesseps lost his bearings by following the wrong train line somewhere around Wychnor Junction, he managed to find them again, approaching the city from the South and flying parallel to Bird Street above the heads of the crowd.

By this time it was dusk and De Lesseps, deciding he would be unable to reach Burton before dark, landed his aircraft in a field belonging to Grange Farm on Wheel Lane, clipping the tail on a fence (it was later reported that De Lesseps had only narrowly missed the roof of the farmhouse). As darkness fell back at Bass Meadow, the mood changed from excitement to concern. Mamet had flown up to meet his rival, but saw no sign of him.  As spectators lit bonfires, flares and lamps in the hope they would guide De Lesseps safely back to Burton, a search party set off in the direction of Lichfield. Eventually, they found De Lesseps in the field, signing scraps of paper for a crowd of autograph hunters by matchlight. The damaged plane was taken charge of by the police, and De Lesseps was taken to the George Hotel, where he informed a crowd gathered at the steps that he hoped to fly back to Burton at four the following afternoon, once he had made the necessary repairs.

Well, that was the plan anyway. Flying back to Burton, however, in an attempt to break the record for flying at high altitude, De Lesseps missed the town altogether.  There was another anxious wait for the crowd who had seen De Lesseps flying over at a great height before disappearing in the direction of Derby. Eventually, a message was received that he had landed safely at Colwick Hall near Nottingham.

De Lesseps’ return journey to Burton had was also not without drama. As he flew over Meadow Lane, where Notts County were playing Bristol City, he caused such a sensation that the match had to be stopped for a for a few minutes as the crowd, players and officials gazed upwards.  Unfortunately, the referee, a Reverend Marsh, forgot to adjust his watch, blew his whistle four minutes too early and had to call the players, some of whom had already started to get changed, back out out of the dressing rooms to finish the match. As if this wasn’t a memorable enough occasion already, it was apparently also The Magpies’ first victory at their new ground (where’s this guy when you need him?).

Aerial view of Meadow Lane (and City Ground. I did not realise how close they were!) Wonder how much has changed since De Lesseps saw it from a similar perspective?

Aerial view of Meadow Lane (and City Ground. I did not realise how close they were!) Wonder how much has changed since De Lesseps saw it from a similar perspective?

Mamet may have taken the prize for the out and home Burton to Lichfield flight, but De Lesseps definitely stole the show.

Notes

(1) On my next trip, I plan to take the bus and check whether it is really visible from everywhere, including several beer gardens.

(2) Bass Meadows was an area of land owned by the brewing company and used to provide sports facilities for their employees.

(3) Helene Dutrieu was a racing and stunt cyclist, a racing car driver and a pioneering aviator. During the First World War, Dutrieu became an ambulance driver and director of a military hospital and later become a journalist. More about her incredible life here.

Sources:

Lichfield Mercury Archives

http://www.burton-on-trent.org.uk

 

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

Landscape Gardening

I’m still not sure whether I live in Leomansley or Leamonsley but what I do know is that this area of Lichfield grew up around a fulling mill opened on Leomansley brook in the late eighteenth century, somewhere around where Leomansley Manor now stands. In the 1830/40s, a row of cottages, once home to many of the mill’s workers, was built along what was then the Walsall Road and the area has continued to develop since then.

Token for Leomansley Mill taken from Lichfield District Council flickr stream.

Token for Leomansley Mill taken from Lichfield District Council flickr stream. Hard to believe this once stood alongside the brook in the woods. The mill may be long gone, but traces of the mill pond can still be seen.

Victorian terraced houses, 1930s semis, new build apartments on the site of the former Carpenter’s Arms pub (boo!), a former lodge at what was once an entrance to the demolished Beacon Place, vicarages old and new, post first world war council houses, a 1960s community hall and housing estate and a much extended Edwardian school – to walk around Leomansley is to take a trip through the story of domestic architecture during the last two hundred years.

christ-church-gardens

There’s also a rather lovely Victorian gothic revival church too, and on the weekend of 4th and 5th July 2015, Christ Church is combining an Open Gardens event with an exploration of the social history of the area.  Organisers, the Friends of Christ Church, have studied census records, deeds and maps, and collected oral histories which they’ve used to produce a guide which will tell you not only about the history of the twelve houses opening up their gardens but also the story of Leomansley’s development from an area of common pasture on the western boundary of Lichfield, to the place it is today.

Christ Church. Photo by David Moore.

Christ Church. Photo by David Moore.

Admission to the gardens is between 2pm and 6pm on both days, and programs will be available from Christ Church itself, plus any of the participating gardens, at £4 each. There will be refreshments at 19 Christchurch Lane, and there will also be plant stalls, for anyone feeling inspired by what they’ve seen. I know I’m biased but Leomansley is as lovely as it is interesting, and I hope that people from not just the immediate area, but also from far-flung and distant places like Boley Park come along and find out more about our bit of Lichfield.

 

Cell Mates

The Lichfield Discovered gang will be back at the old Gaol Cells at Lichfield Guildhall this coming Saturday (21st February 2015) between 2pm and 4pm, to resume our quest to record the graffiti left behind by prisoners. There’s plenty of it, but we’re up against the ravages of time and liberal applications of varnish. We did manage to pick up one definite name on our last visit. John Lafferty who, judging by the reports in the Lichfield Mercury, appears to have been a serial offender from Sandford St in the late nineteenth century, scratched his name into one of the cell doors along with the words ‘7 days’, presumably the length of his stay…on that occasion.

Gaol Graffiti 1

Lafferty graffiti

The cells officially reopen to the public in April, and will then be open every Saturday between 10am and 4pm until September.  Since 2012, over 7,000 people have visited and in order to continue to be able to give people access to this part of Lichfield’s history, Joanne Wilson, the city’s Museum and Heritage Officer, is recruiting a team of volunteers to welcome visitors to the cells, keep a record of visitor numbers, answer questions and provide information. You don’t need any previous experience just an interest in heritage, enthusiasm and the ability to smile when you hear, ‘You’re not going to lock us in, are you?’ for the twenty-seventh time that day. Each volunteer session usually lasts around three hours, but dates and times are flexible and you can do as much or as little as you are able to. It’s a great opportunity to get involved in the city’s history and to share it with all kinds of people – I volunteered a couple of years ago and welcomed local people, wedding guests, day trippers, and even someone who’d worked at the Guildhall for years without realising what was behind the red door at the end of the corridor.

Fifty shades of varnish

If you would like to know more about volunteering, please contact Joanne on 01543 264 972 or via email at sjmuseum@lichfield.gov.uk. Alternatively, pop into the Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum on Breadmarket St. You are also very welcome to join us on Saturday. And yes, we promise not to lock you in.

 

Two Minutes of Your Time

Whether you’re Dimbles born and bred or a Katie-come-lately like me, everyone who has ever called Lichfield home is a part of the city and its history. A new project, led by artist and sculptor Peter Walker, wants to hear from you about what it’s like growing up, living and working here.

The aim of the project is to collect two minute long stories and anecdotes, and/or related photographs.  These will then be combined with archive images of the city to create a present day digital record of Lichfield and the surrounding district, as told through the voices of local people. The project began in Burntwood, where hundreds of images and stories have already been collected from people from all different backgrounds, and is part of a wider art project. As Peter explained in his email,

“We believe it is significant that we make a record of what it was like to grow up in the area from the community’s point of view.  There are many shared memories alongside individual successes that deserve to be recorded for posterity. Your story may be for example, the day you first went to school, winning a trophy for your local team, or simply memories of buildings and shops or people you knew. If you don’t wish to be recorded or bring a picture then you can still come along and write an anonymous postcard with information relating to your memory, to give to the collection to tell your story. Images and stories collected will be turned into digital formats and displayed on-line, with some being made into a short digital film and all stories will be archived as a digital time capsule.”

If you want to contribute, there are sessions at Lichfield Library on 5th and 6th of February 2015 between 10.30am to 1pm and 2pm to 4pm. Like Lichfield itself, it’ll be what you make it.

Day to day life in Lichfield

Day to day life in Lichfield, Summer 2014

Far From the Madding Crowd

Once, when Cuthbert Brown was a boy and the circus came to town (sorry, city), one of the elephants died and was buried on Levett’s Fields. Mr Lichwheeld and I had joked that we should organise a community archaeological dig to look for Nelly but with work starting on the demolition of Lichfield’s Fire Station recently, this may prove unnecessary.

Demolition of Lichfield fire station tower, January 2015.Photo by Joe Gomez

Demolition of Lichfield fire station tower, Levett’s Fields January 2015.Photo by Joe Gomez

Welephant wins 2011 Lichfield Pancake Race. Image from Lichfield Live

Nelly is not the only elephant with links to Lichfield Fire Station. Image from Lichfield Live

In the pre-Friary Road days, the Big Top also used to pitch up at the Bowling Green fields. Presumably at that time the Bowling Green pub was still a seventeenth century timber framed building. The only image of this I can find online is included in the 1732 engraving of the south west prospect of the city, as seen here on Staffordshire Past Track (zoom in and it’s the building in the foreground, beneath the central spire of the cathedral). The pub was rebuilt in the 1930s but the Victoria County History mentions that a clubhouse still in existence in the 1980s may be the same one which existed in 1796. Definitely worth a trip to the pub.

The Friary prior to development. Taken from Gareth Thomas' (GIS Officer for Lichfield District Council) Pinterest site

The Friary prior to development. Taken from Gareth Thomas’ (GIS Officer for Lichfield District Council) Pinterest site

One of the best things about looking through old newspapers is that you come across stories that you wouldn’t even think to look for. Whilst searching for more information on the Bowling Green, I came across the following obituary from March 1820.

At Lichfield, aged 67, John Edwards, the Hermit of the Bowling Green in that city. He came to the neighbourhood in the prime of life – a perfect stranger, retiring with disgust or disappointment from other and brighter scenes of life; but further particulars have never transpired respecting his history. The subscriptions of the benevolent have contributed to shed a comparative comfort on his latter days. A short time previous to his decease, he published a short “Essay on Freemasonry”. The medical gentlemen gratuitously attended his during his illness.

So many questions about Mr Edwards arise from this small snippet but I suppose if further particulars respecting his history had not transpired back then, the chance of uncovering anything now is fairly slim. Is it fair to say that Mr Edwards’ attempts to distance himself from society seem to have inadvertently made him into a celebrity of sorts? I wonder what became of his Essay on Freemasonry?

Whatever Mr Edwards’s reasons for preferring a life a solitude, it seems that in the eighteenth century it could be a career choice. Of sorts. Apparently, always on the lookout for opportunities to impress or outdo their friends and neighbours,eighteenth century land owners employed professional hermits to sit and be mystical amidst their fake temples and other follies. I found an example in the form of Mr Powys of Morcham (Morecambe?) near Preston, Lancashire, who advertised an annuity of £50 per annum for life to,

…any man who would undertake to live seven years underground, without seeing anything human, and to let his let his toe and finger nails grow, with his hair and beard, during the whole time.

Board and lodging was provided in the form of apartments said to be, ‘very commodious with a cold bath, a chamber organ, as many books as the occupier pleased, and provisions served from his (Mr Powys’) own table’.  By 1797, it was reported that the ‘hermit’, a labouring man,  was in his fourth year of residence, and that his large family were being maintained by Mr Powys. Just what quality of life must a man with a family have been leaving behind to agree to live like this? If this was about showing off to others, it’s curious that Powys stipulated that his ‘hermit’ was to live without seeing anything human.

Great Haywood Cliffs by Jason Kirkham

Great Haywood Cliffs by Jason Kirkham

In August 2002, around two hundred years after this dark appointment, notices appeared in The Guardian, The Stage, The London Review of Books and the Staffordshire Newsletter, advertising for an ‘ornamental hermit’ to take up residence at the Great Haywood Cliffs near the Shugborough estate in Staffordshire, as part of an exhibition called ‘Solitude’. The Shugborough Hermit would be required to live in a tent near to the cliffs (living inside them was deemed too risky) and only had to commit to the weekend of the 21st and 22nd September 2002. Out of  two hundred and fifty enquiries from all over the world,  artist Ansuman Biswas was chosen and I’d love to hear from anyone who visited him at Shugborough that weekend. Mr Biswas went on to spend forty days and forty nights alone in the Gothic Tower at Manchester Museum in 2009, with the aim of becoming, ‘symbolically dead, renouncing his own liberty and cutting himself off from all physical contact”‘.

I think I’d rather run away and join the circus.

Sources:

The Hermit in the Garden: From Imperial Rome to Ornamental Gnome, Gordon Campbell,  Oxford University Press 2013

 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/2205188.stm

The King's Touch

This Christmas, for the first time ever, I watched the Queen’s Speech. I’d read somewhere that there had been a flurry of bets on the Queen abdicating and though sceptical, I interrupted a FIFA match between Walsall and Barcelona to seize momentary control of the television just in case. Of course, it had been nothing but a rumour and Charles remains a king in waiting.

Earlier that week, I’d been to visit a house associated with another King Charles to be. Following defeat at the Battle of Worcester on 3rd September 1651, Charles Stuart had fled north to Shropshire, hoping to sneak across the border into Wales and sail from there to Europe. The Parliamentarians were one step ahead of him and were closely guarding the River Severn crossing places and ferries, thwarting this plan. In the early hours of 8th September 1651, Charles arrived at Moseley Old Hall in Staffordshire, looking for a place to hide and a new escape route.  He was met at the back door by owner Thomas Whitgreave and the family priest John Huddleston (1), who gave up his four poster bed (2) and shared his hiding place with the future King when Cromwell’s soldiers came seeking him.

Moseley Old Hall as it was....

Moseley Old Hall as it was…. taken from ‘The Flight of the King by Allan Fea (1908)

....and as it is today. Well, last Sunday anyway.

….and as it is today. Well, last Sunday anyway.

The house which hid the King is now hidden itself behind a Victorian redbrick facade. As we waited outside, making jokes about standing under the mistletoe, the guide informed us that we were about to enter the hall through the very same door as the King had, and told the assembled children to let their teachers know about it. Mine were only here because I’d promised they’d be able to toast some bread over an open fire at the end but they seemed suitably impressed (3). One little lad wanted to know if there was going to be a ride. I suppose in a way there was.

The back door through which Charles entered Moseley Olf Hall on 8th September 1651

The back door through which Charles entered Moseley Old Hall on 8th September 1651

As everyone knows (4), before the King came to lie low at Moseley he’d been hiding high at Boscobel, nine miles away on the Staffordshire/Shropshire border. A tree house inspired by the Royal Oak, the most famous of all the places the King found refuge, is a recent addition to the King’s Wood at Moseley.  There are signs warning of peril, and whilst the element of danger here is not quite on a par with that of a man with a thousand pound bounty on his head hiding in a tree, it’s enough to get overprotective parents like me muttering, ‘Be careful!’, as if it were a charm to invoke protection.

The Moseley Old Hall Tree House

The Moseley Old Hall Tree Hide

The Royal Oak in 2011, Boscobel House, Shropshire by The Royal Oak in 2011, Boscobel House, Shropshire  Uploaded to Wikipedia  in May 2011 Sjwells53 by  CC BY-SA 3.0

The Royal Oak in 2011, Boscobel House, Shropshire
Uploaded to Wikipedia in May 2011 Sjwells53 CC BY-SA 3.0

I’ve yet to visit Boscobel, owned by English Heritage. I understand that today’s Royal Oak grew from an acorn of the original tree which was destroyed by visitors in the seventeenth century who, in the absence of a gift shop, took away branches and boughs to fashion into souvenirs. In his book ‘Boscobel’, Thomas Blount described,

‘this tree was divided into more parts by Royalists than
perhaps any oak of the same size ever was, each man
thinking himself happy if he could produce a tobacco
stopper, box etc made of the wood.’

These trinkets still turn up at auctions. In 2012, a snuff box sold at Bonhams for almost £7,000.  Another prized relic at the time of Charles’ great escape was a rag he’d used to mop up a nosebleed. Father Huddleston passed this ‘bloody clout’ to a Mrs Braithwaite who kept it as a remedy for the King’s Evil, another name given to the disease known as scrofula. Since the reign of Edward the Confessor, it had been thought that the disease could be cured by a touch from a King or Queen. Of all the royal touchers, Charles II was the most prolific. The British Numismatic Society estimate he touched over 100,000 people during his reign. The tradition was continued, somewhat reluctantly, by King James II who carried out a ‘touching’ ceremony at Lichfield Cathedral in 1687 (5). The last English Monarch to partake in the ritual was Queen Anne, who ‘touched’ a two year old Samuel Johnson at one of the ceremonies in 1712. The touch piece or coin which the Queen presented young Samuel with, which he is said to have worn throughout his life, is now in the British Museum.

John Huddleston's room now known as the King's Bedroom

John Huddleston’s room now known as the King’s Bedroom from The Flight of the King by Allan Des (1908)

By the mid twentieth century, Moseley Old Hall was suffering from neglect and subsidence. This ‘atmospheric Elizabethan farmhouse that saved a King‘ was itself saved by the National Trust, when they took over in 1962. Every year, thousands of people pass through that door to see that bed and hiding place. Seems that three hundred years on the King hasn’t lost his touch. Or maybe they are just here for the toast?

Moseley Toast

Notes

(1) As the king lay dying in February 1684, Huddleston was said to have been brought to his bedside with the words, “This good man once saved your life. Now he comes to save your soul”.

(2) The bed at Moseley is the original one the King slept on top of. It was bought by Sir Geoffrey Mander of Wightwick Manor in 1913, but was returned to the hall in 1962 by his widow, Lady Mander.

(3) It seems the King’s victory was only short-lived. One of them just asked what I was writing about and when I told them it was Moseley Old Hall they replied, ‘Oh yes, the place with the toast’.

(4) If you didn’t know, take a look at this great map from englishcivilwar.org which plots all of the stages on the King’s journey from the Battle of Worcester to his arrival in Fécamp, France

(5) More information can be found in ‘Touching for the King’s Evil: James II at Lichfield in 1687’, in Volume 20 of the The Staffordshire Archaeological and Historical Society transactions.

Sources: 

Moseley Old Hall, National Trust Guidebook

Staffordshire Archaeological and Historical Society Transactions Volume XL

http://www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v17n40a13.html

http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/cm/d/dr_johnsons_touch-piece.aspx

The Odd Couple

According to Pevsner, the Church of St Lawrence features some of the most exciting Norman work in the county.  Here be dragons and other fantastical creatures, Saxon and Scandinavian influences, a green man and other ancient faces. There are no wolves though.

Norman arch, Gnosall church

Norman arch, Gnosall church

Carving at Gnosall

Carving at Gnosall

Possible Saxon stonework, Gnosall

Possible Saxon stonework, Gnosall

Legend has it that the last wolf in Staffordshire was killed here in Gnosall in a pit near Brough Hall and that the effigy in the Lady Chapel is that of its slayer, Baron Brough  As much as I wish it were true, there is no evidence for this tale and no reason to believe the Baron ever even existed outside of Gnosall mythology. Several other names have been linked with the alabaster knight over the years, but his true identity remains unknown. Whilst such personal details are lacking, there is physical detail here in abundance, from the broken angel and the helmet at his head, to the lion at his now missing feet and experts have used these features to date the monument to the early fifteenth century. In recent years, the knight has been joined by the church’s only other effigy, taken from the recess on the opposite side of the church known as the Easter Sepulchre.

Two effigies at Gnosall church

Two effigies at Gnosall church

The unknown knight of Gnosall

Defaced – the unknown knight of Gnosall

Gnosall effigy belt

Even less is know about this second effigy, but due to its diminutive stature, it is often described as depicting a child. However, after visiting the church, words that I’d read in a paper by Dr Sophie Oosterwijk in relation to the famous Stanley Boy monument at Elford came back into my mind – “A small-sized tomb may deceive the beholder into thinking that it must commemorate a child, but there may be other explanations”. One of Dr Oosterwijk’s other explanations is that these tiny tombs may represent heart burials. It’s not only the size of the effigy that’s convinced me that someone left their heart here in Gnosall, but also the position of his or her hand over the chest, a feature it has in common with another example thought to be a fourteenth century heart burial at Coberley in Gloucestershire.

Effigy possibly depicting a heart burial at Gnosall

Effigy possibly depicting a heart burial at Gnosall

Despite the abundance of surviving Romanesque architecture here, the church is missing its original font.  However, at nearby Bradley. and Church Eaton there are examples which date to the twelfth century and recall some of the patterns and themes found at Gnosall, perhaps giving us an idea of what the Norman font at St Lawrence may have looked like. Interestingly, the broken Church Eaton font was reinstated at St Editha’s after apparently being found buried in a garden, and so it’s possible that Gnosall’s is out there somewhere, awaiting discovery under someone’s lawn.

One of Gnosall’s most intriguing features can be found outside, high on the south side of the church where stonemasons (we assume) who extended the tower in the mid fifteenth century have carved a large chalice into the stonework alongside the belfry window.

South face of the church tower at Gnosall

South face of the church tower at Gnosall

Chalice carving on Gnosall church tower (photo by Kenneth Ingram)

Chalice carving on Gnosall church tower (photo by Kenneth Ingram)

Less mysterious in origin, but still of interest, are the grooves along the wall, said to have been created by the sharpening of arrows when the grounds were used for archery practice.

Arrow grooves, Gnosall Church

Arrow grooves at Gnosall Church

There is also a rumour that this wall of the church bears the scars of target practice during the Civil War (Rodwell: 223). What we do know for certain about the church of St Lawrence and the civil war is that there are two soldiers buried here. The parish register records that on 1st October 1642, a tall young man known as John Bayne (or Bayle), ‘one of the King’s souldiers’, was buried here and that on 25th March 1643, David James, another of ‘the King’s souldiers’, was laid to rest. The date of the second may be especially significant, coming less than a week after the Battle of Hopton Heath, fought just ten miles away. Amidst the other burials and baptisms of the parish register, an interesting entry appears on an otherwise blank page. At some time between 20th March 1684 and 19th April 1685, an ‘unlettered’ hand has written the following:

Fere god and honour the King
Honor your parents at all times
Wimins tongues air like [unfinished]

Whether the writer of the verse was interrupted or simply ran out of inspiration is unknown, but we are left to draw our own conclusions on the nature of  ‘wimins tongues’. However, when it comes to singing the praises of this incredible building, I shall not be holding mine. See it for yourself on the weekend of 4th/5th July 2015, when the Church of St Lawrence, including the tower, will be open for tours as part of the G-Fest celebrations held in the village each year. Now that is exciting.

Tombstone in the graveyard at the Church of St Lawrence, Gnosall/

Tombstone in the graveyard at the Church of St Lawrence, Gnosall

With thanks to Norman and Sheila Hailes, for their tour and invaluable knowledge of the church, and to Kathleen Ingram and Cllr Kenneth Ingram and the other residents of Gnosall, for showing us around not once, but twice!

References:

Rodwell,W. (2012) The Archaeology of Churches Stroud: Amberley

Oosterwijk, S. (2010)  Deceptive appearances. The presentation of children on medieval tombs Ecclesiology Today

http://www.gnosallweb.org.uk/articles/stlawren.htm

Daisy, Daisy

Recently, I’ve spent more time in churches than ever before in my life (with the possible exception of the Summer of 2004, when I went to so many weddings that I was able to recite 1 Corinthians 13 off by heart). When I was younger, history for me was all about the castles. Churches were boring. The only remotely interesting thing about them was that, with their crenellations, some of them looked a bit like castles. Now I know that they can tell stories just as good as any castle, but you just need to know where to look.

SAM_1851

Before even stepping inside All Saints in Kings Bromley, there are plenty of interesting tales. ‘Lady Godiva’s’ cross in the churchyard, originally dates back to the 14th century, but was restored in 1897.

SAM_1842

I was delighted but intrigued to see a reference to one of my childhood heroines here. The story I knew as a little girl was that Godiva pleaded with her husband Leofric, Earl of Mercia, to reduce the taxes he imposed on the people of Coventry. Leofric tried calling her bluff by saying he would do so, if she rode through the marketplace in the buff. Unfortunately for him, his wife not only had compassion, but also really, really long hair which according to Roger of Wendover who first recorded the story, ‘covered the whole of her body like a veil’, as she climbed onto her horse and successfully carried out her legendary protest. The connection with Kings Bromley is that Godiva and Leofric had a summer residence or hunting lodge here, where Leofric died in 1057 and may well have been involved with an earlier church which could have stood on this site.

SAM_1844

Unlike others I’ve seen recently, I’m pleased to say the church itself hasn’t been fully restored by those pesky Victorians, but has a range of architectural styles and features dating back to at least the eleventh century, but possibly even earlier than that – the HER description says that this is an Anglo-Saxon wall, and somewhere within it there is possibly even a Romano-British brick. On a buttress near to this ancient wall is a medieval scratch dial which, with the assistance of the sun, would once have helped the priest be on time for mass. On the buttress in-between the porch and the sixteenth century tower there is another carving, but unlike the scratch dial, no-one is quite sure of its significance.

SAM_1845

The daisy wheel carving is described as a mason’s mark in the churches information sheet. Although this is the first I’ve seen, this symbol regularly crops up on old buildings, especially churches. Whilst some believe these carvings have a practical function, others believe they were carved for good luck or protection against evil spirits.

SAM_1846

On a bit of a tangent, on the subject of childhood and daisies and folklore, I did wonder about some of the little rituals surrounding these flowers that we unthinkingly carried out as kids. The name is thought to come from the old English ‘Daes Eage’ meaning ‘day’s eye’, and refers to the way the flower opens and closes with sunlight. I’ve read that wearing daisy chains was thought to protect you from being abducted by fairies (must work, I’m still here!) and that one of its folk names is ‘Measure of Love’, from the game where you pull off the petals one by one, chanting, ‘He loves me, he loves me not’. Apparently, there is another less risky version of this game in which you chant, ‘He loves me, he loves me lots’. If only someone had told me this at the time, I wouldn’t have had to cheat so much.

SAM_1858

Anyway, as it says in those half remembered lines from Corinthians, I’ve put away childish things. Well, most of them anyway….

SAM_1866

Sources

http://www.medievalgraffitisurrey.org/circles.html