Crime Scenery

I know. It’s been a while. You don’t know what I did this summer but I’d quite like to confess. There have been visits to gibbets, wells, shrines, mausoleums, derelict churches, ruined abbeys, tunnels and places with names which sound a bit rude. It’s less about serious history and more about a series of stories told by the landscape that surrounds us. Sometimes you have to listen very carefully to hear them (especially over the sound of my friend Jacky eating crisps), sometimes they shout in your face via an interpretation board funded by the parish council.  If you’re sitting comfortably*, then I’ll begin by sharing** evidence from some of the crime related activities we’ve been getting up to.

*unlike another friend Eddie the time we visited an old priory and had to stick him in the back of a van
**unlike Jacky with her crisps

Once upon a time, there was a little girl called Katie. When she grew up she wanted to be Mavis Cruet from Willo the Wisp. For a short while, she lived in Coleshill in North Warwickshire and almost everyday she’d walk past the town’s pillory. At the time she didn’t realise that it was a rare example combining three methods of corporal punishment i.e. stocks, a pillory AND a whipping post, and was last used in 1863, but she was curious all the same.

coleshill-pillory-michael-garlick

Coleshill Pillory by Michael Garlick from geography.org.uk http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Many years passed and in August 2016,  Katie was visiting her parents in Stone in Staffordshire when she turned off too early towards Hilderstone. This was in no way down to her lack of navigational skills, there was a tree obscuring the ‘Hilder’ bit of the sign. Around the corner was a patch of grass with a set of stocks.

Stocks just after Hilderstone turning on A51 near Stone

Stocks just after Hilderstone turning on A51 near Stone

Despite extensive research (doing a google search), she couldn’t find any information on them. Katie hadn’t grown up to be Mavis Cruet, but she had continued to be curious. How many more sets of stocks were there around the country? Had anyone ever recorded them? Who had been publicly humiliated and punished here and what were the reasons? Our towns and cities are filled with monuments to the so-called great and good of society. Are these our monuments to those considered petty and bad who lived on its fringes? And so, after musing over these thoughts with friend Patti who already had a knowledge of and interest in this area, they decided to set up a discussion group called ‘Offending Histories’, with the aim of finding remaining physical evidence of crime and punishment across the Midlands and telling the sort of stories in which no one lives happily. Ever after or otherwise.

In just a month, we’ve already started to record a fascinating range of sites and objects. Here are some samples of the more local examples.

The old gaol cells in Lichfield have an example of a Scold's Bridle or brank on display. There's an excellent article from the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic exploring the history of these vile items here - http://museumofwitchcraftandmagic.co.uk/…/object-of-the-mo…/). Of particular interest is the following reference,

The old gaol cells in Lichfield have an example of a scold’s bridle or brank on display. There’s an excellent article from the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic exploring the history of these vile items here. Of particular interest is the following reference, “In 1789, the brank was used in Lichfield. A local farmer enclosed a woman’s head “to silence her clamorous Tongue” and led her round a field while boys and girls “hooted at her” “Nobody pitied her because she was very much disliked by her neighbours.”

Outside St Michael's church is the relocated headstone of the last three men to be executed in the city. On 1st June 1810, Neve, Jackson & Weightman were taken by cart from the city gaol & publicly hanged for forgery at the city gallows (where Tamworth St, Upper St John St & the London Road cross). Interesting that at some point, the word 'hanged' appears to have been obliterated from the monument. Although this appears to be the only marker to executed criminals buried here, the church register records the names of others who were executed and buried e.g. John Wilson Sept 23rd 1583 and John Walle and Robert Hodgson described as prisoners executed and buried on 13 October 1587.

Outside St Michael’s church is the relocated headstone of the last three men to be executed in the city. On 1st June 1810, Neve, Jackson & Weightman were taken by cart from the city gaol & publicly hanged for forgery at the city gallows (where Tamworth St, Upper St John St & the London Road cross). Interesting that at some point, the word ‘hanged’ appears to have been obliterated from the monument. Although this appears to be the only marker to executed criminals buried here, the church register records the names of others e.g. John Wilson on Sept 23rd 1583 and, John Walle and Robert Hodgson described as prisoners executed and buried on 13 October 1587.

Patti pointed out this example of a sanctuary knocker on a door in Elford church, dating to circa 1450AD. By touchin the knocker, a fugitive from the law could be given sanctuary in the church for a period of time. If they made it that far. One example given by Karl Shoemaker in his book 'Sanctuary and Crime in the Middle Ages' tells of Elyas, a chaplain imprisoned in Staffordshire to await trial for murder, who 'killed the gaoler's attendant, escaped from the prison & fled towards the church'. The gaoler & others from Staffordshire pursued him and cut off his head before he could reach the church'. Another example comes from Colton History Society - in 1270 Nicholas son of William De Colton stabbed Adam, son of Hereward in a brawl; he fled to the church and took sanctuary. Claiming sanctuary was abolished 1623.

At St Peter’s in Elford, Patti pointed out this example of a sanctuary knocker on a door dating to circa 1450AD. By touching the knocker, a fugitive from the law could be given sanctuary in the church for a period of time (this seems to have been forty days which is a nice biblical number) . If they made it that far. One example given by Karl Shoemaker in his book ‘Sanctuary and Crime in the Middle Ages’ tells of Elyas, a chaplain imprisoned in Staffordshire to await trial for murder, who ‘killed the gaoler’s attendant, escaped from the prison & fled towards the church’. The gaoler & others from Staffordshire pursued him and cut off his head before he could reach the church’. Another example comes from Colton History Society – in 1270 Nicholas son of William De Colton stabbed Adam, son of Hereward in a brawl and fled to the church where he took sanctuary. Claiming sanctuary was officially abolished in 1623.

The Bilstone Gibbet Post, Leicestershire. Erected in March 1801 to display the body of local man John Massey, executed for murdering his wife Lydia and attemping to murder his step- daughter. Massey's headless skeleton, wrapped in chains, remained hanging from the post for seventeen years, his skull apparently being used as a candle holder in a pub in Atherstone. In the early twentieth century, the post was a venue for religious meetings but today, there are rumours of more unusual behaviour taking place here.

The Bilstone Gibbet Post, Leicestershire. Erected in March 1801 to display the body of local man John Massey, executed for murdering his wife Lydia and attempting to murder his step- daughter. Massey’s headless skeleton, wrapped in chains, remained hanging from the post for seventeen years, his skull apparently being used as a candle holder in a pub in Atherstone. In the early twentieth century, the post was a venue for religious meetings but today, there are rumours of more unusual behaviour taking place here.

Unable to find much on this pillor outside the Cock Inn at Stowe by Chartley, but it does appear to have been relocated here at some point.

Pillory outside the Cock Inn at Stowe by Chartley. Appears to have been relocated here at some point as not shown on early 19thc photographs of the pub

It is a dark subject at times but there are lighter moments too. Currently providing wry amusement is the question of how, and indeed why, was a seventeenth century cucking stool stolen from the church of St Edward at Leek? A meta-criminal mastermind at work? It’s very much an ongoing exploration and if you are interested or better yet, have something to contribute, and aren’t offended by an element of gallows humour, please do join our Offending History group here

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Soul Sister

Friend and well hunting expert Pixy Led described Nun’s Well at Cannock Wood as being, “…perhaps the most hidden of all the springs and wells I have investigated”, and it was only thanks to his post about the site on his brilliant Holy and Healing Wells blog that this well hunting amateur was able to locate it. Between Pixy’s and my visits, it appears the site has been tidied up considerably and this is my attempt to do the same historywise, purely to satisfy my own curiosity.  It’s much more appealing than sorting out the cupboard under the stairs. Or cleaning for the Queen.

nuns well board

Nun’s Well is a spring rising in a chamber cut from rock with a sixteenth century Tudor style brickwork arch. Legend has it that the well has healing powers, specifically for sore eyes, and takes its name from a nun who was murdered there. Centuries after she was pushed to her death, two farm labourers discovered her earthly remains in the sealed up well and her ghost materialised before them. As Pixy points out on his blog, however, two of the best known works on Staffordshire folklore don’t even mention the well let alone its resident spirit.  I have found a reference in Robert Garner’s 1844 Natural History of the County of Stafford, which also doesn’t mention the ghost story but does offer an alternative explanation of how the well got its name,

“To descend to more recent times we lately visited a spot where one of our early monastic institutions was placed, Redmore, from which the nuns were soon removed to Polesworth because the gay cavaliers riding that way to hunt on Cannock Chase spoiled their devotions. With some trouble we found the solitary quadrangular site not far from Gentleshaw in some low ground embosomed in a wood through which a brook flows now ochrey from the scoriae of an ancient smelting place above and here also is a well considered medicinal and still called the nun’s well”.

It’s still not an entirely satisfactory version of events though (although there’s something undeniably satisfying about seeing something described as being embosomed in a wood. Must be the logophile in me).

nunswell sign

There does appear to have to have been a monastic institution near to the well. Records show that in 1141, King Stephen granted land at Radmore or Red Moor to two hermits called Clement and Hervey and their companions. Frequent disturbances from passing foresters, rather than gay cavaliers, interrupted the quiet contemplations of Clement, Hervey and co, causing them to ask Empress Matilda if she could find them somewhere a bit quieter. It’s recorded that she agreed to this on the condition that their religious house be converted to the Cistercian order. It seems the hermits kept their part of the deal, and the retreat became a Cistercian abbey but according to the History of the County of Warwick, the foresters continued to cause problems. As soon as Henry II ascended the throne in 1154, the now Cistercian Monks petitioned him to transfer them to his manor at Stoneleigh. Henry did so and traces of the original abbey can still be found at Stoneleigh Abbey, now a grand country house.

Whether anything of the original abbey remains at Radmore is where things get really messy. Ordnance Survey maps of the area from the 1880s onwards show the site of a priory near to the well (see the 1949 map incorporated in Brownhills Bob’s post on Gentleshaw Reservoir here). According to Walsall place names expert and tricycle rider Duignan this is actually a muck up on behalf of the surveyors who, “… have mistaken furnace slag for ancient ruins (of the abbey)”.  What he found on the site was, “heaps of furnace slag, evidently of great antiquity, with 300-400 year old oak tress standing on and beside the slag”. It seems from the description of the site given by Historic England that that these could mark the site of a medieval bloomery or iron furnace. A medieval moated site also exists in the vicinity and there are suggestions that this is the site of a royal lodge established by Henry II shortly after the monks moved on to pastures quieter. As Staffordshire County Council’s Historic Environment Character Assessment report says, ‘the precise location of the abbey is unknown, but it is believe to have stood near Courtbank Coverts near Cannock Wood where a scheduled moated site and bloomery survive’.

nuns well fence

So, in the area we have a moated site, a hunting lodge, iron working and a short-lived abbey (somewhere) but how and where does the nun fit in to all this? Duignan suggests the name arose as the land was owned by the nunnery at Farewell. I read an interesting line in the History of the County of Stafford’s section on the Abbey at Radmore which says, ‘King Stephen granted Radmore, probably between 1135 and 1139, to Clement, Hervey, and their companions as the site for a hermitage…Bishop Roger de Clinton confirmed this grant and gave the hermits permission to follow any rule they wished and to receive and instruct any holy women who came to them after adopting a rule”. That suggests to me that there may have been holy women here at Radmoor…nuns? Hardly the most watertight of etymological explanations I know but then I don’t think Duignan’s is that convincing either. Is it? Although Nun’s Well is not technically a wishing well, please do feel free to throw in your two pence worth.

nunswell water

 

Sources:

G C Baugh, W L Cowie, J C Dickinson, Duggan A P, A K B Evans, R H Evans, Una C Hannam, P Heath, D A Johnston, Hilda Johnstone, Ann J Kettle, J L Kirby, R Mansfield and A Saltman, ‘Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Radmore’, in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 3, ed. M W Greenslade and R B Pugh (London, 1970), p. 225 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol3/p225 [accessed 4 March 2016].

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1003750

‘Parishes: Stoneleigh’, in A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 6, Knightlow Hundred, ed. L F Salzman (London, 1951), pp. 229-240 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/warks/vol6/pp229-240 [accessed 7 February 2016].

http://cistercians.shef.ac.uk/abbeys/stoneleigh.php

Take Me to Church Mayfield

On my recent explorations of the North, I exchanged SatNav Woman for my Mum and a map. It’s a swings and drive several times around the roundabout looking for the right exit approach. SatNav Woman doesn’t get excited by finding places like ‘Gallows Green’ on the map or stopping to ask directions from bonny locals who call you ‘Me Duck’ (ok, that was both of us), but then she doesn’t send you text messages from the car when you’re having a moment with a thousand year old font or leave her wet socks to dry on the dashboard either.

Mum's Socks

From Croxden Abbey we headed to Mayfield, and specifically, Church Mayfield as I wanted to see the early sixteenth century tower at St John the Baptist. Completed by Thomas Rollestone in 1515, he added the inscription ‘Ainsi et mieux peut etre’. I don’t speak French but I understand this translates to something like ‘thus it is and better it could be’ and appears to be a variation on the Rollestone family motto. Some have interpreted this as an indication that Thomas thought he could have done a bit of a better job on the tower. My maths is as bad as my French, but I can just about work out that this year was its 500th anniversary and at the celebrations in April, someone made an edible replica of the church in gingerbread, something so brilliant that surely neither perfectionist Thomas Rollestone nor Mary Berry could find fault.

Tower door, Mayfield

Tower door, Mayfield

The door to the tower is peppered with holes and the story goes that on 7th December 1745 the retreating army of Bonnie Prince Charlie passed through Mayfield, murdering an innkeeper and a man who refused to hand over his horse before turning their muskets on the church door, behind which the terrified villagers had barricaded themselves. Although I came in peace, the door was also locked to me and so I had to be content exploring the churchyard.

Holes in the door

Holes in the door

Underneath a yew tree there’s a medieval wayside cross moved here in the mid nineteenth century from Middle Mayfield, where it stood at a junction opposite a house known as ‘The Hermitage’ (an inscription on the door lintel reads ‘William Bott, in his old age, built himself a hermitage 1749).  Something else in the churchyard which I’ve never seen before but is so simple and effective that I’m not sure why, is a tree stump timeline, marking events in the church, village and the world during the lifetime of the Lebanese cedar which was one hundred and seventy seven years old when it was felled in 2008.

Tree time line Mayfield

En-route to our next destination (Cheadle),  we tried and failed to find the Hanging Bridge, spanning the River Dove, and also the Staffordshire/Derbyshire boundary. It was rebuilt in 1937 but, as you’ll see from the photo I’ve pinched from elsewhere, the arches of the original fourteenth century packhorse bridge are still visible. The name is said to refer to the executions of the Jacobite rebels which took place here following the trouble at Mayfield. However, as much as I’m a fan of folklore, I’m also a lover of linguistics and my suspicion the story was derived from the bridge’s name, and not vice versa, was confirmed by David Horovitz’s epic research into the place names of Staffordshire which reveals that the structure was first recorded as Le Hongindebrugge in 1296, nearly 450 years before Bonnie Prince Charlie’s troops are said to have met their end here. Of course that only raises more questions about what ‘hanging’ actually refers to here. I’ve been thinking about it for over an hour and now I’m handing it over to you, as the best I can come up with is a rope bridge. Ainsi et mieux peut etre….

Hanging Bridge, Mayfield by John M [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Hanging Bridge, Mayfield by John M [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Sources:
http://www.mayfieldparishchurch.org/history-churchyard.html

https://lichfieldlore.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/397633_vol2.pdf

‘Discovering Mayfield’ leaflet 2012 produced by Mayfield Heritage Group

Abbey Road

I was still feeling the effects of the lunar eclipse in the early hours of Monday on Tuesday morning. Not in a spiritual way, I was just knackered from staying up. However Croxden, the first stop on my rambles around the North of the shire last week, was a sight for my sore eyes. The tiny village is dominated by the ruins of a Cistercian Abbey founded in 1176 by Bertram de Verdun of Alton Castle (1) for the souls of his predecessors and successors.

Remains of 12thc Alton Castle founded by Bertram de Verdon. Not open to the public. As I found out...

Remains of 12thc Alton Castle founded by Bertram de Verdun.

What is left of the semi-circular East end of the abbey church, unusual in England and probably inspired by the French designs the Abbey’s patrons would have known, lies to one side of the road that someone decided to cut through the site. The nave, south transept and other monastic buildings lie on the other and you can see a plan showing what is still visible above ground and what has been lost here. In 1288, a priest from Walsall called William de Schepisheved, was given the task of chronicling life inside and out of these Abbey walls.  He worked backwards to 1066 and contemporaneously until 1320 when the entries in his hand stop, although the chronicle continues until 1374.

Blood Moon. Just in case you didn't see one of the three million photos of it shared online,

Blood Moon. Just in case you didn’t see one of the three million photos of it shared online,

We tweeted and shared our photos of the lunar eclipse. William the Chronicler recorded the celestial events he witnessed in the annals. Understandably for him and those of his time, eclipses were considered bad omens, often linked to any conflict, pestilence or bad weather that occurred. William records a solar eclipse in July 1330 and connects it to the floods and unseasonable weather which occurred two months before and for three months after, resulting in a late harvest, “…they had scarcely reaped the last of their corn with the greatest toil on the feast of All Saints and they had at last collected their peas into barns and outhouses on the feast of the blessed apostle Andrew. And what is so remarkable to see and hear, on the feast of All Saints and of St Martin fresh peas in their shells were given to the convent in the refectory instead of pears and apples”.  Another notable event in July 1301 appears in the Abbey’s annals describing how, “on the day of the Blessed Mary Magdalene, about the sixth hour, a great earthquake took place, to such an extent that all the persons in the convent, being at their first refection, were dismayed with a sudden and unlooked-for trembling”.

The chronicle also documents a connection between the abbey and Lichfield. William recorded that on Easter Eve in 1313, the great bell of the Monastery was broken by mischance and a man called Henry Michel came from Lichfield with his youths to cast another. It was reported that his first attempt failed but he started afresh and completed by the Festival of All Saints. It seems likely that this was Henry the Bellfounder who granted Lichfield’s Franciscan Friars the springs near Aldershawe which would later supply water to the whole of the city.

Plaque on Lichfield's Clock Tower, the base of which was once the water conduit which stood near the Friary.

Plaque on Lichfield’s Clock Tower, the base of which was once the water conduit which stood near the Friary.

As well as life at the abbey, Death inevitably also features in the chronicle. There are the descriptions of the burials of the Verdun family including that of Lady Joan Furnival, eldest daughter and heir of Theobald de Verdun, who on October 2nd 1334, “was taken by untimely death in childbirth; for on the day she died she was only thirty years and almost two months” and was “buried near her ancestors between Lord Nicholas de Verdun, son of the founder, and her ancestor and Lord John de Verdun, her great-grandfather”. Their now empty stone coffins can be seen alongside the ruins at the east end of the church.

DSCF0302

Stone coffins at Croxden.

The entry for 1349 simply and bleakly says, ” There was a great pestilence throughout the whole world.” Nothing more. No indication of how many succumbed to and how many survived the plague here in Croxden.  The following year, 1350, another single sentence notes, “This year was a jubilee” (2), and then there is nothing until the harrowing entry made in 1361 which records, ” A second pestilence took place, and all the children that were born since the first pestilence died.” In the absence of detail, I did a little reading between the lines. After ten years, plague had reared its ugly head again and although overall mortality rates were lower than in the first outbreak, the disproportionate number of deaths amongst the young in this second wave led to it being known as ‘the Children’s Plague’. Was this was because those who had survived the plague the first time around had some sort of immunity that the children born subsequently did not? I don’t know. I’m not sure that anyone does for sure. In 1369, another ‘visitation’ is recorded.

West front of the Abbey Church

Five years later the Chronicle ends but not before recording two further natural disasters affecting the Abbey – a flood destroying all the grass growing near the water together with all the bridges across the River Churnet, and a tempest which took the lead off the dormitory, infirmary, and abbot’s chamber, throwing down half the trees in the orchard. Plague and poor harvests took their toll and by the end of the fourteenth century, the Abbey was in decline.

DSCF0278

One thing that doesn’t seem to appear in the Chronicle is the ‘fact’ that King John’s Heart is buried at Croxden. Possibly because it isn’t. I first came across the claim in Arthur Mee’s guide to Staffordshire and since have found several other sources saying the same, including William White’s Directory of Staffordshire (1851), Samuel Lewis’ Topical Directory of England (1831) and The Gentleman’s Magazine (1823). Trouble is other, more reliable sources say it’s at Croxton, Leicestershire including the Charter Roll of 1257. I’m sorry to say, I think we have to concede this one to our foxy neighbours.

A drawing of the effigy of King John in Worcester Cathedral from "HISTORY OF ENGLAND by SAMUEL R. GARDINER

A drawing of the effigy of King John in Worcester Cathedral from “HISTORY OF ENGLAND by SAMUEL R. GARDINER

The King’s bowels were also said to have been removed at the time of his death and buried somewhere in Croxton, and to quote Simon Schama, their removal left John, ‘as gutless in death as he was said to have been in life’. The majority of John’s body rests in Worcester Cathedral, although more in pieces than at peace. When the tomb was opened in 1797, it became apparent that the bones had been disturbed, with the jaw lying by an elbow and all but four of the teeth and most of the finger bones missing – the King’s hands presumably having fallen into the hands of souvenir hunters.

The end of the road for Croxden came on 7 September 1538 when Dr. Thomas Leigh and William Cavendish received the surrender of the abbey and the roof was removed to prevent the Abbot and resident six monks from continuing to use the site. Although Croxden Abbey has been privately owned since then, it has been under state guardianship since 1936. Today, the ruins are cared for by English Heritage and it’s absolutely free to go and explore them (although I’m sure they’d appreciate a donation). Unlike staying up all night to watch a lunar eclipse, I can highly recommend it. More information on visiting and directions here.

Notes

(1) I had no idea there was a castle at Alton until I went to Alton with a friend and saw a sign for it. As we found out, it is not open to the public.

(2) I suspected that a jubilee in this context did not mean what I thought it did so I of course googled it and discovered that jubilee years had been started by Pope Boniface in 1300, and to be celebrated every hundred years thereafter. However, Pope Clement VI later amended this as people’s average lifespan was too short and so many would not live to see one. Plus there was money to be made from pilgrims. Pope Paul II later amended the frequency of jubilee years to be every twenty five. For anyone interested, the next one will be in 2025.

Sources:

https://lichfieldlore.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/094-2009web.pdf

Self-representation of Medieval Religious Communities  Anne Müller, Karen Stöber

CROXDEN ABBEY: ITS HISTORY AND ARCHITECTURAL FEATURES.

BY CHARLES LYNAM )(North Staffordshire Field Club)

The Gentleman’s Magazine, and Historical Chronicle, Volume 89, Part 2

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

 

Elephant Stone

At the end of a long week of exams, assignments and driving backwards and forwards to Wolverhampton, I needed to refresh my tired eyes and mind. Others in my situation may have headed for a spa but I headed for Lichfield bus station. The plan was to jump on the first bus that came, get off a certain number of stops later, and to explore wherever it was that I ended up.

Image (c) Central Buses

Image (c) Central Buses

The first bus to turn up was for Route 66 and, as I was in a fatalistic kind of mood, I took this as a good omen. However, the driver was reluctant to let me buy a day ticket, pointing out that not only did the bus only go as far as Burntwood, it stopped running about 4 o’clock. Not quite the epic journey I was hoping for, so I took his advice and decided to get my kicks on Route 62 instead. It winds from Lichfield to Cannock. More than eleven miles all the way. Well it goes past Sandyway, Pipehill and Boney Hay. And Cannock Wood looked oh so good.  Plus you can change at the bus station for Tamworth. All for £6.20.

I had planned to get off after an arbitrary ten stops but I was enjoying looking out of a window rather than at a screen so much, I stayed on the bus for an hour. As the clock struck two we arrived in Hednesford. On first sight, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’d been miraculously transported to Lourdes instead.

Our Lady of Lourdes, Hednesford

Grotto hednesford

hednesford grotto mary

Hednesford’s first Roman Catholic priest, Dr Patrick Boyle, made frequent pilgrimages to the shrine in France.  Concious that many in the Diocese hadn’t a prayer of being able to visit themselves, he conceived the idea of bringing the experience of Lourdes to them but died long before the thirteenth century style church and replica grotto were completed in 1934.

Due to mining subsidence in the area, the concrete church is built on an adjustable concrete raft. Standing alone in the grotto, all I saw was an architectural curiosity, although the floral offerings hint at how much more this place is to others.  Perhaps, if I were to come back in July to join the nine hundred or so pilgrims from across the Archdiocese of Birmingham, or in August for the annual Polish rally, which at one point attracted almost ten thousand people (1), I too would see it in a different light.

For now though, back on the bus and to Cannock and something I feel much less guilty about labelling an architectural curiosity. Meet Khushi.

cannock elephant

Khushi the elephant is a replacement for the vandalised Canumbo (a.k.a Nocky), a fibreglass elephant  commissioned by WH Smith Do-it-All in 1989. No-one seems to know why.  Was it inspired by Walsall’s infamous hippo I wonder? A lady sitting nearby didn’t know either, but she said she thought she knew of a rhinoceros statue in Birmingham. It turned out she was in fact thinking of the Bullring Bull but she did make me wonder what other beasts are lurking out there? I’ve started to draw up a list, and it’s a work in progress, but so far, in Staffordshire alone, we have a surprised looking white cow on a flying carpet, a lion in a pensive mood,  a panther influenced by the geometric forms of Cubism and a bronze stag and hind, won by a woman from Cannock on the Price is Right and donated to the High Court shopping centre in Cannock. Forget the road trip, next time we’re going on safari (2).

Notes:

1) The rally was established in August 1948 by Father Mieczyslaw Bossowski, who I believe came to England with the II Corps at the end of the Second World war and became the resident priest at the Wheaton Aston Polish Resettlement Camp.

(2) That one is especially for you Matt R.

Sources:

http://www.birminghamdiocese.org.uk/2014/09/hednesford-pilgrimage/

http://www.polishresettlementcampsintheuk.co.uk/wheatonaston1.htm

http://www.expressandstar.com/news/2009/02/09/elephants-name-is-khushi-little-number/