Hot Spring

Apparently, this is likely to be the hottest early May bank holiday on record. It’s so warm that even the birds in my garden were sunbathing yesterday. It’s something they do to keep their feathers healthy  but I think this one might have needed a bit of factor 30, as it seemed a bit red in places.

Sunbathing robin

This beautiful weather coincides with the blooming of the bluebells at my beloved Leomansley Wood. The trees which are now coming into leaf are relatively youthful but the soil here is ancient. Along with lesser celandine and wood anemones, those bluebells signal that this is a plantation on a much older site. In England, the definition of ancient woodland is land that has been continuously wooded since 1600. Given that the name Leomansley pre-dates England and indicates that there were once elm or limetrees here, this site could have been continuously wooded, well, since forever.

Leomansley Wood bluebellsWood anemones

Leomansley Brook trickles around the edge of the wood, into Leomansley Pool in the grounds of what once was Leomansley Mill, and out again through a culvert on Pipe Green.

Mill culvert

Leomansley Mill culvert, Pipe Green

Once upon a time, on hot days like these, the brook would be full of kids paddling as can be seen in this clipping from a 1937 edition of the Lichfield Mercury.

Lichfield Mercury 1937 Pipe Green paddling

I’ve been paddling there with my kids (and without them!) but I’m seemingly in the minority, something I’ve always found strange given the close proximity of a primary school. With the exception of the occasional hot dog, the brook is usually as calm as the millpond it once flowed out of.

Leomansley Brook May 2018

Those still waters run deep however. To the right of the pipe, you can see some of Lichfield’s many springs emerging from the sandstone aquifer far beneath the brook’s bed.

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The pipe itself is currently the source of speculation between myself, the fantastic Jane Arnold of the Pipe Green Trust and others. Local historian J W Jackson talks of a pipe which ran from the well at Maple Hayes, which emptied its icy-cold water into the brook. He recalls how people would take bottles to be filled as the water was said to be highly beneficial for bathing eyes. Presumably this is the pipe he mentions but which well at Maple Hayes? Could he have been referring to Unetts Well, said to be the coldest water in Lichfield, where Sir John Floyer built a bath in 1701, later incorporated into Erasmus Darwin’s botanic garden?

I’ve always thought of natural history as having not much to do with local history but I’m beginning to see more and more how the former shapes the latter. Think its time to go and contemplate this a little more in the sunshine over a glass of water to which barley, hops and yeast has been added. It’s what Mr Worthington the brewer who once owned the Maple Hayes estate (which appears to have incorporated most of Leomansley at one point) would have wanted.

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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.

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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.

 

The Two Towers

With ‘Heritage at Risk’ the theme of our Lichfield Discovered meeting this month, I was having a flick through the English Heritage At Risk Register to see whether there were any other buildings in the district keeping the Angel Croft Hotel company on the list. It seems much of what’s considered ‘at risk’ in these parts is landscape features – a causewayed enclosure and settlement sites in Fradley/Streethay, a round barrow at Alrewas and a site near Elford, although built heritage does appear in the form of the walls and gate piers at Colton House, the ruined remains of an old manor house at Hamstall Ridware and the old church tower at Shenstone. The inclusion of the latter was of particular interest as I’d been there for a nose just days before.

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When the present church of St John’s was built in the 1850s, the existing church was partly demolished leaving just the tower and the south door visible. Time and nature are doing their best to finish the job the Victorians started – English Heritage have assessed it as being category A meaning that it is at ‘Immediate risk of further rapid deterioration or loss of fabric; no solution agreed’.

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The tower had a wooden ladder but no staircase

The ruins are thought to incorporate Norman features and possibly some Anglo-Saxon masonry.

As you’d expect, many of the village’s old residents are to be found here in their eternal rest. According to William Pitt, at least one of them did not go gentle into that good night – Susannah Southwell of Shenstone was married at the age of 112 (although he doesn’t record how old the groom was nor how long it was until death did them part). The Wikipedia entry for Shenstone says that a 2007 survey found that it was one of the ten worst places in England for finding single women. Perhaps that’s always been the case?

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Local sandstone was used to build both new and old churches and it’s this geology that caused David Horovitz to question whether the place name Shenstone really does mean ‘shining stone’, suggesting that sandstone could “hardly be described as ‘bright, shining or beautiful'” (although anyone who has seen Lichfield Cathedral glowing in the late afternoon sunshine may well disagree). Mr Horovitz has suggested that Shenstone may instead refer to a personal name, or even to stone monuments left behind by the Romans (remains of a villa have been discovered on the outskirts of the village and Wall is only around a mile away).One of the reasons I love the study of place names is that it can give us a glimpse of somewhere as seen through the eyes of people who once lived there hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago. The view can be a little hazy though and sometimes we can only guess at why our ancestors chose the descriptions they did.

Whatever the true meaning may be, it is the ‘shining stone’ theory that inspired Jo Naden’s steel sculpture for the village’s Lammas Land in 2002, described by the invaluable PMSA website as follows, “(The artist) chose to site her sculpture in the Black Brook, which runs through the Lammas Lands used by the Celts as a site for harvest festival rites, in order to make a connection with Celtic culture. Trees, held sacred by the Celts, are reflected in the mirror finish of the stainless steel, while the text inscribed on it* is taken from the words of an unknown ninth-century Irish author. The placing of the stone at a point near where a bridge built on a north-south orientation crosses a stream running from west to east would have been considered sacred by the Celts because it symbolised the meeting of polar opposites”.
*A flock of birds settle ….. the green field re- echoes where there is a brisk bright stream

I stood on the little footbridge watching the swollen Black Brook flow over the sculpture for a few minutes until I was ordered off by a toddler clutching a handful of twigs ready to make an offering of pooh sticks to the water at this sacred spot.

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A Landscape Survey of the Parish of Shenstone, edited by Richard Totty for The Staffordshire Archaeological and Historical Society Lichfield 2009

A Topographical History of Staffordshire, William Pitt

‘A Survey and Analysis of the Place-Names of Staffordshire’
by David Horovitz, LLB

Forge and Ford

As the afternoon’s weather in Longdon was not quite warm enough for basking in the beer garden of the Swan with Two Necks, I took myself off for a little wander. The pub has a late 19th century map mounted on the wall, and it shows that the building next door was once a smithy. I’ve always had a soft spot for these simple buildings, softened even further by the discovery that one of my ancestors was an innkeeper with a sideline in blacksmithing. One of these days I’ll stop romanticising about it and actually get around to visiting Cirencester to see whether the forge is still there.  For now though, back to Longdon, where in May 1918, the then blacksmith, a Mr T Broadhurst had decided to give up the business and was selling the tools of his trade. On offer was a grindstone on a iron frame, two circular double blast bellows (nearly new), a treadle drilling machine, two black staple vices and other useful tools. The building remained a forge until 1938 and now is home to the WI.

Something else that appears on the pub’s map is a ford, which as the name suggests, is at the end of this lane. I had a walk down and within minutes found myself alongside the Shropshire Brook. I stood for a while on the little footbridge watching tiny yellow birds flit between the trees and the water’s edge. Interestingly, on earlier maps this seems to be called the How Brook.

Fords “shine in the memory” according to the writers of England in Particular

I don’t know much about fords, other than they are a way of crossing streams and rivers, presumably at their shallowest points. Whilst reading up on them at home, I came across a surprising account of an event that seems to have taken place here or very nearby (1).

Sir William Wolseley … lost his life about the beginning of the last century* in a very singular manner. He went to Lichfield one morning about nine miles from his house in his coach and four and on his way passed a little brook which runs across the road at Longdon and which is so shallow that a foot passenger can easily step over it the water being kept up by a mill dam at some distance from the road. When Sir William Wolseley reached this brook on his return home in the evening the mill dam just at that instant suddenly gave way the water rushed across the road overturned the carriage and drowned Sir William with his horses. The coachman was thrown off the box into a tree and escaped.

*July 8th 1728 according to the inscription on the monument to Sir William in Colwich church

Could this these gently flowing waters really have caused such devastation? It’s hard to imagine. A reminder, I suppose, that whether it’s the fire of the blacksmith, or the water turning the mill wheel, we can manipulate the elements of nature, but we are never fully in control.

Sources

(1) – A topographical and historical description of the Parish of Tixall in the County of Stafford, Sir Thomas Clifford and Arthur Clifford Esq, 1817.

 


Deep and Meaningful

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

Ducklings making their way over Stowe Pool last summer

Nesting on Stowe Pool, 2011

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

A small iron battle axe, seventeen inches in length

A spur singularly shaped of perhaps the last century

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lichfield Coventry and Tamworth tokens of the seventeenth century

A considerable quantity of stags horns

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

Transactions, Volume 1,  Leicestershire Architectural and Archaeological Society

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

A Lost Place

A couple of years ago, I learned that there had once been a place in Lichfield known as Bessy Banks Grave. Appearing on several old maps, the name is also referred to in a newspaper advertisement from 1914, but seems to have disappeared shortly afterwards. The plot of land was in The Dimbles area and I suspect that the name may have been lost when the council began building houses there in the early twentieth century.

Attempts to discover the story behind the name led to a poem written by Anna Seward for her friend Honora Sneyd, at the place known as Bessy Banks Grave, which Miss Seward refers to as ‘the grave of a suicide’.

“It suits the temper of my soul to pour
Fond, fruitless plaints beneath the lonely bower,
Here, in this silent glade, that childhood fears,
Where the love-desperate maid, of vanish’d years,
Slung her dire cord between the sister trees,
That slowly bend their branches to the breeze,
And shade the bank that screens her mouldering form,
From the swart Dog-Star, and the wintry storm….”

David Garrick also knew the place, adding that it was supposedly haunted and in 1805, John Jackson remarked that the spot was ‘once the famous rendezvous of lovers….now no more is remembered than that poor Betsy (sic) is said to have fallen victim to hapless love’.

After reading the original post, “Margaret” left a comment to say that she had found a poem called ‘The Circuit Lane’, in the 1859 book ‘Rustic Rhymes’, by Frederick Price. The Circuit Lane marked part of the boundary of Lichfield, as can be seen in the following extract which appears in several history books from the early nineteenth century:

“… 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 brook called Pone’s Brook and so over that brook into another lane called Stepping stones lane…”

As well as painting a picture of a disappeared landscape, Frederick Price’s poem also refers to the lost story of Bessy Banks. The full poem is here, but I have included an excerpt below

Daisy, ladysmock, and kingcup,
And the broad-leaved flag so gay,
With which we in pride would prink up
Doorsteps on the first of May –
Where bright flies their wings are sunning
Where shells strangely marked are found
Where the rippling brook is running
In which Bessy Banks was drowned.

Pass we these, and onward pressing
Where o’er head tall elm trees wave,
‘Tween banks rich in Nature’s dressing
Till we come to Bessy’s grave:
Here four cross-roads meet; a green mound
Indicates her place of rest;
Few spots are more lone, I ween, found
On old England’s face imprest.

Hawthorn blossoms fall and slumber
O’er where the betrayed one lies –
One more victim to the number
Sung in great Hood’s ‘Bridge of Sighs’
The betrayer, in corruption,
Lies in fetid church-yard soil,
Where e’en earthworms meet destruction
Fit ‘last home’ for one so vile.

Hence the lane has been neglected
From that time : the rustic swain
Since that hour the road rejectes
Nor dare traverse it again
Burdocks, thistles, nettles, tansy,
And the nightshade flourish there;
But the primrose or the pansey
Scarce are known to blossom near.

You’ll notice that Price’s version of the story differs from the earlier one told by Anna Seward. Perhaps the clue to this lies in the reference Price makes to ‘Hood’s Bridge of Sighs’, relating to the poem by Thomas Hood, written in 1844 and said by the Victoria and Albert Museum to be a ‘classic stereotype of the harlot and her destiny‘?

 

 

ExpLore – Lanes Around Leomansley

Walking is such a pleasure. I get seriously itchy feet if deprived for more than a day or so, and my spirits are always lifted after a good old trudge around. Exploring somewhere for the first time is fantastic, but I also love to walk around the places I know. It somehow gives me feel warm and comfortable feeling, like a favourite old cardigan. And of course, sometimes there can be surprises up even the most familiar sleeve…

I’ve decided I’d like to try and put some walks here so that people can get out and explore for themselves.  One of my best loved walks is of course around Leomansley, so here’s a walk around the lanes that I hope you’ll enjoy doing for yourself. Naturally,  I always encourage straying from the path to investigate something that looks interesting. Getting lost is part of the fun!

Lanes Around Leomansley

The map below gives a rough idea of the route, which is about 2km (depending on how many diversions you take!). I’ve marked some of the points that I think are of interest but of course there may be other things…….Below the map is a PDF with a written version of the route, giving information about each of the points. Hope you enjoy it, I’d like to hear how you get on!

Lanes Around Leomansley walk