Fallen Angel

I’m certainly not the first person to write about the deteriorating condition of the Angel Croft hotel, and I suspect that I won’t be the last – it doesn’t look like it will be relinquishing its place on the English Heritage at Risk register any time soon.

Personally, I have no connection with the building, I’ve never even been inside. As awful as it sounds, I can barely remember the days when it actually was a hotel.  It seems to have taken on a new identity as a case study in decaying grandeur, about which regrets are expressed and rumours abound, but about which no one seems to know quite what to do.

Of course other people will have memories of the Angel Croft – a wedding reception,  a work do, a meeting, a reunion dinner, or even a weekend stay. Walking through The Close recently, I saw this plaque on a bench, and it reminded me of an intriguing story I’d seen on the subject of the Angel Croft and memories a while back.

It features on a blog about a man’s research into his great uncle Jack Purcell’ s time in the Royal Australian Air Force. Jack Purcell was posted to RAF Fradley and in the collection of his documents handed down to his great nephew Adam Purcell was a postcard of a view across Minster Pool marked with a small ‘x’. Adam believes the cross could be marking the Angel Croft Hotel… you can read the whole post in full here.

It’s a fascinating story, but also a good reminder that it’s not only buildings that are  vulnerable to the ravages of time, but memories too. Of course, it’s important to preserve architecture of note, but I have to ask, what are we doing to preserve the memories and stories that make buildings so much more than an entry on a list or register?

Note – I hope Adam Purcell doesn’t mind me featuring the story of his Great Uncle’s time in Lichfield. I shall contact him.

 

Time On Our Hands

On my way to do some Christmas shopping in Lichfield,  I went to Beacon Park to see our new old friend Erasmus Darwin properly now that the crowds had dispersed. I thought it would just be me and the good doctor this Saturday lunchtime, but in fact there were already people reading the plaque, when I arrived and another small group turned up whilst I was there. I touched the shell in Darwin’s hand, and continued over to The Close, as with all the talk of water and conduits recently, I also wanted to have another look at the old pump outside the Cathedral.

Wall of Bishop’s Palace, North East corner of The Close

I then continued my walk north of the Cathedral, along the wall of the Bishop’s Palace, wondering about the provenance of the stone used to build it. In the north east corner of The Close, next to a pile of old grass cuttings and leaves, I peered over into what would have been the old ditch surrounding The Close. Something on one of the worn sandstone blocks caught my eye. Graffiti carved into the wall! Was there any more? Retracing my steps back along the wall I found several more examples.

Unfortunately, most of the markings either aren’t dated, or the dates have weathered away. So we are left with a series of initials, and not much else to work with. They may have been carved within weeks of each other or centuries apart. They may belong to pupils of the school, or they may belong to someone passing by with time on their hands. All that we really know, is that at various points in time, people decided to make their presence known in this quiet corner of The Close

One of the only legible dates on the wall. 188?

The listed building description for the wall (which can be found here) tells us that it’s probably over 300 years old. I haven’t yet been able to find where the stone was quarried from but the variation in colour and texture is beautiful. (Yes, I touched this too!)

The wall dates back to the rebuilding of the Bishops Palace in 1687. The original palace sustained severe damage in the Civil War and since then has actually only been the residence of the Bishop of Lichfield for a relatively short period. Bishop Selwyn took up residence in the 1860s and just under a hundred years later, in 1953, Bishop Reeve moved into a house on the south side of The Close. Since then the Palace has been part of Lichfield Cathedral School.

I have a photograph of the Bishop’s Palace from the back, but not the front. I do wonder about my thought process sometimes…

Of course, if anyone has any insights or information, please do get in touch. If it was you that stood here and added your initials to this old wall, I’d love to know when and why. However, I think that sometimes we have to accept that we will never know all the answers and just enjoy the time spent asking the questions.

Sources:

Lichfield: The cathedral close’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 57-67

Perspexive

This morning, I went to the dentist. On the way home I walked past St John’s Hospital. With the sun shining, I decided to pop in and allow myself a minute to take in the lovely surroundings and the calm atmosphere of the courtyard, before heading home.

At least that was my intention. As hospitable as ever, someone in the courtyard came over to welcome me, and invited me to have a look around the chapel. Never one to miss an opportunity to be nosey, I accepted with thanks.

I have been inside once before, but that visit was dominated by standing in front of John Piper’s striking window for the first time. Today, I sat on a back pew and found myself next to a perspex window. A small sticker told me that the stonework behind the perspex was the remains of a Norman water stoup. I understand that this would once have held holy water, into which those entering the chapel could dip their fingers, and make the sign of the cross. Apparently, many stoups were destroyed during the reformation but whether this is the case here I don’t know.  As the chapel has been heavily restored and altered over the centuries, I was delighted to have this chance encounter with part of the older fabric of the chapel.   Unfortunately, as I hadn’t anticipated there being many photo opportunities on a trip to the dentists, I had no camera. But the chapel is open everyday until 5pm, so if you can, please do go and take a look yourself, and enjoy visiting the grounds at the same time.

This got me thinking about the idea of layers of history within buildings, where generations of people have made their mark, by accident or by design, for better or for worse.  When I was volunteering at the Guildhall, someone told me I could get out using the back door. It was news to me that there was a back door but once through it, I made the even more exciting  discovery that  traces of the older building were still in evidence. For example, whilst the main hall and the front of the Guildhall date to the mid 1800s, the blocked window on the photograph below is thought to date to the 16thc.

Brickwork from different periods, round the back of the Guildhall

Another couple of examples to be going on with – what’s gone on here with all the different brickwork at this house in The Close?

This metal….thing, above a restaurant on Bird St, must have played some role in the building’s past, but what?

And when we’re talking about layers of history, should we also consider the present and future of buildings? I notice that the Angel Croft hotel has unsurprisingly made its annual appearance on the English Heritage At Risk register…..

Sources

http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=37864

A Flag Post

Hanging in the main hall of Lichfield’s Guildhall are banners representing the city’s wards. I’ve read on an information sheet about the Guildhall that these flags were created in 1975, by students from Lichfield’s School of Art. However, I’m wondering if they are based on anything earlier or if they are just recent(ish) designs? It does seem possible that each ward may have had its own symbol in the past – talking about The Court of Array in 1805, Thomas Harwood said,

“The public officers of the city attend and various processions are made by the constables and dozeners of each ward who in these processions anciently bore tutelary saints but which are now converted into garlands of flowers or emblems of their trade”.

 

Now, I had written down which flag in the Guildhall related to which ward on a piece of paper but I left it at the pub over the jubilee weekend (Ye Olde Windmill in Gentleshaw where I had a lovely steak & ale pie.  In fact, as the name suggests there is a ruined old windmill in the grounds, so the pub probably deserves a post of its own). I’ve been back to the Guildhall several times since, but haven’t been able to get into the main hall for one reason or another.

I can remember all but two. I think. Some are definitely more obvious than others. I reckon the best thing to do is put the photos up and see if anyone has any ideas about which flag relates to which ward and why. In the meantime I’ll try and get back to the Guildhall to make another list and hold onto it this time!  

.

 

 

By the way, there is no flag for Leomansley, so I’ll just have to design my own. If anyone from the Lichfield School of Art Class of 1975 wants to get in touch to give me a hand with this, or to share the story of how the other banners came to be made,  that would be fantastic!

(1) History, Gazeteeer & Directory of Staffordshire William White 1834

A Short Account of the City & Close of Lichfield’ by Thomas George Lomax, John Chappel Woodhouse, William Newling (1819)

Lichfield: Town government, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 73-87

 

In defence of Lichfield

As I mentioned in the last post about the West Gate, some other remnants of the Close’s medieval defences are visible.  I’ve marked the ones I know about, on the map below, with a bit of information on each. I’m sure there’s probably more, and we could probably work out where the other defences were, but it’s a start!

1. Site of the West Gate – see previous post here

2. Remains of North East Tower & ditch. A scheduled monument, sometimes known as the Bishop’s Tower, this was part of the original, medieval bishop’s palace. The pastscape record can be seen here. A description of the tower and how it fitted into the rest of the palace can be found in several books on the Cathedral & Close (1) and is based on a plan that was held in the Bodleian Library (is it still there?). A plan drawn from this can also be found here.

At the north east corner was a tower fifty two feet high and each of its ten sides thirteen feet on the outside. It was called the bishop’s tower and the ruins yet remain. Adjoining this tower was a square room with stone stairs leading to the top on the north west of which was an apartment with a cellar underneath twenty two feet in breadth and sixty three feet in length. The bishop’s lodging room was forty feet by thirty two with a leaden roof and cellar underneath. On the north side of this room was a large chimney piece opposite to which a door led to the dining room sixty feet long and thirty broad. At the east end was a door opening into the second tower which consisted of five squares eleven feet in width and thirty two in height. There were two apartments each twenty feet by seven separated from each other by the large hall chimney, , the lady’s chamber…the brewhouse…and the kitchen.

 

 3. St Mary’s House. Incorporates a turret and part of the Close wall on the east and south side. Not only are there are arrow slits, but there are also rumours of a secret tunnel down below….Actually, it’s not that secret as loads of people seem to have heard about it.

 4. Remains of Eastern Tower of South East Gate. This description comes from the ‘Lichfield: The cathedral close’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield

The gate built by Langton at the south-east corner of the Close had two towers. The eastern one, whose base was excavated in the late 1980s, was a half-octagon with 12-ft. sides. The western tower was presumably of similar dimension. The gate had a portcullis in 1376.  There was a drawbridge, still in existence in the earlier 18th century, which crossed the outflow of water from Minster Pool, and also a wicket for pedestrians. The gate was removed in the mid 18th century in order to improve access for coaches into the Close.

 

There’s also this bit of wall behind the Chapters coffee shop, which provoked a bit of discussion on Brownhills Bob’s Brownhills Blog, and with Annette Rubery. Especially about what that recess is!

While I was having a flick through googlebooks trying to find information on the subject, I came across an interesting snippet. Adrian Pettifer, in ‘English Castles: A County Guide’ makes the point that that unlike the majority of cathedral cities, there was no wall around the city of Lichfield as a whole.

So whilst the Close was protected by a strong wall, a ditch, 50ft towers, drawbridges and portcullises (when you put it like that it really does sound like a castle!), what did the rest of the city have? Well, there was a ditch. It’s thought even this was used more for controlling traders coming in and out of the city, than for defences. An archaeological dig carried out on the Lichfield District Council carpark in Frog Lane, also confirmed that the ditch was used as the city dump and found a variety of material, including it appears, the dog from Funnybones. There were gates too, the positions of which are still marked by plaques. Again, though it’s thought these might not have been defensive. I think the ditch and the gates deserve a post of their own, so I’ll come back to them another time.

Credit: Ell Brown (taken from flickr photostream)

This will also give me time to think about my latest question (one I’m sure has been thought about and answered by clever people already!). Was the city of Lichfield defended, along with the Close? And if not, then why not? Of course, if anyone has any ideas about this in the meantime, please let me know!

Footnootes:

(1) This particular description is taken from ‘A short account of the city and close of Lichfield by Thomas George Lomax, John Chappel Woodhouse, William Newling

(2) Thanks to this website http://gatehouse-gazetteer.info/English%20sites/3329.html for pointing me in the direction of some great links.

(3) I’ve also used this book From: ‘Lichfield: The cathedral close’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990)

West Side Story

The view of the Cathedral as you turn from Beacon St into the Close, must be one of the most photographed in Lichfield. It’s stunning. However, if you can tear your eyes away from the spectacular west front of the Cathedral, there’s something else here that I think is rather special.

Remains of the West Gate.

Sandwiched between two houses are the remains of the West Gate, dating back to the early fourteenth century. The rest of the gate was demolished in 1800, as Thomas Harwood describes, “…that noble gate at the west entrance into the Close, a beautiful structure worthy of its munificent founder and which in April 1800 was with a barbarous taste, pulled down, and the materials applied to lay the foundation of a pile of new buildings for the residence of necessitous widows of clergymen”. (The new buildings Mr Harwood describes is Newton’s College opposite. If this is true it’s a bit more house old recycling!).

In the same book, Harwood mentions the gate again saying,”At the entrance into the close on the west stood the beautiful gate which was built by Bishop Langton in the early part of the fourteenth century. It was a very strong a double gate with portcullis of great strength and majesty. The strong tower over the gate was finished in the time of Bishop Northburgh, the successor of Langton. This noble structure which had unimpaired during the revolution of five centuries and had withstood the destructive ravages of civil war was pulled down in April 1800 to widen the road into the Close”

Personally I’m a big fan of crumbling, old bricks, but if the gate had remained then, we wouldn’t be treated to that amazing view. Whether the decision to demolish the gate was barbarous or not, all we have now are these remaining stones and the descriptions, together with some maps and drawings.  The rest is down to our imagination….

The Lichfield District Council flickr stream has this image.

Taken from Lichfield District Council flickr group

On the Staffordshire Past Track website, you can also see a view of the gate published in 1805. Still a ruin, but in slightly better repair than the previous image. There’s another image here , this time from further away showing how the gate fitted into the area around the Close. This ‘ancient view’ of the Close, seems to be an artist’s impression from 1805 to show how the Close would have looked surrounded by its protective walls, gates and towers. John Speed’s 1610 map also shows the defences, including the gate.

1610 map of Lichfield

I’d like to explore the other remaining fragments of the defences, but for now I’ve got enough questions about this part to be going on with! Why leave this portion of wall   – why not demolish the whole thing? On the wall itself, why do some of the stones have dimples on (I bet there is a technical term for this!) Were materials really used for Newton’s College?

And what about that door! What’s behind there? Who was the last person to go in there (and did they ever come out again!). Why is there a door there at all? To access the ‘strong’ tower in Harwood’s descriptions?  Most importantly, where do they keep the key and could they open it for the Heritage Weekend?!

Edit: Take a look at the comments section – some of the questions have already been answered by Nigel, Managing Director of Lichfield Lock & Key, up on Church St and Pat, who seems to know a thing or two about old bricks!

Sources

The History & Antiquities of the Church and City of Lichfield – Thomas Harwood

Lichfield: The cathedral close – A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 57-67. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=42343

The Streets of Lichfield

It’s quite well known that Bishop Roger de Clinton laid out the main streets of Lichfield in a grid pattern, still in evidence over 800 years later.

Lichfield 2011-ish

What about those in between though? An email from Pat and a chance conversation about a book ‘A Walk Around the Snickelways of York’ by Mark W Jones (1) got me thinking about the alleys, the passageways, the shortcuts and the entries, winding themselves around buildings and connecting one Lichfield street with another.

Pat’s email asked if I knew anything about The Tanneries, running from Tamworth St, along the left handside of what was the old Kwiksave building, (and the Regal Cinema before that) to Cross Keys carpark.

The Tanneries

The Tanneries is blocked off at present

I don’t, but I’m interested how long this pathway and the others around the city have been around for.

Some are documented better than others. Friar’s Alley running alongside the edge of the site of the old Friary and onto Bird St appears as Friers Lane on John Speed’s 1610 map (no 29).

1610 map of Lichfield

Later it shows up on John Snape’s map as Friers Alley in 1781. On later maps, the narrow part leading to (or from depending which way you are going!) Bird St was known as Moss’s Entry.

Moss's Entry/Friars Alley onto Bird St

One of my favourites is the old carriageway leading to the courtyard of the George Hotel. It takes you past doors and bricked up windows, but it’s the floor with its Rowley Ragstone Setts (2) that I really like, as this small side passage gives an idea how Lichfield’s main streets would have been paved in the late 18th century.

George Hotel from Market St
 

I’ve taken some photos of others I came across. Most are found in the city centre though I’m sure there are loads more to be found throughout Lichfield. Of course, if anyone wants to share one they know of, or has any more information about any of the above or below, that’d be fantastic!

 

Bolt Court - a really busy little street

 

Inside Bolt Court

 

Alongside butcher shop on Market St

 

From Market St...

 

The Close to Erasmus Darwin House

Lloyds Walk

 

Tudor Row out onto Bore St

You see buildings differently walking these paths, maybe I’ll explore the backside of Lichfield a little more……

Footnotes:

(1)Snickelway is a great word created by Mark W Jones. It’s a portmanteau (which is in itself a great word!) of Snicket, Ginnel and Alleyway and Mr Jones explains, ‘A Snickelway is a narrow place to walk along, leading from somewhere to somewhere else, usually in a town or city, especially in the city of York’.

(2) Information taken from Staffordshire Pastrack website.

Map information from: ‘Lichfield: The place and street names, population and boundaries ‘, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 37-42. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=42340