A Grave Matter

Recently, someone told me that there were some interesting gravestones at Holy Cross Catholic church on Upper Saint John St. As David Moore is on the lookout for examples of symbolism in the city’s churchyards for his upcoming Lichfield Discovered talk on the subject in September, I went to take a look.

Initially, I thought there had been a mistake as I couldn’t see any gravestones at all, but tucked around the side of the church I found just the three of them, side by side.


The inscriptions are worn but the names are still legible. Names that I recognised at once. Around this time last year,  I wrote about the Corfield family who lost their lives when a fire swept through their home and business premises in Market Street in January 1873 (see here) and how rumour and legend had grown up around the tragedy.  It’s not so much the symbolism that is interesting here but the additional inscription on the middle stone – ‘Refused admission into St Michael’s Churchyard’. What does this mean exactly? It seems to contradict the Lichfield Mercury report from January 18th 1873 that,

‘The remains of the seven members of the family were conveyed in three hearses to St Michael’s Church-yard on Thursday afternoon and laid together in a square grave. The whole of the burial service was read at the grave by the Rector, the Rev J J Serjeantson; the burial service according to the Roman Catholic ritual, to which community the deceased belonged, had been read over the bodies by the Catholic priest at the Guildhall on Wednesday evening. The bodies were not taken in the church’.

All I can think is that it was these memorial stones which were not admitted into the churchyard at St Michael’s? Any thoughts or comments would be welcome.



A Storm Brewing

A comment from Mrs P on an earlier post about the City Brewery on the Birmingham Rd revealed another unhappy chapter in the story of Lichfield’s brewing industry.

In 1900, in many towns and cities across the north and west of the country, there was a huge rise in cases of what was originally thought to be alcohol related neuritis. Eventually doctors in Manchester, one of the worst hit places, began to suspect that alcohol may not be the cause.  After discovering arsenic in samples of local beer these suspicions were confirmed – people were in fact being poisoned.

There were thought be around six thousand cases of poisoning across the country, of which at least seventy were fatal.  On February 15th 1901 The Mercury reported that ninety one cases were discovered in the Lichfield urban district but there were no fatalities.

Samples from the City Brewery on the Birmingham Rd and the Lichfield Brewery on Upper St John St were taken. These tests showed that whilst beer from the City Brewery was arsenic free, the poison was present in beer brewed by the Lichfield Brewery.  Along with the other affected breweries across the country, they had been using contaminated brewing sugar from Bostock & Co of Liverpool. The sugar had been produced using sulphuric acid designed for industrial use, rather than of a food grade quality.  Bostock & Co blamed their supplier – a Leeds company called Nicholson & Son, whose defence was that Bostock & Co had not specified the need for ‘pure’ acid.

Offices of the former Lichfield Brewery, Upper St John St

Unsurprisingly, the City Brewery and another local rival, the Old Brewery on Sandford St were keen to inform consumers that their beers were arsenic free and took out large adverts in the Mercury announcing this. The Lichfield Brewery used the local press for a damage limitation exercise. On 12th December 1900, they printed the certificate that the public analyst and consulting chemist Dr Bostock Hill had issued to them from his laboratory in the Unity Buildings on Temple St, Birmingham, which included the following statement:

Gentlemen – I beg to report that I have analysed the three samples of Ales, and one of Stout, received from you on the 11th instant and find them to be PURE AND FREE FROM ARSENIC OR OTHER DELETERIOUS MATTER

Dr Bostock Hill’s opinion was also reported in the Mercury – he believed the brewery was not to blame and was instead a victim of circumstance. The report also praises the brewery for their honesty and openness in dealing with the matter noting that,

‘the strain on the executive has naturally been considerable, but it is in process (sic) of being completely relieved, The ordinary shareholders may possibly experience a slight temporary depression in the value of their holdings – nothing more; for the position of the company is now so secure, owing to its large reserve fund that the incident can only have a temporary effect, especially in view of the fact that it is one over which they had, under the circumstances, not the slightest control …despite the loss, the commercial value, importance and position of the Lichfield Brewery Company is quite unshaken’.

It seems the ‘considerable strain’ on the executive was relieved and the Lichfield Brewery continued for another thirty or so years, until Ind Coope & Allsopp Ltd took over the brewery and its 198 licensed houses in 1935.  So far, I have not been able to find a report into the strain on the health or livelihoods of those actually poisoned by the arsenical beer.

For a much fuller account of how events unfolded across the country, please read the article ‘Death in the beer-glass: the Manchester arsenic-in-beer epidemic of 1900-1 and the long-term poisoning of beer‘ by Matthew Copping. It also makes some very interesting points regarding how in addition to the complacency of the brewing industry, prejudice and stereotyping of those affected (mainly the working class) may also have contributed to these terrible events.

In the article, Matthew Copping describes the arsenic poisoning episode as a wake up call for those at fault, a phrase that’s has been heard again in recent days, due to the ongoing enquiry into contaminated meat. The timing of this post is actually coincidental (isn’t it, Mrs P?) and I don’t want to try too hard to draw parallels between these two events, separated by over a century. However, I think it is fair to say that, as in 1900, the public has been let down by complacency and broken systems once again.


Click to access poison.pdf

The Arsenic Century:How Victorian Britain was Poisoned at Home, Work, and Play by James C. Whorton


Making a Mark

I’m pleased to say that Gareth took my hint and very kindly sent me some great photographs of the names carved into old attic doors in the Lichfield District Council office building on St John St.  This part of the offices was the old school master’s house, dating back to 1682 and it’s thought the attic was used as a dormitory for boarders at the old grammar school.

One of the carvings seems to be dated 1715. If authentic, it means this door could be around 300 years old, possibly even original? Also there’s a rogue 4 nearby, is this a red herring or something to do with the change in calendar from Julian to Gregorian? This is about as clear as a pint of guinness to me, so any possible explanation would be welcomed!


Gareth also sent me a scan of a document – an indenture outlining the sale of the school buildings to Theophilus Basil Percy Levett, dated Christmas Eve 1902, and signed by the the school’s governors. It’s a fascinating document, there’s  information about the buildings,  the stamp of the Birmingham Paper and Parchment dealer, the seals and the names and professions of the governors (some are more familiar than others -Lonsdale, Cooper, Lomax, Ashmall and Andrews stand out for me).   In 1903 the school moved from St John St to Upper St John’s St, merging with Kingshill Secondary Modern in 1971, to form the present King Edward VI school.

Gareth’s photographs and images from the last few days are fascinating, but what I also think is interesting is the contrast.  The inky signatures of men who have already made their way in the world, compared with names carved into wood and brick by children starting out in life.  And what about the contrast of these grammar school boys with their peers?  Whilst they may or may not have gone on to fulfil their potential (see the comments on my previous post)  what of those other children that never even had the opportunity?

A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to the headteachers of our state secondary schools here in Lichfield talk about what their school offered to students. Each of them spoke convincingly about their commitment to giving each and every pupil in their care, regardless of ability or background, the opportunity to reach their potential in life.   I found myself moved by their words. This is how it should be.

Edit 2/11/2012

Yesterday at Lichfield Library, I found the book ‘A Short History of Lichfield Grammar School’ written by Percy Laithwaite in 1925. Mr Laithwaite refers to the graffiti, and I suspect this may be the original source (I found out about the existence of the graffiti on a Lichfield District Council document. I also saw it referenced in Howard Clayton’s Coaching City, whilst I was at the library yesterday). As well as providing small biographies of some of the masters and pupils of the school,  Mr Laithwaite also mentions that wooden panelling from the old school room is now used in the council offices, and that an oak desk from the school room was used as a locker at Bridgeman’s on Quonians Lane. If we could track that down, that’d be something!



I’m really pleased to say that Gareth Thomas who provided me with the graffiti photos and the indenture document, as well as other information over the last weeks has started his own blog http://lichfield.keepsblogging.com/ Gareth’s going to be sharing the things he discovers and judging by the gems he’s come up with so far, it’s going to a great read for those of us who enjoy exploring the history of this old city.





Another Johnson

Davidson House on Upper St John St was once home to another Johnson from Lichfield. Thomas Johnson, an architect lived here from 1834 and ran his business, Johnson & Son from here until his death in 1853. I understand that Thomas Johnson jnr went on to work with James Trubshaw, and married his eldest daughter.


Although people might not have heard of Johnson and Son they will probably know some of the buildings they were involved with. Below are some examples of their Lichfield work, and it seems that they also worked on buildings further afield.

Christ Church, circa 1850 (from wikipedia)

Corn Exchange Lichfield (from LDC flickr stream)

The Old Grammar School, C18 rear
wing, school room and front wall of c1849, by Thomas Johnson
and Son of Lichfield

Back to Davidson House and I’ve read that it was the home of the South Staffordshire Regiment Old Comrades Association and the South Staffordshire Regiment Museum collection from 1938 until 1963, when it was moved to its current site at Whittington. The name ‘Davidson House’ apparently relates to  Brigadier-General Charles Steer Davidson who donated the property to the regiment.

As ever, plenty of questions. Did the Johnsons employ local people? What about the rest of the family? Where did their materials come from? Who was it built for originally.  Who owned the house between the Johnsons and the Brigadier-General? Who was Charles Steer Davidson? What happened when the museum left and what is the future for it? It looks like it needs a bit of TLC right now, with its boarded up windows and crumbling stonework. There’s a book ‘Staffordshire and the Gothic Revival’ by Michael J Fisher that I’d like to have a look at to find out more about the Johnsons and their contemporaries.

There’s still plenty more to find out about Davidson House and its inhabitants but I like how by finding out a little about one Lichfield building,  I’ve found out more about some of the others too. And they just happen to be some of my favourites!






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


Lichfield Brewery & The Bridge Tavern

The Lichfield Brewery Co was formed in 1869, a merger of two local breweries, owned by the Griffith Brothers Co and The Lichfield Malting Co.1 The name is fading, but just about legible on this building behind Lichfield City railway station. Observant readers will notice that the date on the building of 1858 predates the company by 11 years  – it’s thought the building originally belonged to the Griffith Brothers. Perhaps Lichfield Brewery Co was added at the time of the merger.

In Howard Clayton’s Victorian Lichfield, there is reproduction of a Lichfield Brewery Co advert. On offer are Pale Ales, Light Pale Ale ‘AK’ (intriguingly recommended for family use!), Strong Ale, Mild Ales, Stout and Porter along with Harvest Burgundy (Red or White) and Tintara wines.

The company was taken over by Samuel Allsopp and Co in 1930 and production at the Lichfield Brewery ceased soon afterwards. In 1931, The Lichfield Aerated Water Co set up at the site, but were taken over by a Derby company, Burrows & Sturgess (who produced soft drinks and who claimed to have produced the first Iron Bru.2 I always thought it was made in Scotland, from girders!). A new company called the Birmingham Chemical Co was established from this takeover. Apparently, the site became known as the ‘Wiltell Works’, after this company’s slogan ‘Quality Will Tell’, and there’s a Wiltell Rd nearby too!3

The majority of the buildings were demolished in 1969.  However, still standing are the Brewery Offices with their roll of honour, still actively used to pay tribute to the 13 employees killed in the First World War.  Their names are also included on the memorial in the Remembrance Garden.

On the opposite side of Upper St John St is a building that was once the Bridge Tavern4. Staffordshire Pasttrack has two photographs taken outside the pub around 1910. The first depicts the publican, stood outside by a horse & cart. The second, shows the pub decorated with greenery, and a huge crowd of people gathered for a celebration, possibly the Bower.

You can still see where the pub sign used to be, and a little further down, the place where a board proudly announced:

‘William Whatkiss Licensed Retailer Ale, Beer, & Foreign and British Wines and Spirits. Dealer in Tobacco’

In my previous post, I said I’d like to find out about current local breweries. It’s been a lot easier to find out about the old Lichfield Brewery than it has about the new Lichfield Brewery!  I’m sure I had one of their beers at the Lichfield Medieval Market a couple of years back, called Festival Ale.  I’ve been trying to find out if the brewery is still going.  You can buy pump clips on ebay for their beers such as Steeple Jack and MT Pocket, but I can’t find much more at the moment.

1. ‘Lichfield: Public services’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990)
2. http://www.bygonederbyshire.co.uk/
3 & 4 The Old Pubs of Lichfield – John Shaw*

*I had a copy of this ages ago and lent it out.  Chatting on Twitter with @brownhillsbob a while ago he reminded me about what a great book it is and I treated myself to another copy.   Loads of info & some great photos too. If you’re interested in Lichfield History (and if you’re here, I’m assuming you are ;0), you should invest in a copy. Go on, go on, go on….