Bench Marked

Public benches can be found all around our parks and along our city streets. As well as being places to sit (or lie down, although I’ve never found them that comfortable) and rest, read, drink, chat, canoodle, sleep, picnic or daydream, they are also often places where people choose to commemorate a loved one, a group of people or an event, via a small plaque or inscription.

Workhouse BenchOn the current Google street view there is a chap with a stick having a rest on this bench on the corner at St Michael Rd. I suspect he, like most other people, hasn’t even thought about why it’s there. Why would he? It’s just a bench. You may not have even have noticed it is there. There’s no plaque reminding you to sit a while and enjoy the view of Aldi and the churchyard, and facing onto the busy Trent Valley Rd, it’s not the most serene of spots.

I probably wouldn’t have taken any notice of it either had it not been for Bob Houghton (of the Burntwood Family History Group) telling me about a conversation he’d had with a woman who had lived all of her long life in the Trent Valley Road area. She remembered a time before the NHS, when St Michael’s Hospital was still the Workhouse (officially known as the Lichfield Public Assistance Institution from 1930s, but no doubt still known by the majority by its former name and reputation), and told Bob how some of the elderly residents would take a stroll around the area (according to ‘This Won’t Hurt Much’, in 1937 the Master, Mr Standing had put forward a recommendation that male patients over sixty should be allowed out between 6 and 8pm on summer evenings). Apparently at some point, the authorities decided to provide a bench for them to rest their weary legs and although the Workhouse and its successor the Public Assistance Institution are long gone, this bench (not the original bench sadly) still remains in that position. Perhaps it’s still well used by folks making their way to and from appointments at the new Samuel Johnson hospital opened near the site of the old Workhouse in January 2007?

From now on, I’ll always think of this story when I pass, and share it if I happen to be with someone. Perhaps there should be a plaque here to tell people of its origins? Maybe, but I imagine that plaques require permission and money. Sharing stories with each other costs nothing but it keeps them alive. There’s no paperwork to fill in either.  If even the position of a bench has a story to tell us, then who or what else could?

Entrance to the former Workhouse on Trent Valley Road

Entrance to the former Workhouse on Trent Valley Road

Buildings at St Michael's Hospital, former Workhouse

Buildings at St Michael’s Hospital, former Workhouse

Behind the former Workhouse

Behind the former Workhouse

Sources:

This Won’t Hurt: A History of the Hospitals of Lichfield, Mary Hutchinson, Ingrid Croot and Anna Sadowski
With thanks to Bob Houghton for sharing this story with me

 

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Votes for Lichfield Women

Last night the Document programme on Radio 4 focused on an 1843 poll book for the election of an assistant overseer in St Chad’s parish, found at Lichfield Record Office. The book revealed that unmarried or widowed women from a range of backgrounds, including servants and paupers, were able to vote in this election, and the programme explores the significance of this in the story of voting rights for women.

The 1843 poll book in Lichfield provides evidence of women voting 26 years before the 1869 Municipal Franchise Act  and seventy five years before the Representation of the People Act in 1918.

For those who missed it, the half hour programme is now available on iPlayer here 

Thanks to Susan Ward, who spotted the programme (and also has her own Staffordshire based history blog here)

Sir Gilbert Scott and Lichfield

Following on from yesterday’s google doodle of the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras, to to commemorate the 200th birthday of Sir George Gilbert Scott, I had a quick look at Scott’s connections to Lichfield.

Scott was the Lichfield cathedral architect from 1855 to 1878, first restoring the interior of the Cathedral and then working on the exterior, including the West Front which had been vandalised during the civil war and covered in roman cement in  an earlier restoration.You can read more about the restoration at the Lichfield Cathedral website

It seems Lichfield Cathedral isn’t the only city building that Sir Gilbert Scott was involved with.  In the early days of his career he had formed a partnership with his former assistant William Bonython Moffatt. The Scott & Moffat practice made workhouses their speciality. Apparently, they would monitor the newspapers for adverts by Poor Law Unions looking for architects to build their new workhouses. Scott & Moffat answered an advert placed by the Lichfield Workhouse Board of Guardians, looking for  “Plans and Specifications for a Workhouse to hold two hundred Paupers, in accordance with Mr Kempthorne’s Model.”  Scott & Moffat were eventually selected after much deliberation by the workhouse guardians and work began on the tudor style building on 24th May 1838 and it was officially opened on 8th May 1840. Their work can still be seen at the old St Michael’s hospital on Trent Valley Rd.

Scott and Moffat parted company in 1845, after designing around 40 workhouses together. Scott’s wife Caroline Oldrid was said to have put an end to the partnership, as she believed that Moffat had become unreliable. In 1860, Moffat was was imprisoned as a debtor. After their partnership ended, Scott carried on with his two sons as his assistants. His younger son, John Oldrid Scott took over his father’s practice in 1878 and was the architect overseeing the restoration of the cathedral spire in my previous post! I was reading his notes and letters to the Dean and Chapter just a few days ago (his handwriting is terrible!). Scott’s eldest son George died at the age of 58, strangely enough at the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras Station.

Scott was knighted in 1872 but faced some critiscism during his career.  William Morris and others founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in 1877, in response to what they felt was the unsympathetic restoration of medieval buildings by Victorian Architects, Scott amongst them. Apparently on Scott’s death, Morris described him as ‘the happily dead dog’.

The Midland Hotel was threatened with demolition in the 1960s, but The Victorian Society campaigned and the hotel became grade I listed.  The hotel was reopened earlier this year as the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel. 

You can see a list of the buildings Scott worked on here.  I’m pleased to see that they’ve included a picture of Lichfield Cathedral!

Sources
www.scottisharchitects.org.uk

www.workhouses.org.uk

Cathedral City by Howard Clayton

This Won’t Hurt – A History of the Hospitals of Lichfield by Mary Hutchinson, Ingrid Croot and Anna Sadowski

www.guardian.co.uk Article ‘Sir George Gilbert Scott, the unsung hero of British architecture’