Shrouded in Mystery

Waking up to a blanket of thick fog this morning put me in the mood to share an update on the lost chapel of Longdon Green and, in particular, the mysterious gravestone which seemed to appear out of thin air.

You may recall that the chapel had been built in the late 17th century and was demolished in the 1960s to make way for the A51 flyover. You may also recall that in Summer 2018, my attempt to see if anything was left of it was thwarted by vegetation (and if you don’t, the original post is here). Whilst waiting for it to die off, I read that three years after the chapel had been torn down, a lone gravestone had inexplicably turned up at the site. A week after reading that, my mate ‘Betsy’ and I inevitably turned up at the site to see if it is still there. It is.

Investigations by the Birmingham Daily Post in June 1969 failed to discover who had erected the stone and why. The Vicar of Longdon said he only knew that it had appeared by the A51. Staffordshire County Council thought it might have been something to do with the construction company who had damaged a tombstone whilst carrying out the demolition of the chapel but a spokesman for them said, “I don’t know anything about it”.

Investigations by me in February 2019 have failed to uncover any further details about the life of William Edwards, and the story of why someone chose to quietly erect this monument to him two hundred years after his death and three years after the demolition of the chapel where he had served as a clerk remains shrouded in mystery. The explanation may lie buried somewhere in the archives somewhere but fifty years on, I suspect that it has most likely been lost in the mists of time.

Unless you know any different….

Death Wish

One of the best known landmarks on Cannock Chase is the the 318ft high telecommunications tower at Pye Green, one of 14 built across the country as part of the Cold War ‘Backbone’ network. However, recent discussions based on my previous post revealed that another lesser known landscape feature lay somewhere nearby.

Pye Green Communications Tower cc-by-sa/2.0 – © John M –

Like its more famous but less whimsical neighbour the Glacial Boulder, the Wishing Stone appears to be an erratic.  However, unlike its more famous neighbour, nobody has thought to put it on a plinth or named a car park after it making it a lot harder to find. The only clues I had to its location was an old postcard someone posted for me on Facebook, a description on Staffordshire Past Track, describing it as being sited on, ‘an old packhorse route known as Blake Street Road and near the possibly medieval St. Chad’s Ditch’ and a reference in the modern classic that is the ‘Adopted Development Brief for Land to the West of Pye Green Road, Hednesford’.

Wishing Stone, Pye Green

Image via link to Staffs Past Track website

Ok, I’m going to cut to the chase. I went to have a look and didn’t find it. I know it’s still there however, as I’ve just seen a photo of someone stood on it on Facebook. Let me tell you though, this is probably the worst time of year for doing a search in a Facebook group for the word ‘Wishing’. A Happy New Year to all you good folks too.

Once I get out of my Christmas onesie I will go for another look. What I have found in the meantime though is an intriguing reference to the grave of a local highway man called John Deacon. The local legend is expanded upon in the Cannock Chase Guide from 1957, which Brownhills Bob very kindly scanned and uploaded to his blog with a little help from his friends a couple of years ago. It says that Blake Street was frequented by a notorious highwayman known as John th’ Deacon who evaded capture for many years by dressing as a cleric, hence the name. The story paints him as a do-gooding baddie – he may have robbed from the rich but he looked after the poor and needy of the countryside. Bless him. Eventually, th’ Deacon met his maker when he met with a coach-load of Bow Street Runners and he was buried on the spot where he was killed. That spot was somewhere near to the Wishing Stone which frankly, I feel he could have made better use of in this situation. Perhaps he couldn’t find it either.

Blake Street, Pye Green

Understandably, there is lots of scepticism around the tale, with suggestions that the place name of Deacon’s (or Deakin’s as it has sometimes been recorded) Grave is actually a corruption of the word ‘grove’. Whilst it’s tempting to write the story off as nothing more then a folk etymology, I have good reason to think there is more to it than that. An 1817 Ordnance Survey plan of the Penkridge area shows that there was a place called ‘Deadmans Grave’ in the vicinity and in May 1951, the Lichfield Mercury published the recollections of a Brocton resident called Mrs Holmes who had spent her life living on the Chase. One thing she remembered was a mound of earth, which local people referred to as ‘Dead Man’s Grave’.

Part of Ordnance Survey plan 1817. Taken from British Library collection

In Mrs Holme’s version of the legend, the deadman in question was not our Blake Street bandit Deacon, but one or more Mercian monarchs who hunted on the Chase. On the day an excavator came to clear the mound away in preparation for the construction of sewage beds for the military camp, some of the locals skived off work to watch. Although nothing of interest was discovered on that occasion, a much more fruitful exploration of the mound was described by two chaps called Cherry at the start of the 20th century. In their book, they described how ‘the opening of this ‘bury’ afforded a remarkable instance of the confirmation of oral tradition by modern research. Such tradition had from time immemorial described the Milford bury as the as the grave of three Kings slain in a great battle fought on the spot. At the base of the mound were found three separate and distinct layers of human bones, all showing the action of fire and surrounded by a few coarse fragments of ancient British pottery. As confirmatory of the tradition, it is of course noteworthy that no other remains were found and that apparently no previous disturbance of the tumulus had taken place’. Getting into their poetic stride, Cherry & Cherry suggest that the three warriors had found ‘the sleep that lies among the lonely hills’, lying undisturbed as the centuries rolled by whilst an old wives tale kept their memory green’. Indeed it did. Thank you Mrs Holmes.

I would probably bet my money and my life that a highwayman dressed as a man of the cloth did not come riding-riding-riding up and down Blake Street but I’m also confused that the area marked as ‘Deadman’s Grave’ on the 1817 map appears to be a good five miles away from Milford and the mound which was known by this name.  I’ve heard so much about Saxon warriors recently, I’m starting to feel like I’m living in a Bernard Cornwell novel. Were three of them really killed and buried on the Chase or is this just pye in the sky? I wish I knew….


Historical Studies Relating Chiefly to Staffordshire by JL Cherry and Karl Cherry (1908)

Lichfield Mercury Archive

A Portrait of Cannock Chase published by The Association of Friends of Cannock Chase (1957)

Rock and Roll

My friend thinks glacial boulders are rubbish and that this one on Cannock Chase is Staffordshire’s answer to Craggy Island’s stone of Clonrichert. She isn’t alone.  Some years ago, the Express and Star included it in a list of top ten terrible attractions describing it as ‘just a medium sized rock on a plinth’.

A medium sized rock on a plinth

Surely, though a landmark as well known as the Chase’s Glacial Boulder must have a story or two to tell? There’s often a lot of mythology connected to lithology. The Gilbert Stone in Birmingham was taken there by a giant to mark his territory and the Webb stone in Bradley was nicked from the church by Old Nick who wanted to use it to rebuild hell and women who take it a (rock) cake on Halloween get to see their future spouse.

A medium sized rock not on a plinth (aka The Gilbert Stone)

Well I have found this….The boulder was found in a pit in Brocton around 1950 and was originally placed at the top of the wonderfully named Pudding Hill at Milford by the Association of the Friends of Cannock Chase. In September 1954, it was pushed off the hill by a gang of wrong ‘uns and so the friends group decided to cement it to the top of Spring Hill, which at 450ft above sea level was a fair bit higher than Pudding Hill. This did not prevent the boulder from going roly-poly again though. In May 1958, it was found at the bottom of Spring Hill having been chipped from its concrete base. Five men from the area were later arrested and fined £13 9s 2d each. The Birmingham Post and Gazette reported that they had, perhaps unsurprisingly, come up with the idea in the pub. “We only did it because it was a challenge and they said it could not be moved”. Apparently it took them four hours.  It’s now located in a car park not on a hill which makes it easy to visit but do try not to get as excited as the couple spotted getting erotic on top of the erratic one boxing day.

I don’t think I’ve quite succeeded yet in my own challenge to convince my friend that Cannock Chase’s rolling stone is a rock star, but I’ll keep chipping away.

Witchfield Gore

I have always been fascinated by folklore, superstition, ghost stories and all that kind of hocus-pocus. Growing up on a new housing estate in suburban Birmingham is perhaps not the most obvious place to have become acquainted with the old ways but they made their presence known from time to time. My Dad would never allow new shoes to be put on the table and a bird in the house was very bad news indeed.  Whilst working in a fast food joint in Sparkhill one Saturday afternoon, a woman ordered some southern fried chicken and read my palm. My brother’s rogue of a mate swore he saw an elderly neighbour doing the gardening a couple of weeks after she’d died and apparently there was a horse buried under a small hillock in our local park. I must google that one actually.

I’m well aware that such matters are a bit Marmite (and it just so happens that I know of an urban myth about that particular food stuff and Dartmoor Prison) and so I shall try and keep this kind of thing to my other blog here, which I write with my bad friend Betsy. However, as it’s Halloween and fast approaching the witching hour, indulge me briefly to mention a few local stories that I’m fascinated by, and which Mavis and Betsy may well be exploring further.

First up, a few tales of fangtastic beasts and where to find them (although given that seeing them is said to bring misfortune, I’d advise you not to go looking). The Black Dog of Brereton roams the lanes of, well, Brereton, terrifying all those who encounter it before vanishing into thin air. Demon doggos have also been witnessed locally by young Ivan Vinnel on Woodhouses Road in Burntwood in the 1930s and, more recently, by a number of motorists on the M6 toll road who reported a wolf-like creature bounding around Junction 10A. The Black Dogs of Brereton and Burntwood and the M6 Toll road. 666/10 would not pet.

Another ghost dog in Brereton. The 18thc Talbot Inn, now closed.

A google ghost hunt has thrown up Lichfield district’s very own phantom flan flinger. In January 1979, ATV Today visited The Burntwood Patisserie to interview the bakery director Steve Davies and employee Dawn Evans after paranormal activity in the building put the night shift on hold. Sadly, the video clip is not yet available on line through the MACE archive.  Elsewhere in the ATV archive is footage from May 1965, when a camera crew visited Dam Street’s ‘Little Gallery’, an antique shop run by Jack Whitney, to try and capture evidence of a monk said to haunt the 500 year old building. What are these two buildings now?

Dam St, Lichfield

It’s a mystery at one of my own previous haunts that’s really intrigued me however. Back in the summer, I wrote about the lost chapel at Longdon . It had been built in the late 17th century and was demolished in the 1960s to make way for the A51 flyover. In June 1969, the Birmingham Post reported that a gravestone with the inscription ‘William Edwards. Died 6 August 1775 aged 67. Clerk to this chapel for 19 years’ had appeared alongside the site where the congregational chapel once stood, three years after it had been torn down. Everyone involved from the clergy to the constructors to the council denied any knowledge of where it came from, who put it there and why. Looking back at JW Jackson’s description of the site when he explored it in 1876, there was a small graveyard. So why was this the only memorial from it to have been replaced at the site? And another fifty years on, is it still there?


Real Monsters, Gruesome Critters, and Beasts from the Darkside by Brad Steiger

The Weiser Field Guide to Cryptozoology by Deena West Budd

Birmingham Post Archive

Dead End Streets

I have been dead certain for sometime that there would once have been corpse roads leading to Lichfield, bringing bodies from the surrounding hamlets and villages to be buried in the consecrated ground of their mother church.

My Scooby sense about their existence eventually translated into something a little more tangible when I found the following reference in the 1819 book,  ‘A Short Account of the City and Close of Lichfield’ by Thomas George Lomax, William Newling:

‘By the side of the chapel is Dove house lane once the burial road from the village of Wall now disused’.

Further evidence can be found in the rolls of St George’s Court held on 28th April 1656, which record how Michael Salt was fined 6D for “not making a stile into Dovehouse Field from the Clay Pitts, this being a church way”.

Dovehouse Fields sign

Given that Wall was part of St Michael’s parish, this surely must have been the mother church and the final destination. As to the exact course the corpse road took, I suspect the answers lie buried in old place names. Look out for references to anything church, burial, coffin or corpse related on old maps and documents.

Claypit Lane sign

Whilst you’re at it, give some thought to Shenstone too, where in October 1817 the Staffordshire Advertiser carried the following description:

…a certain road, heretofore used as a burial road, beginning at the north-westward end of a Road called the Walk, belonging to Edward Grove Esq, and extending in a north-westwardly direction over an ancient inclosure called Lower Park Field, belonging to Ann Adams, over an ancient Inclosure called New Piece, belonging to said Edward Grove, over an ancient inclosure called Over Park Field, over an ancient inclosure called Upper Park Field, and over an ancient inclosure called Near Park Field, belonging to Ann Adams, to the Birmingham and Lichfield turnpike road, then crossing the said road in a south-westwardly direction to an ancient inclosure called Bull’s Head Piece, then turning in a westwardly direction over the said Bull’s Head Piece and another another ancient inclosure called Church Piece, belonging to Henry Case, Esq.

Elsewhere in the country, numerous stories and superstitions have materialised around these paths where the dead were toted. The general flavour of the folklore associated with these roads involves rituals designed to ensure the spirit of the dead could not escape en-route nor return home. The corpse would be carried feet first and often over water as apparently ghosts can’t cross running water (although I have heard of a spectral passenger hitching a lift in a taxi as it drove over the causeway at Blithbury Reservoir). Despite these rites of passage, there are stories of the supernatural associated with burial routes –  phantom funeral processions, corpse candles and headless black dogs are just some of the shady characters to be wary of when travelling the same way as the dead did. If only we knew exactly which way that was….

wall green lane

Wall is surrounded by these ancient green ways. Could one of them have been part of the old burial road?


Little Green Chapel

Following on from the last post about the Minors School, it seems that its founder was no stranger to controversy either. Here’s the original extract from the Victoria County History someone sent to me which unexpectedly ignited my interest in Presbyterian places of worship with mention of a meeting house in the city being burned down during riots in 1715 and a chapel at Longdon Green.

The Presbyterians remained powerful in the city after the Restoration. Bishop Hacket complained that ‘the Presbyterians of the city do what they list, come not to the holy communion, baptize in hugger-mugger, are presented for their faults but no order taken with them’, and Dean Wood allotted prominent seats in the cathedral to Thomas Minors and his brother-in-law William Jesson. Presbyterian influence extended in 1667 to the election as M.P. of Richard Dyott, who Hacket believed was completely under their control.  In July 1669 Minors and Jesson were summoned before the Privy Council for holding a conventicle in Minors’s house. They moved the meeting to a farmhouse at Elmhurst, where a conventicle later the same month lasted most of the day. According to Hacket it was attended by some 80 people, of whom the ringleader was a Lichfield carrier named James Rixam (or Rixom), a man ‘no way fit for that trust, being a transcendent schismatic’. Minors and Jesson subsequently appeared before the Council but were discharged.


Five houses in Lichfield were licensed for Presbyterian worship in 1672; they included Minors’s house and that of John Barker, another mercer who was later one of the trustees of the English school in Bore Street established under Minors’s will. By 1695 a Presbyterian minister, Robert Travers, was working in the area, with a chapel at Longdon Green. He baptized at Lichfield in 1700, and there was a meeting house in the city by 1707.  It was burnt down during riots in 1715 but had been rebuilt by 1718.  In 1720 Travers was living in the house of Elizabeth Jesson, possibly in Saddler Street. In 1738 his own house in Lichfield was licensed for worship. He may still have been active in 1747, but by April 1748 the congregation was served by Samuel Stubbs.  The Lichfield chapel was closed in 1753,  but the congregation continued to meet at Longdon Green.

I’ve wandered around Longdon a fair few times, and news of a 17th century chapel was new to me . Local historian J W Jackson went for a wander around there in the glorious summer of 1876 and described in his Lichfield Mercury column how he stumbled upon the chapel:

‘On this occasion, we decided on following the Stafford Road, via Lyncroft and taking the lower road to Longdon Green, then turning to the right by Lysways Hall….As we stood feasting our eyes on the beauty around us, our attention was attracted to a solitary building in front of us. At first, we took it to be a cottage but as we got nearer we saw that the windows were much like those of a church, deep and arched, and as we had to pass near it on our way we decided to examine it closer. As we came near it we heard voices singing a hymn and at once concluded it was a small chapel. Crossing over a tiny stream we entered the small graveyard and walked quietly to the open door, when the hymn had ended, we quietly entered and took our seats on the nearest vacant bench and a grey-haired old caretaker handed us books. The singing had not been led by a trained choir and organ but the small congregation sang as if from the heart, and fairly well in tune…At the time we little thought we were in the first Lichfield Congregational Church which like a great wide spreading tree had sent its branches over the district’.

In the glorious summer of 2018, local nosey parker K L Gomez decided on following the road from the Red Lion pub down Lysways Lane, looking for the site of the small chapel. I knew it had been demolished from the description on Pastscape but, as ever, I was curious to see if some trace remained.

It says Chapel House. Please beleaf me.

The name of the nearby house on the opposite side of a tiny stream (the Bilson Brook) confirmed that I was more or less in the right place. The sweet singing of the choir has been replaced by the noise from the road which the chapel was demolished to make way for in 1966 and the holly and the ivy (and hawthorn bushes and nettles) are both so full grown that the public path running alongside is inaccessible. Further exploration to try and find traces of the lost chapel and its graveyard will need to wait until winter when some of the Longdon greenery has died off a bit.

In the meantime, I want to know more about those incendiary events of 1715. Where was the meeting house which was burned down and is its replacement still standing?


Lichfield Mercury Archive
Lichfield: Roman Catholicism and Protestant nonconformity’, in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14, Lichfield, ed. M W Greenslade (London, 1990), pp. 155-159. British History Online

A Minor Diversion

The Minors School was only supposed to form a minor part of another post I’m writing about a lost chapel in Longdon. However, when I came across a series of letters and articles in local newspapers documenting the attempt of Lichfield City Council to save the 17th century building from destruction and the offer of its Norman oak door to the city’s museum by a bill-posting company, it became a major point of interest. The chapel will have to stay lost for just a little longer…

Someone researching Presbyterians in Lichfield had emailed me with an extract from the Victoria County History asking if I knew anything about any of the buildings mentioned in it. It was the mention of a chapel in Longdon Green which caught my attention but the only one I really knew anything about was the school which once stood at the corner of Bore Street and St John Street and was built in 1670 by Presbyterian mercer Thomas Minors for 30 poor boys in the city to be taught, without charge, until they were able to read chapters in the Bible.  What I didn’t know anything about was the controversy it caused at the start of the 20th century.

Lichfield - Minors' School: sepia drawing

Lichfield – Minors’ School: sepia drawingView Full Resource on Staffordshire Past Track



At a Lichfield City Council meeting in March 1902, the Streets and Highways committee recommended that the Council should pull down Minors House (an alternative name for the school building), take what land was required to widen St John Street and sell the remainder. The property, consisting of Minors House, a warehouse, and shop plus three adjoining cottages, had been purchased by the Council in April 1900 for the sum of £1,680 from the representatives of Mrs Sarah Cooper (deceased) with a view to widening the corner of Bore Street. However, only the schoolroom end of the building was demolished and later that year, councillors discussed what should be done with the remainder. Cllr Raby was keen to ensure that the property was sold under the most advantageous terms so that the Council could recoup the cost of the road improvement to as great an extent as possible. Cllr Wood asked about the strip of land where the schoolroom had once stood, as in a previous meeting it had been decided that it should not be included in the sale and Cllr Andrews thought it unwise to offer the property without the land. Cllr Raby questioned whether one of the most valuable business corners of the City should be turned into a shrubbery or flower garden or some other unprofitable experiment as the improvement had been carried out at great expense to ratepayers and it would be wise to seek to make the best of the property. He also said that it was hardly to be expected that in the future the Minors School, which had been half pulled down, could be retained in its present ugly and unsightly state and the purchaser of the property ought to have sufficient space allowed him and a free hand to erect something which would be an ornament to the city.

I think at some point over the next twelve years, Cllr Raby must have joined the National Trust or something because at a council meeting in May 1914 he protested against plans to transform the building into a modern business premises despite it having been passed by the Streets and Highways Committee. Cllr Raby argued that as this was an exceptional case, it should therefore be be dealt with by the council in an exceptional manner. The Ancient Monuments Consolidation and Amendment Act had been introduced the previous year and Cllr Raby believed that given that Minors House was a historic building of unique interest to the citizens of Lichfield, it should be dealt with under the new act. He described the grounds upon which he wished to place the exceptional resolution as follows:

I have seen the plans submitted by the present owner of this property and I find that, broadly, they mean the complete transformation of this old building – the demolition of many of the rooms, and the utter desecration of the facade of the building and the placing of a tawdry shop front in its stead.

Cllr Raby urged his peers to protest against ‘wanton vandalism of this kind’ but not all those present were convinced. Cllr J.R. Deacon queried that given the building had been the property of the council who had sold it, it ‘could not have been thought of very great value, or it would not have been disposed of’. The Town Clerk urged caution, stating he was not against Cllr Raby’s resolution but that he did not think any good would come of it. In his opinion, the time to raise the question of the preservation of the building was at the when the property was sold, and given that the plans submitted by the new owner complied with the bye-laws, the Council were bound to pass them. Cllr Jones was also sceptical and commented that he believed the building had been spoiled when the schoolroom was demolished years ago and considered it too late to be talking about preserving an ancient fabric now. Alderman Andrews was keen to ensure that the new owner of the building, a clothier called Mr F M Tayler, was treated fairly. Despite these concerns, the amendment was carried with four members voting against.

In the months that followed, a gentleman, whose name isn’t given in the press but might well rhyme with ‘maybe’, offered to buy the building from Mr Tayler along with the adjacent strip of land where the demolished schoolroom had stood, and was now owned by the Lichfield and Rugeley Billposting Co who had erected a hoarding on it. When negotiations failed, the correspondence between the three parties was published in both the Lichfield Mercury and the Staffordshire Advertiser, along with letters of support for the preservation of the building from a representative from the Society of Antiquaries and one of Thomas Minors’ descendants. In the face of public criticism, Mr Tayler, wrote to the Lichfield Mercury asking for a right to reply, and they obliged by publishing the letter which he had sent to the Town Clerk which sheds light on his reasons not for selling whilst also throwing shade at the council:

In answer to your enquiry re Am I willing to place a purchase price on Minors’ House?, I regret that under the circumstances I cannot, as the lease of tenancy of my present business is drawing to a close. Having purchased Minors’ House with the definite purpose of converting the same into business premises for my own use, I cannot in justice to myself and my family, consent to sell. I certainly thought that your Council placed no historic value on this property, for did they not themselves destroy that portion of the said building which was in reality the key for which it was originally built, and after, placed the remainder upon the market without any restrictions, thus closing its historical career?

Fast forward to November 1954. F M Tayler is now an Alderman on whom the Freedom of the City is about to be conferred and a Lichfield Mercury column called ‘Round and About’ looks back to the controversy surrounding Minors House. Apparently, hanging on the wall in Alderman Tayler’s house at the time was a large metal key and wooden bolt which belonged to a Norman oak door from the Minors School, which had been offered to the council for the city’s museum.  Presumably it never ended up there as the columnist was trying to track it down and was told by Mr Birch the solicitor that it might be the one in the old Friary wall on St John Street, which ran around his property, as the council had put it there about 20 years ago and he didn’t know where it came from. With nothing but this circumstantial evidence to go on, the columnist asked if anyone could throw any further light on this. Now, I only have a dark and grainy picture of the door and I am no expert in Norman carpentry but I’m sure that this is not the door we are looking for.

Minors House and the Norman door circa 1914.  Photos from the Lichfield Mercury via the British Newspaper Archive

Not the Norman door

If you know where to look, traces of Minors House can still be found. One of the steeped gables from the original 17th century building remains and I am sure that I have seen masonry from the porch in the museum at St Mary’s. However, door to door enquiries about where that ancient bit of oak ended up are continuing.

Minors House at the present day

Lichfield Mercury Archive
Staffordshire Advertiser Archive
Lichfield: Education’, in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14, Lichfield, ed. M W Greenslade (London, 1990), pp. 170-184