Appeal of Bells

If you heard the bells of St Michael’s ringing out late yesterday afternoon, you were listening to the launch of a restoration fund for the bells, which are in need of essential maintenance work.

According to the churchwardens accounts, the bells have been rung in the past to mark important national occasions, and in the bell tower there are plaques commemorating some of these and more locally significant events.

The blue plaque commemorates the ringing of bells for the marriage of Charles & Diana; the brown one commemorates a farewell peal for the retirement of Prebendary P Howard in 1947

Bell Tower steps

After negotiating the narrow and windy staircase back down into the church, I had a look around the rest of this lovely building. According to the listed building description, although the church is thought to be 13th century in origin (with a 14thc tower), much of the building dates back to the restoration of 1842/3 by Thomas Johnson. However, the church history booklet (a snip at £1.50!) suggests that whilst the church had undoubtedly needed some restoration work at this time, much of this work was  unnecessary and things of historic interest may have been lost. The booklet goes on to say that some of the restoration work was undone at the end of the 19thc.

Royal coat of arms(1711) above the chancel

The royal arms, as seen above the chancel, are from 1711, and replaced an earlier version. I’ve read that after the reformation, anglican churches were encouraged to display the royal coat of arms somewhere prominent, reminding people that the monarch was also head of the Church of England. The custom of displaying the royal arms continued until Victorian times, but these days can be found in only around 15% of churches. You can read more about the Churches Conservation Trust’s guide to Royal Arms in English churches here.

Having previously read that the Marquis of Donegal had erected a spacious family mausoleum near the chancel, I have to confess I was a little disappointed to find no trace at all of the ostentatious Chichesters of Fisherwick Hall. However, the church booklet explained that the rabbit infested mausoleum had been replaced by a stokehold in the 1842/3 restoration, and the bones buried elsewhere. Seems like none of Donegal’s buildings were destined to last long….

The chap below fared a little better than Donegal. Whilst his bones also ended up elsewhere, his effigy survived the ‘restoration’ and is behind a bench in the chancel. It’s thought to be William de Walton who endowed the church with land and died around 1344. I particularly like the inclusion of the faithful dog watching over his master in death.

One man & his dog – William de Walton’s effigy

The church has several other monuments, including most famously, that of Samuel Johnson’s mother, father and brother.

Back outside in the churchyard,  a woman approached me and asked ‘Are you thinking the same as me?’. Actually I wasn’t, because whilst I was thinking about missing bones, the woman was thinking about missing apples. Apparently in previous years, rich windfall pickings were to be had from the trees growing alongside the footpath. This year it was hard to spot a single fruit.

Peals but no peel

One thing I read in the history booklet, which I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on,  is that around the year 2000, a pump was installed to keep the crypt from flooding. I read in an archaeology report that ‘St Michael’s is a low hill with natural springs’. Could this have anything to do with the flooding?  I’ll explore this ancient burial ground in a post of its own. In the meantime, perhaps we could get the University of Leicester involved in a hunt for William de Walton and the Marquis of Donegal. They seem quite good at that sort of thing…..

Part of the 9 acres making up St Michael’s churchyard

Sources:

St Michael’s Church. Lichfield – A Short History by Rev Carpenter 1947

A short account of the city and close of Lichfield – Thomas George Lomax, John Chappel Woodhouse & William Newling

Archaeological Desktop Survey OSA Report No. OSAO6DTO2 (Onsite Archaeology January 2006)

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Tree following: In theory

I know I haven’t updated about the cider orchard at The Walled Garden at Woodhouse Community Farm for a while. This is because nothing much has happened!

 

More is going on in our cider co-operative than with our cider trees however. We’re meeting up soon to discuss the theory of cider, with a more practical day planned for the autumn. Will we have any apples by then? Maybe, but not from this orchard…..

There’s an open day at the farm this Sunday from 2pm to 5pm, which is a great opportunity to go along and have a look at this lovely place and find out more about the brilliant Community Supported Agriculture scheme they run. Say hi to the trees for me!

Tree Following: Sticking it out

To contrast with Leomansley Woods, I’m also following the newly planted cider orchard at The Walled Garden at Woodhouse Community Farm.

The majority of the orchard was planted on a cold but sunny day in January, but there were 8 more trees to be planted and so I went along last Sunday. Another sunny day, but a bit warmer this time!

There will be apples.....

 

.....one day.

Some buds are starting to form, but other than that, there’s not much change.  So it looks like it might be some time before we get to make any cider. Until then, sitting & chatting in the sun in the beautiful surroundings of the farm,  a cup of tea and one of Annamarie’s cakes will do just fine 🙂

By the way, The Walled Garden have their own website here where you can find out more about the farm and sign up for their community supported agriculture scheme.

Take a Bough

I’ve heard about a project called Tree Following via Gary Webb on Twitter, who is following a London Plane at Compton Verney. The project is being run by Lucy Corrander on her Loose and Leafy blog and the idea is to follow the life of a tree or a group of trees, returning at various points in the year to note the changes and what’s going on.

I love how trees reflect the changing seasons but also what they can tell us about our changing surroundings. For example, some like those at Beacon Park, are reminders of an old estate, when the buildings themselves are long gone.  I like the idea that each species of tree has a history, with its own uses and customs and also that there have been trees in the past which have been so important they have given their name to an area, such as the Shire Oak at Walsall Wood.

Which tree(s) should I follow though? Here are some contenders, in and around Lichfield.

My current thoughts are that I’ll choose a tree at Leomansley Wood and also our cider orchard at Fisherwick. I hope the comparison between a mature woodland tree and an orchard sapling will be interesting. Although, as you can see from the photo, the cider trees aren’t much more than sticks at the moment, so we’ll see!

Wood Work

This week started with a brand new orchard and ended with an ancient woodland.

Last weekend, I helped to plant cider trees at Woodhouse Community Farm in Fisherwick. It wasn’t just the potential liquid reward that got me out of bed on a cold and frosty Sunday morning, there were a couple of other reasons!

It's got a lot of potential....

 

Orchards are becoming a rare habitat – according to Natural England, it’s estimated that the overall orchard area in England has declined by 63% since 1950. A traditional orchard can support around 1,800 species of wildlife. Although it will clearly take a while for the new cider orchard to reach this stage, I’m hoping that it will help to redress the balance a little bit! The People’s Trust for Endangered Species recently created an inventory of the traditional orchards in England, and you can read the summary of their findings for Staffordshire here.

Being involved with the orchard will also give me an opportunity to learn something about some disappearing traditional skills and knowhow. Growing fruit trees is a fascinating business, although I clearly have much to learn as I was the only person whose tree had to be dug up and replanted. Hopefully I’ll be better at the cider making bit, but if not, there’s always the cider drinking part which I’m fairly confident about.

In contrast to this budding orchard, on Friday I found myself amongst much older trees. Merrion’s Wood is a lovely nature reserve, just outside Walsall town centre and looked after by Walsall Countryside Services. Bluebells are already starting to shoot up all over there and countryside ranger Morgan told me that these plants were an indicator of ancient woodland, along with several other species.

Ancient Woodland in Leomansley

Leomansley Wood is full of bluebells in springtime. An interactive map of habitats from DEFRA confirms it as ‘ancient replanted woodland’. This means that although the site has been continuously wooded since 1600 (at least), the trees are more recent. It’s interesting that the place name is thought to include the celtic element ‘lemo’, meaning an elm (1) or possibly ‘leme’, lime tree.  The ‘-ley’ suffix is thought to come from the Anglo Saxon ‘leah’ meaning ‘clearing’ (2).

I think that to find a nearby semi natural ancient woodland, you need to visit Hopwas Woods near Whittington Barracks.  I should probably do this myself at some point! It’s worth pointing out that only 1.2% of the UK is made up of this kind of habitat and that it is irreplaceable. (3)

The DEFRA map also shows a traditional orchard between Maple Hayes and Jubilee Wood (where the conduits are!) with several others around Burntwood and Chorley. Perhaps even more interestingly, it seems there are two patches of traditional orchard in a built up residential area of Lichfield. I don’t know if I should say where, it might encourage scrumping!

I’ve also noticed several apple trees growing alongside the A51. How did these get here – discarded apple cores from car windows or remnants of something else? Perhaps more importantly, can I use these to make cider? 😉

Footnotes:

Don’t just take my work for how brilliant Woodhouse Community Farm is! There is a snowdrop walk on Sunday 5th February at 10.30am, where you can also see some of the things they have planned for the future.

The Woodland Trust point out that although many ancient woodlands have been recorded on inventories, there may also be unidentified fragments out there. Although bluebells don’t always indicate ancient woodland, if you do spot any growing this spring it might be worth having a closer look to see what else is around! The Woodland Trust have a really interesting guide to ancient woodland that you can read by clicking here.

Sources:

1) ‘Lichfield: The place and street names, population and boundaries ‘, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 37-42.
 2) http://finds.org.uk/staffshoardsymposium/papers/mattiasjacobsson

(3)http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-1437

Malus John Downie

I’ve been going on about the Elford Pippin since before the summer, but a few days ago I noticed this at the Friary by the Festival Gardens in Lichfield.

First raised in Whittington in 1875

Another local apple. Unlike the Elford Pippin this one is still around. Actually, I looked for its ‘rich, orange red fruits’ today (it’s in season in October) but I couldn’t find any evidence of the tree at the Festival Gardens. However,  you can still buy it from all good tree shops! It was apparently raised by a Mr E Holmes at Whittington & was named after his friend and fellow nurseryman John Downie.  I hear that the apples are the finest of all crabs – good to eat when ripe and make an excellent jelly.

It seems quite an appropriate day to do this post, as there is an association between apples & Halloween. Along with apple bobbing, I can also remember being told that if I peeled an apple and threw the peel over my shoulder it would show me the initial of who I’d marry. I seem to recall doing this several times over until I got the initial I wanted…..There was something about sticking apple pips to your face as well!

I had thought aboutdoing a post about spooky goings on in the area, mainly because I wanted to do a post with the title ‘Witchfield’ 😉 Sadly,  I ran out of time but if anyone does have any tales to share…….