Signs of Spring

Every visit to the churchyard of St Michael’s leaves me wondering about the significance of this ancient place in the early chapters of Lichfield history. Thanks to archaeology, some answers have been provided over the years and landscape features such as the natural springs beneath the churchyard may give further clues as to what first drew people to this site thousands of years ago.  Nigel Johnson from Lichfield Lock and Key had told me that the water still flowed, and could be seen seeping out near to the steps up to the churchyard before trickling down Greenhill (except last week when I visited and the water had frozen!)

This natural spring has flooded the church’s crypt in the past.

Last Tuesday’s visit – frozen spring water on a freezing Spring morning

The churchyard was once used as pasture (1) but now the cattle and sheep are long gone and wildlife has been allowed to reclaim much of the churchyard. Bird song fills the air and along the paths and amongst the graves are clusters of spring flowers. Snow drops are still hanging on in there, and primroses and daffodils are now well on their way. During my recent visits, I’ve also met several dogs (and their owners!) and some of the neighbourhood cats.

I noticed that Georgia Locock, a young wildlife enthusiast who has her own blog on Lichfield’s wildlife has also been along to the churchyard on the lookout for Spring recently and you can see her lovely photographs here.

On the south (I think!) side of the church itself, I noticed stone heads, very similar to those at Christ Church. A couple of years prior to working on Christ Church, Thomas Johnson, the Lichfield architect, carried out an extensive restoration here at St Michael’s in 1842/1843 and presumably these heads are one of his additions. Whilst his work at Christ Church is generally applauded, Johnson’s work at St Michael’s has been criticised by some, as much of the original medieval fabric of the church was destroyed during his renovation. (I don’t know much about architecture, and so am not really in a position to comment. However, there does seem to be a certain irony in removing original features, and adding new ‘medieval style’ ones, such as these heads.) Again, as at Christ Church, I wonder who these faces captured in stone belong to and who carved them?

Looks like someone was inspired to create their own head alongside the carved ones….

Many of the  headstones and memorials that surround the church feature the names of the stonemasons that created them – Joseph Johnson of St John St (was this any relation to Thomas?), John Winslow of Tamworth St, John Hamlet of Dam St, James and George Lamb of Sandford St amongst others. Did any of these craftsmen also work on the church itself?

It seems Joseph Johnson may have ended up in a debtors prison. His name appears in the London Gazette, in a section entitled ‘Pursuant to the Acts for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors in England. The following PRISONERS, whose Estates and Effects have been vested in the Provisional Assignee by Order of the Court for Relief of Insolvent Debtors, and whose Petitions and Schedules, duly filed, have been severally referred and transmitted to the County Courts hereinafter mentioned, pursuant to the Statute in that behalf, are ordered to be brought up before the Judges of the said Courts respectively, as herein set forth, to be dealt with according to Law’.  Mr Johnson is listed to go before the Judge of the County Court of Warwickshire, holden at Coventry, on Monday the 21st day of June 1852, at Twelve o’Clock at Noon and is described as,

Joseph Johnson, formerly of the city and county of the city
of Lichfield, Stone Mason and Builder, afterwards of the
same place, Stone Mason, Builder, and Licensed Victualler,
and at the same time of Snow Hill, Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, Stone Mason and Builder, and late of the city
and county of the city of Lichfield, Stone Mason, Builder,
and Licensed Victualler

 

The Edinburgh Gazette of January 16th 1863, notes that John Hamlet, listed as an architectural draughtsman and stonemason of Dam St, Lichfield, has been awarded bankruptcy. How did they fall upon such hard times?  I’d like to find out more about these craftsmen whose job it was to record the lives of others in stone.

Notes:

1 – I was surprised to read in the county history that the churchyard was once let as pasture, although in 1801, the grazing of cattle was deemed inappropriate due to the ‘damage and desecration’ caused and it was decided that only sheep should be allowed. However, this was ignored, with tragic consequences – in 1809, there is an entry in the church register for the burial of a child, Joseph Harper, who was killed by a cow in the church yard.

Sources

Lichfield: Churches’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 134-155.

http://www.london-gazette.co.uk/issues/21325/pages/1619/page.pdf

http://www.edinburgh-gazette.co.uk/issues/7293/pages/92/page.pdf

History, Gazetter and Directory of Staffordshire  (1834), William White

http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/STAFFORDSHIRE/2001-04/0986182998

 

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Bell Vista

A while ago, I wrote about the architect Thomas Johnson and how he had been involved in the restoration of the church of St Michael on Greenhill in 1842/3. In the newspaper archive, I found a report of a meeting of parishioners held at the church, prior to these restoration works.

The article is a bit blurry and hard to read but after much squinting it seems that there was concern that the church was at risk of ‘being reduced to ruins’ and that the churchwardens had appointed Mr Johnson to assess the extent of the dilapidations.  His diagnosis was that the roof, ceiling, spire and a portion of the walls were so unsafe that a large sum of money would be needed to keep up the building. The parishioners expressed their surprise at how bad the situation was. To illustrate just how bad things had got, it was revealed that rabbits had managed to get into the mausoleum of the Marquis of Donegal (he of Fisherwick) and were breeding in the coffins. The outcome was that the land owning parishioners agreed to increase their rates to pay for the necessary work which according to the County History included

 “the reroofing of the nave, the repair of the side aisles and the nave clerestory, the reintroduction of Perpendicular windows in the north aisle, the rebuilding of the north porch, and the remodelling of the south aisle with new buttresses and a south door in place of a window. The gallery was removed. The mausoleum and the vestry room were replaced by a stokehold over which a clergy vestry was built with doors into the chancel and the south aisle; an organ loft was built over the vestry”.

St Michael’s above Stowe Pool

I have never been into the church myself. However, I notice via facebook that the church will be open for viewing tomorrow (between 3pm & 5.30pm) during the launch of the Bell Restoration Fund. You can find out more on their facebook page here and you can read the great article Annette Rubery wrote about the fund here.

The church is of course featured on the ward banner for this part of Lichfield (along with what I had assumed was the Greenhill Bower House, although looking at it again now I’m not so sure…)

Although I’ve never been inside the church, I have been to the churchyard. With claims on Wikipedia that it could be a Mercian tribal necropolis, the site of one of the earliest settlements in Lichfield or the burial place of followers of St Amphibalus, it certainly merits a post of its own one day!

Steps leading up to the churchyard

Edit: I’ve just been thinking about the building on the ward flag, below the church. Could it in fact be the gateway to the old Lichfield Union Workhouse (subsequently St Michael’s Hospital).

Sources:

Lichfield Mercury Archive

Lichfield: Churches’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 134-155