Sites for Sore Eyes

Springs and wells are sources not only of water but also of folklore and legend. There are healing springs and fortune telling wells. Some are associated with saints, others with spirits.

St Chad's in Lichfield. Photo by Lichwheeld

St Chad’s in Lichfield was believed to cure sore eyes (photo by Lichwheeld)

On Monday 9th February, Ross Parish, author of the Holy and Healing Wells blog and a series of books on the subject, will be giving a talk to our Lichfield Discovered group. Ross will be telling us about some of the sites we have here in Staffordshire and some of the traditions and stories associated with them. The talk starts at 7.30pm at St Mary’s in the Market Square (where there was a once a well of the same name at the west end!) and there is no entry charge, although voluntary donations towards the running of St Mary’s are always welcome. After the talk, people are invited to stay behind to discuss the future vision of the county’s archive and heritage service, over a cup of Staffordshire water (plus milk and teabag).

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The Dunk Cow

Trying to find a bit more out about the old Dolphin pub in Bore St, I had a look through the newspaper archives. I did find one really nice snippet – at the grand opening of Lichfield’s Co-op in 1914, Councillor JR Deacon, who built the new Co-op on the site of the Dolphin, presented the chairman with a walking stick made from one of the old inn’s beams.

However, I confess that sometimes when trying to find information in old newspapers, I often find myself distracted. I am utterly incapable of passing by a story with an intriguing headline.  If you think you could stay focused after turning up ‘Antics of Mad Cow. Swam Stowe Pool Twice’ in a search, then I salute your willpower. I, however, needed to know more about these events immediately and thought I’d share the unusual story here.

Ducks but no cows. By the way, is this Johnson’s Willow (well its replacement anyway)?

In 1946, two young men were spending a quiet Monday afternoon fishing at Stowe Pool Suddenly, they noticed a cow swimming towards them. The heifer got out of the water, charged at them and then started swimming back towards Stowe St. However, something must have changed its mind, as the cow then decided to come back, charging at a policeman who had just arrived on the scene. By this time, the fishermen and the pool attendant, a Mr Boston, were hiding behind Johnson’s Willow. Deciding to make a run for it Mr Boston headed for the Boathouse and the two lads jumped over the hedge. Unfortunately, so did the cow. With PC King in hot pursuit, the poor beast ran up The Windings and into a field, where finally having calmed down, it stayed overnight, before ‘being removed’ the following morning (the Mercury reporter thought it had been destroyed). Where the cow came from, and what caused this odd behaviour is not known. For those involved, I’m sure that this was quite a frightening experience at the time, but I do wonder if, once the shock had subsided, it went on to become a favourite family story e.g. “Tell us about the time you got chased by a cow, Grandad…”?

By coincidence the story is actually linked to the previous post about the Dolphin in a way – the two young men were butchery assistants at the Co-op! From a dolphin in Bore St to a cow in Stowe Pool, I love how you just never know what story is going to turn up next!

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)

Passing Time

Happy New Year! A couple of days ago, many of us will have seen in 2013 to the bongs of Big Ben. Rather appropriately, Gareth Thomas from Lichfield District Council has found another fantastic document in his treasure trove, relating to our very own clock tower here in Lichfield, said to have been inspired by that famous London landmark. Gareth, in his characteristic generosity, has scanned it on and sent it over for me to share here. A while back I did another post on the Clock Tower (which you can read here), and it’s fantastic when more parts of the jigsaw come to light!

Entitled ‘ Agreement for sale and purchase of the Clock Tower situated in Saint John Street in the City of Lichfield’, the document describes how on 24th August 1927, the Lichfield Conduit Lands Trustees (some of their names will be familiar I’m sure!) agreed to sell the Clock Tower to the Mayor Alderman and Citizens of the City of Lichfield for £50. One of my favourite parts is where it states that:

‘any coins or other articles of value or antiquity which may be discovered shall be considered the property of the Trustees and shall be handed over to the Warden immediately they are found (sic)’

I wonder if they did find anything? And if so, did they hand it over?!

A plaque recording this event can be found on the Clock Tower:

The document can be seen by clicking on the PDF links below (it was too big to add as one whole document!)

Clock 1

Clock 2

Clock 3

Clock 4

As you may know,  the Clock Tower was erected in 1863, making it 150 years old this year. I think it would be fantastic if, as a celebration, we could give people  a closer look at the tower that they pass by and the clock that they hear each day, by opening it up to the public (I did go up Birmingham’s ‘Big Brum’ clock tower once so I don’t think it’s too harebrained an idea).

Here is a bona fide harebrained idea though – what about starting a new tradition of seeing in the New Year with the bongs of the Lichfield Clock Tower? I wonder if there are any records of people doing this in the past, when we didn’t have Jools Holland on the tellybox to see in the New Year with. Shall we make a date then?  New Year’s Eve 2013 in the Festival Gardens. I’ll bring some party poppers….

Sources:

http://www.lichfielddc.gov.uk/info/200161/tourism/760/heritage_trail/9

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lichfield_Clock_Tower

Gareth Thomas and his magical storeroom 😉

Through Doors and Windows

Anyone who has read the Written into Lichfield History and Making your Mark posts, will know that Gareth Thomas has been exploring the Lichfield District Council Offices, and very kindly sharing the photos here on the blog.  Gareth’s doing this because the buildings were once the Lichfield Grammar School, and generations of pupils, dating back to the 17th century have left their mark on the building.

I like the idea that even those who didn’t go as far as leaving their name still left a trace on the worn bannisters and floorboards

Last time, we got as far as the attic doors, where someone called ‘Watkins’, carved his name in February 1714/5. Amongst the other graffiti is the name WHoll, and Roger Jones (Ziksby) put forward the idea that this could be William Holl the engraver, which certainly warrants further investigation.  Back then the doors would have lead to the dormitories for the boarders at the school. Now thanks to Gareth, we get to have a look at what lies behind those potentially three hundred year old doors……

Who was WL Holden? Does C1 refer to his form or something else?

To us these are old timber beams, yet once they were brand new, and according to the Lichfield Conduit Lands archives, mostly donated in the form of individual trees!

 

Gareth has taken some photographs from the windows. Not only does this give an interesting perspective of the city, it also invites you to imagine what the boys would have seen looking out of this window, what’s changed and what’s the same.

In around 1813, Cowperthwaite Smith was appointed headmaster of the school with a salary of £170 per annum, plus rent free accomodation. At the time, board, lodging & tuition was being charged at between 40 and 50 guineas a year for each scholar. In 1828, according to the ‘Account of Public Charities in England and Wales’, there were 18 boarders, and around 30-40 students in total. It goes on to say that the only scholars receiving their education free at the school were the ‘six children of poor men born within the City’ (who were also given money for books, and slightly more curiously brooms, when the school was first endowed).  The people of Lichfield were apparently not happy that their grammar school was no longer a free school.

By then end of Cowperthwaite Smith’s time as headmaster in the 1840s, no boys at all were coming to the school. Allegations were made in the Wolverhampton Chronicle that Lichfield Grammar School had been closed for six years due to the the misconduct of the master. It claimed he was violent towards the children in his care, and that ‘his treatment of two boys on two separate subjected his modes of punishment to investigation before the magistrates one boy having subsequently confined to his bed under surgical advice for a fortnight’.

The newpaper was sued for its attempt to injure Cowperthwaite’s ‘good name fame and credit’ as a schoolmaster and clergyman, and ‘to bring him into public scandal infamy and disgrace’ and ‘to hold him up to public contumely scorn and ridicule and to vex harass oppress impoverish and wholly ruin (him)’. I’m trying to piece together exactly what happened as best I can from the court cases that followed these allegations and I’m hoping that the original newspaper reports might be available. There’s also a vast amount of information at Lichfield Record Office that I’d like to look through, and I think it’s best not to speculate or comment further until I have read more on this.

I am also working on another post as Gareth’s investigations took him to another part of the building, where he made another fantastic discovery, including our oldest dated graffiti yet.  In the meantime, Gareth, do you fancy going up that ladder in the attic?

(1) A Concise Description of the Endowed Grammar Schools of England and Wales, Nicholas Carlise 1818

http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1846/apr/01/the-lichfield-grammar-school

http://www.lichfielddc.gov.uk/info/100004/council_and_democracy/588/history_of_district_council_house/2

http://eagle.cch.kcl.ac.uk:8080/cce/persons/DisplayPerson.jsp?PersonID=19831

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

 

War & Elford Hall – Updated

 I went to Birmingham archives today, to hopefully see some records that would reveal more about the now demolished Elford Hall, on the Tamworth/Lichfield border.

Why did I have to go into Birmingham to see the records of somewhere in Staffordshire? Well, the Elford Estate has been under the ownership of Birmingham City Council since 29th September 1936. It was given by Mr Francis Howard Paget for the ‘healthy recreation of the inhabitants of the City of Birmingham’. Mr Paget took the decision to donate his Staffordshire estate to a public body, after he witnessed his friend being blinded by a grenade in the trenches of WWI.

Council House, Birmingham.

The records I looked at today were the minutes of the Elford Hall committee meetings held at the Council House between July 1936 and June 1945. I may be wrong, but I get the impression that the committee which included the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, weren’t quite sure how to make best use of this generous gift, especially the Hall. There is talk of  the Municipal Officers Guild taking over house & gardens as a rest home for members of staff, or if not them the NUT. Whilst such decisions were being made, the Estate Agent’s report of December 1937 tells how the Hall was ‘being kept aired as far as possible. Some bedding & soft furnishinings stored.’ He also suggests that pensioners from the estate should be recruited as park keepers to look after the grounds, with the assistance of a woman from Fisherwick.

Elford Hall’s history had already been changed by one war and then a second, different conflict also left its mark. On 21st May 1937, almost 4,000 Basque children seeking refuge from the Spanish Civil war arrived in Britain. Some were eventually sent to Elford.  There are only a few mentions of this in the minutes – in the meeting notes dated 12th June 1939, the committee was reminded that since their last meeting, arrangements had been made, after consultation with Mr Paget to accommodate number of Spanish children at Elford Hall. Also, in December 1938, when an application for the hall to be used to house young German male refugees (who after agricultural training would be sent to Palestine) was rejected on the grounds it was fully occupied by Spanish children. However, it seems that by the time the committee went to visit in June 1939, the Hall was once again vacant. It was recorded that the Hall had sustained a considerable amount of damage.

Other subsequent applications for use (German/Czechoslovakian refugees and as a children’s hostel) were deemed unsuitable. On 17th July 1939, another suggestion – a convalescent home – was put forward. I imagine such discussions were interrupted by the declaration of war less than two months later. The only other reference I could find to the Estate during the period the records covered (June 1936 to June 1945) was in July 1940, when an allegation of trespass and damage to trees & fences by soldiers manning a searchlight at Elford was made. The Hall was demolished in 1964 but as I mentioned in my The Garden of Elford post, the walled garden and some of the associated buildings are in the process of being restored.

There wasn’t as much information on the Basque refugees as I had hoped. There is however some uncatalogued material held at the library which may add to the story and which I will seek out in the not too distant future.

Edit:

Whilst having a look at Mr Paget’s family tree, I found out that his daughter, Elizabeth Beatrice Rochfort-Boyd had been a prisoner of war at Camp Holmes in the Philipines. In September 1943 she wrote to her father, as can be seen here. Elizabeth was born in January 1913, making her around 30 years old at the time of her imprisonement. The Camp was liberated in February 1945.

Mr Francis Howard Paget died on 9 April 1945 aged 58 at his home in Kent.

Edit 2:

For context, I found a news report dated 28th April 1937 from The Guardian archive regarding the bombing of Guernica, which can be read here.

Also a 10 minute report from the Witness program on the BBC World Service, in which Snr. Hermino Martinez talks about his evacuation can be listened to here. This doesn’t directly relate to Elford but gives some idea of the experience of the Basque evacuees.

Also of interest is an article in The Black Country Bugle about the Basque children who stayed at Aldridge Lodge in Walsall. You can read it here.

Edit 3: A report in the Lichfield Mercury edition of August 13th 1937 describes a meeting of Elford Parish Council. The refugees were due to arrive at Elford in mid-August and the meeting records the concerns of the Council about the effect that housing the refugees in the Hall may have on the village.

Sources:

Elford Hall Sub-Committee Minutes 1936 to 1945

www.elfordhallgarden.org.uk/history

http://www.basquechildren.org