On the Rocks

Lichfield is about as far as you can get from the sea. Somebody once wrote to the Guardian to say there was a plaque somewhere in the city making this claim but I’ve never seen it. However, being stuck in the middle of the country has not prevented the formation of the Lichfield Lighthouse Company, a group who meet at the Kings Head to sing sea shanties each month. It also didn’t stop me from heading out to look for shells in the city centre yesterday.

I’d read about the London Pavement Geology project over breakfast and I persuaded the other half to put his geology degree to good use and help me find out what Lichfield is made of, other than the ubiquitous sandstone (lovely though it is).

Lichfield Cathedral on Martyrs Plaque, Beacon Park

Lichfield Cathedral on Martyrs Plaque made from sandstone

Our first port of call was another of landlocked Lichfield’s nautical links. Unless you live under a rock, you’ll probably be familiar with Beacon Park’s statue of Captain Smith which someone from Hanley in Stoke on Trent tries to appropriate whenever there’s a new chapter in the Titanic story, due to the mistaken belief that the statue was originally intended for their town. On this occasion, it wasn’t the bronze captain but the plinth he was stood on that interested me. The nearby plaque told me it was Cornish Granite, a material which has also been used at the Titanic Memorial in London and the memorial at Belfast. I wonder whether there are any symbolic reasons for choosing this stone alongside the practical and aesthetic ones?

Captain Smith plaque, Beacon Park

Captain Smith plaque, Beacon Park

Not far from the Captain, King Edward VII stands on a base made of Hopton Wood stone. Get up close and you can see that the limestone is full of fossils including (and please correct me if I’m wrong) corals, crinoids and brachiopods from around 350 million years ago when the area that was to eventually become Derbyshire was under water. Lichfield wasn’t always so far from the sea!  It seems a similar stone has been used for the plinth Samuel Johnson sits on in the Market Square, as that too is full of fossils.

Samuel Johnson statue, Market Square, Lichfield

Samuel Johnson statue, Market Square, Lichfield

Fossils in Dr Johnson statue Fossils in Dr Johnson statue 2Of all the building materials we saw on our travels, the most unusual were to be found in a wall on Christchurch Lane. According to a booklet on the history of Leomansley compiled by the Friends of Christ Church, it was built by Cloggie Smith who used anything suitable that he had in his yard at the time. So, no Portland Stone here, just two Belfast Sinks. Are there any other examples of unorthodox construction materials used in and around the city?

Wall mounted Belfast sink

Wall mounted Belfast sink

You’ve probably guessed that I am way out of my depth when talking about geology, but the point is that after eleven years, seven months and two days here in Lichfield, someone made me look afresh at things so familiar that I barely saw them any more. Sometimes, the most amazing things are right under your nose. Or, in this case, under Dr Johnson’s and King Edward VII’s noses.

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King Edward VII statue Lichfield Fossils in King Edward VII statue Lichfield

 

Serving Time

Throughout the year, the Lichfield Discovered group has hosted some fascinating talks on a range of subjects from symbolism in cemeteries (we never did find out about the mackerel!) to urban exploration and we’ve visited pubs, the Cathedral Close, Roman forts, pill boxes and tunnels. Before we hang up our boots and put the lid back on the biscuit tin for 2014, we have two more events coming up, which I want to let people know about.

This coming Monday (10th November), we are delighted to welcome local author and journalist Joss Musgrove Knibb who will be taking a look at the previously unpublished letters of four Staffordshire Regiment soldiers who fought, and in some cases died, in the trenches of WW1. The vibrant letters of Alfred Bull of Lichfield, Sydney Norton of Tamworth, James Stevenson of Stoke-on-Trent and Jake Armes on the 1914 Christmas Truce bring the voices of these men vividly to life. With lots of photographs, stories and ‘trench humour’, it will be a thought provoking way of marking the centenary. The event takes place at 7pm at St Mary’s in the Market Square, Lichfield. There is no charge, but donations towards the centre are always appreciated.

First Lines by Joss Musgrove Knibb

First Lines by Joss Musgrove Knibb

The letters are part of Joss’ recently published book – First Lines. First Lines is published by Gazelle Press and is available to purchase across the region. Local outlets include WH Smiths (Three Spires Shopping Centre), St Mary’s Heritage Centre, The Cathedral Shop and the National Memorial Arboretum. First Lines retails at £9.99.

On Saturday 15th November we are meeting at the Guildhall at 2pm, where we’ll be exploring what remains of the city’s old gaol, first opened in 1548. After three hundred years, changes in the law meant that Lichfield’s prisoners were transported to Stafford after their trial, but a small number of cells were retained and used as the city lock-up. In 1847, the Inspector of Prisons visited the gaol and found that ‘the initials and names of many prisoners were cut deep into the wood work’. On our visit we’ll be attempting to locate and record this graffiti and have access to some of the cells which are not usually open to the public. Any names or initials that are discovered will then be compared with prison documents held by Lichfield Record Office at a later date. As it would be good to have an idea of numbers (it might get a bit cosy in those cells if there are too many of us!), please let me know if you would like to join us. We also need people to bring torches and cameras to help with the recording process.

prison door

We’re currently working on next year’s programme of events for Lichfield Discovered but so far we’ve pencilled in a visit to the Spital Chapel – one of Tamworth’s oldest and loveliest buildings, a talk on Holy Wells of the Midlands, a visit to the timber framed Sinai Park House (where there’s also a holy well!) and closer to home, an exploration of Beacon Park and Beacon Street. As ever, we are open to suggestions and so if there’s anywhere you’d like to visit, or anything you’d like to know more about, tell us and we’ll see what we can do! Dates to follow, so watch this space. You can also keep up to date by following us on twitter @lichdiscovered or liking us on Facebook.

Spital Chapel of St James, Tamworth

Spital Chapel of St James, Tamworth. During an archaeological dig in the latter half of the 20thc, to find any earlier structures on site, three skeletons were unexpectedly discovered in the area where the table is.

 

Made of Stone

During the last couple of weeks, if you’ve walked along the path that runs along the top of Beacon Park (between the A51 and the football pitches), chances are that you might have spotted this pile of moss covered stones. A lot of the vegetation in this area has been removed recently, making their presence much more obvious than when I first came across them in Spring last year.

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Back when I first noticed them, I did a bit of asking around and I was given three different stories regarding their provenance. The most likely explanation came from someone at Lichfield District Council who said that the stonework was a section of the balustrade which runs around the park at the Beacon Street/Bird Street entrance, which had been removed to make a new corner entrance (near to the Chandlers kiosk/public toilets) sometime in the 1980s. However, someone else thought that the stones were what remained of a structure belonging to the farm which once occupied this area of the park and another person suggested that they were part of some sort of tower which was at Stowe Pool until it was dismantled after becoming structurally unsafe.

Last week, Bob Houghton, from the Burntwood Family History Group and Lichfield and Hatherton Canal Restoration Trust noticed them and sent me an email to say that some of the people who work at the park had told him that they were from the old post office which once stood on Bird Street, where Ego now is. So now we have yet another explanation!

To be honest, I’m torn between the truth and enjoying the ongoing speculation about what the stones are and how they came to be in a patch of woodland in the park. As the moss grows fat on these old stones, I hope that the stories keep growing too.

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The last time I walked past the stones,  I found a handful of bits and bobs scattered around them.  I’m pretty sure these are jigsaw pieces to other stories and nothing at all to do with this little puzzle. However,  if you want to include a scrabble tile, some pottery, a piece of tile and an old clay pipe into your version of the story, then please feel free!

 

Banned Stand

How do you make a bandstand? Take away the chairs. Or if you’re lucky, a local dignitary will provide you with one. In July 1893, during his third stint as Mayor of Lichfield, Major John Gilbert presented the city with a bandstand to mark the marriage of Princess Mary of Teck and the Duke of York (later George V and Queen Mary).

The Bandstand in 1905, taken from Wikipedia Commons

The Bandstand in 1905, taken from Wikipedia Commons

It stood in the Recreation Grounds of what is now Beacon Park but by 1925, Major Gilbert’s gift had become a bit of a problem. In March, the secretary of the Lichfield Cycling Institute wrote to the City Council saying that since the cycle track had been created in the Recreation Grounds, many thought that the bandstand should be removed. Even with padding around the structure, there was the risk of an appalling accident. Councillor Perrins agreed with the cyclists. In his opinion the bandstand was a death-trap and should be removed, or the track shut. Alderman Winter wanted the wishes of the late donor’s family to be taken into account but Councillor Tayler thought this was ‘sentiment before service’. In the end, the matter was referred to the Museum Committee. In December 1925, the Mercury gave an update on ‘that bandstand’. Lichfield City Council had decided to keep it where it was as it would collapse if it was moved. It was fortified with concrete, bricks and stone (some of which came from the old Friary – more bits of that ancient building can supposedly be found at the toilets in the park).  One member of the council defended the bandstand’s retention on the grounds it was an object of beauty.  However, the Mercury correspondent’s view was that ‘it is even less useful than it is beautiful’. One concession that was made to public demand was that the railings near to the cycle track were taken in line with the base of the stand. The Mercury concluded by suggesting that Lichfield be grateful for these small mercies, ‘even if the circumstances do not incline us to raise a song of joy about them’.

I think the bandstand was round abouts here

I think the bandstand was round abouts here

I believe that eventually the bandstand was eventually removed due to costs of upkeep. I’m not sure exactly when this was but believe it to have been sometime in the 1960s (it doesn’t show on a 1966 map of Lichfield). When I went to have a look at where the bandstand once stood, I spotted this old metal post. It looks to me as if it was part of the old gates leading into the recreation grounds, which you can see on the postcard above.

You never know what's lurking in the shrubbery...

You never know what’s lurking in the shrubbery…

Rumour has it that the bandstand itself is also still to be found in the park somewhere… Sounds a little unlikely? You’d be amazed at what people leave lying around gathering moss. I’ve heard that over the years people have called for a new Beacon Park bandstand. Yet, prior to its removal the original doesn’t seem to have been that popular or well used (although some blamed the lack of interest on Lichfield’s junior citizens for running around the bandstand making a noise, and driving the spectators away). Is a new bandstand a good idea or rose tinted nostalgia? Either way, I’d love to know if you find any bits of the old one in the shrubbery.

 

Battle Ground

One Lichfield place name I’ve always been curious about is Bunker’s Hill. Most people will probably know the name from the car parkin between Lower Sandford Street and the football pitches at Beacon Park, but how did it come about?

Looking towards Bunker’s Hill car park, Beacon Park

According to Howard Clayton’s ‘Loyal and Ancient City’, it’s recorded that during the Civil War, parliamentarian leader Sir William Brereton erected a mount, described by the VCH as a raised defensive position, in the Sandford Street area.  Mr Clayton suggests that the mound known as Bunkers Hill could be the location and in John Shaw’s ‘The Street Names of Lichfield’, the author suggests that the name derives from these earthworks. I’d be really interested to know if there are any relevant archaeology finds from this area of the park. I wanted to see if I could find any more information about the site. I knew that in the 1800s there had been a farm around here and also one of the old lodges to Beacon Place, the mansion which once stood on what is now Seckham Rd (demolished in the 1960s). The original Walsall Rd must have passed nearby too, before the route was altered in 1837. Records show that there were six cottages here by 1883.  In 1901, Mr George Watts, a bricklayer and his family lived in one of those cottages – 5, Bunker’s Hill. By 1916, youngest son Albert was serving in the Motor Transport Section of the ASC and had an account of his experiences in France published by the Lichfield Mercury. He described his first experience of being under fire as ‘terrifying’, but said that one got used to it. After being taken ill, he acted as a clerk in a convalescent home where one of his jobs was writing out ‘Blighty” tickets. How hard it must have been for him that he wasn’t able to write one out for himself. I wonder if he did make it home to Lichfield?  Nowadays, the area has changed considerably. The lodge and farm are long gone, although there is a water tap which seems to correspond with the site of a pump on OS maps. I wonder if this was originally a community pump for those living in the cottages? I haven’t found much else on Lichfield’s Bunker’s Hill specifically, other than in September 1905, Lichfield City Council’s Streets and Highways Committee discussed a proposal to have it enclosed. In the end, it seems that they decided to have Bunker’s Hill levelled and sown with grass seed. However, whilst searching I have found references to other ‘Bunkers Hills’. In his book on Worcestershire place names, local historian and etymologist William Henry Duignan of Walsall wrote that ‘There are numerous ‘Bunkers Hills’ throughout the kingdom, but having met with no early forms, I conclude that it is a mere fancy name conferred after the victory at Bunkers Hill, US in 1775.’. A good example are the cottages at Bottesford in Leicestershire, which were named ‘Bunkers Hill’ after this battle. It’s also interesting that the 38th Regiment of Foot, raised by Col. Luke Lillingston at the Kings Head in Lichfield in 1705, fought at this battle. So, Bunkers Hill may have got its name from the English Civil War, but could there be an outside chance that it may instead relate to the American War of Independence? Perhaps it refers to something else altogether! Any thoughts? Notes 1 – I’ve seen the name spelt with an apostrophe and without Sources Lichfield: From the Reformation to c.1800, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 14-24. Loyal and Ancient City by Howard Clayton The Street Names of Lichfield by John Shaw

Any Old Iron?

When I was a little girl, my great (in all senses of the word!) granddad told me that the railings at the local cemetery in Birmingham had been taken for the war effort.  Ever since then it’s been my understanding that iron and other metals collected from homes, gardens and public places during the Second World War, were transformed into munitions. However, earlier this year a comment on Facebook, suggesting that the recycling of metal for the war effort was a myth, made me question this long held belief.

What is not in doubt is that places up and down the country handed over their railings, including Lichfield.  I understand that to begin with they were offered up on a voluntary basis but in 1941, the Ministry of Supply made the requisition of all ‘unnecessary iron or steel railings’ compulsory, for use in the foundries. The Lichfield Mercury carried an announcement that the Council had been instructed to make a survey and draw up a list of those to be surrendered. Compensation was available but the Ministry hoped that the majority of owners would give their railings freely! I have seen several suggestions that any reluctance was seen as unpatriotic (and perhaps there are hints of this in the discussions that follow below). Guidelines were issued on which type of railings were necessary and therefore exempt including:

1- Railings which should be maintained for safety reasons
2- Railings necessary to prevent cattle from straying
3- Railings of special artistic merit or historic value.

The remains of metal railings at Lichfield Library (the Friary Girls School at the time of WW2).

This perhaps explains why the library (then the Friary Girls School) lost its railings, but the decorative eighteenth century wrought iron gates outside the Angel Croft remained. It’s a little ironic that these listed railings were saved from the scrapheap back in the 1940s only to be left to rust away in-situ in more recent times.

Listed wrought iron gates outside the listed Angel Croft hotel – all appear on the English Heritage ‘At Risk’ register

For an insight into some of the discussions that took place at the time,  I’ve summarised part of a Council meeting that took place in June 1941, concerning the requisition of the railings that once stood around the gardens at Greenhill. Cllr Tayler argued that their removal should be deferred as they were necessary to prevent trespassing in the garden and to protect the water tank underneath, and asked why such a small amount of railings doing such necessary work should be removed when there was a large amount of ornamental fencing in the city still in place. Cllr.Taylor mentioned the railings around the Friary School in particular, explaining that there were more tonnes of railings there than hundredweights at Greenhill. He acknowledged that they were nice to look through, and that one could almost imagine they were looking at the Garden of Eden at times, but argued that if they wanted to get the serpent Hitler out, the Friary’s railings should be taken as a valuable contribution for the Minister’s appeal.

Whilst Cllr Taylor got his way at the Friary, his point about Greenhill was rejected. The Mayor felt that the council could not expect people to remove their railings if the council was unwilling to surrender their own. He also felt the removal of the Greenhill railings would enhance the beauty of that little park, creating a place where the old people of Lichfield could go for an enjoyable smoke. Cllr. Tayler remained unconvinced by this vision – he thought it was more likely to become a car park for Winterton’s auction. Alderman Deacon agreed – he thought opening up the space would lead to trespassing left, right and centre. He also voiced his frustration regarding the government’s campaign saying, “If the necessity for railings is so urgent as the Ministry of Supply said, why don’t they make a requisition for the whole of it…the Government should adopt a proper attitude and make a requisition for the whole of it”. Cllr. Moseley’s attempts to appease both sides by suggesting the decision be deferred to allow the members to visit the site were met with strong words from Cllr. Wiliams. “It seems pitiful to me. We are at war, and the Prime Minister’s speech not many hours ago gave the excuse of getting out of Crete because we did not have sufficient of this and the other. I take it we should never have attempted to recommend the removal of this scrap metal unless it was wanted, and yet these old historical people get up and say, ‘Don’t take it away as it will spoil the beauty of the city’. We have not in Lichfield felt the war, and it would be a damned good thing if we had a shot at it, and then we should realise what our army, navy and air force have to put up with. I can’t understand this spirit of Cromwell today. If we can help a little bit in Lichfield by scrapping our railings, let us do it with a good heart. Cllr Collins echoed these thoughts by adding, “We called it the ancient and loyal city and I think we can add one word – patriotic. I would certainly support the giving up of these railings on patriotic grounds and also that all other railings in Lichfield should be given up”. With these words, Cllr Tayler’s attempt to save Greenhill’s railings was defeated.

At the same meeting, Cllr. Halfpenny suggested that the railings in the Museum Grounds be salvaged and replaced by wire and fencing. The previous summer, the Council had decided to sell the old guns from the Crimean and First World Wars which were on display in the grounds. Again, this decision was reached following a fascinating and, at times, seemingly heated discussion. Cllr. Collins opposed the sale of these old war relics believing that they had been given to Lichfield as a token of the courage, bravery and endurance of the men of the 2nd Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment (the First World War gun had apparently been captured by them on 3 August 1918). It did not cost anything to keep them, not even a rag or a drop of oil, and he believed that there may be many South Staffordshire soldiers who passed by that gun and had a chat about days gone by. The Russian gun from the Crimea put Cllr. Collins in mind of his school days and some of the battles that had been fought. In his opinion, the guns should stay where they were and wait for the next one to come and keep them company. Alderman Bridgeman agreed, as did Cllr. Williams, Alderman Hall and Cllr. Moseley, who thought that they made the grounds more interesting.  However, Cllr. Tayler was firmly in favour of the sale. He believed that the ‘morbid sentimentality’ that they had heard that evening had led the nation into the deplorable condition it now found itself in. Too much consideration had been given to German relics and Germans since 1918. The nation needed iron and what better to have than that sort of scrap iron. He acknowledged that the guns were of interest but felt that they could not afford simply to allow them to lie about for people to look at when they were the very thing the nation and the army wanted. Cllr. Nevill added that the old first world war gun had been lying around for the last twenty years, used only as a plaything for the children. Cllr. Bather reminded the meeting that the country was having to import iron from the States at exorbitant prices and believed, ‘If that gun was turned into a new one to use against the Germans, it would be the finest thing that could happen to it’. The decision was taken to sell the guns to a local metal merchant who had been granted a license by the Ministry of Supply to purchase scrap of all descriptions. However, what became of the guns after that?

The old war guns are taken away after being sold to a local scrap metal firm. Photograph taken from Lichfield Mercury Archive

There are numerous blogs and discussion boards on the subject of Britain’s war effort. On some you’ll find tales of railings being dumped in the Thames and the North Sea and of piles of metal rusting away in fields and depots. Perhaps somewhere amongst the propaganda and the myth, is the real story of what happened to the ‘scrap’ metal collected here in Lichfield and elsewhere.

Notes: There’s a great Pathe film clip called ‘Park Railings for Munitions’, which you can watch here.

Source: Lichfield Mercury Archives

Park Views

When Lichfield District Council applied for Lottery Funding to improve and develop Beacon Park, Minster Pool & Walk and The Garden of Remembrance, the ‘Friends of Lichfield’s Historic Parks Group’ was set up as part of the bid. Although the work has now been completed, the Friends group has continued and have now also taken Stowe Pool and Fields under their wing.

People enjoying Fuse Festival 2013 in Beacon Park

The Friends are independent of LDC, made up of a group of residents who want these beautiful and well loved places in the heart of Lichfield to be enjoyed and valued by people of all backgrounds, ages, abilities and interests. Part of their role is to facilitate discussion between Lichfield District Council and users, volunteers, friends and local residents, so that everyone can be involved in decisions made about their parks.

Getting ready to light up Minster Pool with hundreds of flames – Minster Pool June 2012

As a way of connecting with a wider range of park users, the Friends have set up a new Facebook account https://www.facebook.com/FoLHP and want to encourage people to use this forum to share their views on the park, making suggestions and asking questions. Those not on Facebook can email their views to parks@lichfielddc.gov.uk or call the parks team on 01543 308869.

Stowe Pool Regatta June 2012.

I think it’s a great opportunity to have your voice heard, so please join in the discussion. I know I will be! Of course, if you’d like to be more than a Facebook friend, and would like to join the Friends Group itself,  they would be delighted to welcome new members. More information can be found on their leaflet here – Friends of Lichfield’s Historic Parks