Water Work

One of my favourite weekends in Lichfield is the free and family friendly Fuse festival held at Beacon Park each year. Last year, the appalling weather almost caused the event to be cancelled, yet organisers Lichfield Arts managed to overcome adversity and algae and put on a fantastic festival. This year the weather couldn’t be more different, yet I hear water will still be a feature….

As part of Cafe Fuse, Walsall’s poet laureate, Ian Henery will be reading a poem about Sandfield’s Pumping Station, and the clean drinking water that was distributed to the Black Country from there. Ian will be introduced by David Moore, who as many will know, is passionate about preserving this part of Lichfield’s industrial heritage.

The theme of Fuse this year is ‘Keep it Local’, so get down there his weekend and listen to Ian and other local performers, sample some local food and drink and have yourself a fantastic time in your local park (well, it’s my local park anyway!). Full information on the weekend’s events can be found here.

 

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Hot Fuzz

My interest in cars has always been limited but I do appreciate a good looking classic motor and so I walked through Beacon Park to have a look at some of the examples on display. As I ambled along, daydreaming about which of these vehicles from the past I’d buy if I could ever afford to in the future, one in particular caught my eye.

This is a Morris Six M.S. from 1953. I only know that because it was written on a card in the window along with a short explanation of the car’s history. Apparently it belonged to the Chief Constable of Staffordshire, one of only eleven such models converted to police cars, and now the only one left, rescued from a garage where it had spent twenty eight years. I thought it was interesting – the history of a vehicle is something I’ve never really considered before.

The sun had brought people out in droves and it was great to see the city so busy. As I walked past Minster Pool, resisting the urge to take yet another photo of the spires against the blue sky, the water appeared so green that I peered in to the depths. It soon became apparent that people weren’t the only creatures drawn out by the heat. I knew that there were fish in Minster Pool – I think angling was allowed there some years ago, and believe that hundreds of years ago it was once part of the Vivarium Episcopi, supplying the Bishop with fresh fish  – yet I don’t think I’d ever actually seen one in there. Today, they’d all come to the surface, creating ripples and lots of interest amongst the children on the banks (and me). However, I know as much about fish as I do about cars….

Pillars of the Community

Back in April, I found what I thought were moss covered stone pillars in the undergrowth at Beacon Park, and asked if anyone knew what they were, or where they had come from. Well now, thanks to members of Lichfield District Council and the Beacon Street Area Residents Association, we have not one possible solution but three!

Could they be:

a) a section of balustrading from the Bird St/Beacon St side of the park, removed in the 1980s to create a corner entrance to the park over by the new Chandlers kiosk and the public toilets?

b) part of a structure used by a dairyman to shelter in during bad weather? There was once a farm in the vicinity of the Bunkers Hill Car Park, and a dog walker remembers that before the war, dairy cows were kept on the land that is now the football pitches and woodland.

Beacon Park map. Source: Gareth Thomas and his excellent blog – http://allaboutlichfield.blogspot.co.uk/

c) part of a “tower” that was originally at Stowe pool?  Apparently, after it became unsafe, the tower was dismantled and some of the stonework was put in the woodland.

d) None of the above?!

It’s great how by trying to uncover the story behind the stones, it’s also uncovered other things – the memories of cows on what’s now the football pitch and the possibility of a tower at Stowe Pool for starters! It’s also a good reminder that the version of a story we’ve been told, or the one we remember, might not be altogether correct. That’s not to say that such stories don’t have value, it’s just we need to be careful about accepting things at face value.

By the way,  if I was betting woman I’d go for option a….

Refusing to Bough Down

I didn’t spend as long as I normally do at the Bower yesterday, but I did wander around the busy streets, catching the end of the procession on Dam St, and I was glad to hear that the day had been a success. Something that I’ve always been interested in is the traditions associated with the event and today I found an interesting story from the 1950s about one of those customs.

At dawn on Bower Day in 1952, some of the male residents of Lower Sandford St were gathering elm branches near to Beacon Farm, on the edge of what is now Beacon Park. Apparently every year, for as long as anyone could remember, the boughs had been cut from the trees and used to decorate the houses in ‘Old San’ as the street was known. However, as the men gathered the boughs, a police officer arrived and instructed them to stop, on the orders of the Town Clerk and the Estates Committee of the City Council, as it had been reported that in previous years the trees had been damaged.

The residents of ‘Old San’ were angry that their ancient privilege was being threatened and sent a message back to the Town Clerk and the Mayor, Cllr. C Bridgeman, that if no further boughs were allowed to be cut, then those that had already been collected would be used to barricade Sandford St and prevent the Bower Procession from entering. As tensions rose, the Town Clerk and the Mayor arrived at the scene and gave their permission for residents to continue collecting boughs, providing that no trees were damaged in the process. The boughs were then used to decorate the houses of old Sandford St along with bunting, balloons and slogans, with prizes awarded for the best decorated properties.  One lady, born in Sandford Street in the late nineteenth century, told the reporter that when she was younger the boughs had been taken from the old brook near the Bowling Green Inn. In her opinion,  “When ‘Old San’ finishes, so has the Bower”.

What’s also interesting is that the incident seemed to awaken a fighting spirit within Sandford St. At the start of June, a committee was formed following a outdoor meeting held on some waste ground in the street. With Mr Frank Halfpenny, the former City and County Councillor, as chair, the committee asked Lichfield City Council to address not only the issues that had arisen during Bower Day, but also other matters affecting them. The wanted Sandford Street to be regularly swept and cleaned, the sites owned by the council on the street, described as being in a ‘neglected and disgraceful condition’ to be ‘cleaned up, fenced in and, at the earliest possible opportunity, built on’ and recreation facilities, such as a playground to be provided in the park. The committee also planned to organise the street’s coronation celebrations for the following year, and to send parcels to local men serving in the forces.

I usually watch the Bower procession from outside the Police Mutual on Queen St, not far from Sandford St. As far as I know, the houses are no longer decorated and I’d be interested to know more about this tradition and the Sandford Street community, who clearly had their own strong identity within the city.

Source:

Lichfield Mercury Archive

Gathering Moss

Walking around the edge of Beacon Park, I noticed a pile of moss covered stones in the undergrowth that I’d never seen before.  To me, they look like part of an old building, possibly pillars? It’s a long shot I know, but does anyone recognise them or have any idea as to where these pillars (if that’s what they are!) may have come from?

Whilst on the subject of ‘parts of old buildings found in unexpected places’, I have to mention my old favourite Fisherwick Hall. Back in January, I wrote an article for the Lichfield Gazette which mentioned that the hall had been demolished, but that parts of it had been reused elsewhere. After lying around for some years covered in moss, the pillars from Fisherwick went to the George Hotel in Walsall – you can read the great post written about the hotel by Stuart Williams of Walsall Local History Centre here. However,  I had no idea what had happened to the pillars, following the demolition of the hotel in the 1930s. Therefore, I was delighted when Paul (the editor of the Lichfield Gazette) told me that someone had contacted him, saying that some years ago he had seen them lying on a patch of ground near to the cricket ground in the Highgate area of Walsall. The gentleman described them as lying in pieces and covered with moss and lichen. Sounds familiar! Coincidentally, the site the gentleman described is a stone’s throw from where some of my relatives live, and so the next time I visited I went to take a look, but I had no luck in finding them. So near, yet so far….

Back to our Beacon Park stones, and someone from the Beacon Street Area Residents’ Association has very kindly said that he will ask the people in the know i.e. the Parks team and the Civic Society if they can shed any light on the matter. In the meantime, he’s left me pondering the fact that parts of the old bandstand and cycle track are also apparently also still around in the park somewhere…

Beacon Park bandstand c.1905
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Christ Church Open Day

I’m delighted to see that Christ Church, Lichfield is having an open day. On Saturday 9th March, between 10am and 4pm, visitors will be able to explore this wonderful Victorian building and its architectural features, including the lovely chancel ceiling, original Minton tiles and stained glass, with the help of local history enthusiasts.

The grounds are lovely at this time of year, and a quick check of my photographs from last March tells me that the wild garlic and daffodils should be coming through in the lane alongside the church, so don’t forget to have a look outside as well as in.  There are also the intriguing stone heads around the inside and outside the building, that I wrote about back in January and am still none the wiser about (although I did see some very similar ones at St Michael’s –  a church that Thomas Johnson the architect was involved in restoring a few years before her started work here at Christ Church)!

The open day is being run by the new Friends of Christ Church, a group whose aim is to support the preservation, conservation and enhancement of the church and its grounds. I understand that anyone who becomes a member will receive an annual newsletter with details of upcoming events and projects to get involved in, and also a copy of the excellent book “Christchurch: A History”, which tells the story of the church, and the associated buildings in the area such as Christ Church School, The Old Vicarage, the cottage in the churchyard and Beacon Place (gone but not without a trace….).

More information can be found at www.christchurch-lichfield.org.uk/events or by email friendsofccl@btinternet.com.

 

Everything From Shells

Despite the bitter cold, a large crowd gathered in the Museum Gardens around a figure enveloped in green velvet.

Once the poems, songs and speeches had concluded, local artist Peter Walker’s bronze statue of Erasmus Darwin was unveiled to applause.

Recently, I read a wonderful post by Susan Ward on her Staffordshire Bred blog which reminded me of the importance of the sense of touch, when connecting with something.  I was so pleased to hear that the scallop shell Erasmus Darwin holds in his left hand is not only an important symbol of his beliefs and his work on evolution, but is also there to be touched. This is not a hands off statue and I hope that people will touch it, that it will be a well-loved part of the city and that stories will grow up around it.

Those days are still ahead of us – the sun has not even set on the statue’s first day in the Museum Gardens yet (although judging by the temperature in the park today, I’m not convinced it actually rose in the first place!).

The statue belongs to the people of Lichfield, but today belongs to Erasmus Darwin and Peter Walker.