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we are delighted to welcome local author and journalist Joss Musgrove Knibb who will be taking a look at the previously unpublished letters of four Staffordshire Regiment soldiers who fought, and in some cases died, in the trenches of WW1.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.

 

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Alas Smith

With my ongoing fascination with the blacksmiths of Lichfield, I was interested to find a short article in an old newspaper about William Goodwin. At the time of the article, August 1950, Mr Goodwin was the oldest trading smith in the city, working with his son in the business his father had started before him.

The article says that at the turn of the century there had been around ten blacksmiths in Lichfield, with demand from stables at local inns and estates. Mr Goodwin remembered shoeing more than fifty horses a week, but in 1950 was doing less than ten. As a result of this reduced demand for the trade, Mr Goodwin’s forge was one of only three remaining in the city. Another of the three was Mr W Ball of St John St, who started his business after the First World War. He explained that his survival was down to the priority attached to agriculture, adding that his main work was now with agricultural implements and fixing wheels, most of the dealings with horses being confined to riding stables.

Of course, now there are none remaining.  Whilst Lichfield is clearly no Birmingham or Black Country, it did of course have its trades and sites of industry. I think that this is sometimes forgotten and so I’m always pleased to be reminded of where Mr Goodwin’s forge (the one where apparently a man from France had his dancing bear shod of course!) stood on Beacon Street and of the other blacksmiths of Lichfield, when I see the street names ‘Smithy Lane’ and ‘Forge Lane’. Place names can tell stories, and should always be chosen with care.

 

Business Study

I spent the morning with Dave and Angie Gallagher, who are doing a brilliant job of taking the ever growing collection of old photographs out and about into the city, encouraging people to share their stories and memories about Lichfield. I had a great time listening to people reminisce about how Lichfield used to be in days gone by and it’s put me well and truly in the mood to share more of Mr JW Jackson’s memories of the city’s shops and trades back when he was a young boy in the 1870s.

For obvious reasons, I thought this shop, now a bookies, might be Mr Welch’s fish and poultry shop?

Mr Jackson’s article begins with Sedgewick’s fried fish shop in Tamworth St, selling oysters, cockles, mussels, periwinkles, shrimps, bloaters and kippers. He also recalls H Welch’s fishmonger and poulterer’s business opening some years later on Tamworth St (Mr Jackson’s article was written in 1945 and he mentions that at that time Welch’s shop had been rebuilt as a ladies’ hair dressing saloon). Another fish shop was owned by James Clarke on Sandford St, and Mr Jackson recalls Mr Clarke with a ‘large, deep, circular basket suspended with a strap round his neck, filled with fried fish or oysters, shrimps and shellfish or at other times nuts and oranges, of which he found a ready sale in the public houses’. In his spare time, Mr Clarke was a groundsman and umpire for the Cricket Club on the Birmingham Rd.

The corner of Beacon St and Shaw Lane

Mr Jackson says that there were a large number of greengrocers in Lichfield, including Elkingston’s in Tamworth St (Wigham’s in 1945) and Tanner’s in Bird St (Perks’ Store in 1945). Adjoining Moss’s Entry on Bird St was Mr Walker’s grocery shop, and further down the road near to the King’s Head was Mr James’s grocers. On the corner of Shaw Lane and Beacon St was another grocers, a step below the pavement and old fashioned in appearance. Originally owned by Mr Hall, it was taken over by a Mr Warmington who rebuilt the old shop and added a bakery. Also on Beacon Street was Mrs Hague’s shop which apparently sold everything from ‘a needle to a sack of flour, including bread, sweets, etc’. The grocery business of old Dan Millington on Stowe Street, was particularly memorable due to the many tallow candles suspended from the ceiling.

Moss’s Entry, leading to Friars Alley is now between Green T and Lichfield Kebab shop.

Apparently, back in the 1870s, few people in Lichfield bought ready made shoes, preferring made to order footwear from places like Heath’s in Conduit St and Playfer’s in Market St (1). Mr Jackson remembers being measured for his own boots by Mr Brockhouse of Beacon St,  who lived in a small cottage opposite St Chad’s Rectory. Mr Hodges at the bottom of Beacon Hill (near Gaia Lane) had a shop which did ‘a large better class trade in boots and shoes made by himself on the premises’. Mr Jackson says there were also many cobblers who concentrated on repairs, including Tommy Lyons who lived in a small cottage in Gaia Lane and was described as a very religious man who could often be seen making his way to a meeting with his old well worn Bible.

I’m thinking we should all take a leaf out of Mr Jackson’s book and document our surroundings. This morning showed that the places we live and work in are continually evolving and it’s not until we stop and look back that we realise how much has changed (for better or for worse, depending on your point of view……).

Notes:

I found a photo of a shop called ‘Shakeshaft and Playfer’ on Market St, Lichfield thought to be from the 1860s on Staffs Past Track here. Is this the same Playfer? After zooming in it seems to be a men’s accessories shop – I can see ties and what look like straw boaters in the window! Also after zooming in, you can see the faces of three young people at the window, looking out onto the funeral procession below. I wonder whose funeral it was? Edit: Later, I found that Shakeshaft and Playfer were also undertakers, and arranged the 1894 funeral of George Fox of Elmhurst Hall amongst others, which would explain the photograph!

Sources:

Old Lichfield Trades and Tradesmen, J W Jackson, Lichfield Mercury, April 6th 1945

http://www.search.staffspasttrack.org.uk

Cornercopia

Last week we went to the George and Dragon on Beacon St. After an outstanding pork pie washed down by a cheeky half, it was time to leave. On heading back towards the park, I noticed that the building on the corner of Beacon St and Gaia Lane was covered in graffiti albeit nothing of particular note, just patterns and the usual initials. However, I had a look in both directions and couldn’t see anything similar on the bricks of the adjoining buildings and so I’m curious.  Why this particular building? Is it due to its proximity to the pub, is it simply because it’s a corner where people would wait (for something or somebody…) or do you think there another reason?

The building on the corner of Gaia Lane/Beacon St opp. the George & Dragon

 

Trading Places

In June 1945, local historican Mr Jackson contributed an article to the Lichfield Mercury in which he shared his memories of the shops and businesses that surrounded him as a young boy growing up in the city during the 1870s. I’ve summarised the article below so settle yourself down with a bottle of herb beer and a bag of toffee nobs and have a read!

In Breadmarket St, Mr Bartlam had a tinsmith business and Mr Marshall ran a dairy in the premises next to the old watchmakers and jewellers owned by Mr Corfield. Mr Corfield’s shop burnt down in 1872 – a tragedy that resulted in the entire Corfield family losing their lives (1). In 1872 there were three breweries – Griffith’s, the Lichfield Brewery Co. and Smith’s on Beacon St (the City Brewery and the Trent Valley Brewery came later). Mounsden and Sons was a wine and spirit business, according to Mr Jackson, one of the oldest in the city. There was Mr Nicholls, a photographer who also had a fancy goods shop on the site of what was to become the Regal Cinema (but has since been the Kwik Save and a nightclub, with plans to turn it back into the Regal Cinema again!).

Regal Cinema Lichfield. Late 1960s? Taken from Gareth Thomas’s Pinterest site http://pinterest.com/FieldOfTheDead/old-photos-lichfield/

A little shop in Tamworth St was kept by the Misses Wilcox who sold fancy goods and toys. Mr Jackson remembers that the shop was well below the pavement (why would this be?) and stocked everything from pins to rocking horses! He recalls buying yards of elastic for making catapults, along with marbles, tops and hoops.

Mr Young, a whitesmith, lived in the old Frog Lane School House and his workshop was in the same street. There were several ironmongers including Mr Crosskey on Market St, Sheriff of Lichfield in 1863 and Mayor in 1868. Next to the old Victoria Nursing Home at 15 Sandford St was Mr Tricklebank’s tin-ware business.

On Market St, was Mr Caldwell’s hardware business (Frisby’s Boot and Shoe store in 1945).  Over on Church St, Mr Platt made rope, twine and string (Mr Jackson believes he was the only one in the district at the time) and C W Bailey had an agricultural implement depot.  Blacksmiths were in demand – Gallimore on Lombard St, Mr Salt on Sandford St, Mr Sandland on Beacon St (later taken over by Mr Goodwin who, as you may remember from a previous post featuring Mr Jackson’s memories of Beacon St, was said to have shod a dancing bear).  Apparently, the smithy on Beacon St was the oldest in the city, dating back to the mid 1800s.

I believe that this building on Lombard St was once a blacksmith’s forge.

Wheel wrights producing traps, carts and wagons and well as the wheels to put on them could be found on Church St (Mr Davis) and Beacon Hill (Mr Horton).

This advert for John Simms shows that at some point the business moved to Church St. Image taken from Gareth Thomas’s http://pinterest.com/FieldOfTheDead/

John Simms had his mineral water works on Stowe St opposite St Chad’s School, and Mr Jackson remembers that when he was a pupil at this school in 1869, nearly every other cottage in Stowe St sold bottles of home made herb beer during the summer (was this actual proper beer or more like the ginger beer of Enid Blyton books?). Perhaps of even more interest for the little ones were the sweet shops – ‘Suckey’ Blakeman and ‘Suckey’ Perry in Market St and Mr Giles on Gresley Row with his ‘super’ toffee nobs.  When Mr Jackson moved up to the Minors School on the corner of St John St and Bore St, he recalls taking it in turns with his fellow students to fetch not just mere ‘super’ but ‘luxury’ toffee nobs from Miss Hicken’s (and later Miss Hobby’s) shop in St John St opposite the back entrance to the school.

Cities are constantly changing places. Even though my Lichfield memories only stretch back as far as the beginning of the 21st century (with the exception of one family day trip to Beacon Park in the 1980s) a lot has changed even in that short space of time with shops and businesses coming and, as is all too often the case these days, going. Just last week the Greenhill Chippy shut. A couple of years ago my friend and I were heading to the Duke of York when we got talking to a man who was passing through Lichfield on a long journey he was undertaking on foot. He didn’t explain why, and for some reason it didn’t seem right to ask him. He hadn’t any money and didn’t ask for any, but did accept a portion of chips from the Greenhill fish shop. I often think of him, and what his story may have been when passing by there. Anyway, my point is that places have memories attached to them and I think it’s important to record them, just as Mr Jackson did. There’s some great stuff being shared on the Lichfield Facebook group and some wonderful old photos on Gareth Thomas’s blog. For a much more in depth look at the shops and businesses of Lichfield, I know that there is a great book “Trades of a City: Lichfield Shops and Residents from 1850” by JP Gallagher, (although having only borrowed copies, if anyone can point me in the direction of where to purchase my own, I’d be grateful!). I think it would be brilliant to do some walks where instead of being led by a guide, people have a stroll around the streets together sharing memories and stories with each other. Until then, if anyone can identify any of the locations in Mr Jackson’s reminisces please let me know!

(1) This is a sad but interesting story in itself and I will cover it in a separate post.

Source: Lichfield Mercury 8th June 1945

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….

A Fleeting Present

A while back I wrote about Mr J W Jackson, the ghost hunting city librarian who wrote a local history column for the Lichfield Mercury in the 1930s and 40s. Last night I found an article about ‘dear old Beacon Street’, written by Mr Jackson in November 1943, in response to a letter from one of his old school friends who emigrated to Canada in 1870, at the age of twelve. Of course, in describing the changes that have taken place in seventy years, Mr Jackson gives us a glimpse of Beacon St in both his past and his present, which is actually now our past. Before things get too wibbley wobbley timey wimey, let’s move on to a summary of the changes Mr Jackson noted in Beacon Street over the seventy years leading up to 1943.

Mr Jackson says the old pinfold still remained but was hardly, if ever, used for its original purpose – in the past it frequently containing horses, cattle or sheep caught straying on the road and penned by official pinner, Watty Bevin.  Fifty yards away from the pinfold as you walked back towards the city there used to be an old iron pump where the children used to fill up the vinegar bottles they were taking home from Hagues in Beacon St, after enjoying a couple of sips.  The Anchor Inn kept by Billy Godwin had been cleared away and the field between the Inn and Smith’s Brewery was now the residential school. The brewery itself where the children took cans to be filled with barm had been converted into a foundry.

The Fountain Inn still remained  but visitors from the Black Country no longer came to play bowls on its lawns. The Lemon Tree Inn, kept by Sam Boston was now a house, as was the old butchers shop (kept by Mr Yeomans) and the Pheasant Inn previously kept by Mr Stone is also a house.  The wall shutting off Beacon Hall had been partly taken down and was now a garage and a residence. The old fashioned grocery shop at corner of Shaw Lane, owned by Mr Hall had been sold and replaced by a much larger shop, eventually becoming an antiques shop. Whitehall and Milley’s Hospital remained as they were in 1870 but the Free Library & Museum had been built near to the site of Griffith’s Brewery. (Note: Think this was probably earlier – Free Library & Museum built 1859?)

Green house was formerly the Lemon Tree Inn

The Angel Croft was described by Mr Jackson as ‘now a hostel’. The Old Beehive Inn had also been converted into a residence as had the Wheel Inn at the corner of Wheel Lane. The windmill where Mr Jackson played as a child was no longer in use but converted to a picturesque residence. Apparently the miller came in a considerable fortune and disappeared leaving everything as it stood and nothing was heard of him again.

Beacon Gardens built 1925

Council houses known as Beacon Gardens had been built on the fields in front of the Fountain Inn. The old blacksmiths, where legend has it that a French man once took his dancing bear to be shod was still going strong.  The Feathers Inn was still licensed and the row of cottages adjoining was much the same. The Old St Chad’s Rectory garden and field had been built over, the new road known as Nether Beacon. By 1943, the wheelwrights shop on brow of Beacon Hill had long since disappeared but the Little George Inn still stood as did the George & Dragon.

Of course, we can also now compare Beacon St seventy years on from when Mr Jackson did his comparison. I took most of the photos on Sunday (before I found the article weirdly!). The old pinfold still remains, but I doubt anyone now even remembers it being used to lock up straying animals.

Beacon Street School Sanatorium

The residential school has now been converted into apartments and the site of the Foundry is now Morrison’s Supermarket. Funnily enough you can probably get barm, or something similar there once again, as I think it’s a type of yeast (as in the northern ‘Barm Cake’). The Fountain Inn is still open, and Milley’s Hospital and Whitehall are still there. The Free Library and Museum building is of course now used as the Registry Office. As we are all too aware the Angel Croft is still there, but for how much longer in its desperate state?

The blacksmiths has gone but is not altogether forgotten with road names ‘Forge Lane’ and ‘Smithy Lane’ to remind us. The Feathers Inn is still licensed but has now expanded into the row of cottages adjoining (for the record, I had a very nice jacket potato in the beer garden there on Bower Day this year). The George and Dragon, thankfully, still stands but the Little George is now a private, rather than public house. According to John Shaw’s Old Pubs of Lichfield, after WW2, the licence of the pub was transferred to the new pub on Wheel Lane, known as the Windmill. This ‘new’ pub which, wasn’t around in Mr Jackson’s time will probably not be around for much longer, as it is has been closed for some time and the site earmarked for development.

Mr Jackson’s article reminds me of the need for recording the everyday and the seemingly ordinary, as one day the present will be the past and what was once commonplace may no longer be.  I’m a big believer in using place names that reflect the history of a place, but on its own, a street sign for ‘Smithy Lane’ only tells you part of the story. Had Mr Jackson not added the story of the dancing bear’s shoes and the missing miller and his money to his reminiscences, they may well have been forgotten. “So what?” some may say, dismissing them as mere trivialities, but I disagree. I think stories matter.

Perhaps in seventy years time someone will look back at how Beacon St was in 2013. I wonder what will have changed and if we’ll have left them with any good stories?

Sources:
Lichfield Mercury archive
The Old Pubs of Lichfield, John Shaw