A Stone's Throw Away

I recently read a great post about the map maker John Ogilby on Kate Shrewsday’s wonderful blog. In 1675, Mr Ogilby was the creator of the first ever British road atlas, and after reading Kate’s post, I took another look at the section of his map of the London to Chester road, as it passed over the Warwickshire border into Staffordshire and on through Lichfield. You can see the map here.

The majority of the place names are recognisable and in use today, albeit with some changes to the spelling –  Burowcop Hill, Cank Wood and Sutton Cofield amongst others.There are however a handful of names that appear to have been lost over the last three hundred or so years. One intriguing feature marked on the route is the ‘Bishop’s Heap of Stones’, eight miles or so from Lichfield, between Canwell Hall (or Sir Francis Lawley‘s Cannell Hall as it’s shown on the map) and Hints.

The name seems to refer to a literal heap of stones, and it seems there are at least two  possible explanations for why this pile of pebbles was associated with a bishop. Thomas Pennant, when writing about his journey from Chester to London, discovered a handwritten note in a copy of William Dugdale’s ‘Warwickshire’, added by Dugdale himself, which read as follows:

There is a common report (which passeth for currant amongst the vulgar) that the great heape of stones, which lyeth near the road way from Litchfeild towards Coleshill, upon Bassets heath, called the Bishops Stones, and those other lesser heapes, which lye in the valley below; were at first laid there in memorie of a bishop and his retinue, who were long since rob’d and killed, as they were travailing upon that way: but this is a meere fabulous storye: for upon an inquisition made in King James his time, concerning the extent of common upon that heath, betwixt Weeford and Sutton;there was an old woman, called old Bess of Blackbrooke, being then above an hundred yeares of age, who deposed (inter alia) that the Bishop of Exeter living then at Moore Hall: taking notice how troublesome such a number of pibble stones as then lay in the roade thereabouts, were to all passengers, caused them to be pickt up, and thus layd upon heapes

In 1769, in his book The History and Antiquities of Shenstone, in the County of Stafford, the Reverend Henry Sanders, gives a similar but more detailed explanation. Sanders says that a woman from Blackbrook came to the inquiry into the parish boundaries and testified that in the reign of Henry VIII, or just after, John Vesey, the Bishop of Exeter had decided to become a benefactor to his birthplace of Sutton Coldfield. Bishop Vesey obtained a charter of incorporation for the town, revived the market and also built a number of stone houses (1) as part of an attempt to create an industry manufacturing Kersey, as they did in Devon. Bess (I’m assuming that she is ‘the woman from Blackbrook’ Sanders refers to), also told how when the Bishop was at Sutton he was annoyed by the rolling pebbles on the road which caused travellers’ horses to stumble and sometimes fall and so he employed poor people to gather them and lay them in heaps. Sanders describes the position of these heaps as follows:

On the hollow way between Weeford Hills or rather between Swynfen and Canwell lie divers heaps and one great one at the top of the hill at Weeford park corner which according to the tradition of the country people were placed there in memory of a bishop of Lichfield who riding with many attendants was slain with those servants by robbers and that these heaps were where the bodies were found which agreeable to this account and to honest and accurate antiquaries is entirely fabulous

I also think these stories are fabulous, but I suspect not quite in the way that the Reverend meant! It seems the tale of the murdered bishop didn’t ever hold much weight, but what about the version given by the local centenarian (who sounds like a legend in her own right!)? Were the stones gathered by the poor at the request of a Bishop or did they serve another purpose?  It’s interesting that there may have been more than one heap. Piles of stones are of course found across the world, and have many meanings and significances. I suspect that the Bishop’s heaps of stones will have been swept away, perhaps gradually scattered back onto the roads from where they came. It’s interesting to think that even a humble pebble beneath your feet may once have been part of a much bigger story.

Notes:

1 You can see one of the stone houses built by Vesey here

2 Kersey was a coarse cloth, often used to make servants clothing, and although it takes its name from the village in Suffolk, I understand that in Vesey’s time it was Devon that was at the centre of the Kersey industry in England.

 

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