West Side Story

The view of the Cathedral as you turn from Beacon St into the Close, must be one of the most photographed in Lichfield. It’s stunning. However, if you can tear your eyes away from the spectacular west front of the Cathedral, there’s something else here that I think is rather special.

Remains of the West Gate.

Sandwiched between two houses are the remains of the West Gate, dating back to the early fourteenth century. The rest of the gate was demolished in 1800, as Thomas Harwood describes, “…that noble gate at the west entrance into the Close, a beautiful structure worthy of its munificent founder and which in April 1800 was with a barbarous taste, pulled down, and the materials applied to lay the foundation of a pile of new buildings for the residence of necessitous widows of clergymen”. (The new buildings Mr Harwood describes is Newton’s College opposite. If this is true it’s a bit more house old recycling!).

In the same book, Harwood mentions the gate again saying,”At the entrance into the close on the west stood the beautiful gate which was built by Bishop Langton in the early part of the fourteenth century. It was a very strong a double gate with portcullis of great strength and majesty. The strong tower over the gate was finished in the time of Bishop Northburgh, the successor of Langton. This noble structure which had unimpaired during the revolution of five centuries and had withstood the destructive ravages of civil war was pulled down in April 1800 to widen the road into the Close”

Personally I’m a big fan of crumbling, old bricks, but if the gate had remained then, we wouldn’t be treated to that amazing view. Whether the decision to demolish the gate was barbarous or not, all we have now are these remaining stones and the descriptions, together with some maps and drawings.  The rest is down to our imagination….

The Lichfield District Council flickr stream has this image.

Taken from Lichfield District Council flickr group

On the Staffordshire Past Track website, you can also see a view of the gate published in 1805. Still a ruin, but in slightly better repair than the previous image. There’s another image here , this time from further away showing how the gate fitted into the area around the Close. This ‘ancient view’ of the Close, seems to be an artist’s impression from 1805 to show how the Close would have looked surrounded by its protective walls, gates and towers. John Speed’s 1610 map also shows the defences, including the gate.

1610 map of Lichfield

I’d like to explore the other remaining fragments of the defences, but for now I’ve got enough questions about this part to be going on with! Why leave this portion of wall   – why not demolish the whole thing? On the wall itself, why do some of the stones have dimples on (I bet there is a technical term for this!) Were materials really used for Newton’s College?

And what about that door! What’s behind there? Who was the last person to go in there (and did they ever come out again!). Why is there a door there at all? To access the ‘strong’ tower in Harwood’s descriptions?  Most importantly, where do they keep the key and could they open it for the Heritage Weekend?!

Edit: Take a look at the comments section – some of the questions have already been answered by Nigel, Managing Director of Lichfield Lock & Key, up on Church St and Pat, who seems to know a thing or two about old bricks!

Sources

The History & Antiquities of the Church and City of Lichfield – Thomas Harwood

Lichfield: The cathedral close – A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 57-67. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=42343