Sign of the Times

On Facebook, another member of the Lichfield Discovered group posted a photograph of a shop sign that had been hiding underneath a Connells Estate Agents sign on Bore Street.

What other old signs lurk beneath the plastic facades?

What other old signs lurk beneath plastic facades?

I started to do a bit of reading about the use of signs and lettering on buildings and came across an article in the Independent, which features a self confessed font geek called Anthony Harrington. “Typefaces work well as little milestones,” he says. “They anchor a building to a time and a function, whether it’s commercial or social, and this is a heritage worth preserving”. There’s also a map and an app which aims, ‘to photographically record publicly available lettering and type throughout the capital’.

It’s an interesting idea and so I had a wander around to see what other examples I could find in the Lichfield. In October 1953, the School of Art principal Miss EM Flint declared that city was remarkably deficient in the provision of well-rendered signs and notices. Is this still true sixty years later? Anymore good examples out there?

SAM_9740

SAM_9714

SAM_9737

SAM_9707

You have to include a sign that has letters with eyebrows

SAM_9735SAM_9719SAM_9715

SAM_9731

SAM_9726SAM_9705SAM_9739SAM_9741SAM_9722SAM_9738

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Ooh La La

When old buildings at the back of the Bolton Warehouse Company’s shop on Bird St (1) were being demolished in December 1960, a large circular room containing murals created with shells and pebbles, was found above a ceiling. One mural depicted the Cathedral, another a tree and the third was some kind of summerhouse on top of a hill (2).

The murals are thought to have been created by French prisoners of war, on parole in the city.  According to the County History, Lichfield had long been used as a place to quarter French prisoners, due to its position on a main road (and I have also read that it had something to do with us being about as far from the sea as you can get!).  On 7th January 1747, the Staffordshire Advertiser reported that a party of seventy four passed through Stafford on their way to Lichfield, where they were to be put on parole. It also mentioned a house on Bore St, where there was a cooper’s shop at the back used by prisoners (3). Eighty arrived in Lichfield in 1797 during the Napolenic Wars and in 1809, forty officers were quartered here. It seems that Dr Johnson’s birthplace was also occupied by a prisoner –  in The European Magazine for 1810, a contributor called ‘TSW’ wrote, “The house in the market place in which our great lexicographer born still remains nearly in its original state. It is now inhabited by Mr Evans a brazier and a part of it, believed to be the very room in which he first drew his breath is now let to a French prisoner of war”. According to their website, Pipe Hill House on the Walsall Rd also hosted some of the prisoners.

As well as spending their time creating enigmatic artworks, some of the prisoners gave French lessons to the city’s residents.  If the fragment of a page of French exercises, found in the same room as the Bird St mural was discovered, is anything to go by, the teachers had their work cut out. The sentences on the fragment of paper had been heavily corrected, with the comment ‘very bad’ at the end! Perhaps the Darwin and Wedgewood children who were taught French by one of the prisoners at Darwin’s house on Beacon St were better students?

The old clinic on Sandford St? Is it me or can anyone else see numbers in the brick work on the second storey?

In September 1951, the author of the ‘Round and About with Clock Tower” section of the Lichfield Mercury visited the site of the mural accompanied by the caretaker, Mrs Disney, and reported that the ‘pictures’ were still in existence in the dome-like roof of a derelict outbuilding behind the Sandford St Clinic (4). One side featured ‘a perfect replica of Lichfield Cathedral, made entirely from small stones, bits of glass and sea shells’  and other pictures included a ‘mosque-like building’, (which the reporter failed to recognise (5)), several ‘beautifully executed trees’ and a map of Lichfield. The outbuilding was in a poor condition, described as being encased in a mass of creepers, with two gaping holes in the roof. There was also a large hole in the floor, and as if things weren’t exciting enough already, Mrs Disney told the reporter that there were two passages running beneath the hole – one leading to the rear of the property and one believed to connect with the old ‘monk’s passages’ beneath the Friary.

Box made by French Prisoners of War (c) Lichfield District Council

Sadly, I think that this ‘Disney’ story doesn’t have a happy ending as the outbuilding was been demolished and the treasures inside lost (although there is the possibility that as the murals were still in existence in the 1950s/1960s someone may have been foresighted enough to photograph them?). However, there is a small consolation at Lichfield Heritage Centre in the form of a wooden box carved by French prisoners quartered in the area.

Edit 18/6/2015
A display at Lichfield Museum at St Mary’s features a photograph and a chunk of the mural together with the wooden box and some information about the soldiers themselves. St Mary’s is also staging a costume drama called ‘Lichfield’s Waterloo’ by the Lichfield Players on Friday 26th June and Saturday 27th June. More information here

Notes

(1) Does anyone have anymore information on the Bolton Warehouse Company’s shop, particularly where it was on Bird St?

(2) Could this have been a representation of Borrowcop Gazebo? The PMSA record (here) says ‘In 1694 a building called ‘the Temple’, probably stood on Borrow Cop Hill, in the 1720s an arbour was recorded, by 1750 this replaced by a summerhouse which may have been the cruciform building there in 1776. In 1756 the corporation ordered a line of trees along the path to the summit, with extra trees in 1783, possibly in connection with a fete champetre held in that year. By 1805 the building was replaced with one of brick with two arches each side and seats around to admire the view, the funds were raised by public subscription’. On the subject of Borrowcop, I just found at that an information board was installed up there in September (more about that here).

(3) Again, where would this have been?

(4) I understand that the clinic occupied the former premises of the Victoria Nursing Home which was on Sandford St until it moved to the Friary and became the Victoria Hospital.

(5) Any ideas as to what building this could be depicting?

Sources

Lichfield and Archaeological & Historical Society Transactions vol 2 1961

Lichfield: Education’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 170-184

Lichfield: From the Reformation to c.1800′, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 14-24

The European Magazine for 1810

Lichfield Mercury 21st September 1951

Co-operation

On the corner of Bore St and Breadmarket St is a building that I’ve never paid much attention to before. However, after hearing that someone carrying out some work there in the 1970s had uncovered a dolphin mosaic, I thought I’d fish a bit deeper into the building’s history…

The someone in question was Frank Clarke, a regular contributor to the fabulous Facebook group ‘You’re probably from Lichfield, Staffs if…..’. Frank found the mosaic under rotting floorboards when carrying out renovation work there in the 1970s. According to Frank, the mosaic was concreted over and may still be there to this day. Unfortunately, it seems that due to practicalities (involving concrete and money!) it’s unlikely we’ll ever know for sure.

What we do know though is that the Dolphin Inn once stood on the site, demolished in 1912 and replaced by the current building in 1913 by local builders JR Deacon to house the Walsall and District Co-operative Society Ltd Branch No.13. You can still see where the lettering for this ever so catchy name used to be, as shown in all its glory here, on the Staffs Past Track site. Burtons were the most recent occupiers, but they left in March this year, leaving the property empty. (1)

Built in 1913, this was once the Co-op, more recently Burtons.

According to John Shaw and his now legendary book, The Old Pubs of Lichfield, the Dolphin is first listed in 1818. However,after finding out that the original building on the site was timber framed, dating back to the 16th century, I was hoping to find out something about the building’s earlier uses. After reading the obituary of Rev John Kirk (d.1851),  it seems that prior to becoming an inn, the building had been occupied by a baker, with some of the upper rooms being used as a Roman Catholic chapel created in 1801.(2)

Rev Kirk had been the priest at the chapel at Pipe Hall from 1788 to 1793, where Catholics in Lichfield had previously worshipped. When this chapel was closed following the sale of the property to a non-Catholic he was asked to return to Lichfield as the resident priest at the new chapel. However, Kirk found the location and conditions far from ideal – the sanctuary was apparently directly above the baker’s oven and Kirk wasn’t happy about living in such close quarters with the baker and his family. By 1803, Rev Kirk had built a new chapel dedicated to St Peter and St Paul in Upper St John St.  Due to religious sensitivities, the chapel was originally designed to look like a dwelling house, but 1834 a turret and a new entrance was added, and the name changed to Holy Cross. The congregation was relatively small, but numbers were often boosted by those passing on their way to London and French Prisoners of War.

Holy Cross, Lichfield.
Source: Dennis Blenkinsopp (http://www.geograph.org.uk/profile/43370)

Back to the mosaic, which started all of this off! You would have to assume that its depiction of a dolphin is a reference to the name of the Inn. No great mystery there (although I would like to know why that particular name was chosen for a Lichfield pub!). What is more of a puzzle is how the mosaic came to be in the new building. Was it rescued during the demolition of the old one? Was it created to reference the history of the building that previously stood on the site? Or was the previous building not fully demolished, just significantly altered? I don’t know, and it seems probably never will.

I’m very grateful to Gareth Thomas for bringing the matter to the attention of the experts at Lichfield District Council, and also to the Civic Society for making enquiries as well. I think it’s great that members of the facebook group, the Civic Society, the council and even me have all been able to contribute to the discussion. This is how it should be, and I would like to see people working together more in the future, building on the great work that Gareth has done to bridge the gap between council and its residents, not least by making historic photographs and documents available through his own blog, and elsewhere.

I understand that talks are ongoing, however, the general feeling at present seems to be that without further evidence, the cost and disruption arising from trying to retrieve the mosaic (if indeed it has survived the last forty years) could not be justified. A shame, but for now it seems we shall have to let sleeping dolphins lie….unless anyone out there knows any more?

Edit 12/5/2013 Just reading about the opening of the Co-op. Apparently the builder, Councillor Deacon handed the chairman of the Co-op a walking stick made from one of the wooden beams of the old Dolphin Inn, which is quite a nice little addition to the story. No mention of a mosaic yet though 😉 

Notes

(1) Burtons previously had a branch on Market St, where you can still see the two foundation stones commemorating the opening by two of business founder Montague Burton’s sons. The post I did on this ages ago is here 

(2) So that takes us back to 1800-ish. Still three hundred years or so of the building’s history to account for though!

Sources:

Thanks to Frank Clarke for allowing me to share the story of his discovery here.

The Old Pubs of Lichfield, John Shaw

Catholic Staffordshire 1500 – 1850, M R Greenslade

The Gentlemans Magazine Volumes 191 – 192

Lichfield: Roman Catholicism and Protestant nonconformity’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 155-159

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

Bit of a Bore

Last night in the Horse & Jockey on Sandford Street, the Holden’s Golden Glow and the football were in full flow. The former was definitely more satisfying than the latter. As Spain made their millionth pass around the forty minutes mark, my mind started to wander. It wandered back to Bore St, where I was still trying to work out which of the ward banners belonged to this Lichfield ward and why (some of the name plaques underneath the flags were obscured when I went back to check).

Bore St ward banner?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It dawned on me that this flag showed the city maces, which are used in civic processions and date from 1664 and 1690. The centre of civic events in Lichfield is of course the Guildhall on Bore St where of course the flag is hanging. So I should probably  have worked this one out a bit quicker!

The maces being carried in the 2012 Lichfield Bower procession

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whilst we’re on the subject of football, what about the golden balls of the Lombard St ward banner? I didn’t know until now but Lombard is another name for a pawn broker, and of course this type of business has long been identified by this symbol. Wikipedia explains that the concept originated in the Lombardy region of Italy.

Lombard St was once known as Stowe St infra barras (i.e. the part of Stowe St inside the barrs (or gate) of the city). Did the name change occur when this kind of business was set up in the street? Or is there another reason?

Lombard Ward banner

Lichfield Law

Lichfield’s old gaol is open to the public once more, allowing us to see how ‘justice’ was administered in the past, and read about some of those on the receiving end of it.

I took a few photos but to get a true feel of the place you really need to visit these ‘…cells, whose echoes only learn to groan’, as Erasmus Darwin put it. 

This is a thought provoking part of Lichfield, tucked away at the back of the Guildhall.

The cells open every Saturday until the end of September from 10am to 4pm. To find out more call 01543 264972 or email sjmuseum@lichfield.gov.uk.  There’s no admission charge (although you are likely to hear at least one person quipping about having to pay to get out).