Trailgating

Perhaps the biggest faux pax you can commit about the place that gave the world Samuel ‘Dictionary’ Johnson is to spell the name incorrectly. Outsiders, please note that these days the only acceptable ‘T’ in Lichfield comes with biscuits and/or cake. The other way to wind up a Lichfeldian is to refer to Staffordshire’s premier heritage city as a town. En-route to the Guildhall Cells, perpetrators of this crime are taken past our central railway station to illustrate just how wrong they were.

"Lichfield City Station (6668724487)" by Elliott Brown from Birmingham, United Kingdom - Lichfield City StationUploaded by Oxyman. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lichfield_City_Station_(6668724487).jpg#/media/File:Lichfield_City_Station_(6668724487).jpg

“Lichfield City Station (6668724487)” by Elliott Brown from Birmingham, United Kingdom – Lichfield City StationUploaded by Oxyman. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Once they are in the stocks, heretics are then read to from the charters, currently held at the museum in St Mary’s, which include Queen Mary’s declaration of 1553 that Lichfield was not only to be a city, as granted by her brother Edward five years earlier, but also a county in its own right.

stocks

“OK it’s a city. I get it. I’m sorry. I’m from Tamworth”

This is the charter which gave rise to the annual Sheriff’s Ride (and its much more recent and considerably shorter spin-offs), a twenty mile perambulation of the current boundary of Lichfield. I had often sat and wondered whether at any point, the boundary was physically marked in someway (I do need to get out more) and just recently found an article written in the late nineteenth century which says it was, “formerly marked by wooden posts, but they have much deteriorated and in some instances disappeared. A renewal in iron of the most important has recently taken place”.

The Sheriff perambulating Cross in Hand Lane in 2014

The 2014 Sheriff perambulating Cross in Hand Lane.

Descriptions of the boundary of the City of Lichfield date back to the late 1700s. Back then it was only a sixteen mile round trip. Although in 1806, local historian Harwood said they were based on ‘ancient writings’, I understand there is no earlier written description of exactly what constituted Lichfield. However, there are piecemeal records showing some of the boundary changes over the centuries. And there must have been a fair few changes to get from a medieval town you could walk around in an hour to a city with a circumference of sixteen miles.

Last week I spent a sunny morning trying to trace the boundary of what would have been the medieval town. With the help of John Snape’s 1782 plan of Lichfield, it’s actually fairly easy to do, even for someone as illiterate at map reading as me.  Bishop Roger de Clinton surrounded the south part of the new town he had laid out in the late twelfth century with a bank and ditch and fortified the shared northern boundary of the town and Cathedral Close. Apart from a couple of inconveniently placed walls, you can pretty much walk the whole way around.

The moat marking the northern boundary of both medieval Lichfield and the Close. Described on Snape's map as a dry ditch or dumble.

The moat marking the northern boundary of both medieval Lichfield and the Close. Described on Snape’s map as a dry ditch or dumble.

Remains of the NE Tower, part of the Close's fortifications.

Remains of the NE Tower, part of the Close’s fortifications.

Thanks to archaeological investigations, we know that the town ditch in the St John’s Street area was about five metres wide, two metres deep and inevitably, was also used as a public tip.

Castle Ditch plaque

The driveway passing the LD Council Offices follows the line of the town ditch, and there's a plaque there telling you that.

The driveway passing the Lichfield District Council Offices follows the line of the town ditch, and there’s a plaque there too.

When a section in the Council House car park was excavated in 2008, archaeologists discovered the sole of a woman’s shoe from the twelfth century, part of a medieval jug and the remains of a medieval dog’s head.

This plaque is located at the junction of Lombard St, Stowe Rd and George Lane

This plaque is located at the junction of Lombard St, Stowe Rd and George Lane.

Back to plaque, looking up George Lane which was actually once part of the town ditch

Back to plaque, looking up George Lane which was actually once part of the town ditch, possibly until the 16thc

Snape’s plan also marks the gates, or bar(r)s, at the main entrances into and out of Lichfield, and there are plaques at each of the locations, with the, hopefully temporary, exception of the Sandford Street gate. The building it was mounted on has recently been demolished but I’m sure the plaque is being kept safely somewhere….

Perhaps the best known of the gates is the one at St John Street which is still recalled in the name of St John the Baptist without the Barrs. You know, the place with all the chimneys. As the name indicates, this stood just outside the gate and started out as a hostel for those arriving when Lichfield was closed for business for the night, many of them pilgrims on their way to see the shrine of St Chad at the Cathedral.

st john sign

On the subject of names, the section of the ditch running from the gate on Tamworth Street, to the gate near St John’s Hospital was known as Castle Ditch, and this, alongside hard evidence in the form of stones turning up nearby and evidence of a slightly more fluffy nature in the form of myth and folklore, has caused endless speculation as to whether Lichfield ever had a castle proper alongside the fortified Close with its towers, turrets and strong walls.

Remains of south gate tower leading from dam Street to The Close. Excavated in the 1980s

Remains of one of the towers which were part of the south gate between Dam Street and The Close. Excavated in the 1980s.

So, plenty of opportunities to get out more here. I think the two mile-ish walk around the ditch will make an excellent Lichfield Discovered adventure. I would also happily walk sixteen miles to find one of those old iron boundary markers although I may be on my own with this. It’d also be interesting to see how Lichfield has burst its boundaries over the years gobbling up all of the surrounding settlements, so much so that it’d take you six hours and twenty four minutes to perambulate the current perimeter, according to this walking calculator I’ve found.  And that doesn’t even include getting distracted by other things or stopping off at the pub. It’ll have to wait though, as right now I’m off on an expedition to Borrowcop to see if I can capture Lichfield Castle.

1)  If we’re doing names, then I have to mention that Bakers Lane was once known as Peas Porridge Lane. Just because.

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The Duck Stops Here

Shopping in Lichfield last week, I was called ‘me duck’. It’s not something you hear much here, it’s nearby Burton where you are much more likely to be someone’s duck. In past posts, I’ve talked about how stones, rivers and even ancient burial tombs have been used to define the boundaries of a place, but here I’m interested in audible rather than visible markers. The boundary where a linguistic feature stops and starts is known as an isogloss, and if they say duck fifteen miles up the road but not here, then I reckon there must be one close by. But where?

ducks

Photo by Joe Gomez

We may not call each other duck often, but how do we (after eleven years, can I class myself as a Lichfeldian yet?) talk?  According to Timothy Wilson-Smith, Samuel Johnson retained traces of his accent throughout his life (apparently one of the ways he gave his roots away was his pronunciation of the word punch) but is there such a thing as a Lichfield accent now and if so, what is it?

No easy answers but might be fun trying to find out. Perhaps from now on I should carry a dictaphone along with a camera and a notebook, although I might get people calling me something less polite than ‘duck’ (think some probably already do). In the meantime, listen to the accent of Tom Marshall, a lifelong resident Longdon (ok, not quite Lichfield but only four miles away), who David Moore interviewed for an oral history project recently (listen here).

Sources:

Wilson-Smith, Timothy (2004) Samuel Johnson Life and Times

 

L is for…

Back in October, during the Lichfield Discovered group walk around Leomansley, a friend of mine, Kerry, happened to mention that she’d discovered a large stone, buried at the bottom of her Leomansley garden. Not just any old stone either – it has a perfect ‘L’ carved into it which clearly has some significance. The question is what?

leomansley stone 2

My initial thought was that it was a boundary stone of some kind. As far as I can see, the area where the stone was discovered was undeveloped until the mid 20th century and was previously agricultural land known as Parnell’s field. I know that there was also common land in Leomansley, stretching south and east from Leamonsley Mill Pond to the Walsall Road  as well as a Lammas meadow, and so my best guess is that this could be a dole stone or similar, used to mark out strips of land or perhaps to mark the common land from land owned by others?

There’s a reference from May 1659, transcribed by Thomas Harwood in 1806 from a ‘Boke made in the 16 yere of the regne of kynge Edward the Fourthe. Thomas Dodde being Mastur of the Gilde of our Ladye Saynt Marie and of Seynt John the Baptiste in Lichfelde of all the lands and tenements lungyng to the forsaide Glide and the fyldes abowte Lychefeld and yn the towne” (1) including the following:

Parnelle’s Fylde – It’m, won acre in the myddyes of Parnelle’s fylde lyyng in brede betweene the londe of the Prioris of St Johanes and the londe of theres of Stafford in brede and shotes upon Lemonsley. It’m won crofte lying betwene Pipemyre and Lemonsley in lenkythe and betwene the londe of William Byrde and Lemonsley in brede.

To be honest, I can’t visualise how the jigsaw of land fitted together and so I think a trip to the record office, first stop the St Michael’s Tithe Map, is in order. (2)

In the meantime, Kerry and I would love to hear from anyone who may have any ideas on what the stone is, what it was for and of course, what the L might stand for. Leomansley? Lammas?  Also, as greedy as ever, I’m wondering if more stones might be out there somewhere. Time to do some gardening I think….

Big thanks to Kerry for sharing her discovery and for letting me share her photograph.

Notes

1) The spellings are as they are found in Harwood’s book. I like how even the spelling of Lichfield is inconsistent!

2) Something else Leomansely agriculture related. I had wondered why Saxon Walk, a cul-de-sac off the lane leading off Christchurch Lane, past Leomansley Woods, towards Pipe Green was so called. According to John Shaw, the name was taken from the name of the field which it was built on – Saxon’s Nook. Might be a good opportunity to take a look at some of the other old field names whilst I’ve got the Tithe Map out. Place names carry meanings.

3) I suppose I should consider the possibility that the stone actually came from elsewhere and ended up here through use as a garden feature or something.

Sources:

The History and Antiquities of the Church and City of Lichfield, Thomas Harwood

A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield

Street Names of Lichfield John Shaw

Saxon Walk

 

Something Old, Something Neo

At the end of the summer I went with friends to visit the Bridestones. Admittedly, this Neolithic burial chamber is a fair few miles from Lichfield and technically is not even in Staffordshire but definitely worth an excursion both in real life and also, I hope, via the blog.

The Bridestones are thought to be somewhere between six thousand and four thousand years old. When you think that the estimate for the monument’s age alone covers a range of around two thousand years, you realise just how little we can be certain of and how vast the time scales are when it comes to ‘prehistory’. It’s an absolute wonder that these stones are still standing, and all the more remarkable when you read of their treatment in the past. Back in the eighteenth century, the site was regarded as a convenient quarry and was plundered for its stone, some of which was used to build local houses and some of which was taken to build the nearby toll road, as described in Henry Rowlands’ 1766 Mona Antiqua Restaurata

There was a large heap of stones that covered the whole an hundred and twenty yards long, and twelve yards broad These stones have been taken away from time to time by masons and other people for various purposes. And in the year 1764 several hundred loads were carried away for making a turnpike road about sixty yards from this place which laid it open for examination.

 

There are also rumours that some of the stone can be found in the ornamental gardens at Tunstall Park, which was opened to the public in June 1908. I’m a little sceptical about this but it does once again raise that interesting idea of recycling materials from older structures. The stones are said to have sustained yet more damage in the nineteenth century, both accidentally, when a fire lit at the site caused the stones to crack, and deliberately, when an engineer working on the Manchester Ship Canal supposedly demonstrated how detonation worked on one of the larger stones.

When trying to understand sites like the Bridestones, we look to archaeology to provide us with answers. The Stoke on Trent Museum Archaeological Society have a fascinating report on their website which contains drawings of what the Bridestones may have looked like back in the eighteenth century together with details of the archaeological investigations which have since taken place and what they can tell us about this ancient structure. You can read it here. However, as well as evidence provided by science, I also enjoy the folklore and myths that grow up around sites like the Bridestones. There are stories that they mark the resting place of a murdered pair of newly weds, a Saxon woman and her Viking groom. Others say weddings once took place here. Was the name ‘Bridestones’ given to the site to reflect these stories, or were they invented to explain an already existing name? I think it’s worth considering that stories were (and still are) ways of sharing and passing on information and that perhaps sometimes this information might yet be contained within such stories, however naive and implausible they seem upon first listen.

As I mentioned at the start, the Bridestones sit on the Staffordshire/Cheshire border, just inside the latter county. There’s a boundary stone very close by on the drive leading to the site and surely it was due to the presence of the Bridestones themselves that the border was established here in the first place, acting as a memorable boundary landmark. Why did our ancestors chose to erect their monument at this particular spot in the first place though?

Despite being ransacked and not looked after properly over the years, this is still an incredible place and you should definitely take the time to hop over the border and pay this old Cheshire couple a visit.

Know Your Boundaries

I’d wondered about this curious sandstone block, embedded in one of the gate posts of the Garden of Remembrance on Bird St, but it wasn’t until I read a newspaper article on the unveiling and dedication of the war memorial that I learnt that it is apparently an ‘ancient’ boundary stone. The article in the Lichfield Mercury, dated October 22nd 1920, describes how a high wall running along Bird St was demolished and replaced by the stone balustrade that now runs along the edge of the garden. Prior to its demolition, the boundary stone was originally incorporated into this wall, but whether that was its original location, or was an earlier effort to preserve the stone, I don’t yet know. It seems to be marked and I’m wondering whether this is deliberate or not (or if I’m imagining it!). Also, just how ancient is ancient?

Boundary stone embedded in lower part of right gate pier of Lichfield’s Garden of Remembrance

Close up of the ‘ancient’ boundary stone

A newspaper report from May 1936 describes how the Cathedral Choristers observed the tradition of ‘Beating the Bounds’ each Ascension Day. Accompanied by members of the clergy, the boys would start opposite St Mary’s Vicarage and stop off at places were there was, or had been, a well – ‘midway between the pool and Gaia Lane’, the Bishop’s kitchen garden, the Dean’s kitchen garden, Milley’s Hospital, the boundary stone on the Minster Pool Bridge and the Verger’s house in the corner of the Close before finally gathering at the old pump to the North West of the Cathedral, to which water from the Conduit Heads up near Maple Hayes once flowed along a lead pipe. The boys would carry elm boughs, and at each of the stop off points there was a reading from the scriptures and a verse of a hymn was sung. In 1936, the elm boughs were brought inside the Cathedral and laid on the font. An account from 1910 describes how choristers would collect boughs from the Dimbles and then return to the Close where they would decorate the houses before commencing their perambulation. I understand that these days Ascension Day is marked by the choristers singing from the roof. It’s interesting that elm boughs used to play a part in the custom; it makes me think of old traditions related to the Lichfield Bower which takes place in the same month.

‘Beating the bounds’ apparently dates back to a time before maps and was a way of ensuring that the knowledge of where the boundaries of an area, or a parish, lay was passed on. The tradition in The Close seems to have been centred around wells and water, but in other places boundaries were also marked by other natural features.  A Gospel Tree is marked on OS maps of Gentleshaw up until the 1930s and Gospel Oak is a common place name, found all over the country.

On the subject of maps, there’s a great version of John Snape’s 1781 map on BrownhillsBob’s Brownhills Blog here. I think that the boundary of the Close, similar to that described above, is shown clearly on this map in the form of a dotted line running around the Close.

There’s a lot more to be said on boundaries and their markers, including the exciting possibility (for me at least!) that if this one is still here, there just might be others preserved somewhere in or around the city. In fact, we may even have located a couple, purpose as yet unknown.

Edit: Just had one thought myself actually! In many places it seems boundary stones and trees were actually hit with sticks (as can be seen here in Oxford) or physically marked in some other way, as people passed by them on their perambulation. Is it possible the marks on our boundary stone are evidence of it being ‘beaten’ over the centuries?