At the end of a long week of exams, assignments and driving backwards and forwards to Wolverhampton, I needed to refresh my tired eyes and mind. Others in my situation may have headed for a spa but I headed for Lichfield bus station. The plan was to jump on the first bus that came, get off a certain number of stops later, and to explore wherever it was that I ended up.
Image (c) Central Buses
The first bus to turn up was for Route 66 and, as I was in a fatalistic kind of mood, I took this as a good omen. However, the driver was reluctant to let me buy a day ticket, pointing out that not only did the bus only go as far as Burntwood, it stopped running about 4 o’clock. Not quite the epic journey I was hoping for, so I took his advice and decided to get my kicks on Route 62 instead. It winds from Lichfield to Cannock. More than eleven miles all the way. Well it goes past Sandyway, Pipehill and Boney Hay. And Cannock Wood looked oh so good. Plus you can change at the bus station for Tamworth. All for £6.20.
I had planned to get off after an arbitrary ten stops but I was enjoying looking out of a window rather than at a screen so much, I stayed on the bus for an hour. As the clock struck two we arrived in Hednesford. On first sight, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’d been miraculously transported to Lourdes instead.
Hednesford’s first Roman Catholic priest, Dr Patrick Boyle, made frequent pilgrimages to the shrine in France. Concious that many in the Diocese hadn’t a prayer of being able to visit themselves, he conceived the idea of bringing the experience of Lourdes to them but died long before the thirteenth century style church and replica grotto were completed in 1934.
Due to mining subsidence in the area, the concrete church is built on an adjustable concrete raft. Standing alone in the grotto, all I saw was an architectural curiosity, although the floral offerings hint at how much more this place is to others. Perhaps, if I were to come back in July to join the nine hundred or so pilgrims from across the Archdiocese of Birmingham, or in August for the annual Polish rally, which at one point attracted almost ten thousand people (1), I too would see it in a different light.
For now though, back on the bus and to Cannock and something I feel much less guilty about labelling an architectural curiosity. Meet Khushi.
1) The rally was established in August 1948 by Father Mieczyslaw Bossowski, who I believe came to England with the II Corps at the end of the Second World war and became the resident priest at the Wheaton Aston Polish Resettlement Camp.
As objects are the theme of our Lichfield Discovered meeting on Monday, and I had an hour to myself this afternoon, I decided to head over the border to have a look for the nailers’ stones that I’d been told were in the churchyard at Christ Church, Burntwood. The only reference to them I’ve found is on the Christ Church website which says,
‘Visitors will firstly note the magnificent west doors, believed to be original. The huge nails which have been used are indicative of Burntwood having been a nail making area due to the plentiful supply of charcoal and iron ore. (Nail making was very much a cottage industry, and should the visitor wish to, enter the churchyard, will find there several nail stones of different sizes).’
I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for and had to rely on the, ‘I’ll know it when I see it’ method, which I’ve used many times before, with varying degrees of success. On this occasion it worked out just fine.
The above arrangement of stones reminds me of a stone circle of sorts
I wonder whether the nails in this door really were made locally?
Before Christ Church opened in 1820, the area was part of the parish of St Michael’s, Lichfield, meaning a very long walk on a Sunday morning!
I couldn’t come all the way to Burntwood and not visit the world’s smallest park (is this official now?) with its trees known as Faith, Hope and Charity and so I had a five minute sit down and a bit of ‘We need a bigger park’ banter with a passerby, before heading to the Star Inn.
According to the Burntwood Heritage Trail booklet, the Star Inn was where local nailers would take their products to be be weighed and paid for by ‘middle men’, who would also replenish their supplies of iron. The pub building itself is relatively modern but, according to the booklet, there has been a drinking establishment on this site since at least 1600 when a local blacksmith was licensed to keep an alehouse here, becoming known as the Star Inn by 1790.
Unintentionally shining Star
One of the blue plaques on the Burntwood Heritage Trail, created by the fantastically named ‘Keepers of the Archive’.
Back home, I had a look for other examples of nailers’ stones and found that the Black Country History website has a photograph here of one very similar which they describe as a nail making anvil from St Peter’s Rd, Darby End.
I notice that there appear to be initials or names on the stones and it would be fantastic to know more about their provenance. The heritage booklet says that making nails was a way for a farming family to make extra money, and that the work was often carried out by the woman of the household.
I know these are Burntwood objects, rather than Lichfield ones but they tell the story of everyday folk trying to make a living for themselves and their families in an industry that’s now long gone, and that’s got to be worth sharing.
(For more on the nailmaking industry, please see the ‘Nailed it’ post on Brownhills Bob’s Brownhills Blog here)
In the last couple of weeks, I’ve done a fair bit of walking in the lanes (and on one misjudged occasion, a potato field) around the Lichfield/Burntwood area. On one walk I was accompanied by my husband, on another I was alone. Well, I say alone, but actually you bump into others – cyclists, horseriders and of course other walkers, who generally smile and say hello, and exchange pleasantries. I like that a lot. On the walk I did alone, I made the mistake of trying to take a shortcut. It was a way marked path through fields and the views were great but it felt too lonely. I retraced my steps back through the potatoes and back to the lanes. I’ve realised that I’m not much of a fan of walking through fields. I prefer to be somewhere where others have been, and others are.
Anyway, in case anyone wants to do a similar walk themselves, here’s a suggested route. I think it’s about 5 and a half miles. As you can see it’s pretty straight forward, and in fact you could do it either way around, but I’d been reading the book ‘Holloway‘ and liked the idea of walking from Farewell towards the Cathedral down Cross in Hand Lane, as pilgrims did in the past, and indeed still do.
On walks these days, I am torn between the joy of discovering the unknown, and the disappointment on getting home and finding that you were just minutes away from a Tudor gatehouse/CAMRA pub of the year/ancient burial site etc. I hope that including a couple of photos with suggestions of things to look out for won’t make it too prescriptive, but will give you a flavour of the walk.
In parts, Abnalls Lane cuts through sandstone, and tree roots grow above your head.
According to the Staffordshire Heritage Environment Record, there are a series of these holloways on the Lichfield/Burntwood border.
Walking through the potatoes, it felt like there was nothing else but fields.
I was glad to get back on the lanes and see signs of human life, like these old cottages at Spade Green, on Abnalls Lane before turning up The Roche.
Found lots of water around Cresswell (except for the well itself!). This is part of an old mill race, seemingly all that’s left of Little Pipe corn mill.
The Nelson Inn shows up on the 1815 map, and the pub’s website says that there may have been a pub onsite since the 1500s (presumably with a different name?). The low building to the left (which I’ve practically cut off the photo!) was a smithy. In 1909, Clifford Daft advertised himself as a general shoeing smith, willing to undertake all kinds of jobbing and repairs to farm implements.
Looking at a series of old maps, there’s not just the one well around here but several. However, I didn’t find any of them, so I had to settle for a different form of refreshment. And a very nice pint of Theakston’s Lightfoot it was.
We found the old Farewell and Chorley schoolhouse, but I haven’t been able to find out much more about Elizabeth Annie Page as yet.
An old farm at Chorley
The Malt Shovel at Chorley. Great pub.
A lovely babbling brook running alongside the path. Was tempted to have a paddle as it was hot and my feet were rubbing, but thought I’d never put my not entirely appropriate shoes back on again if I did.
In between walks, some of the wildflowers on the roadside verges had been chopped down which was a shame, but there were still pockets of them in places, including these incredibly late bluebells.
Farewell church, a church of two halves. Once the site of a Benedictine Priory and where some mysterious jars were found in the wall, during renovations….
…and somewhere beneath the greenery is the ‘pure spring’ that gives the place its name. You can’t see much, but you can sometimes hear it gurgling away if the water table is high enough (thank you Brownhills Bob for explaining away this mystery)
Down Cross in Hand land, past Farewell Mill. There’s been a mill here since the 12th century. It was apparently in operation until the 1940s (source: Staffordshire Past Track).
Past the sheep taking a dip in the sparkling water that flows along the lane.
Cross in Hand Lane, I understand, was once the old road to Stafford. As you reach these lovely white cottages set back into the sandstone, you are nearly back at the A51, which is of course the new road to Stafford…
Of course, if you don’t want to say farewell (ho,ho) to the walk just yet, somewhere around these cottages is an old track called Lyncroft Lane, which leads to Lyncroft House aka The Hedgehog!
Standing in a small area of woodland on the edge of a field in Leomansley is a stone with the inscription ‘Greville’s Belt W.W.W 1923‘. It isn’t a gravestone, although you can see why some have mistaken it for one, but a marker erected by the then owner of the Maple Hayes estate, William Worthington Worthington, to commemorate the planting of this small belt of trees, named after his eldest son (William) Greville Worthington.(1)
In 1918, William Worthington had inherited Maple Hayes from his father Albert Octavius Worthington, a partner in the Burton brewery that carried his family name, who had originally purchased the estate in 1884. However, Greville Worthington would not inherit the estate from his father. In the early hours of 17th March 1942, whilst serving as a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve at Dover, Greville drove through a restricted area. Although the sentry on duty ordered him to ‘Halt!’ twice, he failed to stop.The sentry opened fire and Greville was fatally wounded, dying in hospital ten days later. A verdict of accidental death was recorded. In the October of the following year, there was another family tragedy. Lady Diana Worthington, Greville’s former wife, went missing from her home Weston Manor in Olney. A scarf and a coat were found on the banks of the River Ouse and after a week of searching, Diana’s body was recovered from the water.
Greville and Diana had four children together – Caroline, Anna, Charles and Benjamin. I have not yet been unable to find out much about what happened to the children following the deaths of their parents. However, we do know that when William Worthington died in 1949, nineteen year old Charles was his heir. (2) William’s death brought the Worthington era at Maple Hayes to an end and in 1950, the estate was sold. The house and around twenty three acres were acquired by Staffordshire County Council for educational purposes. Since 1981, the site has been occupied by the Maple Hayes Dyslexia School. The remainder of the estate, some 1,500 acres including farms, cottages and agricultural land, was sold to a trust.(3)
As well as Greville’s Belt, other areas of woodland were named after Worthington family members. Lady Muriel’s Belt, Herbert’s Spinney and Fitzherbert Firs still appear on maps of the area, as mentioned in BrownhillsBob’s recent post on Leomansley. Are there more stone markers to be found in these places? I also noticed a house on the site of the old playground of Christ Church School, near to the church, which has a plaque saying ‘W.W.W 1920‘. Surely another reference to William Worthington Worthington, although exactly what the connection is I don’t know as yet. The Worthington family may no longer reside at Maple Hayes but their names still echo in the landscape that surrounds their former home.
(1) I have seen similar stones marking ‘Parker’s Plantation’ and ‘The Roundabouts’ at the Pipe Hall Farm, owned by The Woodland Trust.
(2) W.G.W had a younger brother Albert Ronald Worthington, born 1904 and died in 1951. but according to the County History, it was grandson Charles, eldest son of W.G.W that was W.W.W’s heir.
I had an email from Pat telling me there was a lump on the side of the A51, near to the junction with Abnalls Lane. I assumed that it was an old tree stump, but Pat thinks it might be something more than that, and recalls seeing some stone there last year.
I went and had a closer look. Pat said in his comment on the Cross City post, the lump is covered in vegetation, but there is likely to be something solid underneath, as the grass is cut around it. I took a few photos and then the self -conciousness of being stood on a busy A-road taking photos of a grassy lump got the better of me and I headed back up Abnalls Lane.
So, does anyone else know anything about this, or do we just have to wait until the grass dies away in the Autumn to get a better look?!
In the meantime, it’s worth taking a trip up Abnalls Lane. In parts, it’s thought to be a holloway, and at times you’re surrounded by hedgerows, tree roots and sandstone, with carved names and dripping water. It takes you past the site of one of Lichfield’s Scheduled Ancient Monuments – a moated site on the edge of Pipe Green and over the border into Burntwood. It also passes nearby the site of Erasmus Darwin’s botanical garden, although unfortunately the site is not open to the public.
Spires of Lichfield from moated site at Abnalls Lane on the Lichfield/Burntwood Boundary
Interestingly, a section on Burntwood in the History of the County of Stafford says that,
The road, now Abnalls Lane, was known as Pipe Lane at least between 1464 and 1683. The point where it goes over the boundary was described in 1597 as ‘the place where the broken cross in Pipe Lane stood’; a ditch at Broken Cross was mentioned in 1467.
Is this one of the crosses already counted in Cross City, or a different one?
Also, on the subject of research into stone things, at the end of Abnalls Lane, there are some interesting names – The Roche and Hobstonehill (according to the History of the County of Stafford, the placename ‘Hobbestone’ was mentioned in 1392).
This week started with a brand new orchard and ended with an ancient woodland.
Last weekend, I helped to plant cider trees at Woodhouse Community Farm in Fisherwick. It wasn’t just the potential liquid reward that got me out of bed on a cold and frosty Sunday morning, there were a couple of other reasons!
It's got a lot of potential....
Orchards are becoming a rare habitat – according to Natural England, it’s estimated that the overall orchard area in England has declined by 63% since 1950. A traditional orchard can support around 1,800 species of wildlife. Although it will clearly take a while for the new cider orchard to reach this stage, I’m hoping that it will help to redress the balance a little bit! The People’s Trust for Endangered Species recently created an inventory of the traditional orchards in England, and you can read the summary of their findings for Staffordshire here.
Being involved with the orchard will also give me an opportunity to learn something about some disappearing traditional skills and knowhow. Growing fruit trees is a fascinating business, although I clearly have much to learn as I was the only person whose tree had to be dug up and replanted. Hopefully I’ll be better at the cider making bit, but if not, there’s always the cider drinking part which I’m fairly confident about.
In contrast to this budding orchard, on Friday I found myself amongst much older trees. Merrion’s Wood is a lovely nature reserve, just outside Walsall town centre and looked after by Walsall Countryside Services. Bluebells are already starting to shoot up all over there and countryside ranger Morgan told me that these plants were an indicator of ancient woodland, along with several other species.
Ancient Woodland in Leomansley
Leomansley Wood is full of bluebells in springtime. An interactive map of habitats from DEFRA confirms it as ‘ancient replanted woodland’. This means that although the site has been continuously wooded since 1600 (at least), the trees are more recent. It’s interesting that the place name is thought to include the celtic element ‘lemo’, meaning an elm (1) or possibly ‘leme’, lime tree. The ‘-ley’ suffix is thought to come from the Anglo Saxon ‘leah’ meaning ‘clearing’ (2).
I think that to find a nearby semi natural ancient woodland, you need to visit Hopwas Woods near Whittington Barracks. I should probably do this myself at some point! It’s worth pointing out that only 1.2% of the UK is made up of this kind of habitat and that it is irreplaceable. (3)
The DEFRA map also shows a traditional orchard between Maple Hayes and Jubilee Wood (where the conduits are!) with several others around Burntwood and Chorley. Perhaps even more interestingly, it seems there are two patches of traditional orchard in a built up residential area of Lichfield. I don’t know if I should say where, it might encourage scrumping!
I’ve also noticed several apple trees growing alongside the A51. How did these get here – discarded apple cores from car windows or remnants of something else? Perhaps more importantly, can I use these to make cider? 😉
Don’t just take my work for how brilliant Woodhouse Community Farm is! There is a snowdrop walk on Sunday 5th February at 10.30am, where you can also see some of the things they have planned for the future.
The Woodland Trust point out that although many ancient woodlands have been recorded on inventories, there may also be unidentified fragments out there. Although bluebells don’t always indicate ancient woodland, if you do spot any growing this spring it might be worth having a closer look to see what else is around! The Woodland Trust have a really interesting guide to ancient woodland that you can read by clicking here.
Ian’s been in touch to ask if I can help to publicise a new organisation doing some great work in our area……
Changes is a mental health organisation offering a range of services including friendly mutual support groups, social activities and opportunities for accredited training via the National Open College Network. These services can be accessed for free, without the need for a GP referral. Local volunteers are helping to run the service in the Lichfield area.
In addition to these services, Changes also run wellness courses for people in mental distress, and the next one starts on Monday 23rd January between 10.30am & 12pm at the Pavilion in Beacon Park. The course is free of charge and public transport costs can also be met.
Changes was formed by people with experience of using mental health sevices, to help both themselves and others in the same situation. They aim to provide personalised support and services, greater independence and to help people with their social skills, to regain confidence and to become active members of their community.
If you would like to find out more about the course, or to find out more about the service generally, you can visit the website www.changes.org.uk or contact Ann at the Lichfield Wellbeing Centre on 01543 309 770 or Samatha at the Burntwood Wellbeing Centre on 01543 679 000 who would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.
After fifty-five weeks, four failed attempts and roping in several members of my family I finally found the medieval conduit head up at Pipe Hall Farm in Burntwood. You know though, you wait all year for a conduit head & then two turn up…..
A little background first. From 1160 until 1969 water was carried one and a half miles from springs in the Pipe area of Burntwood to the Cathedral Close via a conduit. At the source, a cistern was cut into the rock and a small brick building was erected over the source to keep the water clean and healthy. (2) This medieval conduit-head was in use for the majority of the time, but was temporarily replaced by a brick conduit between 1780 and 1821*. After an incredible 809 years, it was decided that it should carry water no more as it was constantly being damaged by ploughing and having to be fixed by Bridgeman’s employees (hope you appreciate the irony of this Vickie Sutton!) (3)
This pump outside the Cathedral replaced the Close’s conduit head in 1786
As water pipes go, this one had a pretty eventful life. Although the conduit itself was later known as Moses, it’s thought it gave the name ‘Pipe’ to the whole area.(4) It was vandalised by Lord & Lady Stanley, until King Henry VII stepped in in 1489 and told them to behave. In the early 16th century, washerwomen drawing water at the Cathedral end were said to be scandalising residents of the Close and during the Civil War it was inevitably stripped of lead by soldiers.(5)
In December 2010, around the same time I started this blog, I made it my mission to find the Medieval Conduit Head. I went to the wrong woods twice. Then I went to the correct woods twice but looked in the wrong place. This time, I gathered a team of explorers aka my family and at the noticeboard in the Pipe Hall Farm car park I gave them their orders. ‘This’, I said pointing to a helpful map & photo, ‘is what we are looking for and we are not leaving here until we find it’. After an initial search proved fruitless we split up. Mr G spotted some bricks and on closer inspection we were sure we’d found the 18th century replacement brick conduit head.
Not medieval but still a conduit head!Close up there’s a visible date. 1755?
Cheered by this discovery, we went to find the others. My Mum wasn’t far away and told us a little further on she had spotted steps leading down to something and had sent my Dad to investigate. This had to be it. I called to ask him if he’d found anything. ‘There’s this. I wasn’t sure if this was it or not?’ he said deadly serious, whilst stood next to a small building identical to the one in the photo. ‘Yes Dad’, I said ‘Yes it is’. We celebrated with a cup of tea, enjoying the views of Lichfield from the hill.
The Medieval Conduit Head. As found by my Dad.
It seems ridiculous to say but both Conduit Heads are actually really easy to find. They are actually just off a main path running alongside the Jubilee Wood. You can even see the medieval one from this path. => I was almost looking too hard. And I can’t read maps.
The Medieval Conduit Head was included on the 2008 English Heritage ‘At Risk’ register where its condition was said to be ‘poor’ but was removed from the list in 2010 after its restoration.