The King's Touch

This Christmas, for the first time ever, I watched the Queen’s Speech. I’d read somewhere that there had been a flurry of bets on the Queen abdicating and though sceptical, I interrupted a FIFA match between Walsall and Barcelona to seize momentary control of the television just in case. Of course, it had been nothing but a rumour and Charles remains a king in waiting.

Earlier that week, I’d been to visit a house associated with another King Charles to be. Following defeat at the Battle of Worcester on 3rd September 1651, Charles Stuart had fled north to Shropshire, hoping to sneak across the border into Wales and sail from there to Europe. The Parliamentarians were one step ahead of him and were closely guarding the River Severn crossing places and ferries, thwarting this plan. In the early hours of 8th September 1651, Charles arrived at Moseley Old Hall in Staffordshire, looking for a place to hide and a new escape route.  He was met at the back door by owner Thomas Whitgreave and the family priest John Huddleston (1), who gave up his four poster bed (2) and shared his hiding place with the future King when Cromwell’s soldiers came seeking him.

Moseley Old Hall as it was....

Moseley Old Hall as it was…. taken from ‘The Flight of the King by Allan Fea (1908)

....and as it is today. Well, last Sunday anyway.

….and as it is today. Well, last Sunday anyway.

The house which hid the King is now hidden itself behind a Victorian redbrick facade. As we waited outside, making jokes about standing under the mistletoe, the guide informed us that we were about to enter the hall through the very same door as the King had, and told the assembled children to let their teachers know about it. Mine were only here because I’d promised they’d be able to toast some bread over an open fire at the end but they seemed suitably impressed (3). One little lad wanted to know if there was going to be a ride. I suppose in a way there was.

The back door through which Charles entered Moseley Olf Hall on 8th September 1651

The back door through which Charles entered Moseley Old Hall on 8th September 1651

As everyone knows (4), before the King came to lie low at Moseley he’d been hiding high at Boscobel, nine miles away on the Staffordshire/Shropshire border. A tree house inspired by the Royal Oak, the most famous of all the places the King found refuge, is a recent addition to the King’s Wood at Moseley.  There are signs warning of peril, and whilst the element of danger here is not quite on a par with that of a man with a thousand pound bounty on his head hiding in a tree, it’s enough to get overprotective parents like me muttering, ‘Be careful!’, as if it were a charm to invoke protection.

The Moseley Old Hall Tree House

The Moseley Old Hall Tree Hide

The Royal Oak in 2011, Boscobel House, Shropshire by The Royal Oak in 2011, Boscobel House, Shropshire  Uploaded to Wikipedia  in May 2011 Sjwells53 by  CC BY-SA 3.0

The Royal Oak in 2011, Boscobel House, Shropshire
Uploaded to Wikipedia in May 2011 Sjwells53 CC BY-SA 3.0

I’ve yet to visit Boscobel, owned by English Heritage. I understand that today’s Royal Oak grew from an acorn of the original tree which was destroyed by visitors in the seventeenth century who, in the absence of a gift shop, took away branches and boughs to fashion into souvenirs. In his book ‘Boscobel’, Thomas Blount described,

‘this tree was divided into more parts by Royalists than
perhaps any oak of the same size ever was, each man
thinking himself happy if he could produce a tobacco
stopper, box etc made of the wood.’

These trinkets still turn up at auctions. In 2012, a snuff box sold at Bonhams for almost £7,000.  Another prized relic at the time of Charles’ great escape was a rag he’d used to mop up a nosebleed. Father Huddleston passed this ‘bloody clout’ to a Mrs Braithwaite who kept it as a remedy for the King’s Evil, another name given to the disease known as scrofula. Since the reign of Edward the Confessor, it had been thought that the disease could be cured by a touch from a King or Queen. Of all the royal touchers, Charles II was the most prolific. The British Numismatic Society estimate he touched over 100,000 people during his reign. The tradition was continued, somewhat reluctantly, by King James II who carried out a ‘touching’ ceremony at Lichfield Cathedral in 1687 (5). The last English Monarch to partake in the ritual was Queen Anne, who ‘touched’ a two year old Samuel Johnson at one of the ceremonies in 1712. The touch piece or coin which the Queen presented young Samuel with, which he is said to have worn throughout his life, is now in the British Museum.

John Huddleston's room now known as the King's Bedroom

John Huddleston’s room now known as the King’s Bedroom from The Flight of the King by Allan Des (1908)

By the mid twentieth century, Moseley Old Hall was suffering from neglect and subsidence. This ‘atmospheric Elizabethan farmhouse that saved a King‘ was itself saved by the National Trust, when they took over in 1962. Every year, thousands of people pass through that door to see that bed and hiding place. Seems that three hundred years on the King hasn’t lost his touch. Or maybe they are just here for the toast?

Moseley Toast

Notes

(1) As the king lay dying in February 1684, Huddleston was said to have been brought to his bedside with the words, “This good man once saved your life. Now he comes to save your soul”.

(2) The bed at Moseley is the original one the King slept on top of. It was bought by Sir Geoffrey Mander of Wightwick Manor in 1913, but was returned to the hall in 1962 by his widow, Lady Mander.

(3) It seems the King’s victory was only short-lived. One of them just asked what I was writing about and when I told them it was Moseley Old Hall they replied, ‘Oh yes, the place with the toast’.

(4) If you didn’t know, take a look at this great map from englishcivilwar.org which plots all of the stages on the King’s journey from the Battle of Worcester to his arrival in Fécamp, France

(5) More information can be found in ‘Touching for the King’s Evil: James II at Lichfield in 1687’, in Volume 20 of the The Staffordshire Archaeological and Historical Society transactions.

Sources: 

Moseley Old Hall, National Trust Guidebook

Staffordshire Archaeological and Historical Society Transactions Volume XL

http://www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v17n40a13.html

http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/cm/d/dr_johnsons_touch-piece.aspx

A Grave Matter

Recently, someone told me that there were some interesting gravestones at Holy Cross Catholic church on Upper Saint John St. As David Moore is on the lookout for examples of symbolism in the city’s churchyards for his upcoming Lichfield Discovered talk on the subject in September, I went to take a look.

Initially, I thought there had been a mistake as I couldn’t see any gravestones at all, but tucked around the side of the church I found just the three of them, side by side.

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The inscriptions are worn but the names are still legible. Names that I recognised at once. Around this time last year,  I wrote about the Corfield family who lost their lives when a fire swept through their home and business premises in Market Street in January 1873 (see here) and how rumour and legend had grown up around the tragedy.  It’s not so much the symbolism that is interesting here but the additional inscription on the middle stone – ‘Refused admission into St Michael’s Churchyard’. What does this mean exactly? It seems to contradict the Lichfield Mercury report from January 18th 1873 that,

‘The remains of the seven members of the family were conveyed in three hearses to St Michael’s Church-yard on Thursday afternoon and laid together in a square grave. The whole of the burial service was read at the grave by the Rector, the Rev J J Serjeantson; the burial service according to the Roman Catholic ritual, to which community the deceased belonged, had been read over the bodies by the Catholic priest at the Guildhall on Wednesday evening. The bodies were not taken in the church’.

All I can think is that it was these memorial stones which were not admitted into the churchyard at St Michael’s? Any thoughts or comments would be welcome.

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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/