Pipe Lines

The traffic lights at Pipe Hill crossroads are haunted. Let’s just put that out there right away. Ever since this was pointed out to me by Deb from Melbourne in Lichfield, I’ve often found myself on red, sat waiting for something that I can’t see to pull out of Fosseway Lane. I’m imagining this spectral vehicle to be a Roman chariot because that’s the way to Wall and all of us good classical scholars know that ‘fosse’ is a Latin word meaning ditch. We also all know that ‘Caecilius est in horto‘ but we’re going up Pipehill not Up Pompeii.

Yes that is snow on the ground. Yes this has taken me a while to write.

The Walsall Road was once owned by the Lichfield Turnpike Trust who had built a toll house and gate on it by 1787. In November 1879, the Trust held an auction at the Three Crowns inn, to dispose of them. The Victoria County History suggests the house was probably demolished by 1909, although the person who lives in it assures me that it probably wasn’t. The supposition most likely arises from a parish meeting at Hammerwich in 1909, where an old minute notebook from Pipe Hill parish (which by then had joined up with Wall) was produced, saying that the tollhouse had been sold to the Marquess of Anglesey on the condition it be taken down. At the time of the meeting the building was still standing but encroaching significantly on the footpath and the matter was referred to the overseers of Wall.

Further along towards Muckley Corner is Pipe Place, a mid-eighteenth century farm house. When owner Mr Bradburne was in horto he made a fascinating discovery that, like so much of our local Roman history, has never been acknowledged enough in meam humilem opinionem. As he was digging a drain, Bradburne discovered the trunks of several oak trees deliberately driven upright into the ground. Some had rotted away above the surface, but others were still whole, each with, ‘a cavity four inches wide and three inches wide from the top cut down its middle’. The structure was traced for about a quarter of a mile and was surrounded by a ‘fosse’ filled with peat.

From ‘A Topographical History of Staffordshire by William Pitt (1817)’

According to the Heritage Environment Record, this could still be seen as a linear feature on aerial photos in the 1990s but my amateur eyes can’t make anything out on Google maps. The Georgian gents who originally found it thought it must have been a military barricade erected by the Romans to defend Letocetum but more recently it has been suggested by archaeologist Jim Gould that it may have been an aqueduct built to provide the settlement with water. If you think about it logically, the water for that big bath at Wall must have come from somewhere. Two lengths of lead piping were discovered on the bath house site in 1874, last seen in the Lichfield Museum in 1961 but long since vanished with much else of the collection. In a later excavation, deer horns, a number of dogs’ skulls and the thigh bone of a teenage boy were discovered. Unfortunately, as yet I can’t find anything else about the context in which they were found although the pony skull discovered at the bottom of a nearby well may well have been a votive offering. It probably belongs to that one pulling that spectral chariot up at Pipe Hill cross roads.

Image from Lichfield Mercury. It was definitely a long term policy…

Let us now gallop 1,500 years forward in time from possible pagan practices to Victorian values. The Misses Topham opened an establishment at Pipe Hill for young ladies in 1856 and I’m sure there were definitely some good classical scholars amongst them. In 1882, a tiny chapel was built at Pipe Hill, as a mission room to the church at Wall and during the First World War, a street shrine listing the names of those from the local community who were serving their country stood outside it. These shrines were different to the later memorials we are all familiar with in that they were as much about praying for the living as remembering the dead, and were often bestrewn with offerings of flowers, flags and photographs. Perhaps we didn’t come all that far from those pagan practices after all….The Pipe Hill Mission Church didn’t quite last a century and after laying disused for several years it was bought by Staffordshire County Council and demolished in 1971. One other institution which warrants a brief mention is the Pipe Hill and Farewell Association for Prosecuting Felons who advertised in the Staffordshire Advertiser in November 1817 a list of rewards they offered for the apprehension and conviction of those committing offences such as ‘highway robbery’ (£21), ‘wrongfully milking any cow’ (£5 5s) and ‘maliciously pulling up turnips’ (£2 2s).

Finally, how can I write about Pipe Hill and not mention Lichfield’s creepiest cottage? The property has been empty and decaying ever since I moved here in 2004, intriguing us all with its mysterious ‘Not for sale or rent’ notice. I drove past earlier and saw this is no longer the case. Much of the wilderness surrounding it had been cleared and for just under £300,000 cash, it can be yours. I strongly suspect the traffic lights won’t be the only thing changing at Pipe Hill in the near future…

Sources

Staffordshire Advertiser 29th November 1817 and 30th January 1915

Gould, J. (1998) Letocetum

https://www.lichfielddc.gov.uk/downloads/file/1849/hammerwich-neighbourhood-plan-submission-version-march-2021

Lichfield Mercury 31st October 1879 and 3rd November 1916

‘Townships: Wall with Pipehill’, in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14, Lichfield, ed. M W Greenslade (London, 1990), pp. 283-294. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol14/pp283-294 [accessed 25 July 2021

Pills ‘n’ Chills and Deli Bakes

Yesterday I was in Tamworth for the summer food festival, enjoying excellent locally produced pork pies, sausage rolls and blue cheese.

After a gentle stroll around the town, I hopped back into the car and headed to Hopwas for a forage. For once, my walk took me along the canal in the opposite direction to the woods, a decision which may have been influenced by having read about a disused and reputedly haunted cemetery on Hints Road.

The graveyard once belonged to Hopwas Chapel, built in 1836 and dedicated to St John, and its resident ghost is said to be a small boy who can be seen by children (but not by a childish 39 year old it seems). The chapel was pulled down in the 1880s, as it was ‘full, small and inconvenient’, and replaced by the gorgeous St Chad’s Church up on the hill. A drawing of the old chapel can be seen here on the Stafforshire Past Track site. The old font survived and stands outside the new church, and the chapel’s bell still tolls in St Chad’s tower.  According to a report in the Tamworth Herald on Saturday 16th April 1898, the holy table from St John’s was made use of in the new Workhouse chapel.

St Chad’s, Hopwas, dedicated and opened in 1881

The old font from St John’s Chapel

Nearby, I found a cottage with the best name ever, which fitted in perfectly with the theme of the day, followed by a pill box in a field alongside the River Tame.

Too well guarded by nettles to even attempt to take a look inside, I plan to return as part of a much longer pill box walk along this section of the Western Command Stop Line Number 5 in winter. If I eat as much as I did at the summer festival, on the way home from the Tamworth Christmas food festival would probably be a good time….

 

Sources:

Click to access A%20Look%20Around%20St%20Chads.pdf

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/

Perspexive

This morning, I went to the dentist. On the way home I walked past St John’s Hospital. With the sun shining, I decided to pop in and allow myself a minute to take in the lovely surroundings and the calm atmosphere of the courtyard, before heading home.

At least that was my intention. As hospitable as ever, someone in the courtyard came over to welcome me, and invited me to have a look around the chapel. Never one to miss an opportunity to be nosey, I accepted with thanks.

I have been inside once before, but that visit was dominated by standing in front of John Piper’s striking window for the first time. Today, I sat on a back pew and found myself next to a perspex window. A small sticker told me that the stonework behind the perspex was the remains of a Norman water stoup. I understand that this would once have held holy water, into which those entering the chapel could dip their fingers, and make the sign of the cross. Apparently, many stoups were destroyed during the reformation but whether this is the case here I don’t know.  As the chapel has been heavily restored and altered over the centuries, I was delighted to have this chance encounter with part of the older fabric of the chapel.   Unfortunately, as I hadn’t anticipated there being many photo opportunities on a trip to the dentists, I had no camera. But the chapel is open everyday until 5pm, so if you can, please do go and take a look yourself, and enjoy visiting the grounds at the same time.

This got me thinking about the idea of layers of history within buildings, where generations of people have made their mark, by accident or by design, for better or for worse.  When I was volunteering at the Guildhall, someone told me I could get out using the back door. It was news to me that there was a back door but once through it, I made the even more exciting  discovery that  traces of the older building were still in evidence. For example, whilst the main hall and the front of the Guildhall date to the mid 1800s, the blocked window on the photograph below is thought to date to the 16thc.

Brickwork from different periods, round the back of the Guildhall

Another couple of examples to be going on with – what’s gone on here with all the different brickwork at this house in The Close?

This metal….thing, above a restaurant on Bird St, must have played some role in the building’s past, but what?

And when we’re talking about layers of history, should we also consider the present and future of buildings? I notice that the Angel Croft hotel has unsurprisingly made its annual appearance on the English Heritage At Risk register…..

Sources

http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=37864

Hospital Ward

In 1781, John Snape carried out a census of Lichfield, making a list of the different wards of the city in the process. The wards are as follows: Bacon St (now Beacon St), Bird St, Sandford St, Sandford St below the water, St John’s St, St John’s St above the bars, Sadler St (now Market St), Bore St, Wade St, Dam St, Tamworth St, Lombard St, Stow St and Greenhill.

I think that these are the wards depicted by the flags hanging from the ceiling of the Guildhall, discussed here in my previous post. Now that I’ve finally made it back into the Guildhall to check which flag corresponds with which ward, I’m going to take each one in turn, trying to discover the significance of the design on each flag. Some I’m pretty sure of, others I’m really not (I’m talking about you Sandford St below the water ward!)

 

Photo from Ell Brown via flickr

 I’m starting with the flag that represents St John’s ward. Not only is it my favourite of the banners, it’s also seasonal with the feast of St John’s (or Midsummer’s Day) on 24th June. St John St gets its name from The Hospital of St John The Baptist (the place with the chimmneys!). The design from the flag is also on the board outside St John’s chapel, but what does it represent? The yellow flowers must be St John’s Wort, associated both with the saint and midsummer. What are the flowers growing around though?  Well, it’s taken a lot of googling but I think that it’s St Anthony’s Cross (also known as the Cross of Tau), often associated with St Francis. This possibly explains its inclusion, as the site of the Franciscan Friary lies within this ward . Part of the old Friary wall can still be seen on St John St.

Please feel free to join in with the speculation on this and any of the other flags that follow!

Photo of St John’s board from Ell Brown’s Lichfield Group photo set on his flickr stream, included with thanks.