Take Me to Church Mayfield

On my recent explorations of the North, I exchanged SatNav Woman for my Mum and a map. It’s a swings and drive several times around the roundabout looking for the right exit approach. SatNav Woman doesn’t get excited by finding places like ‘Gallows Green’ on the map or stopping to ask directions from bonny locals who call you ‘Me Duck’ (ok, that was both of us), but then she doesn’t send you text messages from the car when you’re having a moment with a thousand year old font or leave her wet socks to dry on the dashboard either.

Mum's Socks

From Croxden Abbey we headed to Mayfield, and specifically, Church Mayfield as I wanted to see the early sixteenth century tower at St John the Baptist. Completed by Thomas Rollestone in 1515, he added the inscription ‘Ainsi et mieux peut etre’. I don’t speak French but I understand this translates to something like ‘thus it is and better it could be’ and appears to be a variation on the Rollestone family motto. Some have interpreted this as an indication that Thomas thought he could have done a bit of a better job on the tower. My maths is as bad as my French, but I can just about work out that this year was its 500th anniversary and at the celebrations in April, someone made an edible replica of the church in gingerbread, something so brilliant that surely neither perfectionist Thomas Rollestone nor Mary Berry could find fault.

Tower door, Mayfield

Tower door, Mayfield

The door to the tower is peppered with holes and the story goes that on 7th December 1745 the retreating army of Bonnie Prince Charlie passed through Mayfield, murdering an innkeeper and a man who refused to hand over his horse before turning their muskets on the church door, behind which the terrified villagers had barricaded themselves. Although I came in peace, the door was also locked to me and so I had to be content exploring the churchyard.

Holes in the door

Holes in the door

Underneath a yew tree there’s a medieval wayside cross moved here in the mid nineteenth century from Middle Mayfield, where it stood at a junction opposite a house known as ‘The Hermitage’ (an inscription on the door lintel reads ‘William Bott, in his old age, built himself a hermitage 1749).  Something else in the churchyard which I’ve never seen before but is so simple and effective that I’m not sure why, is a tree stump timeline, marking events in the church, village and the world during the lifetime of the Lebanese cedar which was one hundred and seventy seven years old when it was felled in 2008.

Tree time line Mayfield

En-route to our next destination (Cheadle),  we tried and failed to find the Hanging Bridge, spanning the River Dove, and also the Staffordshire/Derbyshire boundary. It was rebuilt in 1937 but, as you’ll see from the photo I’ve pinched from elsewhere, the arches of the original fourteenth century packhorse bridge are still visible. The name is said to refer to the executions of the Jacobite rebels which took place here following the trouble at Mayfield. However, as much as I’m a fan of folklore, I’m also a lover of linguistics and my suspicion the story was derived from the bridge’s name, and not vice versa, was confirmed by David Horovitz’s epic research into the place names of Staffordshire which reveals that the structure was first recorded as Le Hongindebrugge in 1296, nearly 450 years before Bonnie Prince Charlie’s troops are said to have met their end here. Of course that only raises more questions about what ‘hanging’ actually refers to here. I’ve been thinking about it for over an hour and now I’m handing it over to you, as the best I can come up with is a rope bridge. Ainsi et mieux peut etre….

Hanging Bridge, Mayfield by John M [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Hanging Bridge, Mayfield by John M [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Sources:
http://www.mayfieldparishchurch.org/history-churchyard.html

https://lichfieldlore.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/397633_vol2.pdf

‘Discovering Mayfield’ leaflet 2012 produced by Mayfield Heritage Group

My Bloody Valentine

For those of you who aren’t feeling the love for Valentines Day, here’s some black magic. And I’m not talking chocolates. In his Lichfield Mercury column ‘Historical Gleanings – Lichfield Over a Century Ago’, JW Jackson recalled the following article in a local paper from 1836,

“On Saturday, the sexton of a certain church observing an elegantly dressed female walking mysteriously up and down the churchyard, watched her secretly, when he saw her rake up the earth with her foot and, after depositing something in the ground, cover it up. Induced by curiosity he opened up the place and found a hare’s heart in which 365 pins were stuck buried there. It was an old superstition in this county that if a person who had been foresaken by one professing love for her shall bury a hare’s heart full of pins near a newly made grave in the churchyard, as the heart decays, so the health of the faithless swain will decline, and that he will die when it has mouldered to dust. The fair deceived one had been instigated by revenge to this act of folly and credulity.”

 

Getting revenge on a faithless swain. Sweeter than a whole box of Thorntons. Frederick William Hackwood also mentions a similar practice in his Mercury column on “Staffordshire Superstitions’ (1923), ‘Among the lingering superstitions are present-day memories of an old woman given to witchcraft sticking a bullock’s heart full of pins with the vicious intent of piercing the heart of some deadly enemy with whom she had quarrelled beyond all hopes of forgiveness or reconciliation”.

Luckily, a defence against these dark arts did exist.  In a book published by the Folklore Society in 1890, Alexander M McAldowie tells of two witch brooches which his brother Robert found in Staffordshire.   One was discussed in a section of the 1896 Journal of the British Archaeological Society called ‘Notes on North Staffordshire’ and is described as being heart-shaped with unequal sides, little more than an inch in height and made of silver with eighteen crystals. Apparently, these talismans were often bought alongside wedding rings and would keep the wearer safe from harm. In a post on witch brooches, the Spyders of Burslem blog includes the notes given to the North Staffordshire Field Club in 1891 by Robert McAldowie. What’s extra interesting for us here is that he mentions a witch brooch he got in Lichfield from a jeweller who had bought two of them from an old servant of a family once living near the city but had melted one down for silver.

I’ve not managed to track down the whereabouts of any the Staffordshire brooches yet, assuming they even still exist. There is a Victorian one for sale on a vintage site here if you want a belated present that looks pretty and has the added bonus of protecting your beloved from witches and evil in general.

Antique Victorian Witch Brooch. Image from rubylane.com

Antique Victorian Witch Brooch. Image from rubylane.com

However, if it’s a hare’s or bullock’s heart you’re after, I’m afraid I can’t help you. Try Waitrose.

Gaol Sentences

In the churchyard at St Chad’s in Lichfield there’s a gravestone belonging to John Prickett who died in March 1832, at the age of 63. According to the inscription, he was ‘thirty Years keeper of the Goal in this City’.

John Prickett's grave at St Chad's, Lichfield

John Prickett’s grave at St Chad’s, Lichfield

Clearly, Mr Prickett’s epitaph is not referring to a Peter Shilton-esque stint in a number one jersey for Lichfield City FC, so has the stonemason made a spelling mistake? Not exactly….

In Dr Johnson’s dictionary (I used the online version), the entry for ‘gaol’ is as follows: GAOL (gaol Welsh; geole French) A prison; a place of confinement. It is always pronounced and too often written jail and sometimes goal.  John Ash includes a separate entry for ‘goal’ in his ‘New and Complete Dictionary of the English Language’ in 1775 defining it as ‘gaol or jail’, with a note that this is the incorrect spelling (1).

Incorrect it may have been, but this spelling of the word as ‘goal’ crops up frequently in old newspapers (including the Newcastle Courant newspaper on 22nd February 1716 who reported that ‘A Brazier in Holburn is committed to Chelmsford Goal for robbing on the highway in the County of Essex’ and closer to home in April 1832, the Staffordshire Advertiser listed the people committed to Stafford Goal) and is also in evidence above the door of the Shire Hall in Nottingham, underneath a later amendment to the more usual spelling.

County Gaol, Shire Hall, Nottingham. (Alan Murray-Rust) / CC BY-SA 2.0

By 1801, around the time Mr Prickett was handed the keys, Lichfield Gaol had fourteen cells but during the nineteenth century doesn’t appear to have ever reached anything like full capacity. In a report submitted to the government regarding the proposed Gaols Act of 1823, John Prickett stated, ‘The small number of Prisoners at this time in this Gaol and the smallness of the Prison render it difficult to introduce the Regulations required by the new Act and many of them cannot be acted upon in a Prison on so small a scale’. A report to the House of Commons in 1835 said ‘It frequently happens that there are no prisoners at all but three or four may be taken as the daily average’ and between January 1st and December 31st 1839, only 34 people were admitted (including two debtors).

Perhaps one of the reasons for the low numbers of inmates is that they kept escaping. Some, like Smith and Cotterell in March 1837, used the classic sheets tied together method, and climbed over the wall into the yard of the George IV pub next door. Others were less conventional – in April 1890, Harry Oliver climbed up into a ventilator space above his cell and crawled beneath ‘the floor of the volunteer armoury above’, before dropping ten feet into the yard of the George IV.  Perhaps the greatest escape happened on Mr Prickett’s watch (who, in this instance, was obviously not watching) in July 1820 when it was reported that ‘the whole of the prisoners in the county gaol of Lichfield, six in number, made their escape’.

No escaping for him...

No escaping for him…

You can find out more about the place that they were escaping from by reading the reports written by the Inspector of Prisons after visiting in 1839 and 1847 and the Old Guildhall Cells are open on Saturdays until September for you to visit yourself (more info here). If you happen to spot any of the former residents’ initials and names, ‘cut deep into the woodwork’, as noted by the Inspector, please let me know!   

prison door

Notes

(1) On the subject of mistakes, it’s worth mentioning the howler that John Ash made when compiling his dictionary. Johnson had included the word ‘curmudgeon’ in his dictionary, and suggested that it was derived from a pronunciation of ‘coeur mechant’, information that he noted he had received ‘Fr. an unknown correspondent’. Ash, clearly taking his definition straight from Johnson’s, took the abbreviation Fr. to mean ‘French’ rather than ‘From’, and so ended up with his entry for curmudgeon suggesting that it derived from the French for ‘unknown correspondent’. Ash’s dictionary is also famous for being the first to include definitions for the F-word and C-word in English, words that may well have been uttered when Ash realised his error…

Sources:

‘Lichfield: Town government’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield(1990), pp. 73-87

Noah Webster and the American Dictionary by David Micklethwait

http://johnsonsdictionaryonline.com/

All Alongside the Watchtower

At the church of St Michael’s and All Angels, in Hamstall Ridware I was greeted by four arms waving (a sword) at me from a tomb. It belongs to the splendidly named Thomas Stronginthearm, who left this small village for the bright candles of Chicago in 1803, before making a final journey back home home to rest in the Staffordshire soil which his family had toiled upon – according to the church booklet, the Stronginthearms were yeoman famers.

Stronginthearm

The name appears several times in the Hamstall Ridware parish registers, available online here, recording all those who were baptised, married and buried here between 1598 and 1812. There are also other snippets of information on life in the village, including an entry in June 1806 when the Rector Edward Cooper led twenty five parishioners on a procession around its boundaries, beginning at Gallows Green, going along the Yoxall Rd as far as Sutton’s Farm, and then proceeding towards the Trent. Later that Summer, Edward’s cousin Jane Austen came to stay with him for five weeks, and it’s believed that she may have used Hamstall Ridware as inspiration for the fictional ‘Delaford’ in Sense and Sensibility. http://www2.lichfielddc.gov.uk/hamstallridware/about/

font 1

 

font 2

On the subject of baptism, there are three fonts here. Inside the church is the one that is currently used, which dates from nineteenth century and there’s the lovely Norman bowl which was relocated here from the church of St James at Pipe Ridware. Outside, and being used as a flowerpot, is the third, also said to be Norman. At the time of the Burton Scientific Society’s visit to the church in 1924, this font was on the vicarage lawn. One of the society members, a Mr Noble claimed that it was the relatively recent work of an Armitage mason who did a good trade in producing mock ancient stonework, for people with antiquarian tastes. However, the Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in Britain and Ireland seem happy that the font is twelfth century, and presumably they know what they are talking about.

churchyard

There’s also the base of a medieval churchyard cross here to which a much later shaft and cross have been added, although a fragment of the original shaft remains nearby.  It was while I was having a look at this, that I noticed the ruins of a brick building, looming up behind the church tower.  This is the late 15thc/early 16thc watch tower, once part of the now derelict manor house, Hamstall Hall. When the Burton Scientific society visited, they climbed a wooden staircase to the roof where they enjoyed ‘a good view of the surrounding area’ – it’s said that you can see four counties from the top. Given that that the hall features on the ‘Heritage at Risk’ List and is considered to be at risk of collapsing, it’s probably best to take their word for it. There are other remains of the hall here too, which I missed, including a Tudor gateway, and the porch to the old hall.

watch tower

 

Showing St Michaels Church and the tower of Hamstall Hall in the background.   © Copyright Graham Taylor and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Showing St Michaels Church and the tower of Hamstall Hall in the background.
© Copyright Graham Taylor and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

In June 1939, the Derbyshire Times did a feature on a ninety three year old woman known as ‘Grannie Shelton’, who worked as a parlour maid and nurse at the hall, and married her husband on 19th March 1863 at St Michael’s. She told the paper that she had never seen a ghost but had once, ‘been down amongst the dead men’ – when a member of the Squire of Hamstall Hall’s family died she entered the family vault to have a look around and saw six coffins inside, each covered by a black cloth but with the white face of each of the corpses visible through the glass. Mrs Shelton also once dressed up as a ghost to scare the pantry boy that she suspected of stealing fruit from the Hall, causing him to run for his life shouting ‘The Devil is in the pantry!’ The devil may not have been in the pantry, but apparently he was found in a small hollow compartment in one of the bedrooms of the old manor house in the form of a stone image, complete with horns, depicted as ‘shaving a pig with red skin’ (I swear that I haven’ t made this up!). The report suggests that the Hall was formerly a Nunnery, and this hollow would have been somewhere nuns would carry out penance for breaking the rules. I can’t see any reference anywhere else to hall being used as a convent and I can’t help but wonder if it could have been a priests’ hole?  The hall belonged to the Catholic Fitzherbert family from 1517 to 1601. Sir Thomas Fitzherbert was imprisoned in the Tower of London for thirty years until his death on 2nd October 1591. All pure speculation on my part.

Feel like I’ve only just dipped my toe into the (holy) water when it comes to the history of Hamstall Ridware…

Trent and Mersey Paradise

A beautiful ruin dating back in part to the twelfth century, with the base of a medieval weeping cross and the shrouded effigies of two sisters in the churchyard, the remains of the old church of St Augustine in Rugeley are a real treat.

three towers rugeley

Old tower, new tower, power tower

The chancel dates back to the 12thc

With the population of Rugeley rising in the early nineteenth century (in 1801 there were 2,030 inhabitants; by 1821 the population had risen to 2,667 inhabitants, many of whom were employed in the manufacture of felts and hats), the old church was outgrown and a new one was built on land opposite.

'New' church of St Augustine

The ‘new’ church of St Augustine

Consecrated on 21 January 1823, the new St Augustine’s was built on land belonging to Viscount Anson, the cost met from a variety of sources. According to some, stone from the nave of the old church was sold off to raise funds, leaving just an arcade of arches to connect the fourteenth century tower with the old chancel.

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blossom rugeley

I understand that in the 1970s the church yard was landscaped (or possibly vandalised, depending on how you look at it), and the gravestones which once surrounded the church (as shown in a photograph from the 1860s here on Staffordshire Pasttrack) were broken up and used to pave what was once the nave and north aisle, creating a mosaic of carved names and epitaphs belonging to the old inhabitants of Rugeley.

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The outline of the roof line traced by weather onto the tower

 

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Others have carved their own names into the stone of the tower where bells once rang, but doves and (slightly less romantically) pigeons now coo.

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How did H Parsons carve his name so neatly?

How did H Parsons carve his name so neatly?

Dove Rugeley

As already mentioned, one tomb that does remain in the churchyard itself is that of two women, Elizabeth Cuting who died in 1695 and her sister Emma Hollinhurst who passed away a year later. Effigies of the sisters tied into their burial shrouds are carved on top of the tomb. An information board nearby tells how this unusual monument gave rise to a local legend that that the women had been buried alive in sacks by Oliver Cromwell, despite Cromwell dying in 1658. Full marks for imagination but, if you are going to make up a story that you want people to believe, you should probably check your dates first.

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Sisters tomb rugeley

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The board also directs you to the remains of a fourteenth century cross, with a recess in one of the corners suggesting that it was a ‘weeping cross’ where penitents would once come to kneel in prayer.

Weeping Cross

As nosey as ever, I wanted to see inside as well as out and so I peeked through a a dirty window into the old chancel, and spotted some interesting looking stonework and signs that it still seems to be being used in some capacity.

Inside old church

I believe that at one time it was used a Sunday school and also a classroom for the now demolished Rugeley Grammar school which once stood next to the churchyard, where the Chancel Primary school now is. Incidentally, the school has the possibly the loveliest school library I’ve ever seen, in the form of its new Discovery Deck narrowboat, built in 2013 by Nick Thorpe in Hixon and painted over the Christmas holidays by staff and parents.

Unsuprisingly for a town with a canal running through it, this wasn’t the only narrowboat we saw.  As we crossed back over the Trent and Mersey  one was passing another of Rugeley’s ruins – an old canalside mill dating back to 1863. It seems that this part of the town’s industrial past may become apartments in the future and why not? Living in an old mill, alongside a canal, in a charming old town with the Staffordshire countryside on your doorstep? I can think of worse places to live…

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Old buildings Rugeley

Oh and finally, somewhere in the churchyard I found an Easter egg.

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Sources:

http://www.cannockchasedc.gov.uk/site/custom_scripts/HeritageTrail/old_chancel.html

http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-271251-remains-of-old-church-of-st-augustine-ru

History, Gazetteer, and Directory of Staffordshire (1834) by William White

Picturesque Views and Description of Cities, Towns, Castles, Mansions, and Other Objects of Interesting Feature, in Staffordshire by William West

Wolverhampton Wandering

I had to pop into Wolverhampton today. I knew from my search for an ancient cross in Lichfield a couple of years back that there was a Saxon cross shaft here and went to find it.  Unlike the Lichfield cross, I didn’t have to try too hard – it’s huge! Its size, and also the fact that it is made from sandstone not found in Wolverhampton, has led some archaeology types to suggest that it is probably a reused Roman column, possibly from Wroxeter or even just up the road in Wall.

Saxon Cross Shaft, WolverhamptonThe elements and pollution have not treated the shaft kindly but its still clear that this was an incredible piece of craftmanship – the Black Country History website describes it as, ‘one of the finest cross shafts in the Midlands’. The carvings of acanthus leaves which decorate the shaft alongside those of birds and beasts have given archaeologists some problems when trying to establish a date as they suggest different periods. The plaque accompanying the shaft in the churchyard has decided to go with the earlier date of the ninth century, whilst others believe late tenth century is more accurate.

Cross Shaft Wolverhampton

On the way out of the churchyard I noticed another stone with a good back story. Known as the Bargain Stone, its said to be where the good (and probably not so good) folk of Wolverhampton would agree sales and make deals by shaking hands through the hole. The nearby plaque suggests it is an old gargoyle and the hole is what remains of its mouth.

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Talking of hands, why didn’t it occur to me to put my hands over the railings to take a better photo?

As if ancient crosses and stones weren’t enough of a treat, we also found Holden’s Brewery’s Great Western near to the train station. This is a proper pub – cobs on the bar, Holden’s Golden Glow (amongst other delights) on tap and really friendly staff. Although we were tempted to sit outside in the sun, the interior was so quirky and there was such a nice atmosphere, we sat inside.

Great Western

Wished I’d got the train. Definitely not driving next time.

The Great Western

The great Great Western

We walked off our pork baps with a little bit of a wander around the city streets. This building caught my eye, not only because it has no floors, meaning you can see down into the cellar, but also because of the handwritten sign someone had stuck to the window.

SAM_0045SAM_0046I’m not sure a traffic warden would be the person I’d turn to in a trapped bird scenario but maybe they do things differently in Wolverhampton.

Another perplexing sign is the one suggesting that the half timbered building on the junction of Victoria St and St John’s Lane was built in AD1300. It wasn’t and no-one knows the reason behind the claim – the best suggestions anyone has seems to be that it was some kind of joke to emphasise that it was a really, really old building! It more likely dates back to the seventeenth century when it was once an inn known as The Hand. These days its home to Wolverhampton Books & Collectables, where you can buy anything from an ancient tome on the history of Staffordshire to a souvenir 1950s Wolverhampton Wanderers hankerchief (which you may, or may not, wish to blow your nose on, depending on your allegiances…).

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We took the scenic route back to Lichfield (not through choice but because I went the wrong way on the ring road), passing through Wednesfield, Sneyd, the intriguingly named New Invention and Brownhills before stopping off at Waitrose for a couple bottles of Golden Glow.

Sources:

http://blackcountryhistory.org/collections/getrecord/WOHER_MBL337/

http://www.historywebsite.co.uk/listed/lindylou.htm

Holy Stones

Although St Peter’s Church at Elford was largely rebuilt in the nineteenth century, it is famous for its medieval monuments.  The most well known is the ‘Stanley Boy’, said to depict young John Stanley, last of the male line, holding a tennis ball in his left hand, and pointing to the place where it fatally hit him with his right. On face value, it’s a great story, but the fact that it has been cast into doubt by some makes it even more interesting in my opinion. Nikolaus Pevsner and an article called ‘The so-called Stanley boy monument at Elford’ by Sophie Oosterwijk for the Church Monument Society date the monument as thirteenth century whereas, according to the story, John Stanley died in around 1460. It has been suggested that at some point the effigy may have been modified to add weight to the local legend. It’s a nice reminder that when it comes to history, you can’t even trust what’s carved into stone. There’s a drawing of the effigy from the eighteenth century here on Staffordshire Past Track.

Unfortunately, on my recent visit, I didn’t manage to see the Stanley Boy (or whoever it may be!) close up. The wooden gates separating the Stanley Chapel from the rest of the church seemed to be locked and I didn’t try to hard to open them.  A lady doing her stint on the flower rota had told me that the church had suffered from a recent lead theft and I didn’t want to add to its troubles by breaking anything. Anyway, there were plenty of consolations including the beautiful Minton tiles, stained glass and another curious monument outside.

Just one of the lead pipes stolen for scrap metal, leaving the church vulnerable to water damage.

I’ve walked around my fair share of churchyards and although I’ve seen plenty of worn and weathered stones,  I can’t remember having ever seen a hole in one like this before and would be grateful for any explanations (or failing that, guesses!) for what’s happened here.