Rode Trip

The 462nd Sheriff’s Ride and its spin-off take place this coming Saturday (5th September) and I’m marking the occasion with a post about posts. For those who don’t know, the Sheriff’s Ride is an annual perambulation of the boundary of the City (and between 1553 and 1888 the County) of Lichfield on the Saturday nearest to the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary aka the eighth of September.

The Sheriff perambulating Cross in Hand Lane in 2014

The Sheriff perambulating Cross in Hand Lane in 2014

In the past, where the border wasn’t defined by natural features, such as the Circuit Brook in the North, man-made boundary markers were used. The ride traditionally began (and ended) at Cross in Hand Lane, where a long since vanished cross indicated the city limits and in a talk on the Sheriff’s Ride in 1937 (1), Percy Laithwaite described how a headless cross marked the half way point of the ride at Freeford.  Between these two ancient crosses, in the nineteenth century at least,  a series of wooden posts staked out the boundary. I know this because in 1878, at the half way point of the Sheriff’s Ride, Colonel Dyott of Freeford Hall complained that nearly half of them were missing. Concerned that the true purpose of the ride i.e. inspecting and maintaining the City of Lichfield’s boundary had been lost, the Colonel offered to point out the boundary as he knew it so that the decayed and disappeared posts could be replaced. That year’s Sheriff, Thomas Sherrat, added that he could remember a series of white posts marked with a letter L along the boundary and Mr Coxon of Freeford Farm recalled that there had been nine posts in the vicinity of his property when he first arrived there, but only one remained.

It seems that the matter of the missing posts didn’t quite make it onto anyone’s to-do list that year, as in 1879 the Sheriff (Dr Browne) reported that he had perambulated the boundary as best he could but found it difficult and unsatisfactory due to the disappearance of many of the boundary posts. According to his reckoning, twenty seven of the forty timber posts were missing in total and due to the ‘injurious consequences to which their absence might easily lead’, he requested that they be replaced. He went onto suggest that the whole lot should be replaced by iron markers. Were they?

Even more important that the physical markers which defined the boundary was the knowledge of it held within the collective memory of the city’s residents. The Sheriff’s Ride was not just a civic event, but a community one.  Laithwaite says that as late as 1645, the Lichfield Court ordered at least one member of each household to accompany the Sheriff on the ride or be fined.  Lichfield’s younglings would follow in the footsteps (ok, hoofsteps) of Lichfield’s senior citizens who, after decades of perambulating, knew their Lady Leasowe from their Austin’s Coat. Knowledge was passed down the generations and when it came to disputes, it was used as evidence. Laithwaite referred to a case in 1656, when there was a disagreement over where Lichfield began and Lord Paget’s land ended (and vice versa). The bailiffs of the city produced four city elders as witnesses, who swore under oath the route of the boundary line that they had followed since they were boys.

The earliest written description of the boundary is thought to date back to the late eighteenth century but I suspect you’d still need to know where you were going in order to be able to follow it, if that makes sense. I wheel it out every year but just in case you haven’t seen it before, here is the description of the route which dates back to the late 18th century. Some places are recognisable, some just about fathomable (it took me a while to decipher Whisich as Wissage) and some are…..Hic-filius.

It begins at a place called the Cross and Hand near the end of a street there called Bacon street and from thence goeth northward along the lane leading to Longdon Church unto a little lane at the further side of Oakenfields and so along that little cross lands unto another lane that leadeth from Lichfield to King’s Bromley and then along that lane towards Lichfield unto a little lane lying between the Grange Ground and Collin’s Hill Field commonly called the Circuit lane unto the further end of it betwixt two fields the one called Hic-filius and the other Piper’s Croft and so over across a lane that leadeth from Lichfield to Elmhurst and then into another little lane between Stichbrooke Ground and Gifforde’s Crofte and so along that little lane to a green lane at the further side of the Lady Leasowe being the land of Zachary Babington Esquire and down that lane to a called Pone’s Brook and so over that brook into another lane called Stepping Stones lane and so along that lane taking in the land of Richard Dyott Esq Pone’s Fields unto a lane leading from Lichfield to Curborough Somerville so along that lane towards Lichfield until you come to the upper end of the grounds called Scott’s Orchard and then leaving that lane turn into a field of Lichfield called Whisich at a stilt going into the fields called Browne’s Fields and so taking in the field called Whisich then go by the closes called Browne’s Fields Hedge unto the grounds called God’s Croft Hedge and so along that hedge taking in the field called Whisich lane called Goslinge’s lane and along Goslinge’s Lane unto a lane called Matthew Coal Lane and so over across that lane into a field called Cross field at or near an elm tree and so along a head land about the middle of Cressfield unto the nearer end of Gorsty Bank into the lane leading from Lichfield to a cross way called Burton turnings and from thence along Ikenield street taking in Spear Hill and Boley unto a cross way leading from Lichfield to Whittington and so along that lane towards Whittington unto the south end of Austin’s Coat Grounds then turning upon the left hand at that brook to a gate going into Fulfin Grounds unto the moors called Dernford Moors and so along by the hedge of those moors unto the nether side of Dernford Mill stream and so going by the mill door to the pool dam and going along by the pool and the brook taking in Horslade and a meadow belonging to Freeford House unto a bridge called Freeford Bridge in a lane leading from Lichfield to Tamworth and so from that bridge up the sandy lane to Freeford House and along that lane to the corner of the meadow and then turning into Bispells at the corner of the meadow and so going by the meadow hedge until you come to the brook that runneth to Freeford Bridge and so going up a little pool taking in all Bispells unto a ford called Baltrex ford and then entering into Old field turn up the left hand to the brook that runs from Freeford Pool and so along that brook to Freeford Pool and along by the pool and the brook that comes from Swynfen Mill until you come into the lane that leads from Swynfen unto the mill and so along that lane to a gate that leads from Lichfield unto Swynfen called Old Field Gate and then not coming in at that gate but going to the corner of the hedge adjoining to Cley Lands come in at a gap and taking in all Old field come by the demesnes of Swynfen unto a place called Long bridge and so entering into a little lane between Long furlong and Long bridge grounds leading to Well crofts and so taking in all Well crofts along by the Knowle Leasowes being the Hospital Land unto Ikeneld street and so along Ikeneld street unto the further side of a close called Gorsty Leasowe and leaving the hedge on the left hand taking in that close going along by that hedge leading to Hare house Ground and so along that hedge unto the top of Dean’s Slade taking in all Hare house Ground northward enter into Park field leaving the hedge on the right hand and so following that hedge unto a little lane at Aldershawe that comes down that lane to the gate and through the gate then turn upon the left hand by Aldershawe Hedge taking in the barn and so go into the Wheat Close leaving the hedge on the left hand unto the road called the Fosse way up to the top of Mickle hill then crossing over Pipe green along an old decayed cart way into a lane end that leads to Pipe grange lane to the further side of Padwell’s and so taking in Padwell’s leaving the hedge on the left hand to a little lane that leadeth into Ashfield leaving the hedge on the left hand into the grounds called Lammas Grounds and leaving the hedge on the left hand and so into Lemondsley then following the brook to Pipe green gate and so along the brook in Pipe green into a little lane that butteth upon the lane that leadeth from Lichfield to Pipe and crossing that lane into Smithfield at the corner of Abnell Hedge and so taking in all Smithfield leaving Abnell Ground on the left hand unto the Cross and Hand where it began.

Say it aloud!

Whisich/Wissage. Try saying it aloud! No idea what it means though….

Percy Laithwaite rounded off his talk in 1937 by hoping that in another four centuries time someone would still be talking about the annual delights of perambulating what had been called ‘the jolliest sixteen miles in Staffordshire’ (although perhaps not if you were riding with Dr Browne in 1879). Well, we’re still doing it seventy eight years on (although due to boundary changes it’s now a twenty mile round trip) and I hope everyone taking part in the rides has a great day on Saturday. Of course, if anyone ever spots one of those old boundary markers, please keep do me posted!

(1) One of a series of ‘Our City’ talks arranged by the Higher Education Committee of Lichfield City Council.

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Fareground Attraction

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!

Sheriffs Ride…I walk!

I understand that for about 330 years, Lichfield was not just a city, it was a county, one of 18 towns and cities in England which gained county corporate  status at one time or another, for a variety of reasons e.g. Poole became a county separate to Dorset for reasons involving piracy! Lichfield’s status was granted by Mary I, apparently as a reward to the city for support during the Duke of Northumberland‘s rebellion.

A perambulation of the border of the city had been taking place since 1548, when Lichfield was made a city in Edward VI’s charter. However, that was carried out in view of the Sheriff of Staffordshire. Queen Mary’s charter, gave Lichfield the privilege of having its own Sheriff, who took over the perambulating duties and began the tradition of the Sheriff’s Ride which still takes place every September, on the Saturday nearest to the Nativity of the Blessed Mary. This year, it’s this Saturday (8th September).

According to the county history, the earliest records of Lichfield’s boundaries date back to the late 1700s (although older records of surrounding places indicate that changes in the borders have occurred over the years, particularly in the north and west). For those wondering, Lichfield is no longer a county, it reverted back to being part of Staffordshire in 1888.

Sheriff’s Ride, 1908. Taken from Lichfield DC flickr stream.

Thomas Harwood wrote in 1806,

The boundaries of the city of Lichfield according to ancient writings are a circuit of about sixteen miles.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t say where they are from, or just how ancient these writings are. However, it’s still interesting to read these ‘ancient writings’, not least because of the place names, familiar and not so that crop up along the route. (Some of the spellings are pretty interesting too!)

It begins at a place called the Cross and Hand near the end of a street there called Bacon street and from thence goeth northward along the lane leading to Longdon Church unto a little lane * at the further side of Oakenfields and so along that little cross lands unto another lane that leadeth from Lichfield to King’s Bromley and then along that lane towards Lichfield unto a little lane lying between the Grange Ground and Collin’s Hill Field commonly called the Circuit lane unto the further end of it betwixt two fields the one called Hic-filius and the other Piper’s Croft and so over across a lane that leadeth from Lichfield to Elmhurst and then into another little lane between Stichbrooke Ground and Gifforde’s Crofte and so along that little lane to a green lane at the further side of the Lady being the land of Zachary Babington Esquire and down that lane to a called Pone’s Brook and so over that brook into another lane called Stepping Stones lane and so along that lane taking in the land of Richard Dyott Esq Pone’s Fields unto a lane leading from Lichfield to Curborough Somerville so along that lane towards Lichfield until you come to the upper end of the grounds called Scott’s Orchard and then leaving that lane turn into a field of Lichfield called Whisich at a stilt going into the fields called Browne’s Fields and so taking in the field clled Whisich then go by the closes called Browne’s Fields Hedge unto the grounds called God’s Croft Hedge and so along that hedge taking in the field called Whisich lane called Goslinge’s lane and along Goslinge’s Lane unto a lane called Matthew Coal Lane and so over across that lane into a field called Cross field at or near an elm tree and so along a head land about the middle of Cressfield unto the nearer end of Gorsty Bank into the lane leading from Lichfield to a cross way called Burton turnings and from thence along Ikenield street taking in Spear Hill and Boley unto a cross way leading from Lichfield to Whittington and so along that lane towards Whittington unto the south end of Austin’s Coat Grounds then turning upon the left hand at that brook to a gate going into Fulfin Grounds unto the moors called Dernford Moors and so along by the hedge of those moors unto the nether side of Dernford Mill stream and so going by the mill door to the pool dam and going along by the pool and the brook taking in Horslade and a meadow belonging to Freeford House unto a bridge called Freeford Bridge in a lane leading from Lichfield to Tamworth and so from that bridge up the sandy lane to Freeford House and along that lane to the corner of the meadow and then turning into Bispells at the corner of the meadow and so going by the meadow hedge until you come to the brook that runneth to Freeford Bridge and so going up a little pool taking in all Bispells unto a ford called Baltrex ford and then entering into Old field turn up the left hand to the brook that runs from Freeford Pool and so along that brook to Freeford Pool and along by the pool and the brook that comes from Swynfen Mill until you come into the lane that leads from Swynfen unto the mill and so along that lane to a gate that leads from Lichfield unto Swynfen called Old Field Gate and then not coming in at that gate but going to the corner of the hedge adjoining to Cley Lands come in at a gap and taking in all Old field come by the demesnes of Swynfen unto a place called Long bridge and so entering into a little lane between Long furlong and Long bridge grounds leading to Well crofts and so taking in all Well crofts along by the Knowlc Leasowes being the Hospital Land unto Ikeneld street and so along Ikeneld street unto the further side of a close called Gorsty Leasowe and leaving the hedge on the left hand taking in that close going along by that hedge leading to Hare house Ground and so along that hedge unto the top of Dean’s Slade taking in all Hare house Ground northward enter into Park field leaving the hedge on the right hand and so following that hedge unto a little lane at Aldershawe that comes down that lane to the gate and through the gate then turn upon the left hand by Aldershawe Hedge taking in the barn and so go into the Wheat Close leaving the hedge on the left hand unto the road called the Fosse way up to the top of Mickle hill then crossing over Pipe green along an old decayed cart way into a lane end that leads to Pipe grange lane to the further side of Padwell’s and so taking in Padwell’s leaving the hedge on the left hand to a little lane that leadeth into Ashfield leaving the hedge on the left hand into the grounds called Lammas Grounds and leaving the hedge on the left hand and so into Lemondsley then following the brook to Pipe green gate and so along the brook in Pipe green into a little lane that butteth upon the lane that leadeth from Lichfield to Pipe and crossing that lane into Smithfield at the corner of Abnell Hedge and so taking in all Smithfield leaving Abnell Ground on the left hand unto the Cross and Hand where it began

*now Featherbed Lane

The ride now begins at the Guildhall, rather than Cross in Hand Lane but I’ve always thought it would be great to do the journey described above, looking out for the place names and landscape features mentioned (and potentially getting very lost, as some of them used in the directions may no longer exist!). As I don’t have a horse (my equine experience  consists only of  a few pony trekking expeditions, one of which ended in me being bitten by one in Cumbria), it’s a journey to make on foot, and probably in stages.  I have recently made a start but rather pathetically only got as far as Featherbed Lane. Only another 15 1/2 or so miles to go then. Just as well I’m not the Sheriff of Lichfield.

Cross in Hand Lane

Sources:

http://www.lichfield.gov.uk/events.ihtml

Lichfield: The place and street names, population and boundaries ‘, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 37-42. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=42340

The History & Antiquities of the Church & City of Lichfield, Thomas Harwood 1806

Cross City

There’s some evidence that there were several stone crosses in Lichfield, although as far as I know, no physical remains have ever been found.

The most well documented of these is the market cross. According to the Lichfield volume of the History of the County of Stafford (1), a market cross stood north of St. Mary’s in the late Middle Ages and then some time around 1530, Dean Denton surrounded it with eight arches and added a roof  to keep the market traders dry. The building was topped with eight statues of apostles, two brass crucifixes on the east and west sides, and a bell, as you can see in this picture on the Staffordshire Past Track site.    The cross was destroyed in the civil war, and replaced with a market house, as shown in the illustration below (although it is referred to as a cross on the notes?) which has also now disappeared.

Taken from John Jackson’s book, History of the City and Cathedral of Lichfield, 1805

There is a possibility that there was a preaching cross in the grounds of St John’s Hospital as documentation shows that Dean FitzRalph preached outside in the cemetery. (2) Information on this specific example is really sketchy, but there is a surviving preaching cross in Bloxwich which you can read about in a great article on The Borough Blog.

More evidence exists for a cross at the junction of Tamworth St and Lombard St. There is a cross like structure shown there on John Speed’s 1610 map, and in 1805 Thomas Harwood wrote that there was a stone cross in Tamworth St. (3) There are also a couple of references in old property deeds such as one from April 1316 describing a ½ burgage in street between the Stone Cross and Stow Gate.(4)

The Market Cross and the Stone Cross at Tamworth St can be seen depicted on John Speed’s 1610 map of Lichfield

A cross apparently stood near Cross in Hand Lane in Lichfield, giving rise to a theory that it this is where the lane got its name from (the other theory is that is was a pilgrimage route, to St Chad’s shrine, where people would walk with ‘cross in hand’. The route has recently been incorporated into a new pilgrimage and heritage route called Two Saints Way). Harwood said,  “(Beacon Street) extends from the causeway over the Minster pool which separates it from Bird Street to houses at the extremity of the city called the Cross in the Hand and where stood an ancient cross ad finem villas.’ The pastscape record for the cross is here.

This week I came across another reference, this time Bacone’s Cross, and which was also thought to be in Beacon St, at the end of the town. Was the ancient cross at Cross in Hand Lane and Bacone’s Cross the same cross?

The Bacone’s Cross/The Cross in Hand and the Tamworth St cross were both situated at the ends of the town. Does this mean that they were boundary markers of some sort?  If so, could there have been more crosses marking other places on the City’s boundary.  There were city gates at both Beacon St and Tamworth St.  However, the probable sites of the gates don’t correspond exactly with the probable sites of the crosses e.g. the above example says ‘between the Stow Gate and the Stone Cross’.

Tamworth Gate plaque on Lee Garden Chinese Restaurant Credit: Ell Brown (taken from flickr photostream).

In the absence of more information about Lichfield specifically, I looked elsewhere to see if crosses would have been used to mark boundaries. St Albans was surrounded by a ditch, like Lichfield (and there’s a link with the story of the  Christian martyrs but that’s a bit too much of a tangent for now!). The History of the County of Hertford, says this about the city’s boundary (5)

Crosses were at an early date erected at important points in the line of boundary, and at each of the entrances to the town, namely, the Stone Cross or North Gate Cross  at the north on the Sandridge Road, the Red Cross in Sopwell Lane, at the entrance by the old road from London, the Cross with the Hand in Eywood Lane, the Black Cross, probably at the angle where Tonmans Dike goes from the boundary of the houses in Fishpool Street towards the Claypits, and St. John’s Cross at an angle of the boundary in what is now known as Harley Street, but lately as Mud Lane.

It’s interesting to see that some of the names are the same – Stone Cross, Cross with the Hand – but I don’t want to start jumping to conclusions until there is much more evidence!

Finally, there is a document relating to property in Freeford (4), which describes ‘three selions of land at Lichfield, near Le Hedeless Cross, on the road towards Freeford’ in the time of Edward III – Henry V. Does this refer to the Tamworth St Stone Cross, or another cross altogether?

What happened to these crosses? Time? Religious differences? Where did they end up? There’s something in one of my all time favourites book that gives me hope (possibly misguided) that there is a chance, no matter how slim, that things that have long been thought to have vanished might turn up again one day in some form or another. In England in Particular (6), in the section on Wayside and Boundary Crosses, it says that,

Some crosses have been found in hedgebanks, with shafts used as gateposts. A number have been found by researching field names:two fields called Cross Park revealed previously undiscovered stones.

Fingers crossed!

Edit:

In view of the above, I thought it’d be worth having a look at field names etc, in Lichfield. There is an entry in an transcribed inventory relating to the real estate of the vicars that says Deanslade: Falseway to cross called Fanecross (4). There’s a Banecross on another transcription and I think one of these could be down to a typo and that they could be the same place, There is also an entry for a place known as Croscroft, which was on the road to Elford, near St Michael’s Churchyard (3)

Another edit:

I was hoping there would be an ancient cross somewhere in Lichfield. Well, I finally found one! Actually that’s a fib. What I found is a photograph in a book of archaeologists finding one. A decorated cross shaft was discovered built into the foundations of the north wall of the nave of Lichfield Cathedral. It’s thought to be Saxon or Saxo-Norman, and could be a surviving remnant of the earlier church on the site. I wish I could share a photograph here, but all I can do is tell you that it’s on plate 1 in the ‘South Staffordshire Archaeological and Historical Society Transactions 1980-1981 Volume XXII’ book, on the local history shelves at the library!.

Sources:

(1) Lichfield: Economic history’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield(1990), pp. 109-131http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=42349#s6

(2) Hospitals: Lichfield, St John the Baptist’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 3(1970), pp. 279-289

(3) The history and antiquities of the church and city of Lichfield by Thomas Harwood

(4) Collections for a History of Staffordshire Part II- Vol VI (1886), William Salt Archaeological Society

(5)  ‘The city of St Albans: Introduction’, A History of the County of Hertford: volume 2 (1908), pp. 469-477

(6) England in Particular, Sue Clifford & Angela King for Common Ground

Hollow within a holloway

Like its neighbour Abnalls Lane, Cross in Hand Lane is (at least in parts) a holloway. As mentioned before, Cross in Hand used to be the main road to Stafford. I understand from reading information on the Two Saints Way project that it would also would have been one of the last stages of the pilgrimage route between Chester and Lichfield. According to Thomas Harwood it was also where the Sheriff’s Ride (the next one coming up soon on 10th September) used to begin and finish. So, that’s what I do know.

Now for what I don’t know…..

This ‘cave’ can be found by walking about 200m up Cross in Hand Lane from the A51. It’s on the right hand side, opposite a lovely white cottage.  I first read about it in Cuthbert Brown’s Lichfield Remembered, but he doesn’t know what it is either! Is it somewhere stone has been extracted from? A natural feature? Anyone have any ideas?

Edit 25 minutes later!
It is natural. Brownhills Bob tells me via Twitter that it is a water fissure where softer rock has been washed out. So thank you to him, mystery solved 🙂