Kill Bill

The run up to Halloween feels like the right time to resurrect the blog and, in keeping with the spirit of my favourite season, it’s my intention to share some of the more sinister stories that I know about Staffordshire and the surrounding area over the course of the coming week. However, 2020 hasn’t quite gone to plan and it’s entirely possible that I could fall victim to an attack of the mutant crayfish clones by Friday and so whether my bad intentions will materialise or fall by the wayside remains to be seen.

Anyway, I’m not sure if it’s a Staffordshire thing per se but something I’ve noticed about the churches in our area is their habit of juxtaposing the mundane with the magnificent. By way of example, I once found the tomb of Richard Samson, Bishop of Lichfield between 1470 and 1554 underneath a tea tray and a packet of hobnobs. I am also starting to think that the eleventh commandment is ‘Thou shalt have a stack of plastic chairs behind thy font’.

I suspect Pevsner would not approve but I think it gives churches a nice lived-in feel and exudes an eccentric sort of charm and therefore, I make no apologies for failing to remove the carton of milk and bottle of spray from my photograph of the remains of this stone cross in Tixall Church.

The cross stood on Kings Lowe, a Bronze Age Bowl Barrow on Tixall Heath before what remained of it was removed to the church for safe keeping. Its exact provenance is a mystery but in 1818 Sir Thomas Clifford of Tixall described it as having been placed there in around 1803, it being, ‘a very antique stone cross, which once stood before the gate of a ruined mansion in South Wales…It is of very hard moor-stone; the shaft, which has eight unequal sides, supports a tablet of an hexagonal form, adorned with very rude carvings; on one side, a crucifix, on the other, the virgin with the child in her lap. On the edge of the tablet is also a figure thought by some experienced antiqueries (sic) to be St. John the Evangelist’. The cross was said to mark the spot where Sir William Chetwynd of nearby Ingestre Hall was assassinated in 1494, although you might think that after 309 years the moment for a monument to a murder had passed. Who erected it and why they did so after all that time is not recorded.

In 1825, Alexander Wilson wrote a travelogue called ‘Alice Allan, The Country Town etc’ and appears to have had some sort of down the rabbit hole experience, proclaiming that, “When I entered Staffordshire, my straight-forward, regular travelling was at an end”. After insinuating that the residents of God’s own county used to get up to some Summerisle-esque unpleasantness involving wicker, Wilson relays the story told to him by an old countryman whilst driving across the heath. Sir William Chetwynd of Ingestre and Sir Humphrey Stanley of Pipe Ridware were both vying for the favour of King Henry VII, and so Sir Humphrey decided to rid-ware himself of his rival. A letter purporting to be from the Sheriff of Staffordshire was sent to Sir William requesting his attendance in Stafford at 5am the following morning. As he crossed Tixall Heath at dawn, accompanied by his son and two servants, he was ambushed by twenty men, several of whom were members of the Stanley family.

Despite a petition by the widowed Lady Chetwynd, Stanley literally got away with murder. Or did he? According to the story told to Alexander Wilson, some years after he’d killed Bill, Sir Humphrey was thrown from his horse at the same spot on Tixall Heath, breaking his neck. Official records show he died in 1505 and is buried amongst the great and also probably not very good at Westminster Abbey. As of yet, I can’t find a record of where or how he died and so perhaps that old countryman was right and karma did catch up with him in the end. Interestingly, it seems with the Stanleys, the rotten apple did not fall from the tree. An effigy in Lichfield Cathedral immortalises the disgrace of Sir Humphrey’s son, John, a man who committed a misdemeanor so grave that he was excommunicated and had to agree to spending the rest of his death being depicted as paying penance in order to be granted a Christian burial inside the Cathedral. There is no record of his specific wrongdoing but in 1867, the Very Rev Canon Rock suggested that Stanley’s offence may have been that he had spilled blood inside that sacred space. A 17th century drawing of the effigy by William Dugdale shows the stone Stanley bareheaded and bare chested, flanked by two bucks’ horns, wearing a skirt decorated with heraldic arms and armour on his legs. It’s a strong look to carry off for eternity although during the Civil War, the Roundheads did make some alterations in their own unique style… The much mutilated monument can still be found in the Cathedral so do go and see what’s left of him. I bet you there will be a stack of plastic chairs somewhere nearby too…

Lichfield Cathedral - Effigy of Captain Stanley: engraving

Lichfield Cathedral - Effigy of Captain Stanley: engravingShowing a print of the Stanley effigy.   Anonymous.View Full Resource on Staffordshire Past Track

Sources:

Norton, E (2011) Bessie Blount: MIstress to Henry VIII, Amberley Publishing: Gloucester

https://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=77400

http://www.tixall-ingestre-andrews.me.uk/tixall/elytxhs.html

The Cathedral Church of Lichfield By AB Clifton

Handbook to the Cathedrals of England by Richard John King

Alice Allan, The Country Town etc by Alexander Wilson

Some remarks on the Stanley Effigy at Lichfield by The Very Reverend Canon Rock

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

Fools & Hobby Horses

The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance takes place each year on Wakes Monday (the first Monday following the first Sunday after 4th September), which means that this year it will be on 10th September.

As far as I can gather, the horn dance is one of those traditions where no-one is quite sure what it’s all about. There are six dancers carrying reindeer antlers, a fool, a hobby horse, Maid Marian, a boy with a bow and arrow, an accordion player & a triangle player. The horns are collected from the church of St Nicholas at 8am and are returned 12 hours later after the participants have danced around the village and out to Blithfield Hall. According to the horn dance of Abbots Bromley website, when one of the horns was damaged in 1976, a piece was sent to be carbon dated. It was found to date back to 1065 (plus or minus 80 years) although the general consensus is that this doesn’t really help to date the dance itself.

I’m ashamed to say that every year I’ve planned to go and watch the dance, but haven’t made it for one reason or another. I have been to the village on several non-horn dance occasions though and it is a lovely place.  However, Mr J Carver, in his 1779 book ‘The Universal Traveller’ wasn’t impressed , saying,

It stands at the distance of a hundred and twenty eight miles from London but contains nothing worthy of note

(Lichfield fares a little better. In Mr Carver’s opinion, ‘It is a long, straggling place but has some handsome houses’).

Walking through the village, to my 21st century eyes, practically every building looks worthy of note. Amongst many others, there’s the Butter Cross (or Burger Cross as a practical joker would have it in 2002), the Goat’s Head Inn (which is thought to date back to the early 1600s, with possibly even older cellars and of course, a secret passage story!) and Almshouses (above the doors are the Bagot family arms and the inscription Deo et Igenis DDD Lamberius Bagot Arm Anno 1705).

The Butter Cross, The Goats Head Inn & St Nicholas Church

View of St Nicholas, where the horns are displayed throughout the year.

Church of St Nicholas, from the High St

Almshouses

A couple of years ago the BBC made a programme about folk dancing in England and you can see the clip about the horn dance here. There are also some photographs of the tradition taking place in the 1930s here on the Staffordshire Past Track website.

I believe that the horns never leave the parish boundary (when not in use they are stored in the church of St Nicholas) although the dance can be performed elsewhere (another set of antlers is used on these occasions). I’ve also just discovered that this year the third annual Abbots Bromliad will take place in California, where they are hoping to beat their own record for most people dancing the horn dance at once (144 in 2010). You can even order your own set of acrylic antlers for $20 to help you feel the part! Hmmm, I wonder what the postage & packaging would be to get a pair sent to Lichfield….and would they get here in time to wear on the 10th September?

Seriously, we’re lucky to live so near to a place where one of the country’s best known (and possibly one of the oldest) traditions takes place and I really must make an effort to go this year to see it for myself.

 

Stumped

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).   

I think I need to spend my summer holidays at Lichfield Record Office.

Sources:

‘Townships: Burntwood’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 195-205. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=42356  Date accessed: 27 July 2012.