A Dark Chapter

I vaguely knew the story of Thomas Day and his attempt to mould a perfect wife from one of two orphan girls, that he ‘acquired’. However, until I read ‘How to create the perfect wife’, by Wendy Moore, I hadn’t appreciated just how much of an ordeal Day subjected the two young girls to.

After taking them from the orphanage, Day took the girls, Sabrina and Lucretia, to France, where they lived a life of drudgery and servitude.  On their return to England, Day decided to focus his efforts on Sabrina, and packed Lucretia off to be a milliner’s apprentice. Sabrina was brought to Lichfield, where they became part of the social circle that included Anna Seward, Erasmus Darwin and members of the Lunar Society. Sabrina and Day lived at Stowe House, and it was here that some of his worst treatment of the girl took place. As well as making Sabrina carry out all of the household tasks in the four storey house looking over Stowe Pool, Day subjected her to sadistic ‘training’ designed to develop stamina, strength and courage. Apparently, despite knowing that she was unable to swim,  Day even forced the poor child into the waters of the pool itself on one occasion. Once soaked through, Day made her lie in one of the nearby fields until she dried out.

Although many in Lichfield knew of Day’s experiment, Wendy Moore believes that a combination of Day’s money and background, and the fact that many of his Lichfield ‘friends’ had their own scandals to deal with, meant that a blind eye was turned to his treatment of the girl.

Day eventually decided Sabrina wasn’t suitable and so she too was sent away, whilst Day turned his attentions elsewhere. Whilst the book explores Day’s continuing quest for the perfect wife, it was the story of what happened to Sabrina that I was really interested in. Thankfully,  Wendy Moore does not abandon Sabrina as Day did and follows her life up until the end, thereby allowing us to know the full story of Sabrina as a person in her own right, and not just as part of a bizarre experiment carried out by a cruel and irresponsible man.

Stowe House, overlooking St Chad’s and Stowe Pool

‘How to create the perfect wife’ by Wendy Moore is published by Orion. Details here.

 

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Everything From Shells

Despite the bitter cold, a large crowd gathered in the Museum Gardens around a figure enveloped in green velvet.

Once the poems, songs and speeches had concluded, local artist Peter Walker’s bronze statue of Erasmus Darwin was unveiled to applause.

Recently, I read a wonderful post by Susan Ward on her Staffordshire Bred blog which reminded me of the importance of the sense of touch, when connecting with something.  I was so pleased to hear that the scallop shell Erasmus Darwin holds in his left hand is not only an important symbol of his beliefs and his work on evolution, but is also there to be touched. This is not a hands off statue and I hope that people will touch it, that it will be a well-loved part of the city and that stories will grow up around it.

Those days are still ahead of us – the sun has not even set on the statue’s first day in the Museum Gardens yet (although judging by the temperature in the park today, I’m not convinced it actually rose in the first place!).

The statue belongs to the people of Lichfield, but today belongs to Erasmus Darwin and Peter Walker.

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.

 

Into the woods….

I was lured into the woods by the promise of wood anemones…..then along the path past the old Leomansley mill pools….and finally onto the edge of Pipe Green common.

 

 

 

Monumental Task

I’ve used this database created by the Public Monuments & Sculptures Association a lot. It’s a national recording project that aims to collect information on all British public sculpture and monuments, whether historic or contemporary.

As well as including Lichfield’s usual suspects, the database also features some of our less obvious works such as the Calming Stone in Beacon Park, the etched glass in the Library foyer, the facade of Boots in Tamworth St and the Standing Stones I formed a bit of an attachment to back in November 2011.

 

Facade of Boots created 1908. Decorations include an owl, a beehive and a piper. There must have been a good reason for this motley crew!

They're outside!

 

Not everything on the list is still around – there’s an entry for Dean Denton’s Market Cross which was pulled down in 1849. There are also entries on the database that don’t seem to have made it as fully fledged pieces of Lichfield public sculpture.  Since Pat brought it to our attention back in November 2011 an entry has now appeared on the database about the Vision & Youth sculpture.

As the association says,  ‘The database is an excellent resource for students & researchers, conservators, local historians, art buffs, enthusiasts, genealogists and all who want to know more about public sculpture: statues; obelisks; columns; sculptures; installations; fountains; follies; commemorative clocks; wayside markers; and towers – from the Stuart era to the present day.’ I think it’s fantastic and you can read more about future plans & how you can get involved in contributing information here.

One to be added to the database in the future is the proposed statue of Erasmus Darwin at Cathedral Walk (I think there’s another one planned for Beacon Park too). I’ve just been reading a few of the comments about this on the S106 document. One person said that they were in favour of the statue, as Darwin is a local hero we should be proud of. However, the comment goes on to say that Lichfield should also celebrate more contemporary heroes relevant to young people and also more women ‘not just old blokes’.* I think this is potentially a whole new blog post but this is a really interesting point. Who or what should we be commemorating with our future public art & monuments?  

*I remember when I was a young person. A young person who used to go out on a Saturday night instead of sitting in reading the comments on S106 consultations 😉