Brideshand Revisited

Last Summer, I wrote about the ‘Bride’s Hand’ carved into the stonework of the south porch of St James the Great at Longdon. It’s an old tradition that brides arriving at the church would place their own hand against it, in the hope that it would bring good fortune and fertility to their impending marriage. Apparently, some twenty-first century Longdon brides-to-be still partake in this ritual.

The 'Bride's Hand' Carving, St James the Great, Longdon

The ‘Bride’s Hand’ Carving, St James the Great, Longdon

Yesterday, I was idly scrolling through Twitter when two hands, similar to the one at Longdon, grabbed my attention. The image had been taken from Timothy Easton’s article on symbols which appears in the Winter edition of the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings‘ magazine (1), and the carvings themselves are to be found on the south doors of two churches in the neighbouring Gloucestershire villages of Ampney St Mary and Ampney Crucis.  Until now, I wasn’t sure whether the Bride’s Hand was just a quirky bit of history unique to Longdon but the appearance of similar symbolism, in a similar position, at churches one hundred miles south of here suggests not. Timothy Easton believes that the carvings were added to send a very definite ‘Stop!’ sign to any evil spirits attempting to sneak inside.

South porch of St James, Longdon where the carving can be found.

South porch of St James, Longdon where the carving can be found.

As anyone who follows the Medieval Graffiti project will know, these hands are just one of the many types of markings that can be found in our churches. Some were an attempt to ward off evil spirits and no doubt some were an attempt to ward off boredom. St James the Great may be filled with beautiful carvings but I can’t help being drawn to these ones that aren’t really supposed to be there. For me, a crudely etched protective symbol and Joseph Nevill’s graffiti trump the Forster family’s weeping cherubs and marble tombs. Hands down.

Longdon graffiti

Graffiti at St James the Great, Longdon

Longdon carvings

The Stoneywell Chapel, used as a private chapel between 1520 and 1944, by families including the Ormes and the Forsters, former owners of nearby Hanch Hall

Longdon graffiti 2

Graffiti at St James the Great, Longdon

The tomb of John Forster, Hanch Hall

The tomb of John Forster, Hanch Hall

(1) Which their press officer very kindly sent to me after I sent an excited tweet telling them I’d seen one just like that.

Adooration

By now you’ve probably opened all of the doors on your advent calendar. So here are a few more (although I’m afraid there’s no chocolate). What’s behind these doors? Some we know already, as they are already open to the public.  What about those that aren’t though? Can we open more doors in 2013?

Whilst there’s no doubt that curiosity is one of the reasons I (and I’m sure others!) would like to have a look behind these doors, there are some nobler reasons I promise!  Behind closed doors, things can deteriorate or become lost, without us even knowing that they existed in the first place. Opening these doors allows us to explore and learn and question. It helps us to feel connected to a place, to each other and to all those who have walked through those doors previously.

Things are moving in the right direction. The gaol cells reopened again this yearGareth Thomas, from Lichfield District Council, showed us behind the doors of the council offices and regularly shares the deeds and maps he finds in his magical strongroom. Another important development, that will hopefully gain more momentum in the new year is Dave Moore’s vision regarding the future of Sandfields Pumping Station, a building that’s not only part of Lichfield’s history, but also that of the Black Country and South Staffordshire. Something I would like to see next year is more buildings open for the Heritage Weekend in September (at least), more community involvement in our history, improved access to local history resources, and of course more people getting out there exploring their surroundings, finding out what it is that matters to and interests them.

So that’s my rallying cry for 2013, more on this in the new year, but for now, I’d like to say thank you to everyone who has commented and got involved with this blog in 2012, and of course have a very, Merry Christmas!

Men of Letters

Following on from this morning’s post,  here is Gareth’s latest fantastic Lichfield Grammar School related discovery. The plaque suggests that this stonework was originally the front doorway to the Grammar School, and was redressed and placed around this doorway in the Lichfield District Council Offices in 1928. The second photograph shows our oldest dated graffiti yet – RS 1681.

As I’ve been reading about the school’s history, I’ve been jotting down the names of students. Here they are so far, in no particular order….some you may recognise, others you may not.

Isaac Hawkins Browne    Gregory King
John Wyatt                       George Smallridge
David Garrick                    Andrew Corbet
Thomas Newton                John Willes
Robert James                   Thomas Parker
Elias Ashmole                   William Talbot
Edmund Hector                William Noel
John Taylor                       Richard Lloyd
Charles Congreve            Samuel Johnson
William Wollaston            Theophilius Buckeridge Lowe
Francis Chetwynd            Joseph Addison
John Rowley                     Henry Salt
John Colson                     Joseph Simpson
Walter Bagot                    Charles Bagot
William Bailye

Do any of them match any of the initials found throughout the school? I have to say it’s the ones we don’t know much about that interest me the most. We all know what Mr Ashmole did, but what about those whose achievements weren’t documented to the same extent? What about those poor boys (with or without their brooms)? How did attending the school affect the course of their lives?

Image taken from Wikimedia Commons. Murray, John. Johnsoniana, 1835. reprinted Lane, Margaret (1975), Samuel Johnson & his World, p. 26. New York: Harpers & Row Publishers

Several engravings and drawing of the Grammar School exist showing the schoolroom building at various stages in its history. Gareth is working on something that will hopefully show the changes in the schoolroom since it was first erected on the site in around 1577. This should hopefully help us to discover the original location of the stone doorway too.  The schoolroom was rebuilt in c.1848, and as the dates on the stonework are before and after this date, I wonder whether materials from the old schoolroom of 1577 were reused in carrying out this restoration work?  I’m hoping to go to the Lichfield Record Office as the National Archives catalogue is showing that the hold lots of information on this, and on may other aspects of the school’s history, dating back to around the same time RS carved his initials into the old doorway.

Finally (for now!), I’ve suggested that the doors of the Old Grammar School, both inside and out, be opened to the public for the Lichfield Heritage Weekend.

Update:

I found a book ‘The Wanderings of a Pen and Pencil’ from 1846, in which the authors FP Palmer and A Crowquill desribe their visit to Lichfield. Illustrations of the exterior and interior of the Grammar School are included in the book. Interestingly, their visit was at the time the school was in decline, and there were no pupils attending (see previous post).  They record that the upper schoolroom was tenanted by lumber, and the lower school room unoccupied, and asked ‘How is it the Lichfield Grammar School is so shamefully deserted and what amount is received by the master for doing nothing?’. In the interior, the stool that they have sketched was apparently the ‘flogging-horse’. The exterior drawing confuses me further – hopefully Gareth will be able to shed more light on how this compares with the other views of the schoolroom we have!.

Through Doors and Windows

Anyone who has read the Written into Lichfield History and Making your Mark posts, will know that Gareth Thomas has been exploring the Lichfield District Council Offices, and very kindly sharing the photos here on the blog.  Gareth’s doing this because the buildings were once the Lichfield Grammar School, and generations of pupils, dating back to the 17th century have left their mark on the building.

I like the idea that even those who didn’t go as far as leaving their name still left a trace on the worn bannisters and floorboards

Last time, we got as far as the attic doors, where someone called ‘Watkins’, carved his name in February 1714/5. Amongst the other graffiti is the name WHoll, and Roger Jones (Ziksby) put forward the idea that this could be William Holl the engraver, which certainly warrants further investigation.  Back then the doors would have lead to the dormitories for the boarders at the school. Now thanks to Gareth, we get to have a look at what lies behind those potentially three hundred year old doors……

Who was WL Holden? Does C1 refer to his form or something else?

To us these are old timber beams, yet once they were brand new, and according to the Lichfield Conduit Lands archives, mostly donated in the form of individual trees!

 

Gareth has taken some photographs from the windows. Not only does this give an interesting perspective of the city, it also invites you to imagine what the boys would have seen looking out of this window, what’s changed and what’s the same.

In around 1813, Cowperthwaite Smith was appointed headmaster of the school with a salary of £170 per annum, plus rent free accomodation. At the time, board, lodging & tuition was being charged at between 40 and 50 guineas a year for each scholar. In 1828, according to the ‘Account of Public Charities in England and Wales’, there were 18 boarders, and around 30-40 students in total. It goes on to say that the only scholars receiving their education free at the school were the ‘six children of poor men born within the City’ (who were also given money for books, and slightly more curiously brooms, when the school was first endowed).  The people of Lichfield were apparently not happy that their grammar school was no longer a free school.

By then end of Cowperthwaite Smith’s time as headmaster in the 1840s, no boys at all were coming to the school. Allegations were made in the Wolverhampton Chronicle that Lichfield Grammar School had been closed for six years due to the the misconduct of the master. It claimed he was violent towards the children in his care, and that ‘his treatment of two boys on two separate subjected his modes of punishment to investigation before the magistrates one boy having subsequently confined to his bed under surgical advice for a fortnight’.

The newpaper was sued for its attempt to injure Cowperthwaite’s ‘good name fame and credit’ as a schoolmaster and clergyman, and ‘to bring him into public scandal infamy and disgrace’ and ‘to hold him up to public contumely scorn and ridicule and to vex harass oppress impoverish and wholly ruin (him)’. I’m trying to piece together exactly what happened as best I can from the court cases that followed these allegations and I’m hoping that the original newspaper reports might be available. There’s also a vast amount of information at Lichfield Record Office that I’d like to look through, and I think it’s best not to speculate or comment further until I have read more on this.

I am also working on another post as Gareth’s investigations took him to another part of the building, where he made another fantastic discovery, including our oldest dated graffiti yet.  In the meantime, Gareth, do you fancy going up that ladder in the attic?

(1) A Concise Description of the Endowed Grammar Schools of England and Wales, Nicholas Carlise 1818

http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1846/apr/01/the-lichfield-grammar-school

http://www.lichfielddc.gov.uk/info/100004/council_and_democracy/588/history_of_district_council_house/2

http://eagle.cch.kcl.ac.uk:8080/cce/persons/DisplayPerson.jsp?PersonID=19831

Making a Mark

I’m pleased to say that Gareth took my hint and very kindly sent me some great photographs of the names carved into old attic doors in the Lichfield District Council office building on St John St.  This part of the offices was the old school master’s house, dating back to 1682 and it’s thought the attic was used as a dormitory for boarders at the old grammar school.

One of the carvings seems to be dated 1715. If authentic, it means this door could be around 300 years old, possibly even original? Also there’s a rogue 4 nearby, is this a red herring or something to do with the change in calendar from Julian to Gregorian? This is about as clear as a pint of guinness to me, so any possible explanation would be welcomed!

 

Gareth also sent me a scan of a document – an indenture outlining the sale of the school buildings to Theophilus Basil Percy Levett, dated Christmas Eve 1902, and signed by the the school’s governors. It’s a fascinating document, there’s  information about the buildings,  the stamp of the Birmingham Paper and Parchment dealer, the seals and the names and professions of the governors (some are more familiar than others -Lonsdale, Cooper, Lomax, Ashmall and Andrews stand out for me).   In 1903 the school moved from St John St to Upper St John’s St, merging with Kingshill Secondary Modern in 1971, to form the present King Edward VI school.

Gareth’s photographs and images from the last few days are fascinating, but what I also think is interesting is the contrast.  The inky signatures of men who have already made their way in the world, compared with names carved into wood and brick by children starting out in life.  And what about the contrast of these grammar school boys with their peers?  Whilst they may or may not have gone on to fulfil their potential (see the comments on my previous post)  what of those other children that never even had the opportunity?

A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to the headteachers of our state secondary schools here in Lichfield talk about what their school offered to students. Each of them spoke convincingly about their commitment to giving each and every pupil in their care, regardless of ability or background, the opportunity to reach their potential in life.   I found myself moved by their words. This is how it should be.

Edit 2/11/2012

Yesterday at Lichfield Library, I found the book ‘A Short History of Lichfield Grammar School’ written by Percy Laithwaite in 1925. Mr Laithwaite refers to the graffiti, and I suspect this may be the original source (I found out about the existence of the graffiti on a Lichfield District Council document. I also saw it referenced in Howard Clayton’s Coaching City, whilst I was at the library yesterday). As well as providing small biographies of some of the masters and pupils of the school,  Mr Laithwaite also mentions that wooden panelling from the old school room is now used in the council offices, and that an oak desk from the school room was used as a locker at Bridgeman’s on Quonians Lane. If we could track that down, that’d be something!

Footnote:

 

I’m really pleased to say that Gareth Thomas who provided me with the graffiti photos and the indenture document, as well as other information over the last weeks has started his own blog http://lichfield.keepsblogging.com/ Gareth’s going to be sharing the things he discovers and judging by the gems he’s come up with so far, it’s going to a great read for those of us who enjoy exploring the history of this old city.

Sources:

http://www.lichfielddc.gov.uk/info/100004/council_and_democracy/588/history_of_district_council_house/2

http://www.kingedwardvi-lichfield.staffs.sch.uk/history.html

https://wiki.leeds.ac.uk/index.php/HIST2530_Building_the_literate_nation:_the_historical_debate#Literacy_Rates