Crime Scenery

I know. It’s been a while. You don’t know what I did this summer but I’d quite like to confess. There have been visits to gibbets, wells, shrines, mausoleums, derelict churches, ruined abbeys, tunnels and places with names which sound a bit rude. It’s less about serious history and more about a series of stories told by the landscape that surrounds us. Sometimes you have to listen very carefully to hear them (especially over the sound of my friend Jacky eating crisps), sometimes they shout in your face via an interpretation board funded by the parish council.  If you’re sitting comfortably*, then I’ll begin by sharing** evidence from some of the crime related activities we’ve been getting up to.

*unlike another friend Eddie the time we visited an old priory and had to stick him in the back of a van
**unlike Jacky with her crisps

Once upon a time, there was a little girl called Katie. When she grew up she wanted to be Mavis Cruet from Willo the Wisp. For a short while, she lived in Coleshill in North Warwickshire and almost everyday she’d walk past the town’s pillory. At the time she didn’t realise that it was a rare example combining three methods of corporal punishment i.e. stocks, a pillory AND a whipping post, and was last used in 1863, but she was curious all the same.

coleshill-pillory-michael-garlick

Coleshill Pillory by Michael Garlick from geography.org.uk http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Many years passed and in August 2016,  Katie was visiting her parents in Stone in Staffordshire when she turned off too early towards Hilderstone. This was in no way down to her lack of navigational skills, there was a tree obscuring the ‘Hilder’ bit of the sign. Around the corner was a patch of grass with a set of stocks.

Stocks just after Hilderstone turning on A51 near Stone

Stocks just after Hilderstone turning on A51 near Stone

Despite extensive research (doing a google search), she couldn’t find any information on them. Katie hadn’t grown up to be Mavis Cruet, but she had continued to be curious. How many more sets of stocks were there around the country? Had anyone ever recorded them? Who had been publicly humiliated and punished here and what were the reasons? Our towns and cities are filled with monuments to the so-called great and good of society. Are these our monuments to those considered petty and bad who lived on its fringes? And so, after musing over these thoughts with friend Patti who already had a knowledge of and interest in this area, they decided to set up a discussion group called ‘Offending Histories’, with the aim of finding remaining physical evidence of crime and punishment across the Midlands and telling the sort of stories in which no one lives happily. Ever after or otherwise.

In just a month, we’ve already started to record a fascinating range of sites and objects. Here are some samples of the more local examples.

The old gaol cells in Lichfield have an example of a Scold's Bridle or brank on display. There's an excellent article from the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic exploring the history of these vile items here - http://museumofwitchcraftandmagic.co.uk/…/object-of-the-mo…/). Of particular interest is the following reference,

The old gaol cells in Lichfield have an example of a scold’s bridle or brank on display. There’s an excellent article from the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic exploring the history of these vile items here. Of particular interest is the following reference, “In 1789, the brank was used in Lichfield. A local farmer enclosed a woman’s head “to silence her clamorous Tongue” and led her round a field while boys and girls “hooted at her” “Nobody pitied her because she was very much disliked by her neighbours.”

Outside St Michael's church is the relocated headstone of the last three men to be executed in the city. On 1st June 1810, Neve, Jackson & Weightman were taken by cart from the city gaol & publicly hanged for forgery at the city gallows (where Tamworth St, Upper St John St & the London Road cross). Interesting that at some point, the word 'hanged' appears to have been obliterated from the monument. Although this appears to be the only marker to executed criminals buried here, the church register records the names of others who were executed and buried e.g. John Wilson Sept 23rd 1583 and John Walle and Robert Hodgson described as prisoners executed and buried on 13 October 1587.

Outside St Michael’s church is the relocated headstone of the last three men to be executed in the city. On 1st June 1810, Neve, Jackson & Weightman were taken by cart from the city gaol & publicly hanged for forgery at the city gallows (where Tamworth St, Upper St John St & the London Road cross). Interesting that at some point, the word ‘hanged’ appears to have been obliterated from the monument. Although this appears to be the only marker to executed criminals buried here, the church register records the names of others e.g. John Wilson on Sept 23rd 1583 and, John Walle and Robert Hodgson described as prisoners executed and buried on 13 October 1587.

Patti pointed out this example of a sanctuary knocker on a door in Elford church, dating to circa 1450AD. By touchin the knocker, a fugitive from the law could be given sanctuary in the church for a period of time. If they made it that far. One example given by Karl Shoemaker in his book 'Sanctuary and Crime in the Middle Ages' tells of Elyas, a chaplain imprisoned in Staffordshire to await trial for murder, who 'killed the gaoler's attendant, escaped from the prison & fled towards the church'. The gaoler & others from Staffordshire pursued him and cut off his head before he could reach the church'. Another example comes from Colton History Society - in 1270 Nicholas son of William De Colton stabbed Adam, son of Hereward in a brawl; he fled to the church and took sanctuary. Claiming sanctuary was abolished 1623.

At St Peter’s in Elford, Patti pointed out this example of a sanctuary knocker on a door dating to circa 1450AD. By touching the knocker, a fugitive from the law could be given sanctuary in the church for a period of time (this seems to have been forty days which is a nice biblical number) . If they made it that far. One example given by Karl Shoemaker in his book ‘Sanctuary and Crime in the Middle Ages’ tells of Elyas, a chaplain imprisoned in Staffordshire to await trial for murder, who ‘killed the gaoler’s attendant, escaped from the prison & fled towards the church’. The gaoler & others from Staffordshire pursued him and cut off his head before he could reach the church’. Another example comes from Colton History Society – in 1270 Nicholas son of William De Colton stabbed Adam, son of Hereward in a brawl and fled to the church where he took sanctuary. Claiming sanctuary was officially abolished in 1623.

The Bilstone Gibbet Post, Leicestershire. Erected in March 1801 to display the body of local man John Massey, executed for murdering his wife Lydia and attemping to murder his step- daughter. Massey's headless skeleton, wrapped in chains, remained hanging from the post for seventeen years, his skull apparently being used as a candle holder in a pub in Atherstone. In the early twentieth century, the post was a venue for religious meetings but today, there are rumours of more unusual behaviour taking place here.

The Bilstone Gibbet Post, Leicestershire. Erected in March 1801 to display the body of local man John Massey, executed for murdering his wife Lydia and attempting to murder his step- daughter. Massey’s headless skeleton, wrapped in chains, remained hanging from the post for seventeen years, his skull apparently being used as a candle holder in a pub in Atherstone. In the early twentieth century, the post was a venue for religious meetings but today, there are rumours of more unusual behaviour taking place here.

Unable to find much on this pillor outside the Cock Inn at Stowe by Chartley, but it does appear to have been relocated here at some point.

Pillory outside the Cock Inn at Stowe by Chartley. Appears to have been relocated here at some point as not shown on early 19thc photographs of the pub

It is a dark subject at times but there are lighter moments too. Currently providing wry amusement is the question of how, and indeed why, was a seventeenth century cucking stool stolen from the church of St Edward at Leek? A meta-criminal mastermind at work? It’s very much an ongoing exploration and if you are interested or better yet, have something to contribute, and aren’t offended by an element of gallows humour, please do join our Offending History group here

Lily's Medieval Jigsaw Puzzle

Recently, twelve year old Lily made a very interesting discovery in Lichfield. Here’s her account of how the contents of a cardboard box found in an old gaol cell turned out to be far more exciting than than anyone could have imagined….

“In November 2014, I went to the Lichfield Gaol Cells in the Guildhall. It was a Lichfield Discovered event, and we were going to look and see if we could find any graffiti, names, or dates on the gaol cell doors. About 7 or 8 of us came to the event all in all, I came with my Dad. Everyone else managed to find lots of writing and names on the doors, I didn’t find much. Near the end of the session, we were looking inside the third jail cell, the one that is not normally open to the public. My Dad pointed out 2 boxes of old looking tiles on the floor, we took a quick look, but we didn’t pay much attention to them.

Tiles 1

Tiles in cardboard boxes in gaol cell now used for storage

The next time we came to the gaol cells was on 21st February, we had come back to see if there was any more graffiti that we had missed, also to take a second look at the boxes of tiles (Jo at the museum said it was ok). This time I had come with my Mom and there was around 8 people that turned up this time. Me and my Mom started looking through the tiles, we had picked about 5 up and we laid them on a chair to photograph them, but they werereally dusty so we couldn’t see if there were any other patterns on them.

There were so many tiles that we couldn’t fit any more on, we decided to move all of the tiles into the 4th cell, onto a wooden bed that the prisoners used to sleep in, (personally I would NEVER think of sleeping on one of them). We started taking some more tiles out of the box and moving them onto the bed. We moved them a few at a time, because the box was too heavy to lift. I had realised that there were a few tiles with the same pattern on. I really wanted to get a better look at what the patterns looked like, so my mom went to Wilko (just up the road) to buy 2 paintbrushes. When she got back we started brushing off the dust and dirt from the tiles we had got out, we could see the patterns a lot clearer. We had nearly finished emptying out the first box of tiles, and at the bottom my Mom found a bit of tile with ‘Lichfield Friary’ written on the back. She showed it to Kate and she said “Maybe it came from the old Friary!” and then we all got really excited!

tiles 2

Tile with Lichfield Friary writing on the back

We had found lots of bone shaped tiles that were exactly like the one that said ‘Lichfield Friary’ on it.

Tiles 3

“Bone” shaped tiles

Whatever the floor was, it was really big. We had found LOADS of tiles that looked the same, and maybe they belonged to the same floor. I started trying to see if any of the tiles might fit together, there were loads of circular tiles, some with patterns on, and some without. There was one round tile, with a triangle and circles intertwined in a pattern. There were also pizza shaped tiles, without a tip, like someone had taken a pizza and cut the middle out with a cookie cutter, if you get what I mean. Those tiles had a kind of moon, with a starfish shape in the middle.

Tiles 4

Circular “pizza” tiles with moon and star pattern

tiles 5

Plain “pizza” tiles

We had found one of these tiles that was complete and one that was broken, but fitted back together again. All the rest were broken, but I managed to get a full circle out of the fragments we had found. It was like a massive jigsaw-puzzle, but I did it in the end, and what was even more exciting, was that the circular tile fit perfectly inside the ring of pizza shaped tiles! Same with the tiles with no pattern on, but we didn’t find another circular tile.

There was also another set of tiles. We had found about 8-10 of the same type, they were square, and they all had the same pattern on, the kind that can make 2 different types of patterns, depending on which way you put them.

Tiles 6

Square tiles with pattern – my faves 🙂

Most of them were complete, apart from 3-4 of them which we only had corners of. I put them together, and they nearly made a 9 square pattern. These were my favourite tiles, and I hoped we found some more of them, we only had half a box or so left to get out. We did find a couple more of these tiles eventually. We finished emptying out the box, and then we started taking pictures of all the tiles. There wasn’t much time left, so we took all of the photos really quickly. As a result, not many of the pictures were very good. And the light was quite dim in the cells, so the light wasn’t the best either.

It was nearing the end of the session, so we had to put all of the tiles back in the boxes. I couldn’t help thinking that the tiles were from the old medieval Friary. At least some of them.

Kate asked me if I could do some research to see if the tiles were from the Friary, Me and my Mom went to the Lichfield Records Office, to go and look at ‘The Lichfield Friary’ by P. Laithwaite, which was reprinted from the Transactions of the Birmingham Archaeological Society where a report of Councillor T. Moseley’s findings from his exploration of the site in 1933 was given.

Laithwaite BAS 1934

D77/23/67 Copyright Lichfield Record Office

There were only 6 pages in the book. Page 5 had a drawing of some if the exact tiles we had found (the ones that looked like pizzas with the middle cut out) some with patterns, and some without.

EPSON scanner image

D77/23/67 The Lichfield Friary by P.Laithwaite Copyright Lichfield Records Office

Me and my mom were like O-O (AMAZED!). On the next page (page 6) there was a drawing on 3 tiles with different patterns on, all of which we had found in the box of tiles! 😀 (and my favourite one, the one that we had got like a 9 block square of the floor.)

EPSON scanner image

D77/23/67 Drawing of square tiles from The Lichfield Friary by P.Laithwaite Copyright Lichfield Records Office

We had found what we had come looking for, proof that the tiles in the boxes were Medieval from The Grey Friars’ Church at The Friary!”

Note – this is not where the story ends! Lily is having an afternoon on the tiles with Jo Wilson, Lichfield City Council Museum and Heritage Officer and medieval tiles expert, Karen Slade this week, so look out for an update soon. Lily’s doing such a great job – the initial discovery, the ongoing research, and writing it all up afterwards – that I’m thinking of joining the Right Revd Jonathan Gledhill in retirement and leaving Lichfield Lore in her more than capable young hands.

 

Cell Mates

The Lichfield Discovered gang will be back at the old Gaol Cells at Lichfield Guildhall this coming Saturday (21st February 2015) between 2pm and 4pm, to resume our quest to record the graffiti left behind by prisoners. There’s plenty of it, but we’re up against the ravages of time and liberal applications of varnish. We did manage to pick up one definite name on our last visit. John Lafferty who, judging by the reports in the Lichfield Mercury, appears to have been a serial offender from Sandford St in the late nineteenth century, scratched his name into one of the cell doors along with the words ‘7 days’, presumably the length of his stay…on that occasion.

Gaol Graffiti 1

Lafferty graffiti

The cells officially reopen to the public in April, and will then be open every Saturday between 10am and 4pm until September.  Since 2012, over 7,000 people have visited and in order to continue to be able to give people access to this part of Lichfield’s history, Joanne Wilson, the city’s Museum and Heritage Officer, is recruiting a team of volunteers to welcome visitors to the cells, keep a record of visitor numbers, answer questions and provide information. You don’t need any previous experience just an interest in heritage, enthusiasm and the ability to smile when you hear, ‘You’re not going to lock us in, are you?’ for the twenty-seventh time that day. Each volunteer session usually lasts around three hours, but dates and times are flexible and you can do as much or as little as you are able to. It’s a great opportunity to get involved in the city’s history and to share it with all kinds of people – I volunteered a couple of years ago and welcomed local people, wedding guests, day trippers, and even someone who’d worked at the Guildhall for years without realising what was behind the red door at the end of the corridor.

Fifty shades of varnish

If you would like to know more about volunteering, please contact Joanne on 01543 264 972 or via email at sjmuseum@lichfield.gov.uk. Alternatively, pop into the Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum on Breadmarket St. You are also very welcome to join us on Saturday. And yes, we promise not to lock you in.

 

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/

Lichfield Law

Lichfield’s old gaol is open to the public once more, allowing us to see how ‘justice’ was administered in the past, and read about some of those on the receiving end of it.

I took a few photos but to get a true feel of the place you really need to visit these ‘…cells, whose echoes only learn to groan’, as Erasmus Darwin put it. 

This is a thought provoking part of Lichfield, tucked away at the back of the Guildhall.

The cells open every Saturday until the end of September from 10am to 4pm. To find out more call 01543 264972 or email sjmuseum@lichfield.gov.uk.  There’s no admission charge (although you are likely to hear at least one person quipping about having to pay to get out).