Prior Engagement

Yesterday, I visited Hawkesyard, a place known to previous generations by a variety of names including Le Hawkeserd in Hondesacre, Armitage Park, Spode House and Hawkesyard Priory. The first house known to have existed here was a moated manor owned by the Rugeley Family, who appear to have had a variety of spellings for their own name. According to an article in the Lichfield Mercury on February 3rd 1950,  a document describing the funeral of Richard Rugeley, who, ‘…departed this mortal and transitory life on Saturday night, the 5th July 1623 at his house at Hawkesyard’, was signed by Symn Ruggeley, Thirkell Rugeley, Henry Rugley and Thomas Rugsley.

Information on the early days of Hawkesyard is sketchy but it’s thought the original hall, pulled down in 1665, was much closer to the River Trent, about half a mile to the west of Armitage Church. Nothing is thought to remain and nothing much more is known about Hawkesyard until 1760, when the estate was renamed ‘Armitage Park’ by Nathaniel Lister, who built a gothic style mansion on the sandstone hill above the site of the original hall. Beneath Lister’s new house was a plaque recording that, ‘These cellars were cut out of the rock by Richard Benton and Sons, anno Domini 1760, for Nathaniel Lister, Esq.’ Perhaps it’s still there?

Hawkesyard Hall, Armitage by Jason Kirkham

Hawkesyard Hall, Armitage by Jason Kirkham

From the 1840s, Hawkesyard was home to Mary Spode and her son Josiah, the fourth generation of the Stoke on Trent pottery dynasty, and the first not to work in the family business. Mary died in 1860, and Josiah’s wife Helen died eight years later. Both are buried at St John the Baptist in Armitage, the Anglican parish church where Josiah was the organ player and warden. Despite these strong links to St John’s, Josiah Spode converted to Catholicism in 1885, along with his niece Helen Gulson, who lived with him at Hawkesyard. On his death in 1893, Spode requested that Helen should continue to live at Hawkesyard until her death, after which the estate should be passed to the English Dominican Order of Friars. However, Helen decided to move out of the hall and into a cottage on the estate, allowing work on the new Priory and Church to begin almost immediately. Some say that this decision was inspired by a vision of the Virgin Mary appearing to Helen in the grounds of the estate, and that the altar of the new Priory Church of St Thomas Aquinas was supposedly erected over the site of this apparition.

The Priory Church at Armitage by Jason Kirkham

The Priory Church at Armitage by Jason Kirkham

Priory Church by JAson Kirkham

Priory Church by Jason Kirkham

Priory Church by Jason Kirkham

Priory Church by Jason Kirkham

Priory Church by Jaosn Kirkham

Priory Church by Jason Kirkham

The Dominicans left Hawkesyard in 1988, but their benefactors and some of their brethren remain. Josiah Spode and Helen Gulson are interred in a small chapel within the Priory Church, and outside in the gardens, are the simple concrete crosses marking the graves of monks.

Monks' Cemetery, Hawkesyard

Monks’ Cemetery, Hawkesyard by Jason Kirkham

As beautiful as the church is, it’s the gardens at Hawkesyard with their subterranean features, which have captured my imagination. They appear to have had the same effect on this reporter from the Lichfield Mercury, who visited in the Summer of 1935, and wrote the following description:

Down weather-worn and feet-worn steps, through charming little rockery glades, rich with lichens, ferns and its more wild brother – bracken- time and nature has made this wonderful spot more beautiful in its wildness. Some pathways lead down through fine old arches, gloriously hewn or erected deep into the bowels of the earth, or so it appeared; while others lead gradually upwards through narrow passages. Opening into a small glade we suddenly came across the entrance to the well-known underground passage which, descending steeply, rises just as abruptly in another part of the rockery, far remote from each other. Today this passage is awesome in appearance, the ground underfoot being feet deep with decaying leaves, and only the most venturesome pass out of the light of day into its unknown blackness. It was a curious and certainly thrilling experience to traverse this maze of paths. Another similar grotto housed a large shelter, carved in stone and the actual rock; a sort of summerhouse with a double archway entrance. In another we discovered some beautiful carving in white stone of three saintly figures, obviously beautifully carved, but decaying and rotting with age. We could not discover their identity or purpose, although they surmounted what could easily have been a small natural altar, secluded in the quiet of this wonderful grotto.

Eighty years later, there are no saints to be found in this wild part of Hawkesyard. Time and nature have now ravaged its beauty but have not diminished its curiosity. Several theories exist as to who carved these grottos and tunnels out of the rock and why, but as an investigation into the overgrown site in the mid 1990s concluded, ‘the function of all the above is not clear’. Any ideas?

Sunken Garden, Hawkesyard by Jason Kirkham

Sunken Garden, Hawkesyard by Jason Kirkham

Hollow rock at Hawkesyard by Jason Kirkham

Hollow rock at Hawkesyard by Jason Kirkham

 

Sources

Photos by Jason Kirkham

http://www.hawkesyardestate.com

Hawkesyard, Armitage, Staffordshire: A Documentary and Field Assessment. Chris Welch

Staffordshire Parks and Gardens Register Review (1993-96). Parts I and II. Staffordshire County Council

http://www.armitagewithhandsacre.co.uk

http://www.staffordshiregardensandparks.org/images/Newsletter/Issue40

Lichfield Mercury Archive

Features and Reviews

Hopefully, anyone reading the blog recently has found the old graffiti interesting. I know that Gareth and I, and (for a few days at least!) a large broadcasting corporation did. After all of the excitement, I thought it was time for a bit of musing….

The discoveries (or perhaps rediscoveries is more accurate) in the Lichfield District Council offices got me thinking about the potential for other ‘unseen’ history out there. There’s unseen in the sense of being hidden away from view –  in attics, down pub cellars and down the bottom of the garden. However, I also think that something in plain view can be unseen –  people may pass by everyday, but no longer see what’s actually there or the potential of it, due to familiarity. During discussions about the graffiti, someone said to me, “I’ve walked past that graffiti loads of times and never even thought about it”.

The bread oven above is in the house of someone I know. I remember them buying the property years ago and excitedly telling me after their first viewing with the estate agent, “It has an old bread oven!”. When they moved in we all keen to peer inside but prior to taking the photo, it was last interacted with as part of an Easter Egg hunt.  However, taking the photo to show a friend, sparked a whole new conversation about the oven. Was it original? If so, would this have been the kitchen? Wasn’t it once divided into two houses? How was it laid out back then? Why was the house built in the first place? And so on….My point is, sometimes, we need to look with a fresh pair of eyes to see what’s in front of our nose.

I don’t think that the history in question even has to be a specific feature like the bread oven. I find the traces of people’s everyday lives fascinating. I visited a house in The Close last Christmas. Unfortunately, I hadn’t had nearly enough mulled wine to pluck up the courage to ask if I could take photos, so I’ll have to describe it. There were stone steps down into the cellar, worn away in the centre by centuries worth of footsteps. There were attic beams with layers of fading wallpaper still clinging to them up in the attic. To describe the place as ‘lived in’ would be an understatement.  The next question inevitably is ‘lived in by who’? Actually, photos wouldn’t really have done the place justice anyway because it was more than a visual thing. You wanted to touch, as well as see. ….

I’m really hoping that Lichfield District Council open their offices up for the next heritage weekend, so that people get to look around what was one the Old Grammar School for themselves. I’m not suggesting people throw the doors of their homes open to the public, but perhaps if we want to explore the history of the city and all its inhabitants, we sometimes need to look at the ‘normal’ buildings and places, where people lived and worked, and still do! I’m by no means detracting from those special, extraordinary buildings like the Cathedral, just saying that sometimes it might be worth looking again a little closer to home.

One of these terraced houses in Leomansley still has a tall chimmney at the back. An old washroom?

A wall brace on Greenhill. Does that say R Crosskex? Who was that? See edit below.

 

A selection of objects found in the garden Of Vicky Sutton’s Nan’s house near to Beacon Park (not including the pink flowery plate!).

The remains of a cherry orchard can still be found near…Cherry Orchard!

Edit:

After I woke up properly, I realised this actually said R Crosskey. I found a book about Henry William Crosskey, a geologist and Unitarian minister from Lewes (1) and found that his younger brother, Rowland Crosskey came to Lichfield as an apprentice ironmonger. He emigrated to Australia for a while and then,  after he returned to England, he started a business in Birmingham. Afterwards, he took over the Lichfield firm where he had served his apprenticeship. In 1868 he became Mayor of Lichfield and donated a civic sword to the City (Is this the one still used in processions today?).  He died in 1890. From census records, it looks like his home and business premises were initially in Market St. In 1888, he was in Bore St, trading as a ‘Military Camp and Store Furnisher’ with premises on the Burton Rd in partnership with Charles John Corrie. Also, just as a point of interest, Rowland was his Mother’s maiden name.

 

(1)Henry William Crosskey, LL.D., F.C.S. : his life and work by Richard Agland Armstrong; with chapters by E. F. M. MacCarthy and Charles Lapworth. http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/e-f-m-maccarthy-richard-acland-armstrong.shtml

(2) London Gazette 1888

 

Tree Following: Sticking it out

To contrast with Leomansley Woods, I’m also following the newly planted cider orchard at The Walled Garden at Woodhouse Community Farm.

The majority of the orchard was planted on a cold but sunny day in January, but there were 8 more trees to be planted and so I went along last Sunday. Another sunny day, but a bit warmer this time!

There will be apples.....

 

.....one day.

Some buds are starting to form, but other than that, there’s not much change.  So it looks like it might be some time before we get to make any cider. Until then, sitting & chatting in the sun in the beautiful surroundings of the farm,  a cup of tea and one of Annamarie’s cakes will do just fine 🙂

By the way, The Walled Garden have their own website here where you can find out more about the farm and sign up for their community supported agriculture scheme.

Take a Bough

I’ve heard about a project called Tree Following via Gary Webb on Twitter, who is following a London Plane at Compton Verney. The project is being run by Lucy Corrander on her Loose and Leafy blog and the idea is to follow the life of a tree or a group of trees, returning at various points in the year to note the changes and what’s going on.

I love how trees reflect the changing seasons but also what they can tell us about our changing surroundings. For example, some like those at Beacon Park, are reminders of an old estate, when the buildings themselves are long gone.  I like the idea that each species of tree has a history, with its own uses and customs and also that there have been trees in the past which have been so important they have given their name to an area, such as the Shire Oak at Walsall Wood.

Which tree(s) should I follow though? Here are some contenders, in and around Lichfield.

My current thoughts are that I’ll choose a tree at Leomansley Wood and also our cider orchard at Fisherwick. I hope the comparison between a mature woodland tree and an orchard sapling will be interesting. Although, as you can see from the photo, the cider trees aren’t much more than sticks at the moment, so we’ll see!

The Garden of Elford

A few months ago I wrote the Pomology post about the Elford Pippin apple and the rhubarb and grapes raised at Elford Hall gardens by Mr William Buck, gardener to the Hon FG Howard.

Although Elford Hall has been demolished, the gardener’s house, which would presumably have been home to Mr Buck in the early 1800s, still stands alongside the walled garden & its associated buildings.  The Elford Hall Garden Project was set up to restore the garden, which had lain unused and overgrown for some years. Birmingham City Council own the land and after some negotiating, agreed to lease it to the group.

A week or so ago, I went up to the gardens to have a look. Despite it being early evening,  I was given a wonderfully warm welcome by one of the project’s volunteers who then showed me around. The progress that has been made is fantastic.  Some of the buildings have been restored already, such as the melon house and stables and there are plans to do the same for other buildings such as the vinery (where apparently a 15lb bunch of grapes was grown in 1823!) and the mushroom house. The garden was filled with flowers, fruit and vegetables – this latest generation of Elford gardeners would even give Mr Buck a run for his money!

I am looking at the history of Elford Hall in more depth, but for today, I’ll leave you with a couple of photographs and a recommendation that you take a trip over there to see this lovely place for yourself. If you do go soon, ask if you can try one of those little yellow plums, they’re delicious.

Monk's Walk

I discovered this gorgeous garden at the back of Lichfield Library a few weeks ago.  There are plants from the 17th and 18th century, supplied by Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens and Victorian plants from The Walled Garden nursery at Bretby Park, Burton on Trent. The walls running alongside are interesting. There’s a mixture of brick and stone and a bricked up entrance. I’m guessing that it’s called Monk’s Walk in reference to the Friary which once occupied the site, but I’ve yet to find much information about the history of the garden.

Edit 11/10/2011

I’ve found more information on the history of the garden on the Staffordshire Gardens & Park Trusts website.

The Lost Estate of Fisherwick

I’m really enjoying taking part in Pastorm, a new collaborative history experiment created by Mark of Tamworth Time Hikes. Here’s a link to the site, which explains exactly what Pastorm is and what it hopes to achieve.

Horseshoe carved into Fisherwick Hall gate pier

My contributions so far have focused on the Fisherwick Estate, which  was purchased by Arthur Chichester, 5th Earl of Donegall (later to become the first Marquess of Donegall), in 1761.  With the involvement of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, he remodelled the grounds and replaced the ‘fine old timbered and gabled’1  hall from the 16th century with an extravagant new mansion which left some visitors ‘at a loss whether most to admire the beauty of its proportion, or the elegance of its embellishments’2.

After the death of the Marquess, the estate passed to his second son, Lord Spencer Chichester.  From what I understand, Chichester could not afford to keep the estate and in 1808 it was put up for sale. Furniture, artwork and even some of the building itself were auctioned off. One of the items sold was a virginal belonging to Queen Elizabeth I3 and the portico of the house itself was eventually found a new home, at The George Hotel in Walsall (now also demolished)4.

The Hall was demolished by its new owner, Richard Howard, in around 1814 and what was left of the estate was split up. Today, the remnants are scattered across Fisherwick and they’re being documented over on Pastorm, where there are photographs and some more information. There’s the Walled Garden & Orangerybridges, a pair of gate piers covered in carvings, and the stables, a ha-ha and part of the estate’s wall boundary.  It’s a bit like doing a treasure hunt! On the subject of treasure, take a look here at the gold ring with a mermaid seal that someone found in one of the fields around Fisherwick.

There is still a whole lot more to discover about Fisherwick, from the Iron Age right up until the present day. If anyone has anything to contribute on this or wants to take part in the Pastorm project in a different way, here’s how to get involved.

 Sources:

  1. The Natural History of the County of Stafford by Robert Garner
  2. A Companion to the Leasowes, Hagley and, Enville with a sketch of Fisherwick
  3. The New Monthly Magazine, Vol 4 1815
  4. History of the Borough & Foreign of Walsall by E L Glew

Townships: Fisherwick with Tamhorn’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 237-252.

The Historic Gardens of England: Staffordshire by Timothy Mowl and Dianne Barre