Elephant Stone

At the end of a long week of exams, assignments and driving backwards and forwards to Wolverhampton, I needed to refresh my tired eyes and mind. Others in my situation may have headed for a spa but I headed for Lichfield bus station. The plan was to jump on the first bus that came, get off a certain number of stops later, and to explore wherever it was that I ended up.

Image (c) Central Buses

Image (c) Central Buses

The first bus to turn up was for Route 66 and, as I was in a fatalistic kind of mood, I took this as a good omen. However, the driver was reluctant to let me buy a day ticket, pointing out that not only did the bus only go as far as Burntwood, it stopped running about 4 o’clock. Not quite the epic journey I was hoping for, so I took his advice and decided to get my kicks on Route 62 instead. It winds from Lichfield to Cannock. More than eleven miles all the way. Well it goes past Sandyway, Pipehill and Boney Hay. And Cannock Wood looked oh so good.  Plus you can change at the bus station for Tamworth. All for £6.20.

I had planned to get off after an arbitrary ten stops but I was enjoying looking out of a window rather than at a screen so much, I stayed on the bus for an hour. As the clock struck two we arrived in Hednesford. On first sight, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’d been miraculously transported to Lourdes instead.

Our Lady of Lourdes, Hednesford

Grotto hednesford

hednesford grotto mary

Hednesford’s first Roman Catholic priest, Dr Patrick Boyle, made frequent pilgrimages to the shrine in France.  Concious that many in the Diocese hadn’t a prayer of being able to visit themselves, he conceived the idea of bringing the experience of Lourdes to them but died long before the thirteenth century style church and replica grotto were completed in 1934.

Due to mining subsidence in the area, the concrete church is built on an adjustable concrete raft. Standing alone in the grotto, all I saw was an architectural curiosity, although the floral offerings hint at how much more this place is to others.  Perhaps, if I were to come back in July to join the nine hundred or so pilgrims from across the Archdiocese of Birmingham, or in August for the annual Polish rally, which at one point attracted almost ten thousand people (1), I too would see it in a different light.

For now though, back on the bus and to Cannock and something I feel much less guilty about labelling an architectural curiosity. Meet Khushi.

cannock elephant

Khushi the elephant is a replacement for the vandalised Canumbo (a.k.a Nocky), a fibreglass elephant  commissioned by WH Smith Do-it-All in 1989. No-one seems to know why.  Was it inspired by Walsall’s infamous hippo I wonder? A lady sitting nearby didn’t know either, but she said she thought she knew of a rhinoceros statue in Birmingham. It turned out she was in fact thinking of the Bullring Bull but she did make me wonder what other beasts are lurking out there? I’ve started to draw up a list, and it’s a work in progress, but so far, in Staffordshire alone, we have a surprised looking white cow on a flying carpet, a lion in a pensive mood,  a panther influenced by the geometric forms of Cubism and a bronze stag and hind, won by a woman from Cannock on the Price is Right and donated to the High Court shopping centre in Cannock. Forget the road trip, next time we’re going on safari (2).

Notes:

1) The rally was established in August 1948 by Father Mieczyslaw Bossowski, who I believe came to England with the II Corps at the end of the Second World war and became the resident priest at the Wheaton Aston Polish Resettlement Camp.

(2) That one is especially for you Matt R.

Sources:

http://www.birminghamdiocese.org.uk/2014/09/hednesford-pilgrimage/

http://www.polishresettlementcampsintheuk.co.uk/wheatonaston1.htm

http://www.expressandstar.com/news/2009/02/09/elephants-name-is-khushi-little-number/

Review of the Year…1884

Around this time, we seem to get the urge to look back and reflect on the events of the dying year. However, as I’m sure memories of 2013 are still fresh in your mind, let’s imagine instead that it’s the year 1884 that is drawing to a close and take a tour of the ‘Chronological List of the Principal Local Events’ of that year, courtesy of the Lichfield Mercury.

I never did get around to arranging that New Year's Eve party at the Friary Clock Tower...

I never did get around to arranging that New Year’s Eve party at the Friary Clock Tower…

In January, we have the adoption of fish dinners in the Lichfield Union Workhouse and a local government board enquiry into the affairs of Walsall Workhouse.  Whatever those affairs may have been, the next entry informs us they were concluded and moves on to the conviction of Thomas Skelton, a Lichfield Jockey and Trainer, fined £5 for assaulting a commercial traveller at Nottingham. The Trent Valley Brewery Company were in trouble too, alleged to have illegally seized the goods of a Southwell brewer. There was yet more excitement towards the end of the month with a ‘daring till robbery’ at Mr R Cleaver’s shop on Tamworth St.

Sports news in February when Lichfield Cricket Club decided to rent the ground previously known as the County Ground, to raise funds for a pavilion and to obtain the services of a professional cricketer. Over at Hednesford, the Poultry and Pigeon show took place over two days. Mrs Scott’s annual sale of work in Lichfield (who Mrs Scott was and what she was selling is tbc). More seriously, there was an inquiry into the sanitary conditions at the Birmingham Road Barracks in Lichfield, and a railway accident at Sutton Coldfield left an engine and guard’s van wrecked. As the month progressed,  the Brethren of St John’s Masonic Lodge decide to present a statue of Queen Victoria to fill in one of the niche’s on the Cathedral’s Western Front and the Lichfield Board of Guardians decided not to extend the workhouse. The month ended on a high with the Lichfield Old Fair.

March began with trouble on the railways –  a ‘slight accident’ at Lichfield and the commitment for trial of a Cannock Chase miner for attempting to wreck trains near Lichfield, both of which events warrant further exploration. Sir Arthur Scott at Great Barr passed away, as did Lichfield Workhouse Master, Mr Winkely, replaced almost immediately by Mr and Mrs Williams.

At the beginning of April, there was a meeting at Rugeley to condemn the ‘Deceased Wife’s Sister Bill’, and the sad discovery of a soldier found dead in an entry of Rotten Row in Lichfield. The inquest, unable to determine a cause of death, simply returned a verdict of ‘Found Dead’. In the middle of the month, the Lichfield Spring Races took place and the Sister Dora Memorial Convalescent Hospital at Milford was opened. On the 22nd, the Bishop of Lichfield said goodbye to the Derbyshire Clergy, as the county left the Diocese. and over at Brownhills, William Henry Wombwell was convicted of non-delivery of voting papers in the Local Board of Brownhills elections.

May 1884 was a grim month.  Two miners were committed for trial for shooting a man at Gentleshaw and the trial of the seventeen year old miner who attempted to wreck at train on the Trent Valley Line concluded with him being convicted and sentenced to seven years penal service. There was more trouble at Walsall Workhouse when the Master, William Pritchard, was accused of embezzlement and there was a tragic accident on the Walsall Rd, when a young man shot himself. One positive thing that took place this month was the rededication of the restored Western Front of Lichfield Cathedral.

Festivities in the month of June included the Court of Array and the Greenhill Bower, and the decoration of Dr Johnson’s Statue by the Staffordshire Yeomanry who were assembled in Lichfield for a week’s training under the command of Colonel Bromley-Davenport. Yet within days, things had taken a sour turn with a disturbance between the Yeomanry and Lichfield civilians and then the sudden death of Colonel Bromley-Davenport in St John St. In the days that followed, an inquest into the Colonel’s death, returning a verdict of ‘death by natural causes’, was held, as was a Military Court of Inquiry at Yeomanry House on St John St into the disturbances which had taken place.

July brought with it the closing of Fair Oak Colliery, a ‘Great Temperance Fete’ at Hagley Park, Rugeley and a guilty verdict for Mr Pritchard, the Walsall Workhouse Master, who was sentenced to fifteen months imprisonment for fraud.

August was a quiet month. The cornerstone of a new mission church was laid at Chase Terrace and there were a lot of sheep sales – the Beaudesert Flock and the Freeford Flock amongst them.

September was more eventful with the opening of the Lichfield and Sutton Coldfield Railway for goods traffic and of course, the annual Sheriff’s Ride. There was a fire at Mr Williams’ chemist on Bird St and Mr Peattie, of the Old Crown Hotel died from injuries sustained after being thrown from a trap near Whittington Barracks.  There was an Autumn race meeting at Lichfield, as well as the fifth annual Working Men’s Association Produce and Poultry Show.

In October, the Mercury reported on riots and destruction of property at a Conservative rally in Aston, Birmingham and the presumably much more sober affair that was the ‘Annual Festival of the Lichfield Diocesan Church of England Temperance Society’ rounded the month off.

November saw the opening of the new Lichfield City Station, an event seemingly marked with tragedy when, ten days later, a railway porter was killed there. Councillor J H Hodson was elected Mayor and there was a dinner at the Swan Hotel for the outgoing Mayor, T H Hunt. The Lichfield Board of Guardians were back to discussing the extension of the Workhouse again.

As the year drew to a close, there was another railway tragedy when a guard was killed on a siding at Shenstone, on the same day that the new Lichfield and Sutton Coldfield Railway was opened. The year ended with Lichfield Cricket Club deciding to purchase their pavilion for £150, a performance of Handel’s Messiah at St James’s Hall, a bazaar at Elmhurst Hall to raise funds for St Chad’s Church tower and finally, on 30th December 1883, a Great City Tea.

As well as the obvious interest of following up on some of these stories, something I find fascinating about something like this is how it’s so locally orientated, but then every now and then, you get glimpses of what was going on in the big wide world outside of Lichfield, and our corner of Staffordshire. I’m also tempted to look back over copies of the Lichfield Mercury for 1884 to see if I agree that these were the ‘Principal Local Events’ of that year or just something that the writer threw together in a hurry.

Of course, as well as looking back, it’s also a time to look forward. I may not be reviewing 2013 here but do just want to mention that I am looking forward to 2014, and especially the upcoming walks, talks and workshops that we’ve got planned for our group Lichfield Discovered. More to come on that shortly.  This history lark is always more fun when you do it with others and on that note, I’d just like to say thanks for reading the blog, especially to those who contributed in some way, whether by providing information or support and encouragement along the way. A very Happy New Year to you all!