Waterfall

I’d heard from enigmatic Lichfield news satirist Five Spires Live that there was a waterfall near to the newly re-opened Horns Inn in Slitting Mill. When I read that there were also several boundary stones nearby, I raced from the hole I call home* to have a look.

I understand that the waterfall isn’t a natural force but the remnants of an industry reflected in the village’s name and in the surrounding waters. Horns Pool (sometimes known as Dutton’s Pool) behind the pub was a mill pond for what is thought to have been the first slitting mill in the Midlands, dating back to the 1620s. Iron arriving here from forges in North Staffordshire was split into rods using the power of water. Between 1694 and 1710, ironmongers from the Midlands brought around an average of 600 tons of iron rod each a year.  I wonder if any found its way to Burntwood where I found the nailers’ stones in the churchyard?

SAM_0472

Other than the pool, and the sluice gates along Rising Brook, no other traces of the mill are thought to remain. I understand that it was pulled down to make way for the South Staffordshire Waterworks electrically operated pumping station, built in 1932. There’s an interesting story about the demolition of the mill – the British Numismatic Society Journal notes that, “An uncertain number of coins, said in one report to date from the seventeenth century, and in another to be of both that and the following century were found ‘in the walls’ of the Old Mill House when it was pulled down to make way for a new pumping station for the South Staffs Waterworks Company. It is not absolutely certain that these constituted a hoard; they may have been a number of stray coins.”

According to the information board which appears alongside the brook (part of the Cannock Chase Heritage trail), there was also a cottage on the site.  The last inhabitants were Mary Sant and her husband, a blacksmith, who lived there until the cottage was demolished in the 1930s, around the same time that the pumping station was built.. The part of the brook which ran past their home became known as Sant’s Brook, and you can see a photograph of Mary outside the cottage here.

Pumping Station

SAM_0573

I’ve been reading for two hours now and information on exactly how many mills were along the brook seems a little hazy (to me at least!). Archaeological investigations continue to try and establish more information about the extent of the industry here. You can read about the latest discoveries made near to Horns Pool by the Stoke on Trent Museum Archaeology Society in May 2011 here.

Boundary Stones

SAM_0504

There are three boundary stones that I could see – a pair either side of the brook behind Horns Pool, and nearby, another on the path. Thought to date from the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century they are made from local stone. None of them have any kind of markings or lettering, and the pair on the brook are facing different ways. Together with the brook, they appear to mark a border of some sort but according to their listed building description don’t appear on any maps. Curious.

I’m even more curious about why a bridge over the stream as it flows towards Rugeley is called Father Cannock Bridge on maps. Where does this name come from?

Is this Father Cannock Bridge? Where does the name come from?

Is this Father Cannock Bridge? Where does the name come from?

Rising Brook Bridge

Whether this is Father Cannock bridge or not, its ornamental nature makes me wonder whether it’s a leftover relic from the days when this area was part of the Hagley Hall estate. Few traces of the estate remain today. I believe the hall itself was demolished in the 1980s. However, a little further downstream there is one remarkable feature which has survived and you’d never even know it was there, until you looked a little deeper…

SAM_0558

*It’s a bit messy as we’re having a carpet fitted.

Sources:

http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-431001-boundary-stone-at-grid-reference-sk-0271/osmap

https://lichfieldlore.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/cannockchasedistricthea-appendix3-rugeleyareaheczassessments.pdf

The British Numismatic Journal: Including the Proceedings of the British Numismatic Society, Volume 40

Masters and Men: In the West Midland Metalware Trades Before the Industrial Revolution by Marie B Rowlands

A Dance to the Music of Time

Hot on the hooves of Lichfield’s Sheriff’s Ride comes another ancient Staffordshire tradition – the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance. No one knows just how ancient though. The earliest written record of the dance seems to be from Dr Robert Plot’s ‘Natural History of Staffordshire’ in 1686, yet the reindeer antlers themselves have been carbon dated to around one thousand years ago.

The Horn Dance c.1900. Apparently the splendid costumes are a Victorian invention. The original costumes were made by the vicar’s daughters from old bed curtains! The latest set of costumes were created at the turn of the millenium. On the subject of costumes, I love that the man dressed as a woman is wearing his shirt and tie beneath his!
Image from Sir Benjamin Stone’s Pictures – Festivals, Ceremonies and Customs. Published by Cassell & Co. London. 1906 (taken from Wikipedia)

Last night, we arrived as the dancers were weaving their way around the back lanes of Abbots Bromley, and so we settled for a while in The Crown and awaited their return to the village green. Outside the crowds were entertained by the Lichfield Morris Men and the Beggars’ Oak Clog Dancers amongst others. Sitting there in the pub I saw horns everywhere – antlers on the village sign, antler inspired light fittings and, sitting on a bench opposite, a man wearing furry antlers. We rejoined the crowd, as the dancers made their way up the High Street, taking up their position outside the Crown to applause. At first it’s the horns that command your attention – they’re enormous (apparently, the largest set weighs over 25lbs). Then gradually your peripherary vision kicks in and you spot the other characters – a man dressed as a woman, the young boy shooting the hobby horse, over and over again and the musicians accompanied by a child playing the triangle. Fortunately, I managed to avoid the Fool and his pig’s bladder…

In ‘England in Particular’, the authors describe the dance as both unsettling and reassuring. I know what they mean. What you’re watching has a significance that is no longer makes much sense to our modern eyes, its symbolism like some long forgotten language. Yet there’s also something very British and familiar about the occasion in the scout tent set up over on the green, selling curry to the beer drinking crowds chatting together beneath umbrellas.

If this is a pagan fertility ritual, it seems to get along well with Christianity these days. The horns are kept in St Nicholas’s church for 364 days a year, and before the horns are taken out on their annual excursion around the village there is a short blessing. The dance is performed outside the Abbots Bromley throughout the year but I understand that a second set of horns are kept for this purpose, these original horns never leave the village. There is a great story in a book on the dance by Jack Brown of the English Folk Dance and Song Society that I bought from the Oxfam bookshop. Apparently, in the 19th century, the dancers took a set of elk horns dancing in Burton and having consumed quite a lot of rum, managed to lose them. Some say the horns were stolen; others say the dancers decided they were too heavy and deposited them into the River Trent so they didn’t have to carry them all the way back to Abbots Bromley!

It’s fantastic to have such a unique tradition taking place just ten miles or so up the road from Lichfield and although I’ve popped a few (rubbish) photos on here to give you an idea, it goes with out saying that there’s nothing like going along and experiencing it for yourself. So, put it in your diary for the next Monday after the first Sunday after the fourth of September 2014!

Note – I could claim that the blurriness of the dancers and musicians on the following photographs is an artistic statement on the passage of time or something, but in actual fact they’re just really BAD photos! Anyway, the chap with furry antlers is on one of them which warrants its inclusion.

Sources:

England in Particular by Sue Clifford and Angela King

The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance by Jack Brown