Lock Inn

Last year, Christine Howles from the Lichfield and Hatherton Canal Restoration Trust and I spent a summer’s evening exploring the Fosseway section of the Lichfield canal. Sharing the photographs on our respective social media accounts generated so much interest that we decided to do it again but with more people and less vegetation.

Lichfield canal lock

Christine from LHCRT on our lock crusade

The walk was originally arranged for November but Storm Clodagh had other ideas and so it was on the Sunday after Christmas when sixty five of us gathered outside Sandfields Pumping Station. Dave Moore, stood in front of the door that the Lichfield Waterworks Trust should shortly be getting the long awaited keys to, reminded us all why this building and its contents are such an important part of our local and national heritage.

Kate & Dave Sandfields

Despite how this might look, I genuinely never tire of hearing Dave talk about Sandfields. Photograph by Eddie Strain.

Another part of Lichfield’s industrial past once stood somewhere near here, west of the Chesterfield Rd and causing ‘a great nuisance to the inhabitants of the city’, according to the vicar of St Mary’s in 1806. The ‘noisome and offensive’ bone house was described as being to the north of the Wyrley and Essington Canal. Are their histories intertwined in some way? Did the latter provide a transportation link or even a source of power for the former?  Whilst we try and flesh out the history of our bone house, it’s worth having a read about Antingham Bone Mill which stood on the North Walsham and Dilham Canal and appears to have been a similar establishment.

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Heading along the original route of the canal. Photo by Steve Martin

From Sandfields, we followed the original line of the canal to the start of the Fosseway Heritage Tow Path Trail. At the site of Lock 19, demolished during the building of the Southern Bypass in 2008, LHCRT directors Peter Buck and Bob Williams described the vision that the Trust has for not only the restoration of the canal in this section but also the creation of a moorings site and a wildlife haven incorporating lowland heath and wetland areas.

Lock 19

At the site of the now demolished Lock 19, photo by Dave Moore LWT

It has been reported that a hearth and lead musket balls were found near  Lock 19, possibly dating to the Civil War. The source of lead for this mini munitions factory can be found a short way along the towpath, where Peter pointed out the headwall to a culvert carrying a pipe beneath the canal. Not just any old pipe though but one that supplied the city’s Crucifix Conduit with water from the Foulwell Springs at Aldershawe, granted by Henry Bellfounder to the Franciscan Friars in 1301. The original pipe is thought to have been made of alder but was later re-laid in lead which it seems those soldiers may have helped themselves to. In 1805, the lead pipe was replaced by a cast iron one made at the Butterley Company in Derby, brought into the city via the canal and offloaded at Gallows Wharf, just as the Herkenrode Glass, recently reinstalled at the Cathedral, had been two years prior.

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Ferreting around up a historic pipe.

At Lock 18, the first site worked on by LHCRT and restored to commemorate the bicentenary of the opening of the canal in 1797, Peter and Bob told us more about the engineering feat that was accomplished here and across the country with tools no more sophisticated than a wheel barrow. Peter told us that during restoration work elsewhere on the route, a brick with a small thumbprint on it was discovered suggesting that children made up part of the workforce. The results of their labour may still be visible but I suspect the details of who they were, where they came from and how they lived, may have disappeared without trace.

Peter and Bob at Lock 18

Peter Buck and Bob Williams at Lock 18

This section of the Heritage Towpath Trail ends at Fosseway Lane. The bridge here was removed shortly after the canal was abandoned in 1954 and will need to be reconstructed as part of the restoration work. The cottage once occupied by the lock-keeper remains though and still displays the number plate ‘268’ allocated by the Birmingham Canal Navigation Company. We know that in 1923 the cottage was lived in by Mr and Mrs Cass as in October that year, the Lichfield Mercury reported that they had rescued a Hednesford butcher using a canal rake. Charles Peake was driving nine beasts from Tamworth when one broke away near the now demolished bridge. As Mr Peake chased the animal he fell 14ft into the lock. Fortunately, Mr and Mrs Cass heard his shouts and managed to fish him out. Though understandably shaken, Mr Peake was uninjured but the Mercury was concerned others may not be so lucky as on a dark night there was, ‘nothing to prevent anyone who doesn’t know the locality from leaving the road and walking, riding or driving straight into the lock’ and suggested that something should be done to make it safe on the basis that ,’one does not expect to be liable to fall into unprotected death traps in a civilized country’.

Lock 18 fence

An unprotected death trap no more. Photo by Dave Moore, LWT

The Lichfield to Walsall railway line also crosses Fosseway Lane. Although the last train passed by in 2003, the signal box dating back to 1875 remains, albeit in poor condition.

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Fosseway Signal Box, Dave Moore LWT

As we gathered on the crossing, I was able to tell people about its keeper Emily who kept watch here every night between 1946 and 1963, thanks to a wonderful article about her life and her work shared on Dave Cresswell’s Rail Blog (here) and Brownhills Bob’s Brownhills Blog (here)  a couple of years ago.

Fosseway signal box

“Keep Crossing Clear” Photo by Steve Martin

After trespassing on the railway we headed down Fosseway Lane, stopping just before the junction with Claypit Lane to see Sandfields Lodge, where a private lunatic asylum operated between 1818 and 1856.   A series of visits by commissioners in 1846 revealed series of deficiencies in the provision of care at the Sandfields Asylum (you can read a transcript of the Commissioners’ Report here) and it was finally closed in 1856 after having its licence revoked due to the poor conditions.  We know that the asylum was transferred here from St John Street and it may be related to the one established on that street  in 1775 by a physician named George Chadwick. More research is needed into this and perhaps also into the reasons why by 1788, Chadwick had confined his wife to her room on the basis that she was a ‘lunatic’.

Falkland Rd canalFrom Fosseway Lane we walked along Falkland Rd and the new route of the canal to the Birmingham Rd roundabout where a tunnel has been constructed and temporarily buried (see we really do have secret tunnels in Lichfield!).  After passing beneath the Birmingham Rd, the canal will cross under the Lichfield to Birmingham Cross City railway line via a new tunnel, scheduled to be constructed at Christmas 2017.

With the weather on the turn, the real ales and real fire at the Duke of Wellington beckoned. En-route we passed another old pub, now Redlock Cottage but once known as the Board and later as the Spotted Dog. At this stage though, it was an open pub we were all really interested in. We know the Welly was definitely an inn by 1818 when the landlord is listed as Thomas Summerfield but the early history is sketchy. I have seen it suggested here that it began life in the mid eighteenth century as a slaughter house and only later became an inn to take advantage of the passing trade brought by the canal.  It was of course the canal which had brought us here too, for beer, tea, crisps and dog biscuits (Doug the Dog definitely deserved his!). A fitting end to a great walk at the end a great year.

dog xmas tree

Doug the Dog doing battle with the Falklands Rd Christmas Tree. Both now Lichfield legends in their own right

Thanks to the Lichfield Waterworks Trust, the Lichfield and Hatherton Canal Restoration Trust, Steve Martin and Eddie Strain for the photographs and of course everyone who came along. Happy New Year and here’s to plenty more of this kind of thing in 2016. Make sure you follow us all on Twitter @lichdiscovered and @LHCRT1 and on Facebook here, here and here so you don’t miss out!

Sandfields crowd

Further reading:

http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol14/

http://www.lichfieldconduitlands.org.uk/history-of-the-trust/

https://morturn.wordpress.com/sandfields-pumping-station/

Listed building entry for Sandfields Lodge

Explore the LHCRT Heritage Towpath Trail for yourself here

 

 

 

 

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The Road to Ruins

When they were excavating the Wyrley to Essington canal at Pipehill at the end of the eighteenth century, a 500 yard section of a Roman military barricade (or palisade) made from trunks of oak trees was discovered.It was thought to have originally stretched from Pipe Hill to the Roman settlement at Letocetum. Well, unfortunately I didn’t come across that (if it even exists anymore) on my walk from Pipe Hill to Wall and back. But here’s what I did find…

A lovely view of the city accompanied me for part of the way (although I can only count four spires. If it’s Five Spires you’re after, look here)

SAM_0896Not too far down the road, I peered over a bridge to see the disused railway line that runs from Lichfield to Walsall. You can get down to the track, although as I was on my own I didn’t risk it, the bank being steep and me being notoriously clumsy. I wonder how far you could walk along the overgrown rails? Rather than regurgitate a history of the railway here, far better is to direct you to the people who really know what they are talking about – the South Staffs Rail group. Their website, full of information, photographs and videos of the line, as it was and is, can be found here, and you can also find out about their campaign to have the line reopened.

Rail bridge Pipehill

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As I continued along Wall Lane, the wind was blustery and the sky dark and it almost felt autumnal. However, with bluebells and stitchwort along the roadside, hawthorn in the hedgerows and the swallows flitting over the fields of oilseed rape there was no real mistaking this was the merry month of May. I saw pheasants and rabbits and heard and saw all kinds of birds whose names I don’t know, but wished I did. However, all attempts to photograph them ended like this. I’m sticking to bricks and stuff that doesn’t move.

SAM_0879Up at St John’s in Wall, I was pondering what might have once stood here on the site of the modern(ish) church built in 1830. Some have speculated a shrine to Minerva, but my thoughts were interrupted by this graffiti on the church yard wall.

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I’ve got a real thing about names carved into stone anyway, but I really have to admire the chutzpah of B Thornton of Redcar in Yorkshire for leaving  practically a full postal address. Wish there was a date though… It seems he or she wanted people to know that that they’d been here but just what were you doing in this small, ancient Staffordshire village B Thornton of Redcar? Were you here to see the ruins too?

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Whilst I was taking this photograph of buttercups growing where Romans once slept, I remembered that bit of childhood folklore about holding one beneath your chin to see if you liked butter. If you’re interested in science stuff, the explanation for how buttercups make our chins glow is here. It seems appropriate to share its Latin name here – ‘Ranunculus acris’. I think the acris bit means bitter, and I wonder if the flower’s common name started out as bitter cup and got corrupted on account of its beautiful golden colour? Anyway, back to the ruins.

SAM_0940 SAM_0944Out of everything, it’s the remains of this small Roman street, with some of its cobbles still intact that gives me the strongest sense of connection with the past. Perhaps it’s the knowledge that you are treading the exact same ground as those who walked here thousands of years ago? Or perhaps I’d spent too much time here, alone with my thoughts….

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Heading out of Wall, there’s a farmyard wall which I believe was built using stone robbed out from the Roman site. Oh and another little mystery – just how does a pair of pants end up in a hedgerow like this? On second thoughts, this is one I probably don’t want to know the answer to.

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On the road back to Lichfield, down Claypit Lane I came across another relic of the railway. On the Fosseway Level Crossing is a signal box, built in 1875. Once again, I shall point you in the direction of the South Staffs rail site who have more information on this small but wonderful part of our history, and some photographs of the interior here. Also, there is a fantastic article on the South Staffs blog from a few years back, which I remember reading via Brownhills Bob’s blog, on Emily, who worked and lived at this crossing from 1946. You really should read it  – it’s brilliant and it’s here.

Fosseway signal box

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I was just about to leave the crossing and carry on back to Lichfield down Claypit Lane when I saw this.

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I’d heard about the trail via a talk that L&HCRT very kindly did for our Lichfield Discovered group, but hadn’t ever got around to finding it and now here it was! Once over the stile, the path takes you past what is left of this stretch of the Lichfield Canal.

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As with the railway line, much of it has been reclaimed by Nature who has decided that if us humans aren’t going to use it, then she’ll have it back thank you very much. I don’t know much about wildlife and ecology, but even I can see that this corridor is an amazing habitat for all sorts of flora and fauna. What does remain of the canal itself is fascinating, and being able to see it like this, in all its emptiness, really made me realise what an epic task building these structures would have been. And how deep it was.

I finished the walk near to Waitrose, once again amazed and delighted at just how much history and beauty there is so close to home. I’m certainly going to do it again and I recommend that you do too – it’s an easy five miles walk and even I didn’t get lost!

Sources:

file:///C:/Users/Kate/Downloads/50e_App4-Archaeological_Desktop_Survey_By_On_Site_Archaeology_Lt%20(7).pdf

http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=304434

Route Canal

Following on from yesterday’s post, I had an email from David Moore pointing me in the direction of an aerial photograph of the canal running past Sandfields Pumping Station. You can see it on his flickr stream here, and you can also see lots of other great images, including my own personal favourite photograph – the Sandfields staff in 1893 here. Please go and take a look! If you do manage to rejoin me at some point, here’s a fairly recent aerial view of the pumping station, plus some photos I took myself in summer this year. I thought that the canal was in front of the building (I know, I’m an idiot sometimes!), but clearly it ran parallel to the railway line on the opposite side of the pumping station. (On that note, it would be interesting to explore the relationship between all of these elements  of the landscape – the canal, the brewery, the railway, Sandfields etc).

The last photograph doesn’t show anything to do with the route of the canal, but I’ve included it because if you looked at David’s photograph of the Sandfields workers in 1893, you might recognise the steps! If you haven’t been over to David’s website on the history and future of Sandfields yet, you can find it here – please do go and take a look now. David’s also going to hopefully add some more photographs of the canal later and I thank him for all his help in steering me in the right direction!

Finally, I’d also like to mention that Philip John has let me know that the route of the Lichfield Canal has been mapped by the volunteers at the OpenStreetMap project that he’s involved in. There are mobile apps too, so when I attempt to follow the route of the canal beyond Sandfields, I can download one of these to stop me going too curly wurly!