The Words and the Bees

I had an hour to kill down in Lichfield and it suddenly occurred to me that I’d never looked to see if there was any graffiti, medieval or otherwise, on or in Lichfield Cathedral.

Cathedral graffiti 2 Cathedral graffiti

cathedral graffiti 3

The exterior of the south door turned out to be a rich source of names and initials, some dating back to the mid-eighteenth century. Nearby there’s a daisy wheel, a compass drawn symbol which appears in churches, but also in secular buildings, all over the country. There’s a lovely and much clearer example up the road at All Saints Church in Kings Bromley. Although some believe daisy wheels were used by masons for practical purposes, the general consensus is that most of them were intended to be ritual protection marks. Our Lichfield Cathedral example is faint, and as you can see, barely visible on the photograph. Far better to go and take a look yourself (and try to spot some more graffiti whilst you are there of course!).

Daisy wheel Lichfield cathedral

As well as being a graffiti magnet, the Cathedral also seems to attract bees. I remember last year, Denise Peters took a photo of a swarm of honey bees in The Close for day sixty one of our one hundred days in Lichfield project and there was of course the masonry bees eating the Cathedral drama of 2008. I am assured that the two dozen or so I saw this afternoon are of the honey rather than masonry variety.  Perhaps they were there looking for daisies too?

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The King's Touch

This Christmas, for the first time ever, I watched the Queen’s Speech. I’d read somewhere that there had been a flurry of bets on the Queen abdicating and though sceptical, I interrupted a FIFA match between Walsall and Barcelona to seize momentary control of the television just in case. Of course, it had been nothing but a rumour and Charles remains a king in waiting.

Earlier that week, I’d been to visit a house associated with another King Charles to be. Following defeat at the Battle of Worcester on 3rd September 1651, Charles Stuart had fled north to Shropshire, hoping to sneak across the border into Wales and sail from there to Europe. The Parliamentarians were one step ahead of him and were closely guarding the River Severn crossing places and ferries, thwarting this plan. In the early hours of 8th September 1651, Charles arrived at Moseley Old Hall in Staffordshire, looking for a place to hide and a new escape route.  He was met at the back door by owner Thomas Whitgreave and the family priest John Huddleston (1), who gave up his four poster bed (2) and shared his hiding place with the future King when Cromwell’s soldiers came seeking him.

Moseley Old Hall as it was....

Moseley Old Hall as it was…. taken from ‘The Flight of the King by Allan Fea (1908)

....and as it is today. Well, last Sunday anyway.

….and as it is today. Well, last Sunday anyway.

The house which hid the King is now hidden itself behind a Victorian redbrick facade. As we waited outside, making jokes about standing under the mistletoe, the guide informed us that we were about to enter the hall through the very same door as the King had, and told the assembled children to let their teachers know about it. Mine were only here because I’d promised they’d be able to toast some bread over an open fire at the end but they seemed suitably impressed (3). One little lad wanted to know if there was going to be a ride. I suppose in a way there was.

The back door through which Charles entered Moseley Olf Hall on 8th September 1651

The back door through which Charles entered Moseley Old Hall on 8th September 1651

As everyone knows (4), before the King came to lie low at Moseley he’d been hiding high at Boscobel, nine miles away on the Staffordshire/Shropshire border. A tree house inspired by the Royal Oak, the most famous of all the places the King found refuge, is a recent addition to the King’s Wood at Moseley.  There are signs warning of peril, and whilst the element of danger here is not quite on a par with that of a man with a thousand pound bounty on his head hiding in a tree, it’s enough to get overprotective parents like me muttering, ‘Be careful!’, as if it were a charm to invoke protection.

The Moseley Old Hall Tree House

The Moseley Old Hall Tree Hide

The Royal Oak in 2011, Boscobel House, Shropshire by The Royal Oak in 2011, Boscobel House, Shropshire  Uploaded to Wikipedia  in May 2011 Sjwells53 by  CC BY-SA 3.0

The Royal Oak in 2011, Boscobel House, Shropshire
Uploaded to Wikipedia in May 2011 Sjwells53 CC BY-SA 3.0

I’ve yet to visit Boscobel, owned by English Heritage. I understand that today’s Royal Oak grew from an acorn of the original tree which was destroyed by visitors in the seventeenth century who, in the absence of a gift shop, took away branches and boughs to fashion into souvenirs. In his book ‘Boscobel’, Thomas Blount described,

‘this tree was divided into more parts by Royalists than
perhaps any oak of the same size ever was, each man
thinking himself happy if he could produce a tobacco
stopper, box etc made of the wood.’

These trinkets still turn up at auctions. In 2012, a snuff box sold at Bonhams for almost £7,000.  Another prized relic at the time of Charles’ great escape was a rag he’d used to mop up a nosebleed. Father Huddleston passed this ‘bloody clout’ to a Mrs Braithwaite who kept it as a remedy for the King’s Evil, another name given to the disease known as scrofula. Since the reign of Edward the Confessor, it had been thought that the disease could be cured by a touch from a King or Queen. Of all the royal touchers, Charles II was the most prolific. The British Numismatic Society estimate he touched over 100,000 people during his reign. The tradition was continued, somewhat reluctantly, by King James II who carried out a ‘touching’ ceremony at Lichfield Cathedral in 1687 (5). The last English Monarch to partake in the ritual was Queen Anne, who ‘touched’ a two year old Samuel Johnson at one of the ceremonies in 1712. The touch piece or coin which the Queen presented young Samuel with, which he is said to have worn throughout his life, is now in the British Museum.

John Huddleston's room now known as the King's Bedroom

John Huddleston’s room now known as the King’s Bedroom from The Flight of the King by Allan Des (1908)

By the mid twentieth century, Moseley Old Hall was suffering from neglect and subsidence. This ‘atmospheric Elizabethan farmhouse that saved a King‘ was itself saved by the National Trust, when they took over in 1962. Every year, thousands of people pass through that door to see that bed and hiding place. Seems that three hundred years on the King hasn’t lost his touch. Or maybe they are just here for the toast?

Moseley Toast

Notes

(1) As the king lay dying in February 1684, Huddleston was said to have been brought to his bedside with the words, “This good man once saved your life. Now he comes to save your soul”.

(2) The bed at Moseley is the original one the King slept on top of. It was bought by Sir Geoffrey Mander of Wightwick Manor in 1913, but was returned to the hall in 1962 by his widow, Lady Mander.

(3) It seems the King’s victory was only short-lived. One of them just asked what I was writing about and when I told them it was Moseley Old Hall they replied, ‘Oh yes, the place with the toast’.

(4) If you didn’t know, take a look at this great map from englishcivilwar.org which plots all of the stages on the King’s journey from the Battle of Worcester to his arrival in Fécamp, France

(5) More information can be found in ‘Touching for the King’s Evil: James II at Lichfield in 1687’, in Volume 20 of the The Staffordshire Archaeological and Historical Society transactions.

Sources: 

Moseley Old Hall, National Trust Guidebook

Staffordshire Archaeological and Historical Society Transactions Volume XL

http://www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v17n40a13.html

http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/cm/d/dr_johnsons_touch-piece.aspx

Know Your Boundaries

I’d wondered about this curious sandstone block, embedded in one of the gate posts of the Garden of Remembrance on Bird St, but it wasn’t until I read a newspaper article on the unveiling and dedication of the war memorial that I learnt that it is apparently an ‘ancient’ boundary stone. The article in the Lichfield Mercury, dated October 22nd 1920, describes how a high wall running along Bird St was demolished and replaced by the stone balustrade that now runs along the edge of the garden. Prior to its demolition, the boundary stone was originally incorporated into this wall, but whether that was its original location, or was an earlier effort to preserve the stone, I don’t yet know. It seems to be marked and I’m wondering whether this is deliberate or not (or if I’m imagining it!). Also, just how ancient is ancient?

Boundary stone embedded in lower part of right gate pier of Lichfield’s Garden of Remembrance

Close up of the ‘ancient’ boundary stone

A newspaper report from May 1936 describes how the Cathedral Choristers observed the tradition of ‘Beating the Bounds’ each Ascension Day. Accompanied by members of the clergy, the boys would start opposite St Mary’s Vicarage and stop off at places were there was, or had been, a well – ‘midway between the pool and Gaia Lane’, the Bishop’s kitchen garden, the Dean’s kitchen garden, Milley’s Hospital, the boundary stone on the Minster Pool Bridge and the Verger’s house in the corner of the Close before finally gathering at the old pump to the North West of the Cathedral, to which water from the Conduit Heads up near Maple Hayes once flowed along a lead pipe. The boys would carry elm boughs, and at each of the stop off points there was a reading from the scriptures and a verse of a hymn was sung. In 1936, the elm boughs were brought inside the Cathedral and laid on the font. An account from 1910 describes how choristers would collect boughs from the Dimbles and then return to the Close where they would decorate the houses before commencing their perambulation. I understand that these days Ascension Day is marked by the choristers singing from the roof. It’s interesting that elm boughs used to play a part in the custom; it makes me think of old traditions related to the Lichfield Bower which takes place in the same month.

‘Beating the bounds’ apparently dates back to a time before maps and was a way of ensuring that the knowledge of where the boundaries of an area, or a parish, lay was passed on. The tradition in The Close seems to have been centred around wells and water, but in other places boundaries were also marked by other natural features.  A Gospel Tree is marked on OS maps of Gentleshaw up until the 1930s and Gospel Oak is a common place name, found all over the country.

On the subject of maps, there’s a great version of John Snape’s 1781 map on BrownhillsBob’s Brownhills Blog here. I think that the boundary of the Close, similar to that described above, is shown clearly on this map in the form of a dotted line running around the Close.

There’s a lot more to be said on boundaries and their markers, including the exciting possibility (for me at least!) that if this one is still here, there just might be others preserved somewhere in or around the city. In fact, we may even have located a couple, purpose as yet unknown.

Edit: Just had one thought myself actually! In many places it seems boundary stones and trees were actually hit with sticks (as can be seen here in Oxford) or physically marked in some other way, as people passed by them on their perambulation. Is it possible the marks on our boundary stone are evidence of it being ‘beaten’ over the centuries?

 

 

 

Ooh La La

When old buildings at the back of the Bolton Warehouse Company’s shop on Bird St (1) were being demolished in December 1960, a large circular room containing murals created with shells and pebbles, was found above a ceiling. One mural depicted the Cathedral, another a tree and the third was some kind of summerhouse on top of a hill (2).

The murals are thought to have been created by French prisoners of war, on parole in the city.  According to the County History, Lichfield had long been used as a place to quarter French prisoners, due to its position on a main road (and I have also read that it had something to do with us being about as far from the sea as you can get!).  On 7th January 1747, the Staffordshire Advertiser reported that a party of seventy four passed through Stafford on their way to Lichfield, where they were to be put on parole. It also mentioned a house on Bore St, where there was a cooper’s shop at the back used by prisoners (3). Eighty arrived in Lichfield in 1797 during the Napolenic Wars and in 1809, forty officers were quartered here. It seems that Dr Johnson’s birthplace was also occupied by a prisoner –  in The European Magazine for 1810, a contributor called ‘TSW’ wrote, “The house in the market place in which our great lexicographer born still remains nearly in its original state. It is now inhabited by Mr Evans a brazier and a part of it, believed to be the very room in which he first drew his breath is now let to a French prisoner of war”. According to their website, Pipe Hill House on the Walsall Rd also hosted some of the prisoners.

As well as spending their time creating enigmatic artworks, some of the prisoners gave French lessons to the city’s residents.  If the fragment of a page of French exercises, found in the same room as the Bird St mural was discovered, is anything to go by, the teachers had their work cut out. The sentences on the fragment of paper had been heavily corrected, with the comment ‘very bad’ at the end! Perhaps the Darwin and Wedgewood children who were taught French by one of the prisoners at Darwin’s house on Beacon St were better students?

The old clinic on Sandford St? Is it me or can anyone else see numbers in the brick work on the second storey?

In September 1951, the author of the ‘Round and About with Clock Tower” section of the Lichfield Mercury visited the site of the mural accompanied by the caretaker, Mrs Disney, and reported that the ‘pictures’ were still in existence in the dome-like roof of a derelict outbuilding behind the Sandford St Clinic (4). One side featured ‘a perfect replica of Lichfield Cathedral, made entirely from small stones, bits of glass and sea shells’  and other pictures included a ‘mosque-like building’, (which the reporter failed to recognise (5)), several ‘beautifully executed trees’ and a map of Lichfield. The outbuilding was in a poor condition, described as being encased in a mass of creepers, with two gaping holes in the roof. There was also a large hole in the floor, and as if things weren’t exciting enough already, Mrs Disney told the reporter that there were two passages running beneath the hole – one leading to the rear of the property and one believed to connect with the old ‘monk’s passages’ beneath the Friary.

Box made by French Prisoners of War (c) Lichfield District Council

Sadly, I think that this ‘Disney’ story doesn’t have a happy ending as the outbuilding was been demolished and the treasures inside lost (although there is the possibility that as the murals were still in existence in the 1950s/1960s someone may have been foresighted enough to photograph them?). However, there is a small consolation at Lichfield Heritage Centre in the form of a wooden box carved by French prisoners quartered in the area.

Edit 18/6/2015
A display at Lichfield Museum at St Mary’s features a photograph and a chunk of the mural together with the wooden box and some information about the soldiers themselves. St Mary’s is also staging a costume drama called ‘Lichfield’s Waterloo’ by the Lichfield Players on Friday 26th June and Saturday 27th June. More information here

Notes

(1) Does anyone have anymore information on the Bolton Warehouse Company’s shop, particularly where it was on Bird St?

(2) Could this have been a representation of Borrowcop Gazebo? The PMSA record (here) says ‘In 1694 a building called ‘the Temple’, probably stood on Borrow Cop Hill, in the 1720s an arbour was recorded, by 1750 this replaced by a summerhouse which may have been the cruciform building there in 1776. In 1756 the corporation ordered a line of trees along the path to the summit, with extra trees in 1783, possibly in connection with a fete champetre held in that year. By 1805 the building was replaced with one of brick with two arches each side and seats around to admire the view, the funds were raised by public subscription’. On the subject of Borrowcop, I just found at that an information board was installed up there in September (more about that here).

(3) Again, where would this have been?

(4) I understand that the clinic occupied the former premises of the Victoria Nursing Home which was on Sandford St until it moved to the Friary and became the Victoria Hospital.

(5) Any ideas as to what building this could be depicting?

Sources

Lichfield and Archaeological & Historical Society Transactions vol 2 1961

Lichfield: Education’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 170-184

Lichfield: From the Reformation to c.1800′, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 14-24

The European Magazine for 1810

Lichfield Mercury 21st September 1951

Back to the Future

In the March 15th 1907 edition of the Lichfield Mercury, there’s an article written by Clifford Mackay entitled ‘Lichfield in 2007 – A Dream of the Future’. Old Ben Wallace, a Lichfield cobbler, takes a trip through the city streets and discovers how things have changed over one hundred years.

Here’s a heavily abridged version, so that you can see for yourself where Mr Mackay got it right (a new theatre called ‘The Garrick’, new houses, mixed schools), got it wrong (a tube station at the Friary, a model Venetian village hiring out gondolas) and sometimes got it very wrong indeed (meeting visitors from Mars on the way to Minster pool).

New houses, a large new theatre of varieties, and an entire renovation of the Market, now Dr Johnson’s Square, are amongst other things which come before his astonished eyes, besides a tremendous building called the ‘Royal Garrick’ Theatre, many shops bearing familiar names but entirely rebuilt, and all the streets reconstructed on an absolutely novel, yet excellent plan.

Garrick Theatre by Bs0u10e01 (image taken from Wikipedia)

….the old man noticed the date of the year – 2007- for the first time he also sees one of the airships from London come in. A tube station now stands at the Friary corner, and a large new hotel – the Savoy- has been erected. Sandford St is now a magnificent thoroughfare, and the ‘George’ and ‘Swan’ hotels have also been rebuilt. They encounter some of the visitors from Mars, and arrive at Minster pool, which has undergone great changes. The two pools, Minster and Stowe have been purchased by the council and now form magnificent pleasure lakes. The former is now illuminated every night, while a band plays from the wonderful new stand erected in the middle

They visit Elysia – the large new pleasure gardens formed out of the late Museum Gardens and Recreation Grounds, and take a trip round in a gondola hired from the model Venetian village

Museum Gardens early 20thc

Inevitably, old Ben finds himself at the Cathedral and it’s here where you begin to wonder if there is more of a point to this article than just a bit of fun. I don’t know enough about the protestant religion to comment but amongst other things, Ben the cobbler is told that,

 The church had grown very worldly – it was neither one thing nor the other – so it had to be purged. It was disestablished and set to rule itself, with the result that many parsons came to believe that after all they were not the demi-gods and worldly magnates that some of them imagined themselves to be. These people here took the lead and set the example to the rest of England – and it was quickly followed everywhere. They gave up their large houses and went to live in smallest ones(the bishop giving his up to be a hospital for the poor and needy)

…..the people are religious as anything – it is a reality to us and not a sham. The Cathedral is packed every Sunday, at all services too, it’s hard to get a seat.

Soon though whatever point is being made, has been made and Ben finds himself

…close to the new marvel, which stood in the field before the Stowe Pool….raised in five lofty square iron towers, nearly sixty feet in height, one being at each corner, and one in the middle was a gigantic platform…..Inside each of ther four corner towers the old man could distinguish lifts ascending from, and descending to the ground floor. Tethered to one of the sides her engines still throbbing, and having an indication with the word Aberdeen printed on it, affixed to its side, lay a huge aeroplane.

Away from the Cathedral Ben is surprised to learn  about the changes in another religion –  Lichfield City FC are doing well having won the English Cup seven times, fielding four international players and getting an an average gate of gate of 12 to 14,000 per match. Of course,the Lichfield manager does it for the love of the game and the reputation of the City rather than as a money making concern.

Ben also learns that the grammar school has been moved from its position near Borrowcop Hill due to drainage issues and that,

…all the schools are mixed in England now. Girls and boys all work together…its a splendid system

At the end of the walk it all goes a bit ‘Life on Mars‘ as old Ben is knocked down by a car on Wade St. But of course, as with all the best stories, it turns out to be just a dream, and he wakes back in his workshop back in 1907.

I know that a prediction of the year 2007, made a hundred years previous is a bit of an  easy target.  I’m sure if I were to make predictions here and now about the year 2112, it would be mostly ridiculous. Could we predict the next 50 or even the next 10 years? In looking to the future of Lichfield, would it reveal anything about our present? Maybe we should give it go. It’d give future generations a good laugh if nothing else. Any volunteers?

 

 

 

Statuesque

Walking home last Monday I took a detour past the Cathedral to have another look for the remaining five original, medieval statues.  I was pretty sure that I’d found two on the northwest tower –  one nameless woman next to Eve and another to the left of Deborah. The Victorian statues tend to have names on their pedestals. There’s an old photograph of the western front of the Cathedral pre-restoration on the English Heritage Viewfinder website, which you can see here. It shows the front looking strangely bare – above the row of kings only the niches containing the few remaining original statues are filled.

Medieval statue?, Deborah, Rachel, Rebekah, Sarah, Medieval statue?, Eve

According to a comment someone left on here, there are other statues on the other side of the north west tower. Unfortunately, my timing wasn’t great as someone was cutting the grass alongside the tower and a Midlands Today van had not long pulled up nearby and were making preparations to film (I later found out they were there to cover the Olympic Torch route story). As I didn’t fancy making a cameo appearance, dodging the mower in the background of a news report, I took a hasty few photos of the tower and carried on around the back of the Cathedral.  Stupidly, I didn’t check them before I got home and it’s not easy to make out much.  Another trip is in order….

Affix quality control sticker here

The medieval statue hunt continued as I walked around, in case one had sneaked in somewhere other than the northwest tower. I found Christopher Wren, Elias Ashmole and Dr Johnson amongst others along the way.

“The world is not yet exhausted; let me see something tomorrow which I never saw before” said Dr Johnson.

Most of the statues are accompanied by something symbolic – Johnson of course has his dictionary.  It’s the same for the kings (e.g. William the Conqueror holds the Domesday Book) and the biblical characters (I knew nothing about Deborah, but according to wikipedia she was a prophet and a judge and delivered her verdicts near a palm tree which explains why there’s one behind her statue).  I was wondering about Eve? Surely that’s an apple near her foot but what is she holding in her hand?  Imagine if you someone was to create a statue of you and they had to sum up your life with an object or two!

Image taken from Wikipedia

Just past Dr Johnson and his big, papery thing is another statue.  She has no name and as far as I can see there is no clue to her identity. I’m speculating, but is this one of the many statues destroyed or defaced by the parliamentary troops during the Civil War?   Most of the other damaged statues were removed – where did they end up I wonder? I came across some great photos of a figure of Christ on Aidan McRae Thomson’s flickrstream at a church in Swynnerton, Staffordshire together with an interesting theory that the statue originated from Lichfield Cathedral. If anyone else has any theories or even evidence of where the statues ended up, I’d love to hear them!

I have to confess that for me, sometimes the Cathedral is just there, part of the scenery as I go about the city. However, there are other times when, either by chance (catching the light a certain way) or by design (medieval statue hunting), the Cathedral commands my full attention and once again, I am reminded of what an incredible building this is, and the skill and talent of the craftspeople who made it so.

I Spy….

David Evans, who does some great work over on BrownhillsBob’s Brownhills Blog, has set a challenge! There are two photos below, and David wonders whether anyone knows where in Lichfield each of them were taken.

Where is this?

 

We have a clue for this one! 'A cut(let) above the rest, perhaps?'

As Pat recently sent me an email about the remaining medieval statues on the Cathedral, this seems like a good subject for a third question! I’ve read that there are five original statues on the north west tower. Has anyone ever identified which they are? I think I’d hazard a guess that there are two of them on the following photo, but I’d be interested to know what others think.


Thanks to David for contributing these photos, and encouraging us to keep our eyes open and not being one of the millions, as referred to on that sign!

Source:

Public sculpture of Staffordshire and the Black Country by George Thomas Noszlopy, Fiona Waterhouse