Up Letocetum

Wall, located just two miles to the south of Lichfield, is an incredible place to visit at anytime of the year. This Sunday (19th July) however, the Friends of Letocetum will be bringing the remains of the Roman settlement here to life with their annual open day, held in conjunction with English Heritage and the National Trust.  Entrance is free and the event runs from 11am to 4pm, during which time you’ll be able to experience life as a Roman soldier, get creative with a Roman artist and explore what everyday life would have been like at Letocetum.  A group of Saxons are also setting up an encampment at the site and for literature fans there will be a Saxon book binder and storyteller.  Children can take part in a range of games and activities* and there will also be a stall selling Roman games, perfumes and beads.

Wall-Open-Day-

Roman style bootcamp at last year’s open day

John Crowe, chair of the Friends group and Wall Parish Council said, “Last year we welcomed over twelve hundred visitors. The whole village comes together each year for our annual open day, and we want people to come along and have fun, whilst learning more about the significance of this major Roman settlement, situated at the crossroads of two of the most important roads at the centre of Roman Britain. The Staffordshire Hoard was discovered just one mile to the west of the village, and other finds from the local area suggest that Christianity may have been established at Letocetum prior to St Chad’s arrival in Lichfield”.

Stone on display at Wall museum, featuring two carved heads and what's thought to be a shield.

This stone, one of several found built into one of the walls at Wall, is just one of the many fascinating artefacts on display at the museum. It is thought to be Romano-British and features two carved heads with horns and what has been interpreted as a shield.

“The church of St John, built in 1837 and designed by William Moffatt and George Gilbert Scott, will be open to visitors, and refreshments will be available in the village hall. There will also be volunteers on hand in the museum to talk visitors through the fascinating collection of artefacts discovered at the site, so please do come and join us for what will be an enjoyable and informative day”.

Life at Letocetum...se if you can spot the two thousand year old (ish!) paw print somewhere on the site...

Life at Letocetum…see if you can spot the two thousand year old (ish!) paw print somewhere on the site…

*there is a small charge for these activities to cover costs

Midnight on the Hill

borrowcop

Borrowcop Hill is a place that doesn’t want to give up its secrets easily. What interests me about places like this is how gaps in our knowledge create a space where legends and folklore can grow unchecked. It’s not just a hill with a nice view. It’s the burial place of kings and martyrs, the site of Lichfield Castle.

to borrowcop gazebo

Stand at the summit and you’re standing at the highest point in Lichfield. Beacons have been lit here certainly for celebrations, possibly as warnings. The grammar school moved here from St John Street in 1903 and in 1971, merged with the adjacent Kings Hill secondary modern school to form the current King Edward VI School.  Interesting how the folklore was even referenced in the school name here. Another school on the site, the just as evocatively named Saxon Hill, was opened in 1979.

borrowcop sign

Christmas 1940

At last year’s Lichfield Discovered talk by Peter Young on Philip Larkin’s connections to the city, he told us that that whilst staying with relatives at Cherry Orchard in 1940, Larkin had written three poems. Only one, ‘Out in the Lane’, was published but all three were inspired by his temporary surroundings. Peter believes the arched field of ‘Christmas 1940’ refers to Borrowcop Hill. I’ve reproduced it here from a folio collated by The Philip Larkin Society for their celebration of his birthday in August 2001. I hope they don’t mind, but I can’t find it anywhere else!

The name ‘Borrowcop’ does hint that there was once something here. Its earliest written forms, Burwey or Burwhay, feature the Old English element ‘burh’,  suggesting a fortified place (1).  Whilst there are vague reports of Erasmus Darwin recovering bits of burnt bone from somewhere up here, according to the Heritage Environment Report, ‘more recent excavations have so far failed to recover any evidence for human activity’. Well, I went up there on Sunday and I found this:

borrowcop chair

And this:

"The bubbles up your nose, spill on your summer clothes"

“The bubbles up your nose, spill on your summer clothes”

And this:

borrowcop graffiti

Plenty of human activity in what Five Spires Live , the Lichfield satirist who also doesn’t give up his secrets easily, yesterday described as  “… the perfect setting for bit of Larkin”. See, as much as I like legends, I also like the real.  I like layers of history that celebrate everything a place is and not just what we want it to be. The way our own memories of a place form our own folklores. The title for this post is one I’ve appropriated from one of my favourite songs by one of my favourite bands. It’s summer nights, it’s cheap cider (or ‘energy and guava’, if you’d rather), it’s messing about with your mates in a space maintained by the council because you’ve nowhere else to go. It’s perfect. Borrowcop or not, we’ve all been there. And like it or not, that’s as much a part of history as those kings and castles are.

1) A Survey and Analysis of the Place-Names of Staffordshire’ by David Horovitz, https://lichfieldlore.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/397633_vol1.pdf

The Mortal City

After reading that an inquest into a young boy’s death from drowning in the nearby canal at Sandfields in 1884 had been held at the Three Tuns Inn on the Walsall Road, I wanted to know more about the use of pubs in these circumstances.

The Three Tuns Inn, Walsall Rd, Lichfield, formerly Panache Restaurant & currently being developed

I had a look at the newspaper archive and found another report in the Lichfield Mercury, this time from December 1885, regarding the death of a soldier who had been found in the Birmingham Canal near Quarry Lodge. After being discovered, the body was taken to the Shoulder of Mutton in a cart on a Monday afternoon, where it was examined by Brigade Surgeon G Simon M.D. The following evening Mr C Simpson, the City Coroner, held an inquest into the death where a verdict of ‘drowned’ was returned by the jury.

I understand that this was how things were done all across the country. I think I’m right in saying that until the Public Health Act of 1875, there were no public mortuaries and in the event of a sudden or unnatural death, inquests were held at a nearby public building, often an inn or public house. If a body was discovered outdoors, the pub would also become a temporary mortuary.

On Google books, I found a document from 1840 detailing Coroners’ Reports for England and Wales. The Lichfield Coroner at the time, Mr Simpson, submitted a return giving the number of inquests held in Lichfield in each of the years between 1834 and 1839, together with a schedule of allowances and disbursements to be paid by the Coroner, as follows:

To the bailiff of the court for summoning the jury and witnesses attendances on the coroner and at the inquest: 5 shilling
To the witnesses not exceeding per day (besides travelling expenses): 3 shilling
For the jury, each juror: 1 shilling
For the use of the room: 5 shilling

The returns submitted by Coroners vary from place to place in the amount of detail included. For example, the return for Ripon outlines further payments made, including 5 shillings paid per day, ‘to expenses of room and trouble, where dead body is deposited till inquest held’, and ‘to the crier of any township for crying when body found and not known’. The return of Mr H Smith, the Coroner for Walsall, gives names of the deceased and the dates on which the inquests were held. In Leicester, John Gregory recorded the number of inquests in the four years ending August 1839 and added an explanatory note that the increase in inquests in the last year was mostly due to accidents occurring in the formation of the Midlands County Railway through the county. In a handful of towns, the Coroner also recorded the verdict (e.g. accidental, visitation of God, wilful murder) of the inquest. It doesn’t make for pleasant reading, but it’s a fascinating and important document for local or family historians.

By the late nineteenth century, things began to change. As previously mentioned, the Public Health Act 1875 gave permission for local authorities to provide public mortuaries and in the early twentieth century, The Licensing Act of 1902 stated that:

From and after the thirty-first day of March one thousand
nine hundred and seven, no meeting of justices in petty or special
sessions shall be held in premises licensed for the sale of intoxicating
liquors, or in any room, whether licensed or not, in any
building licensed for the sale of intoxicating liquors ; nor shall
any coroner’s inquest be held on such licensed premises where
other suitable premises have been provided for such inquest.

Yet at this time in Lichfield, there was no suitable premises, as can be seen from a further report in the Lichfield Mercury on 24th April 1903, regarding an inquest into the death of a woman in Old Sandford St.  The inquest was held at the nearby Hen and Chickens pub, although the post mortem was carried out by Dr F M Rowland at the deceased’s address, as her body had been discovered at home in bed. At the inquest, the coroner, S W Morgan commented on the situation, stating that it was a case that should have been taken to a mortuary. The room was nine or ten feet square, with a window right down to the floor. The double bed in the room had to be taken out and a table brought in. All of the utensils had to be borrowed, as there was nothing in the house that could be used. The Foreman of the Jury, a Mr Cooney, was reported as saying it was ‘disgraceful’. He considered it a scandal that there wasn’t a mortuary, though he was under the impression that one had been built in the city over at the council property on Stowe Street. With the rest of the jury sounding their agreement, the Coroner added,

“I called the attention of the council to this matter…12 or 18 months ago, when a recommendation was passed by a Jury. It is astonishing that the City of Lichfield does not possess a mortuary, when one takes into consideration the fact that there are two stations in the place, and how frequently people meet with fatal accidents on the railway. It is most unfair that publicans should be called upon to take in these cases, and it is unfair to ask them to do it. Suppose a tramp happened to die, whilst passing through the town, that man, unless some kind publican happened to take him would have to be hawked around from public house to public house, until someone consented to take the body. It is simply a scandal and a disgrace that such a state of things should exist especially when a mortuary could be built at a small cost”.

Dr Rowland added that there had been plans for a mortuary, but they had been shelved, to which the Coroner replied, ‘It is not fair to the medical gentlemen to ask them to make the post-mortem examination under such conditions’. The Jury recorded a verdict of ‘Death from Natural Causes’, and added to it a rider calling on the City Council to proceed with the erection of a mortuary.

In May 1903, the body of a man was found on the railway line at Shortbutts Lane. The Duke of Wellington refused to admit the body, but the landlord of the Marquis of Anglesey allowed his stable to be used. The Coroner commented that it was as if the fates were conspiring to emphasise the need for a public mortuary in Lichfield. By June that year, plans to convert one of the storerooms at the Stowe Street Depot had been put forward amidst concerns by some members of the council that a scheme to erect a purpose built mortuary in the city was too costly. By August, discussions over the expense were continuing. Councillor Johnson claimed he was in favour of a mortuary but not wasting money on it. Councillor Raby replied by saying that the City had been brought into oppobrium enough through not having a mortuary, and that ‘the ghost of obstruction which Mr Johnson had conjured up should be buried’.

Finally, in November 1903, the Surveyor reported that the Stowe Street mortuary had been completed at a cost of £48 9s 5d. Exactly a year later, the City Council’s attention was drawn to the fact that dead bodies covered in sheets could be seen from Stowe Pool Walk. It was agreed that a blind should be installed and lowered when the mortuary was occupied, an almost symbolic drawing of the veil between those living in this world and those who had joined the next. Death in Lichfield was no longer in the public eye.

Bench Marked

Public benches can be found all around our parks and along our city streets. As well as being places to sit (or lie down, although I’ve never found them that comfortable) and rest, read, drink, chat, canoodle, sleep, picnic or daydream, they are also often places where people choose to commemorate a loved one, a group of people or an event, via a small plaque or inscription.

Workhouse BenchOn the current Google street view there is a chap with a stick having a rest on this bench on the corner at St Michael Rd. I suspect he, like most other people, hasn’t even thought about why it’s there. Why would he? It’s just a bench. You may not have even have noticed it is there. There’s no plaque reminding you to sit a while and enjoy the view of Aldi and the churchyard, and facing onto the busy Trent Valley Rd, it’s not the most serene of spots.

I probably wouldn’t have taken any notice of it either had it not been for Bob Houghton (of the Burntwood Family History Group) telling me about a conversation he’d had with a woman who had lived all of her long life in the Trent Valley Road area. She remembered a time before the NHS, when St Michael’s Hospital was still the Workhouse (officially known as the Lichfield Public Assistance Institution from 1930s, but no doubt still known by the majority by its former name and reputation), and told Bob how some of the elderly residents would take a stroll around the area (according to ‘This Won’t Hurt Much’, in 1937 the Master, Mr Standing had put forward a recommendation that male patients over sixty should be allowed out between 6 and 8pm on summer evenings). Apparently at some point, the authorities decided to provide a bench for them to rest their weary legs and although the Workhouse and its successor the Public Assistance Institution are long gone, this bench (not the original bench sadly) still remains in that position. Perhaps it’s still well used by folks making their way to and from appointments at the new Samuel Johnson hospital opened near the site of the old Workhouse in January 2007?

From now on, I’ll always think of this story when I pass, and share it if I happen to be with someone. Perhaps there should be a plaque here to tell people of its origins? Maybe, but I imagine that plaques require permission and money. Sharing stories with each other costs nothing but it keeps them alive. There’s no paperwork to fill in either.  If even the position of a bench has a story to tell us, then who or what else could?

Entrance to the former Workhouse on Trent Valley Road

Entrance to the former Workhouse on Trent Valley Road

Buildings at St Michael's Hospital, former Workhouse

Buildings at St Michael’s Hospital, former Workhouse

Behind the former Workhouse

Behind the former Workhouse

Sources:

This Won’t Hurt: A History of the Hospitals of Lichfield, Mary Hutchinson, Ingrid Croot and Anna Sadowski
With thanks to Bob Houghton for sharing this story with me

 

Shine On

Still curious about the old church of St John the Baptist at Shenstone, I did a bit more reading.  Inevitably, I’ve ended up even more curious than I was before.

In 1890, the Lichfield stone mason and sculptor Robert Bridgeman was appointed by a restoration committee to carry out work on the now disappeared pinacles of the tower. (You can see how the old church used to look, pinnacles and all, from drawings of the church in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century here on Staffordshire Past Track). At the time Mr Foulkes, an architect living at The Ivy House, in Shenstone, wrote to the committee saying,

I am anxious to assure the Restoration Committee how fully I concur in the steps they have taken to preserve the old tower, for both on practical and sentimental ground it should be upheld. The appointment of Mr Bridgeman as restorer is the best your Committee could make, and I know he will thoughtfully and carefully carry out the work entrusted to him.

Mr Foulkes then goes on to give some of the history about the old church saying,

The old tower so called is really not very ancient, except perhaps the internal base; the upper part boasts of no architectural feature of note, the details being of a debased character, and early in the present century there evidently existed a kind of central beacon flag-pole and vane combined. There were also diagonal shaped dials upon the tower. One other feature worthy of mention, and of which I fear no trace remains, was a stone hollowed out in the Romish times, for the reception of holy water. It formerly stood near the north door and over it was carved the figure of a lamb’.

It took a while for the last line to click but eventually I remembered reading about a carved stone in the report of the excavation of the old church in 1973 by Dorothy and Jim Gould of the South Staffordshire Archaeolgical and History Society. A note by Mr J W Whiston, appended to the SAHS report says that there is no reference to the carving in any published description of the church, but that, ‘although mutilated, the carving can be identified as the arms originally granted to the Merchant Taylors Company of London before, in the time of Elizabeth I, the chief of augmentation was added (a lion passant and guardanty). These arms were frequently used by provincial merchant-taylors’. It also mentions that there is a similar carving on the porch of St Michaels in Lichfield. When I checked back on my photos of St Michaels from last spring, I found it (which saved me a trip). Funny how you see things that you don’t realise the significance of at the time, but fit into the big jigsaw eventually.

St Michaels Carving

The carving at St Michaels, Lichfield

Not knowing anything about the Merchant Taylors’ Company I looked them up and found that their patron saint is St John the Baptist. As you can see from the above (sort of), their coat of arms features a pavilion with a mantle either side, with the Holy Lamb within a sun. Perhaps this is the lamb to which Mr Foulkes was referring? You can read more about the company here.

Bottom right hand side of door - is this the carved stone?

Bottom right hand side of door – is this the carved stone? Should have taken a closer look.

According to William Whites Directory of Staffordshire (1834), the annual feast or wake at Shenstone was held on the Sunday after St John the Baptist’s day. Something that’s not mentioned in the archaeology report, or the newspaper report as far as I can see, is the existence of a holy well somewhere in the churchyard. On the saint’s day (or Midsummer if you prefer), St John’s Well  was believed to be a place of healing and of miracles. I can’t see it on any of the old ordnance survey maps but I am hoping it’s still gurgling away and hasn’t dried up. On the subject of St John and Midsummer, I know I probably shouldn’t speculate about the place name Shenstone – bright/beautiful/shining stone or rocky place – but the idea of the sun and bonfires associated with the festivities of St John’s Eve and Midsummer has popped into my head and now I can’t get rid of it. Feel free to shoot me down in flames.

I’ll try and distract myself with another example of pieces of the jigsaw fitting together eventually.  In an account of ‘ Ancient Shenstone’ by Madge Rogers in the Lichfield Mercury in the late 1940s that I was reading, she mentions, ‘A Peat Moor once stretched highly polished stone was erected in the churchyard, and was the tomb of 25 year old Richard Burgess of Leicester who journey by stage coach to the Welsh Harp in Stonnall and there took his own life’.

I don’t really understand the bit about Peat Moor but the story of Richard Burgess sounded familiar.  I remembered that a while ago, when trawling the newspaper archive for something to do with pubs, I had read a story from the Derby Mercury, June 1754, about a young Gentleman who was travelling with the Chester Stage Coach, on his way to Ireland to be married. Apparently, en-route he had received a letter from his fiancee’s Father, telling him not to pursue his journey, as she would not marry him. When the stage coach stopped off at Noon at the Welsh Harp near Lichfield, the young man took his own life. Surely this must be the same tragic young man?

To think up until recently the only place I’d ever visited in Shenstone was the Tesco Express. What a fascinating place it is, and I haven’t even started to read about the prehistoric and Roman connections yet.

Sources

The History and Antiquities of Shenstone in the County of Stafford, Henry Sanders
South Staffordshire Archaeological and Historical Society Transactions XV
Derby Mercury Archive
Lichfield Mercury Archive

Banned Stand

How do you make a bandstand? Take away the chairs. Or if you’re lucky, a local dignitary will provide you with one. In July 1893, during his third stint as Mayor of Lichfield, Major John Gilbert presented the city with a bandstand to mark the marriage of Princess Mary of Teck and the Duke of York (later George V and Queen Mary).

The Bandstand in 1905, taken from Wikipedia Commons

The Bandstand in 1905, taken from Wikipedia Commons

It stood in the Recreation Grounds of what is now Beacon Park but by 1925, Major Gilbert’s gift had become a bit of a problem. In March, the secretary of the Lichfield Cycling Institute wrote to the City Council saying that since the cycle track had been created in the Recreation Grounds, many thought that the bandstand should be removed. Even with padding around the structure, there was the risk of an appalling accident. Councillor Perrins agreed with the cyclists. In his opinion the bandstand was a death-trap and should be removed, or the track shut. Alderman Winter wanted the wishes of the late donor’s family to be taken into account but Councillor Tayler thought this was ‘sentiment before service’. In the end, the matter was referred to the Museum Committee. In December 1925, the Mercury gave an update on ‘that bandstand’. Lichfield City Council had decided to keep it where it was as it would collapse if it was moved. It was fortified with concrete, bricks and stone (some of which came from the old Friary – more bits of that ancient building can supposedly be found at the toilets in the park).  One member of the council defended the bandstand’s retention on the grounds it was an object of beauty.  However, the Mercury correspondent’s view was that ‘it is even less useful than it is beautiful’. One concession that was made to public demand was that the railings near to the cycle track were taken in line with the base of the stand. The Mercury concluded by suggesting that Lichfield be grateful for these small mercies, ‘even if the circumstances do not incline us to raise a song of joy about them’.

I think the bandstand was round abouts here

I think the bandstand was round abouts here

I believe that eventually the bandstand was eventually removed due to costs of upkeep. I’m not sure exactly when this was but believe it to have been sometime in the 1960s (it doesn’t show on a 1966 map of Lichfield). When I went to have a look at where the bandstand once stood, I spotted this old metal post. It looks to me as if it was part of the old gates leading into the recreation grounds, which you can see on the postcard above.

You never know what's lurking in the shrubbery...

You never know what’s lurking in the shrubbery…

Rumour has it that the bandstand itself is also still to be found in the park somewhere… Sounds a little unlikely? You’d be amazed at what people leave lying around gathering moss. I’ve heard that over the years people have called for a new Beacon Park bandstand. Yet, prior to its removal the original doesn’t seem to have been that popular or well used (although some blamed the lack of interest on Lichfield’s junior citizens for running around the bandstand making a noise, and driving the spectators away). Is a new bandstand a good idea or rose tinted nostalgia? Either way, I’d love to know if you find any bits of the old one in the shrubbery.

 

Sign of the Times

On Facebook, another member of the Lichfield Discovered group posted a photograph of a shop sign that had been hiding underneath a Connells Estate Agents sign on Bore Street.

What other old signs lurk beneath the plastic facades?

What other old signs lurk beneath plastic facades?

I started to do a bit of reading about the use of signs and lettering on buildings and came across an article in the Independent, which features a self confessed font geek called Anthony Harrington. “Typefaces work well as little milestones,” he says. “They anchor a building to a time and a function, whether it’s commercial or social, and this is a heritage worth preserving”. There’s also a map and an app which aims, ‘to photographically record publicly available lettering and type throughout the capital’.

It’s an interesting idea and so I had a wander around to see what other examples I could find in the Lichfield. In October 1953, the School of Art principal Miss EM Flint declared that city was remarkably deficient in the provision of well-rendered signs and notices. Is this still true sixty years later? Anymore good examples out there?

SAM_9740

SAM_9714

SAM_9737

SAM_9707

You have to include a sign that has letters with eyebrows

SAM_9735SAM_9719SAM_9715

SAM_9731

SAM_9726SAM_9705SAM_9739SAM_9741SAM_9722SAM_9738