The Duck Stops Here

Shopping in Lichfield last week, I was called ‘me duck’. It’s not something you hear much here, it’s nearby Burton where you are much more likely to be someone’s duck. In past posts, I’ve talked about how stones, rivers and even ancient burial tombs have been used to define the boundaries of a place, but here I’m interested in audible rather than visible markers. The boundary where a linguistic feature stops and starts is known as an isogloss, and if they say duck fifteen miles up the road but not here, then I reckon there must be one close by. But where?

ducks

Photo by Joe Gomez

We may not call each other duck often, but how do we (after eleven years, can I class myself as a Lichfeldian yet?) talk?  According to Timothy Wilson-Smith, Samuel Johnson retained traces of his accent throughout his life (apparently one of the ways he gave his roots away was his pronunciation of the word punch) but is there such a thing as a Lichfield accent now and if so, what is it?

No easy answers but might be fun trying to find out. Perhaps from now on I should carry a dictaphone along with a camera and a notebook, although I might get people calling me something less polite than ‘duck’ (think some probably already do). In the meantime, listen to the accent of Tom Marshall, a lifelong resident Longdon (ok, not quite Lichfield but only four miles away), who David Moore interviewed for an oral history project recently (listen here).

Sources:

Wilson-Smith, Timothy (2004) Samuel Johnson Life and Times

 

Brideshand Revisited

Last Summer, I wrote about the ‘Bride’s Hand’ carved into the stonework of the south porch of St James the Great at Longdon. It’s an old tradition that brides arriving at the church would place their own hand against it, in the hope that it would bring good fortune and fertility to their impending marriage. Apparently, some twenty-first century Longdon brides-to-be still partake in this ritual.

The 'Bride's Hand' Carving, St James the Great, Longdon

The ‘Bride’s Hand’ Carving, St James the Great, Longdon

Yesterday, I was idly scrolling through Twitter when two hands, similar to the one at Longdon, grabbed my attention. The image had been taken from Timothy Easton’s article on symbols which appears in the Winter edition of the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings‘ magazine (1), and the carvings themselves are to be found on the south doors of two churches in the neighbouring Gloucestershire villages of Ampney St Mary and Ampney Crucis.  Until now, I wasn’t sure whether the Bride’s Hand was just a quirky bit of history unique to Longdon but the appearance of similar symbolism, in a similar position, at churches one hundred miles south of here suggests not. Timothy Easton believes that the carvings were added to send a very definite ‘Stop!’ sign to any evil spirits attempting to sneak inside.

South porch of St James, Longdon where the carving can be found.

South porch of St James, Longdon where the carving can be found.

As anyone who follows the Medieval Graffiti project will know, these hands are just one of the many types of markings that can be found in our churches. Some were an attempt to ward off evil spirits and no doubt some were an attempt to ward off boredom. St James the Great may be filled with beautiful carvings but I can’t help being drawn to these ones that aren’t really supposed to be there. For me, a crudely etched protective symbol and Joseph Nevill’s graffiti trump the Forster family’s weeping cherubs and marble tombs. Hands down.

Longdon graffiti

Graffiti at St James the Great, Longdon

Longdon carvings

The Stoneywell Chapel, used as a private chapel between 1520 and 1944, by families including the Ormes and the Forsters, former owners of nearby Hanch Hall

Longdon graffiti 2

Graffiti at St James the Great, Longdon

The tomb of John Forster, Hanch Hall

The tomb of John Forster, Hanch Hall

(1) Which their press officer very kindly sent to me after I sent an excited tweet telling them I’d seen one just like that.

Forge and Ford

As the afternoon’s weather in Longdon was not quite warm enough for basking in the beer garden of the Swan with Two Necks, I took myself off for a little wander. The pub has a late 19th century map mounted on the wall, and it shows that the building next door was once a smithy. I’ve always had a soft spot for these simple buildings, softened even further by the discovery that one of my ancestors was an innkeeper with a sideline in blacksmithing. One of these days I’ll stop romanticising about it and actually get around to visiting Cirencester to see whether the forge is still there.  For now though, back to Longdon, where in May 1918, the then blacksmith, a Mr T Broadhurst had decided to give up the business and was selling the tools of his trade. On offer was a grindstone on a iron frame, two circular double blast bellows (nearly new), a treadle drilling machine, two black staple vices and other useful tools. The building remained a forge until 1938 and now is home to the WI.

Something else that appears on the pub’s map is a ford, which as the name suggests, is at the end of this lane. I had a walk down and within minutes found myself alongside the Shropshire Brook. I stood for a while on the little footbridge watching tiny yellow birds flit between the trees and the water’s edge. Interestingly, on earlier maps this seems to be called the How Brook.

Fords “shine in the memory” according to the writers of England in Particular

I don’t know much about fords, other than they are a way of crossing streams and rivers, presumably at their shallowest points. Whilst reading up on them at home, I came across a surprising account of an event that seems to have taken place here or very nearby (1).

Sir William Wolseley … lost his life about the beginning of the last century* in a very singular manner. He went to Lichfield one morning about nine miles from his house in his coach and four and on his way passed a little brook which runs across the road at Longdon and which is so shallow that a foot passenger can easily step over it the water being kept up by a mill dam at some distance from the road. When Sir William Wolseley reached this brook on his return home in the evening the mill dam just at that instant suddenly gave way the water rushed across the road overturned the carriage and drowned Sir William with his horses. The coachman was thrown off the box into a tree and escaped.

*July 8th 1728 according to the inscription on the monument to Sir William in Colwich church

Could this these gently flowing waters really have caused such devastation? It’s hard to imagine. A reminder, I suppose, that whether it’s the fire of the blacksmith, or the water turning the mill wheel, we can manipulate the elements of nature, but we are never fully in control.

Sources

(1) – A topographical and historical description of the Parish of Tixall in the County of Stafford, Sir Thomas Clifford and Arthur Clifford Esq, 1817.

 


Watering Hole

On the way home from Tixall (of which more later), I stopped off at Longdon village and called into the Swan With Two Necks for a drink. I only had time for a very quick look around the village but even in this short space of time managed to find lots of interest, much of it water-related, which seems only natural in a place also known as Brook End. I hope to return to Longdon and the surrounding area (and of course the pub!) in the not too distant future. Amongst other things, I want to see if there are any nuggets of truth in an old ghost story I found about Lysways Hall….

The pub name Swan with Two Necks is apparently a distortion of ‘Swan with Two Nicks’, referring to the marks made on the birds’ beaks to denote ownership. More info here

Talking of ownership, the SWTN has been under the management of Mary McMeechan since 1st March 2013, the latest in a long line of landlords stretching back to 1755!

Brook End Mill dates back to the 1700s and appears on the Yates Map of Staffordshire.

The mill race still runs and you can follow it for a way up a public footpath.

This area is full of wells, some with brilliant names & legends attached. I think if I’d have carried on up past here, I’d have come to my all time favourite – Giddywell! Never mind, I did find this one near to the mill and there’s always next time…

I’m not sure if this pump is original. There are some other Staffordshire water pumps on this website, perhaps I should send them the photo and get their expert opinion?

These cottages are thought to be a 16th timber framed building that was divided up into separate houses at some point in the last half a millenium or so!

Over to the experts again, and this time John Higgins of the Mile Stone Society who researched Staffordshire Mileposts and found that in 1893, 335 posts were ordered from Tipton firm Charles Lathe & Co at a cost of 19s.6d each, including this one in St James’ Close