Soul Sister

Friend and well hunting expert Pixy Led described Nun’s Well at Cannock Wood as being, “…perhaps the most hidden of all the springs and wells I have investigated”, and it was only thanks to his post about the site on his brilliant Holy and Healing Wells blog that this well hunting amateur was able to locate it. Between Pixy’s and my visits, it appears the site has been tidied up considerably and this is my attempt to do the same historywise, purely to satisfy my own curiosity.  It’s much more appealing than sorting out the cupboard under the stairs. Or cleaning for the Queen.

nuns well board

Nun’s Well is a spring rising in a chamber cut from rock with a sixteenth century Tudor style brickwork arch. Legend has it that the well has healing powers, specifically for sore eyes, and takes its name from a nun who was murdered there. Centuries after she was pushed to her death, two farm labourers discovered her earthly remains in the sealed up well and her ghost materialised before them. As Pixy points out on his blog, however, two of the best known works on Staffordshire folklore don’t even mention the well let alone its resident spirit.  I have found a reference in Robert Garner’s 1844 Natural History of the County of Stafford, which also doesn’t mention the ghost story but does offer an alternative explanation of how the well got its name,

“To descend to more recent times we lately visited a spot where one of our early monastic institutions was placed, Redmore, from which the nuns were soon removed to Polesworth because the gay cavaliers riding that way to hunt on Cannock Chase spoiled their devotions. With some trouble we found the solitary quadrangular site not far from Gentleshaw in some low ground embosomed in a wood through which a brook flows now ochrey from the scoriae of an ancient smelting place above and here also is a well considered medicinal and still called the nun’s well”.

It’s still not an entirely satisfactory version of events though (although there’s something undeniably satisfying about seeing something described as being embosomed in a wood. Must be the logophile in me).

nunswell sign

There does appear to have to have been a monastic institution near to the well. Records show that in 1141, King Stephen granted land at Radmore or Red Moor to two hermits called Clement and Hervey and their companions. Frequent disturbances from passing foresters, rather than gay cavaliers, interrupted the quiet contemplations of Clement, Hervey and co, causing them to ask Empress Matilda if she could find them somewhere a bit quieter. It’s recorded that she agreed to this on the condition that their religious house be converted to the Cistercian order. It seems the hermits kept their part of the deal, and the retreat became a Cistercian abbey but according to the History of the County of Warwick, the foresters continued to cause problems. As soon as Henry II ascended the throne in 1154, the now Cistercian Monks petitioned him to transfer them to his manor at Stoneleigh. Henry did so and traces of the original abbey can still be found at Stoneleigh Abbey, now a grand country house.

Whether anything of the original abbey remains at Radmore is where things get really messy. Ordnance Survey maps of the area from the 1880s onwards show the site of a priory near to the well (see the 1949 map incorporated in Brownhills Bob’s post on Gentleshaw Reservoir here). According to Walsall place names expert and tricycle rider Duignan this is actually a muck up on behalf of the surveyors who, “… have mistaken furnace slag for ancient ruins (of the abbey)”.  What he found on the site was, “heaps of furnace slag, evidently of great antiquity, with 300-400 year old oak tress standing on and beside the slag”. It seems from the description of the site given by Historic England that that these could mark the site of a medieval bloomery or iron furnace. A medieval moated site also exists in the vicinity and there are suggestions that this is the site of a royal lodge established by Henry II shortly after the monks moved on to pastures quieter. As Staffordshire County Council’s Historic Environment Character Assessment report says, ‘the precise location of the abbey is unknown, but it is believe to have stood near Courtbank Coverts near Cannock Wood where a scheduled moated site and bloomery survive’.

nuns well fence

So, in the area we have a moated site, a hunting lodge, iron working and a short-lived abbey (somewhere) but how and where does the nun fit in to all this? Duignan suggests the name arose as the land was owned by the nunnery at Farewell. I read an interesting line in the History of the County of Stafford’s section on the Abbey at Radmore which says, ‘King Stephen granted Radmore, probably between 1135 and 1139, to Clement, Hervey, and their companions as the site for a hermitage…Bishop Roger de Clinton confirmed this grant and gave the hermits permission to follow any rule they wished and to receive and instruct any holy women who came to them after adopting a rule”. That suggests to me that there may have been holy women here at Radmoor…nuns? Hardly the most watertight of etymological explanations I know but then I don’t think Duignan’s is that convincing either. Is it? Although Nun’s Well is not technically a wishing well, please do feel free to throw in your two pence worth.

nunswell water

 

Sources:

G C Baugh, W L Cowie, J C Dickinson, Duggan A P, A K B Evans, R H Evans, Una C Hannam, P Heath, D A Johnston, Hilda Johnstone, Ann J Kettle, J L Kirby, R Mansfield and A Saltman, ‘Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Radmore’, in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 3, ed. M W Greenslade and R B Pugh (London, 1970), p. 225 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol3/p225 [accessed 4 March 2016].

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1003750

‘Parishes: Stoneleigh’, in A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 6, Knightlow Hundred, ed. L F Salzman (London, 1951), pp. 229-240 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/warks/vol6/pp229-240 [accessed 7 February 2016].

http://cistercians.shef.ac.uk/abbeys/stoneleigh.php

Bit Map

Here’s a map of the Christ Church Lane area of Leomansley in Lichfield which Chris Pattison very kindly sent to me recently. The map is dated 1935 and as with everywhere, some things have changed (including the spelling of the name), whilst others have stayed the same.

South Staffordshire Waterworks Company map of Leomansley. Thanks to Chris Pattison

South Staffordshire Waterworks Company map of Leomansley. Thanks to Chris Pattison

Yet, all is not what it seems.  Christ Church school is shown in its original location, yet in 1910 it was rebuilt on the opposite side of the road. As someone else pointed out to me, the row of terraced houses known as Leomansley Villas was built in 1903 and so they should also appear but don’t. Another curious omission is the cottage near to the gates of Christ Church.  This dates back to at least August 1875, as there are documents at Lichfield Record Office which show it was used as the residence of the schoolmaster or mistress of Christ Church school (who of course had to be ‘competent, of good character and a member of the Church of England’) at the time. Prior to this, it was a lodge for Beacon House (or Place) in what is now Beacon Park.

The Cottage, Christ Church, Lichfield

The Cottage, Christ Church, Lichfield

The obvious answer is that this plan was drawn in 1935 but was based on a much older map. However, whilst this would explain most of the ‘errors’, it doesn’t account for all of them.

A group of buildings on the far left of the map are labelled ‘Leomansley Mill’, yet I’m sure that this is actually Leomansley Mill Farm. The mill itself, disused and dismantled by 1860, stood somewhere near the site marked as ‘Leamonsley Cottages’ (now known as ‘Leomansley Manor’).

Token for Leomansley Mill taken from Lichfield District Council flickr stream.

Token for Leomansley Mill c.1815 taken from Lichfield District Council Flickr stream.

Errors aside, it still gives us a glimpse of when all this were fields. Well, when a lot of it was anyway. If anyone’s interested in exploring the history of Leomansley further, there are some notes to accompany a walk around the area which I produced a couple of years back which you can access here.

Bell-ow the Water

Water is in abundance at the moment, so Sandford Street seems quite an appropriate topic.   The street was once split into two parts -Sandford St and Sandford St, below the water. I believe that the latter is now known as Lower Sandford St, lay outside the city gate, and was once the main road to Walsall.

This plaque is near to the traffic lights on Swan Rd (confusing!) & the corner of Lower Sandford St

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hopefully, this will make more sense in conjunction with John Snape’s 1781 map.

John Snape 1781 map, taken from wikipedia

I’ve only just found out that around the same time as this map was made, an artist called John Glover painted a view of  Lichfield Cathedral from Sandford St. It’s in the Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum and can be seen here.

The water in question seems to be Trunkfield Brook (formerly Sandford Brook) which still flows, with varying success, through the Festival Gardens. It’s thought that the name Sandford (earlier Sondeforde) might relate to a crossing over the brook, near to the gate. Apparently, a bridge was built there around 1520. I wonder if the brook was bigger in the past, as I’m pretty sure even I could jump over it. Almost.

Trunkfield Brook, often more mud than water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In view of the above, I think that the symbol on the Sandford St below the water ward banner, as shown below, is pretty self explanatory.

More of a challenge to decipher is the banner for the other part of Sandford St (i.e the bit within the city). Why did they choose to represent this with a bell?

In the absence of anything I can find that links this part of Lichfield specifically to bells, so far all that I can think of is that it might relate to the iron & brass foundry set up in Sandford St in 1879. On an 1884 town plan, it’s shown behind the Queen’s Head. Although it was set up by a Yoxall based firm called Perkins & Sons, Tuke & Bell, who already had a foundry on Beacon St bought it in 1923 and renamed it the Lichfield Foundry Ltd. The Sandford Street works lasted right up until 1983, so there must be plenty who remember it, or even worked there.

On a street somewhere in Lichfield. I’ll be honest, I forgot to note down which one!

So, does this explain the bell? If so, it’s interesting that the foundry wasn’t in existence until 1879, and so the design on the ward banner is unlikely to date to before then. If not…..???

Sources:

‘Lichfield: Economic history’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 109-131. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=42349&strquery=sand  Date accessed: 07 July 2012.

A short account of the city and close of Lichfield by Thomas George Lomax, John Chappel Woodhouse, William Newling

Beacon Place Part Two

Following on from my last post about Beacon Place, here are my initial attempts to discover what’s left of the estate.

Here’s a map of the Beacon Place area from 1921. It shows the the Greenhough Rd lodge, the Beacon St lodge and the Sandford St lodge (although this isn’t indicated, it’s the building near to the PH on Lower Sandford St, in the parcel of land marked 332).  It doesn’t show the Christ Church Lane lodge, but I’ve covered this elsewhere anyway. Apart from the Sandford St Lodge, which I think would have been located near to Bunkers Hill car park, the lodges are still in existence. A lot of the trees are also still there, the line running down from the icehouse to Christ Church is still very much in evidence. The fish ponds also remain of course.

As we know the mansion no longer exists, and houses were built on the area. I think it was located somewhere in the region of Seckham Rd. What’s interesting, although I suppose it makes sense, is that the new roads in this area  seem to follow the line of the old carriage drives shown on the 1921 map. For example, if you compare the google map* below, the route of Swinfen Broun Rd is similar to the that of the carriageway from the Greenhough Rd lodge. Beaconfields seems to follow the line of the carriageway from the Beacon St lodge.

I think that the icehouse shown on the map is located between the Shaw Lane carpark and the pavilion near to the playground, where there is a definite bump in the ground which seems to correspond with the map. It doesn’t come over particularly well in the photograph unfortunately, so the next time you’re in Beacon Park, you’ll have to go and have a look yourself!

The footpath marked next to it on the map is also still in existence.

I think part of the estate’s boundary walls are between Beacon Mews and Beaconfields, on Beacon St.

There are also some walls running alongside Shaw Lane. I wonder what that gap in the wall was for? I should have taken a better picture of it!

So, these are my findings so far. I’m hoping there will be more. The map shows a couple of other buildings (e.g.two fairly near to Christ Church, some near to where the ice house), so I’d be interested to know what these were. 

If anyone has anything to add (or if I’ve made any mistakes – I’m not great with maps!), please let me know. Oh and if any one wants to see any other bits of the 1921 Lichfield map, get in touch.

*just a quick HT to Pastorm as that’s where I heard about scribblemaps from