Trailgating

Perhaps the biggest faux pax you can commit about the place that gave the world Samuel ‘Dictionary’ Johnson is to spell the name incorrectly. Outsiders, please note that these days the only acceptable ‘T’ in Lichfield comes with biscuits and/or cake. The other way to wind up a Lichfeldian is to refer to Staffordshire’s premier heritage city as a town. En-route to the Guildhall Cells, perpetrators of this crime are taken past our central railway station to illustrate just how wrong they were.

"Lichfield City Station (6668724487)" by Elliott Brown from Birmingham, United Kingdom - Lichfield City StationUploaded by Oxyman. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lichfield_City_Station_(6668724487).jpg#/media/File:Lichfield_City_Station_(6668724487).jpg

“Lichfield City Station (6668724487)” by Elliott Brown from Birmingham, United Kingdom – Lichfield City StationUploaded by Oxyman. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Once they are in the stocks, heretics are then read to from the charters, currently held at the museum in St Mary’s, which include Queen Mary’s declaration of 1553 that Lichfield was not only to be a city, as granted by her brother Edward five years earlier, but also a county in its own right.

stocks

“OK it’s a city. I get it. I’m sorry. I’m from Tamworth”

This is the charter which gave rise to the annual Sheriff’s Ride (and its much more recent and considerably shorter spin-offs), a twenty mile perambulation of the current boundary of Lichfield. I had often sat and wondered whether at any point, the boundary was physically marked in someway (I do need to get out more) and just recently found an article written in the late nineteenth century which says it was, “formerly marked by wooden posts, but they have much deteriorated and in some instances disappeared. A renewal in iron of the most important has recently taken place”.

The Sheriff perambulating Cross in Hand Lane in 2014

The 2014 Sheriff perambulating Cross in Hand Lane.

Descriptions of the boundary of the City of Lichfield date back to the late 1700s. Back then it was only a sixteen mile round trip. Although in 1806, local historian Harwood said they were based on ‘ancient writings’, I understand there is no earlier written description of exactly what constituted Lichfield. However, there are piecemeal records showing some of the boundary changes over the centuries. And there must have been a fair few changes to get from a medieval town you could walk around in an hour to a city with a circumference of sixteen miles.

Last week I spent a sunny morning trying to trace the boundary of what would have been the medieval town. With the help of John Snape’s 1782 plan of Lichfield, it’s actually fairly easy to do, even for someone as illiterate at map reading as me.  Bishop Roger de Clinton surrounded the south part of the new town he had laid out in the late twelfth century with a bank and ditch and fortified the shared northern boundary of the town and Cathedral Close. Apart from a couple of inconveniently placed walls, you can pretty much walk the whole way around.

The moat marking the northern boundary of both medieval Lichfield and the Close. Described on Snape's map as a dry ditch or dumble.

The moat marking the northern boundary of both medieval Lichfield and the Close. Described on Snape’s map as a dry ditch or dumble.

Remains of the NE Tower, part of the Close's fortifications.

Remains of the NE Tower, part of the Close’s fortifications.

Thanks to archaeological investigations, we know that the town ditch in the St John’s Street area was about five metres wide, two metres deep and inevitably, was also used as a public tip.

Castle Ditch plaque

The driveway passing the LD Council Offices follows the line of the town ditch, and there's a plaque there telling you that.

The driveway passing the Lichfield District Council Offices follows the line of the town ditch, and there’s a plaque there too.

When a section in the Council House car park was excavated in 2008, archaeologists discovered the sole of a woman’s shoe from the twelfth century, part of a medieval jug and the remains of a medieval dog’s head.

This plaque is located at the junction of Lombard St, Stowe Rd and George Lane

This plaque is located at the junction of Lombard St, Stowe Rd and George Lane.

Back to plaque, looking up George Lane which was actually once part of the town ditch

Back to plaque, looking up George Lane which was actually once part of the town ditch, possibly until the 16thc

Snape’s plan also marks the gates, or bar(r)s, at the main entrances into and out of Lichfield, and there are plaques at each of the locations, with the, hopefully temporary, exception of the Sandford Street gate. The building it was mounted on has recently been demolished but I’m sure the plaque is being kept safely somewhere….

Perhaps the best known of the gates is the one at St John Street which is still recalled in the name of St John the Baptist without the Barrs. You know, the place with all the chimneys. As the name indicates, this stood just outside the gate and started out as a hostel for those arriving when Lichfield was closed for business for the night, many of them pilgrims on their way to see the shrine of St Chad at the Cathedral.

st john sign

On the subject of names, the section of the ditch running from the gate on Tamworth Street, to the gate near St John’s Hospital was known as Castle Ditch, and this, alongside hard evidence in the form of stones turning up nearby and evidence of a slightly more fluffy nature in the form of myth and folklore, has caused endless speculation as to whether Lichfield ever had a castle proper alongside the fortified Close with its towers, turrets and strong walls.

Remains of south gate tower leading from dam Street to The Close. Excavated in the 1980s

Remains of one of the towers which were part of the south gate between Dam Street and The Close. Excavated in the 1980s.

So, plenty of opportunities to get out more here. I think the two mile-ish walk around the ditch will make an excellent Lichfield Discovered adventure. I would also happily walk sixteen miles to find one of those old iron boundary markers although I may be on my own with this. It’d also be interesting to see how Lichfield has burst its boundaries over the years gobbling up all of the surrounding settlements, so much so that it’d take you six hours and twenty four minutes to perambulate the current perimeter, according to this walking calculator I’ve found.  And that doesn’t even include getting distracted by other things or stopping off at the pub. It’ll have to wait though, as right now I’m off on an expedition to Borrowcop to see if I can capture Lichfield Castle.

1)  If we’re doing names, then I have to mention that Bakers Lane was once known as Peas Porridge Lane. Just because.

A Lost Place

A couple of years ago, I learned that there had once been a place in Lichfield known as Bessy Banks Grave. Appearing on several old maps, the name is also referred to in a newspaper advertisement from 1914, but seems to have disappeared shortly afterwards. The plot of land was in The Dimbles area and I suspect that the name may have been lost when the council began building houses there in the early twentieth century.

Attempts to discover the story behind the name led to a poem written by Anna Seward for her friend Honora Sneyd, at the place known as Bessy Banks Grave, which Miss Seward refers to as ‘the grave of a suicide’.

“It suits the temper of my soul to pour
Fond, fruitless plaints beneath the lonely bower,
Here, in this silent glade, that childhood fears,
Where the love-desperate maid, of vanish’d years,
Slung her dire cord between the sister trees,
That slowly bend their branches to the breeze,
And shade the bank that screens her mouldering form,
From the swart Dog-Star, and the wintry storm….”

David Garrick also knew the place, adding that it was supposedly haunted and in 1805, John Jackson remarked that the spot was ‘once the famous rendezvous of lovers….now no more is remembered than that poor Betsy (sic) is said to have fallen victim to hapless love’.

After reading the original post, “Margaret” left a comment to say that she had found a poem called ‘The Circuit Lane’, in the 1859 book ‘Rustic Rhymes’, by Frederick Price. The Circuit Lane marked part of the boundary of Lichfield, as can be seen in the following extract which appears in several history books from the early nineteenth century:

“… and so along that little cross lands unto another lane that leadeth from Lichfield to King’s Bromley and then along that lane towards Lichfield unto a little lane lying between the Grange Ground and Collin’s Hill Field commonly called the Circuit lane unto the further end of it betwixt two fields the one called Hic filius and the other Piper’s Croft and so over across a lane that leadeth from Lichfield to Elmhurst and then into another little lane between Stichbrooke Ground and Gifforde’s Crofte and so along that little lane to a green lane at the further side of the Lady Leasowe being the land of Zachary Babington Esquire and down that lane to a brook called Pone’s Brook and so over that brook into another lane called Stepping stones lane…”

As well as painting a picture of a disappeared landscape, Frederick Price’s poem also refers to the lost story of Bessy Banks. The full poem is here, but I have included an excerpt below

Daisy, ladysmock, and kingcup,
And the broad-leaved flag so gay,
With which we in pride would prink up
Doorsteps on the first of May –
Where bright flies their wings are sunning
Where shells strangely marked are found
Where the rippling brook is running
In which Bessy Banks was drowned.

Pass we these, and onward pressing
Where o’er head tall elm trees wave,
‘Tween banks rich in Nature’s dressing
Till we come to Bessy’s grave:
Here four cross-roads meet; a green mound
Indicates her place of rest;
Few spots are more lone, I ween, found
On old England’s face imprest.

Hawthorn blossoms fall and slumber
O’er where the betrayed one lies –
One more victim to the number
Sung in great Hood’s ‘Bridge of Sighs’
The betrayer, in corruption,
Lies in fetid church-yard soil,
Where e’en earthworms meet destruction
Fit ‘last home’ for one so vile.

Hence the lane has been neglected
From that time : the rustic swain
Since that hour the road rejectes
Nor dare traverse it again
Burdocks, thistles, nettles, tansy,
And the nightshade flourish there;
But the primrose or the pansey
Scarce are known to blossom near.

You’ll notice that Price’s version of the story differs from the earlier one told by Anna Seward. Perhaps the clue to this lies in the reference Price makes to ‘Hood’s Bridge of Sighs’, relating to the poem by Thomas Hood, written in 1844 and said by the Victoria and Albert Museum to be a ‘classic stereotype of the harlot and her destiny‘?

 

 

A Stone's Throw Away

I recently read a great post about the map maker John Ogilby on Kate Shrewsday’s wonderful blog. In 1675, Mr Ogilby was the creator of the first ever British road atlas, and after reading Kate’s post, I took another look at the section of his map of the London to Chester road, as it passed over the Warwickshire border into Staffordshire and on through Lichfield. You can see the map here.

The majority of the place names are recognisable and in use today, albeit with some changes to the spelling –  Burowcop Hill, Cank Wood and Sutton Cofield amongst others.There are however a handful of names that appear to have been lost over the last three hundred or so years. One intriguing feature marked on the route is the ‘Bishop’s Heap of Stones’, eight miles or so from Lichfield, between Canwell Hall (or Sir Francis Lawley‘s Cannell Hall as it’s shown on the map) and Hints.

The name seems to refer to a literal heap of stones, and it seems there are at least two  possible explanations for why this pile of pebbles was associated with a bishop. Thomas Pennant, when writing about his journey from Chester to London, discovered a handwritten note in a copy of William Dugdale’s ‘Warwickshire’, added by Dugdale himself, which read as follows:

There is a common report (which passeth for currant amongst the vulgar) that the great heape of stones, which lyeth near the road way from Litchfeild towards Coleshill, upon Bassets heath, called the Bishops Stones, and those other lesser heapes, which lye in the valley below; were at first laid there in memorie of a bishop and his retinue, who were long since rob’d and killed, as they were travailing upon that way: but this is a meere fabulous storye: for upon an inquisition made in King James his time, concerning the extent of common upon that heath, betwixt Weeford and Sutton;there was an old woman, called old Bess of Blackbrooke, being then above an hundred yeares of age, who deposed (inter alia) that the Bishop of Exeter living then at Moore Hall: taking notice how troublesome such a number of pibble stones as then lay in the roade thereabouts, were to all passengers, caused them to be pickt up, and thus layd upon heapes

In 1769, in his book The History and Antiquities of Shenstone, in the County of Stafford, the Reverend Henry Sanders, gives a similar but more detailed explanation. Sanders says that a woman from Blackbrook came to the inquiry into the parish boundaries and testified that in the reign of Henry VIII, or just after, John Vesey, the Bishop of Exeter had decided to become a benefactor to his birthplace of Sutton Coldfield. Bishop Vesey obtained a charter of incorporation for the town, revived the market and also built a number of stone houses (1) as part of an attempt to create an industry manufacturing Kersey, as they did in Devon. Bess (I’m assuming that she is ‘the woman from Blackbrook’ Sanders refers to), also told how when the Bishop was at Sutton he was annoyed by the rolling pebbles on the road which caused travellers’ horses to stumble and sometimes fall and so he employed poor people to gather them and lay them in heaps. Sanders describes the position of these heaps as follows:

On the hollow way between Weeford Hills or rather between Swynfen and Canwell lie divers heaps and one great one at the top of the hill at Weeford park corner which according to the tradition of the country people were placed there in memory of a bishop of Lichfield who riding with many attendants was slain with those servants by robbers and that these heaps were where the bodies were found which agreeable to this account and to honest and accurate antiquaries is entirely fabulous

I also think these stories are fabulous, but I suspect not quite in the way that the Reverend meant! It seems the tale of the murdered bishop didn’t ever hold much weight, but what about the version given by the local centenarian (who sounds like a legend in her own right!)? Were the stones gathered by the poor at the request of a Bishop or did they serve another purpose?  It’s interesting that there may have been more than one heap. Piles of stones are of course found across the world, and have many meanings and significances. I suspect that the Bishop’s heaps of stones will have been swept away, perhaps gradually scattered back onto the roads from where they came. It’s interesting to think that even a humble pebble beneath your feet may once have been part of a much bigger story.

Notes:

1 You can see one of the stone houses built by Vesey here

2 Kersey was a coarse cloth, often used to make servants clothing, and although it takes its name from the village in Suffolk, I understand that in Vesey’s time it was Devon that was at the centre of the Kersey industry in England.

 

Hollow Earth

One of the most popular posts on the blog has been The Lichfield Underground. It seems people are fascinated by the unseen part of the city, the potential of what could be beneath their feet as they walk the streets.

Captivating, yet slightly scary….

It was this fascination with tales of the underground that started the chain of events culminating in the formation of Museufy, a group made up of myself and my friends Mark and Magdalena – two creative, innovative people that it’s a joy to collaborate with.  The aim of the group is to create alternative ways of collectively exploring history and interacting with our surroundings. We have a website where you can read our manifesto and find out about some of the projects we are working on.

One of these is ‘Hollow Earth Mapping’, a project in which we want to create a way to document underground spaces, mixing together reality and rumours.  We’re asking anyone who already contributed to The Lichfield Underground post via the comments section, or anyone else who has a story, to share them on our flickr page.  It will be a chance to look at  familiar surroundings through the fascinating, captivating and slightly scary world of the underground.

As the stories are shared, the underground spaces will be cut out, creating a hollow space on the map.   The flickr group will be a place for discussion about the stories, and the possibilities that might follow the creation of the map…..

In defence of Lichfield

As I mentioned in the last post about the West Gate, some other remnants of the Close’s medieval defences are visible.  I’ve marked the ones I know about, on the map below, with a bit of information on each. I’m sure there’s probably more, and we could probably work out where the other defences were, but it’s a start!

1. Site of the West Gate – see previous post here

2. Remains of North East Tower & ditch. A scheduled monument, sometimes known as the Bishop’s Tower, this was part of the original, medieval bishop’s palace. The pastscape record can be seen here. A description of the tower and how it fitted into the rest of the palace can be found in several books on the Cathedral & Close (1) and is based on a plan that was held in the Bodleian Library (is it still there?). A plan drawn from this can also be found here.

At the north east corner was a tower fifty two feet high and each of its ten sides thirteen feet on the outside. It was called the bishop’s tower and the ruins yet remain. Adjoining this tower was a square room with stone stairs leading to the top on the north west of which was an apartment with a cellar underneath twenty two feet in breadth and sixty three feet in length. The bishop’s lodging room was forty feet by thirty two with a leaden roof and cellar underneath. On the north side of this room was a large chimney piece opposite to which a door led to the dining room sixty feet long and thirty broad. At the east end was a door opening into the second tower which consisted of five squares eleven feet in width and thirty two in height. There were two apartments each twenty feet by seven separated from each other by the large hall chimney, , the lady’s chamber…the brewhouse…and the kitchen.

 

 3. St Mary’s House. Incorporates a turret and part of the Close wall on the east and south side. Not only are there are arrow slits, but there are also rumours of a secret tunnel down below….Actually, it’s not that secret as loads of people seem to have heard about it.

 4. Remains of Eastern Tower of South East Gate. This description comes from the ‘Lichfield: The cathedral close’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield

The gate built by Langton at the south-east corner of the Close had two towers. The eastern one, whose base was excavated in the late 1980s, was a half-octagon with 12-ft. sides. The western tower was presumably of similar dimension. The gate had a portcullis in 1376.  There was a drawbridge, still in existence in the earlier 18th century, which crossed the outflow of water from Minster Pool, and also a wicket for pedestrians. The gate was removed in the mid 18th century in order to improve access for coaches into the Close.

 

There’s also this bit of wall behind the Chapters coffee shop, which provoked a bit of discussion on Brownhills Bob’s Brownhills Blog, and with Annette Rubery. Especially about what that recess is!

While I was having a flick through googlebooks trying to find information on the subject, I came across an interesting snippet. Adrian Pettifer, in ‘English Castles: A County Guide’ makes the point that that unlike the majority of cathedral cities, there was no wall around the city of Lichfield as a whole.

So whilst the Close was protected by a strong wall, a ditch, 50ft towers, drawbridges and portcullises (when you put it like that it really does sound like a castle!), what did the rest of the city have? Well, there was a ditch. It’s thought even this was used more for controlling traders coming in and out of the city, than for defences. An archaeological dig carried out on the Lichfield District Council carpark in Frog Lane, also confirmed that the ditch was used as the city dump and found a variety of material, including it appears, the dog from Funnybones. There were gates too, the positions of which are still marked by plaques. Again, though it’s thought these might not have been defensive. I think the ditch and the gates deserve a post of their own, so I’ll come back to them another time.

Credit: Ell Brown (taken from flickr photostream)

This will also give me time to think about my latest question (one I’m sure has been thought about and answered by clever people already!). Was the city of Lichfield defended, along with the Close? And if not, then why not? Of course, if anyone has any ideas about this in the meantime, please let me know!

Footnootes:

(1) This particular description is taken from ‘A short account of the city and close of Lichfield by Thomas George Lomax, John Chappel Woodhouse, William Newling

(2) Thanks to this website http://gatehouse-gazetteer.info/English%20sites/3329.html for pointing me in the direction of some great links.

(3) I’ve also used this book From: ‘Lichfield: The cathedral close’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990)

The Streets of Lichfield

It’s quite well known that Bishop Roger de Clinton laid out the main streets of Lichfield in a grid pattern, still in evidence over 800 years later.

Lichfield 2011-ish

What about those in between though? An email from Pat and a chance conversation about a book ‘A Walk Around the Snickelways of York’ by Mark W Jones (1) got me thinking about the alleys, the passageways, the shortcuts and the entries, winding themselves around buildings and connecting one Lichfield street with another.

Pat’s email asked if I knew anything about The Tanneries, running from Tamworth St, along the left handside of what was the old Kwiksave building, (and the Regal Cinema before that) to Cross Keys carpark.

The Tanneries

The Tanneries is blocked off at present

I don’t, but I’m interested how long this pathway and the others around the city have been around for.

Some are documented better than others. Friar’s Alley running alongside the edge of the site of the old Friary and onto Bird St appears as Friers Lane on John Speed’s 1610 map (no 29).

1610 map of Lichfield

Later it shows up on John Snape’s map as Friers Alley in 1781. On later maps, the narrow part leading to (or from depending which way you are going!) Bird St was known as Moss’s Entry.

Moss's Entry/Friars Alley onto Bird St

One of my favourites is the old carriageway leading to the courtyard of the George Hotel. It takes you past doors and bricked up windows, but it’s the floor with its Rowley Ragstone Setts (2) that I really like, as this small side passage gives an idea how Lichfield’s main streets would have been paved in the late 18th century.

George Hotel from Market St
 

I’ve taken some photos of others I came across. Most are found in the city centre though I’m sure there are loads more to be found throughout Lichfield. Of course, if anyone wants to share one they know of, or has any more information about any of the above or below, that’d be fantastic!

 

Bolt Court - a really busy little street

 

Inside Bolt Court

 

Alongside butcher shop on Market St

 

From Market St...

 

The Close to Erasmus Darwin House

Lloyds Walk

 

Tudor Row out onto Bore St

You see buildings differently walking these paths, maybe I’ll explore the backside of Lichfield a little more……

Footnotes:

(1)Snickelway is a great word created by Mark W Jones. It’s a portmanteau (which is in itself a great word!) of Snicket, Ginnel and Alleyway and Mr Jones explains, ‘A Snickelway is a narrow place to walk along, leading from somewhere to somewhere else, usually in a town or city, especially in the city of York’.

(2) Information taken from Staffordshire Pastrack website.

Map information from: ‘Lichfield: The place and street names, population and boundaries ‘, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 37-42. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=42340

Bricks & Water

With traces of snow on the ground, but the sun shining, I headed back to Farewell last weekend.  Following my previous visit, I’d had a look at some old maps and another extremely helpful conversation with BrownhillsBob on the subject of wells. I was hopeful that this time I’d be able to find the site of the well, that gave the place its name.

This description of the well is from ‘A Tale of Fairwell’, set at the priory in 1527 and published in the early 1800s  – ‘Exactly in the centre, the sparkling tide of a large well or rather fountain leapt from a carved stone basin and hurrying hither and thither amidst rich grass floated under an arch in the wall into the pool that supplied the mill.’ Whether there is any element of truth in this description or whether it’s completely imagined, I don’t know!

All I could find is this hollow, which is marked on maps ranging from 1884 to the late 1960s, as a pond. The maps also show a well or spring to the north east marked as ‘Well’ or ‘Fare Well’.

 Just down from this old pond, is a small brook in which there are some big chunks of stone. This brings me onto the next question! What remains of the priory of St Mary, initially founded as a hermitage but shortly afterwards converted into a nunnery?

The priory was dissolved in 1527. It seems that the old nunnery chapel was retained as a church but most of it was rebuilt in 1747 in brick,  leaving only the stone chancel.

The two different parts of the church.

Pat suggested that a nearby wall might contain some of the stone from the earlier building(s).

A brick wall has been built around the church yard, and this too seems to incorporate some older stone?

A archaeological resistivity survey carried out in 1992 located areas of higher resistivity thought to relate to demolition debris from structures associated with the church. Staffordshire Record Office hold the results of the survey which ‘revealed significant archaeological remains relating to the priory, including walls of buildings and the remains of the precinct wall’. I wonder whereabouts?

Until I can get my grubby mitts on a copy of this or any other real evidence, I’ll just have to be content that Farewell is a lovely place to speculate about!