Landscape Gardening

I’m still not sure whether I live in Leomansley or Leamonsley but what I do know is that this area of Lichfield grew up around a fulling mill opened on Leomansley brook in the late eighteenth century, somewhere around where Leomansley Manor now stands. In the 1830/40s, a row of cottages, once home to many of the mill’s workers, was built along what was then the Walsall Road and the area has continued to develop since then.

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

Token for Leomansley Mill taken from Lichfield District Council flickr stream. Hard to believe this once stood alongside the brook in the woods. The mill may be long gone, but traces of the mill pond can still be seen.

Victorian terraced houses, 1930s semis, new build apartments on the site of the former Carpenter’s Arms pub (boo!), a former lodge at what was once an entrance to the demolished Beacon Place, vicarages old and new, post first world war council houses, a 1960s community hall and housing estate and a much extended Edwardian school – to walk around Leomansley is to take a trip through the story of domestic architecture during the last two hundred years.

christ-church-gardens

There’s also a rather lovely Victorian gothic revival church too, and on the weekend of 4th and 5th July 2015, Christ Church is combining an Open Gardens event with an exploration of the social history of the area.  Organisers, the Friends of Christ Church, have studied census records, deeds and maps, and collected oral histories which they’ve used to produce a guide which will tell you not only about the history of the twelve houses opening up their gardens but also the story of Leomansley’s development from an area of common pasture on the western boundary of Lichfield, to the place it is today.

Christ Church. Photo by David Moore.

Christ Church. Photo by David Moore.

Admission to the gardens is between 2pm and 6pm on both days, and programs will be available from Christ Church itself, plus any of the participating gardens, at £4 each. There will be refreshments at 19 Christchurch Lane, and there will also be plant stalls, for anyone feeling inspired by what they’ve seen. I know I’m biased but Leomansley is as lovely as it is interesting, and I hope that people from not just the immediate area, but also from far-flung and distant places like Boley Park come along and find out more about our bit of Lichfield.

 

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Trent and Mersey Paradise

A beautiful ruin dating back in part to the twelfth century, with the base of a medieval weeping cross and the shrouded effigies of two sisters in the churchyard, the remains of the old church of St Augustine in Rugeley are a real treat.

three towers rugeley

Old tower, new tower, power tower

The chancel dates back to the 12thc

With the population of Rugeley rising in the early nineteenth century (in 1801 there were 2,030 inhabitants; by 1821 the population had risen to 2,667 inhabitants, many of whom were employed in the manufacture of felts and hats), the old church was outgrown and a new one was built on land opposite.

'New' church of St Augustine

The ‘new’ church of St Augustine

Consecrated on 21 January 1823, the new St Augustine’s was built on land belonging to Viscount Anson, the cost met from a variety of sources. According to some, stone from the nave of the old church was sold off to raise funds, leaving just an arcade of arches to connect the fourteenth century tower with the old chancel.

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blossom rugeley

I understand that in the 1970s the church yard was landscaped (or possibly vandalised, depending on how you look at it), and the gravestones which once surrounded the church (as shown in a photograph from the 1860s here on Staffordshire Pasttrack) were broken up and used to pave what was once the nave and north aisle, creating a mosaic of carved names and epitaphs belonging to the old inhabitants of Rugeley.

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The outline of the roof line traced by weather onto the tower

 

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Others have carved their own names into the stone of the tower where bells once rang, but doves and (slightly less romantically) pigeons now coo.

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How did H Parsons carve his name so neatly?

How did H Parsons carve his name so neatly?

Dove Rugeley

As already mentioned, one tomb that does remain in the churchyard itself is that of two women, Elizabeth Cuting who died in 1695 and her sister Emma Hollinhurst who passed away a year later. Effigies of the sisters tied into their burial shrouds are carved on top of the tomb. An information board nearby tells how this unusual monument gave rise to a local legend that that the women had been buried alive in sacks by Oliver Cromwell, despite Cromwell dying in 1658. Full marks for imagination but, if you are going to make up a story that you want people to believe, you should probably check your dates first.

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Sisters tomb rugeley

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The board also directs you to the remains of a fourteenth century cross, with a recess in one of the corners suggesting that it was a ‘weeping cross’ where penitents would once come to kneel in prayer.

Weeping Cross

As nosey as ever, I wanted to see inside as well as out and so I peeked through a a dirty window into the old chancel, and spotted some interesting looking stonework and signs that it still seems to be being used in some capacity.

Inside old church

I believe that at one time it was used a Sunday school and also a classroom for the now demolished Rugeley Grammar school which once stood next to the churchyard, where the Chancel Primary school now is. Incidentally, the school has the possibly the loveliest school library I’ve ever seen, in the form of its new Discovery Deck narrowboat, built in 2013 by Nick Thorpe in Hixon and painted over the Christmas holidays by staff and parents.

Unsuprisingly for a town with a canal running through it, this wasn’t the only narrowboat we saw.  As we crossed back over the Trent and Mersey  one was passing another of Rugeley’s ruins – an old canalside mill dating back to 1863. It seems that this part of the town’s industrial past may become apartments in the future and why not? Living in an old mill, alongside a canal, in a charming old town with the Staffordshire countryside on your doorstep? I can think of worse places to live…

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Old buildings Rugeley

Oh and finally, somewhere in the churchyard I found an Easter egg.

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Sources:

http://www.cannockchasedc.gov.uk/site/custom_scripts/HeritageTrail/old_chancel.html

http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-271251-remains-of-old-church-of-st-augustine-ru

History, Gazetteer, and Directory of Staffordshire (1834) by William White

Picturesque Views and Description of Cities, Towns, Castles, Mansions, and Other Objects of Interesting Feature, in Staffordshire by William West

Walsall Legends

My husband grew up in the Highgate area of Walsall, where the malty aroma from the local brewery used to hang in the air and the local kids would tell stories about the mysterious ruined windmill. Thought to have been built in the late 1600s to grind corn, Highgate windmill has a fascinating history which you can read more about here in this article by Walsall historian and writer Stuart Williams. If you want to go and have a look yourself, go sooner rather than later. Once spring gets properly underway, it’ll be hard to see the mill for the trees.

Highgate Windmill

Highgate Windmill, Walsall

Last Summer I could barely see the windmill but did spot this painted board through the trees.

Last Summer I could barely see the windmill but did spot this painted board through the trees.

Sadly, there’s not even a whiff of brewing in the air at the moment – the Grade II Listed Highgate Brewery hasn’t been operational since 2010 and stands unused behind the locked centenary gates (purchased and installed by the Friends of Highgate Brewery in 1998), its future uncertain at present.

Highgate Brewery

Highgate Brewery

Yesterday, as well as visiting the family, we went to have a look around the Art Gallery and the town. On the way back we passed the pub that we once knew and loved as the Brewery Stores & Vaults. Back in the late 1990s, it was one of the liveliest places in town but now, like the brewery whose name it bears, it stands empty, expect perhaps for the hooded figures and disembodied heads said to lurk in the cellars

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We continued our way back over the limestone hill where the church of St Matthew’s has dominated the Walsall skyline since at least the thirteenth century (although it has only been know by that name since the eighteenth century – it was previously ‘All Saints’). The first time we walked up this hill together, Mr Gomez told me that it was paved with medieval cobbles. I’m not sure if that is true but it’s something that has fascinated me ever since, as has the arched passage on the east end of the church, covered in graffiti and with curious niches on the east side.

As well as this overground passageway, there are supposedly underground tunnels running from here to the White Hart Inn at Caldmore, Barr Beacon and Rushall Hall.  In a history section of the Walsall Council website, there’s a quote from a Mr G of Bath St who in the 1950s said one of the entrances to the tunnels was located at the bottom of some steps of a toilet which once stood on Caldmore Green. He also added that he had been told by some old women that during the reformation, some priests went down the tunnels to escape and were killed after they were filled in.

St Matthew's Walsall

St Matthew’s church, Walsall

Wasall from the Art Gallery.

St Matthew’s Walsall as seen from the Art Gallery.

Medieval cobbles

Medieval cobbles leading up the hill?

Passageway under the chancel of St Matthew's

Passageway under the chancel of St Matthew’s

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Niches in St Matthews passageway

Niche interest

One of my favourite stories about St Matthew’s and Walsall is one I read recently in a book of Staffordshire folktales.  Apparently, the church was originally supposed to have been built on a meadow at the ‘Churchery’, now known as the Chuckery. However, this was where the fairy folk danced and so, naturally, they objected to the plans and took matters into their own tiny hands, moving the foundations of the new church up the hill to the site where it stands today. In another version of the story, the church was moved by witches who had transformed themselves into white pigs.

We walked up a good appetite in Walsall and so we finished our day at the legendary Hargun’s Sweet Centre on the Caldmore Rd, intending to take some goodies back to Lichfield, although they never actually made it past Walsall Wood in the end. Anyway, what I learned today is not only that you can eat a lot of baklava in a twenty minute car journey, but also that once in a while, it’s good fun to explore what’s on someone else’s doorstep.

Sources

Walsall: Economic history’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17: Offlow hundred (part) (1976), pp. 180-208.

http://www2.walsall.gov.uk/History_Projects/Caldmore/A_Walk_Around_the_Green/18.asp

http://www.stmatthews-walsall.org.uk/info/mainhistory.shtml

http://www.blackcountrybugle.co.uk/TALE-WALSALL-PARISH-CHURCH-FAIRIES/story-20122807-detail/story.html

Staffordshire Folk Tales by The Journeyman

Get The Drift?

Over at Curborough Craft Centre today, I noticed a plaque on one of the converted farm buildings explaining that it was a former drift house, possibly built on the foundations of an earlier building.

Back at home, I tried to find out what exactly a drift house was used for.  It seems there are plenty of them around (including one in Stonnall) but no real explanations as to exactly what purpose they served. And believe me I’ve looked – I googled, I read (an English Heritage study into farm buildings of the West Midlands and some ye olde book on farming) and I attempted to apply logic but all to no avail.

However, what I did find was that the drift house at Curborough was surveyed in August 1984 along with other agricultural buildings in the Curborough and Elmhurst area. The report on the Heritage Gateway site includes the following information – “Mrs Hollinshead referred to this as a ‘drift barn’. It is in a poor condition; the doors are blocked with corrugated sheeting, the roof is gone and is replaced with corrugated sheeting and the north-east side has been repaired”. The report was part of the Domesday survey of barns in Staffordshire co-ordinated by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in 1985 and clearly the building has had a lot of TLC since then. You can read it here.

Anyway, eventually, I gave up and went off on a tangent. I’d read previously that the place name Curborough is thought to derive from the Old English ‘cweorn burna’. However, what I didn’t know is that there have been an abundance of archaeological finds in the area, indicating that Curborough was inhabited long before the Anglo-Saxons decided to build a mill on the stream here.  A site near to the farm has been identified as a possible Roman settlement with large quantities of coins, brooches, pottery, tiles and glass being discovered in the late 1990s. It seems even the Romans were relative latecomers, with Mesolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age finds also being unearthed nearby. So many wonderful discoveries and so much more to learn about this fascinating place I’m sure. However, at this moment in time, I’ll settle for an explanation of what a drift house (or barn) is, if anyone can help!

Sources

http://www.heritagegateway.org.uk/Gateway/Results_Single.aspx?uid=MST4660&resourceID=1010

‘Townships: Curborough and Elmshurst’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990)

An Inconstant Stream

According to place name expert Margaret Gelling, Leomansley Brook has a pre-English name. It’s thought the name could contain the Celtic word lēmo, meaning ‘elm’ (1) or lēme meaning ‘limetree’ (2).

1- Conduit Heads; 2 – Start of Leomansley Brook?; 3 Site of Leomansley Mill/House/Manor; 4 – Former Beacon Place fishponds, now Beacon Park boating lake

The brook rises near to the conduit heads at Pipe Hall Farm, Burntwood (at a place I’ve just noticed was also known as The Dimbles, just as the area near to the Circuit Brook is/was!), and crosses the Lichfield/Burntwood boundary, to fill a series of pools on the edge of Leomansley/Sloppy Wood before meandering through Pipe Green.

As mentioned in my previous post, Leamonsley Mill was built on the brook at the edge of Pipe Green in the 1790s. There are a few traces of the industry that was once here – ‘Leomansley Mill Cottage’ is a little further back down the track towards Christ Church Lane and there are also some possibly related brick structures. The second photo shows the place where the brook re-emerges to flow through Pipe Green, and is shown on some maps from the late 19th and early 20th century as a ‘Spout’.

Taken June 2011. On old maps, this is marked as sluice. This part of the watercourse was filled with water once again this weekend

Taken December 2010. Shows as spout on old maps.

I found a recollection by someone who spent the summer of 1984 at the old mill cottages then known as Leomansley House (which they have included a photo of!) producing the first and only issue of what they describe as a ‘local anarcho-DIY philosophy magazine’. In their description of the old house, they describe how Leomansley Brook ran past the front door.

The other stories I’ve found about the pool relate to changes brought about by nature. In February 1902, the frozen pool was used for ice skating.  The Lichfield Mercury reported that on the Friday after the freeze, the pool was quiet, but by Saturday a group of ‘horrid hockey people’ (as one unnamed woman described them) had discovered it and monopolised the best part of the pool.

Another Mercury story, from April 1976 when the artist Eilidh Armour Brown lived at Leomansley House, tells of a water shortage at the pool

Lichfield District Council Staff had been prepared to move fish from Leomansley Pool, after the water levels dropped to a dangerous level for the fish. The fish were to be transferred to Minster Pool until the water level at Leomansley had risen. Luckily a storm that weekend brought the much needed rain and it was no longer necessary.

Things couldn’t have been more different this weekend. The normally dry part of the course along the edge of the woods was full, and levels in the pools were high, as you’d expect.

Taken November 2012. This part of the brook is normally dry.

Taken November 2012. I was told there used to be a bridge somewhere near here for farm carts to cross into the adjacent field.

Taken November 2012

As you can see in the above photo, not only was the brook refilled,  but the water was also claiming parts of the path. I imagine that’s how the name Sloppy Wood came about!

From Pipe Green, the brook is culverted under the A51, and then flows through Beacon Park, filling what used to be the fishponds for Beacon Place (now the boating lake in the park), before finally ending up at Minster Pool.

November 2012 – Through Pipe Green

 

November 2012 – Looking back towards Leomansley House/Mill/Manor!

June 2012 – Leomansley Brook enters Beacon Park via a culvert under the A51. The reason the water looks murky by the pipe is that a little dog was paddling just before I took the photo!

June 2012 – Passing the play area in Beacon Park. This used to be a fish pond for the mansion Beacon Place (demolished 1964).

I don’t know anywhere near as much about streams and brooks as I’d like to but am really interested in them and their importance in the development of our landscape, e.g., the formation of natural boundaries and giving names to places that grew up along them. I’m also fascinated by our relationship with watercourses like these and our attempts to manage them, for better or for worse.

Sources

(1) ‘Lichfield: The place and street names, population and boundaries ‘, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 37-42.

(2) http://finds.org.uk/staffshoardsymposium/papers/mattiasjacobsson

The Mill's Tale

When I first moved to Lichfield, the building at the end of the track leading through Leomansley Woods was a derelict shell.  Intrigued, I looked into the history of the area and found out that it was probably related to a fulling mill that had been built there in 1791 by John Hartwell, on the edge of the Pipe Green trust land  (you can read more about this beautiful part of Lichfield on the Trust’s website here).

The OS map from 1815 shows a ‘Cotton Mill’ in that area.  Later maps refer to it as Leamonsley Mill. (In fact, the spelling of the name of the mill, and the area has changed several times. Variations include Lemmonsly, Leamonsley, Lemonsley, Lemondsley and in recent years, the name seems to have settled at Leomansley!).

This is the only image of Leomansley Mill I know of. It’s a trade token showing Leomansley Mill at the time of John Henrickson. Although the token isn’t dated, we can work out roughly that it must date to between 1809 and 1815 – the county history tells us that Mary Hartwell, widow of John Hartwell, let Leamonsley Mill together with a warehouse and weaving shop on Lombard St in 1809, and the following notice in the London Gazette tells us that Mr Henrickson, who is named on the token, went bankrupt in 1815.

To be sold by auction, by order of the major part of the Commissioners named and authorised in and by a Commission of Bankrupt against John Henrickson, of the City of Lichfield, Cotton-Spinner, at the Three Crowns Inn, in Lichfield aforesaid, on Monday the 18th day of March instant, between the hours of Three and Six o’Clock in the Afternoon, either together or in lots, as may be agreed upon at the time of sale;
All the machinery, mills, spindles, bobbins, winding frames, warping-mills, looms, shuttles, and other apparatus, suitable for carrying on an extensive trade in the Cotton Spinning and Calico-Weaving business, now standing in Lemmonsley-Mill and Lombard-Street-Factory, in the said City of Lichfield, late the effects of the said Bankrupt. The machinery and implements are all nearly new, and in excellent condition, and may be viewed by applying to Mr. Palmer, of Mr. Rutter, of Lichfield aforesaid, the Assignees of the said Bankrupt;and further particulars may be had at the Office of Mr. Foster, Solicitor, Rugeley, Staffordshire.

Reproduced from Lichfield District Council flickr stream

Recently, I found a newspaper notice of the sale by auction at The George Hotel on 24th May 1833, giving another detailed description of the mill.

‘A valuable watermill called Leamonsley Mill with a large Head of Water and Appurtenance, situated at Leamonsley near the city of Lichfield, formerly erected as a Fulling Mill, but lately re-built four stories high, and now in work and used for spinning hosiery and knitting yarn for the Leicester and other markets. Power to any extent may be added by erecting steam, being on the road from the Brownhill Colliery. Also. a right of four inches of top water from the pool of John Atkinson of Maple Hayes, covering about six acres of ground; with a good dwelling house, garden. land, combing shop and premises occupied therewith, late in lease to Thomas Leach.

It seems that the new owner, did decide to add steam power, as an 1860 newspaper carries an advert for,

Leamonsley Mill, within one mile of the City of Lichfield. Woollen Machinery, Water Wheel, Steam Engines. Messrs C and H Gillard are instructed to sell by auction on Monday 30th July 1860, on the premises,
The Machinery and Plant of the above Mill, for spinning floss or fleecy wool, comprising spinning frames, roving and doubling machines, a very  capital overshot or breast water wheel, constructed of iron. An excellent noncondensing or high pressure steam-engine, 2 feet stroke, of about 8 horse power, with beam, fly wheel, and governor and steam boiler, together with the shafting, as recently in use. Also, a capital brass lift and force pump, with lever on plank, quantity lead pipe.
This whole lot to be sold in several lots, as appear in catalogues, in consequence of the building being required for other purposes

And yes, I am trying to locate a ‘Glossary of Mill terminology’ to work out what half of those things are!  I wonder if the sale was related to the bankruptcy of James Johnson of Lemonsley Mill in January 1858, as notified in the London and Edinburgh Gazettes? The fact the building was ‘being required for other purposes’ is an interesting one…by 1884, ‘Leamonsley Cottages’ are shown in the place where the mill once was. I believe that by this time, it had become part of the Maple Hayes estate, and the cottages were used to house some of its workers. I’d like to know more about the state of this industry to discover why more than one bankruptcy featured in the history of the mill, and also why in 1860, a working mill was abandoned in preference of using the building as accommodation for servants?

I find it hard to imagine Leomansley as a place of industry, but it’s why the area developed in the early 19th century.  A while back I did a post about how the 1841 census showed that many residents seemed to have been employed by the mill.

Of course, whilst the area of Leomansley grew up around the mill, the mill presumably was there as a result of Leomansley Brook. And Leomansley Brook deserves a post of its very own….

Sources:

Lichfield: Economic history’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield(1990), pp. 109-131

Tow Bone

As I’ve been telling anyone who’ll listen, I went to Manchester at the weekend. One of the highlights (or should that be lowlights?) was a tour beneath one of the city’s warehouses to see the remains of the Manchester and Salford Junction canal.

Standing in the canal! Tow path to the left.

I’m not going to say any more about it,  writing about a place 82 miles away is stretching it even for me (but for anyone interested, there’s some more of my photos and a bit about the  experience here). So, I’ll say a bit about the Lichfield canal instead…

I imagine most people know that there is an ongoing project being carried out by the Lichfield and Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust and you can read about and see photographs of the sections of the Lichfield Canal that are already under restoration on their website. A while ago, I was at the bridge on the London Rd, and decided to walk home following the route of the disappeared canal, down to Sandfields. I know there was a section of canal here, because I had read about it in a post Annette Rubery did about Sandfields Pumping station. Here are some photos of the walk, featuring one of my favourite things – bits of old brick hinting at a trace of something long gone!

I think somewhere around here was Gallows Wharf. The gallows were apparently located somewhere near to the Shell Garage on the London Rd.

 

The obvious route of the canal finished about here on Shortbutts Lane.

Then I mistakenly went up Fosseway instead of taking a right onto the Birmingham Rd and lost the canal route altogether but I did find a nice plaque!

Plus some interesting but I think non-canal related bricks at the junction of Fosseway and Shortbutts Lane with the Birmingham Rd.

I knew that if I got to Sandfields Pumping Station, I’d manage to pick the canal back up!

I noticed on an 1834 map of Lichfield that the canal in this area passed something called ‘The Bone House’. The county history says ‘There was a bonehouse evidently on the north side of the Wyrley and Essington Canal west of Chesterfield Road by 1806. The miller, Thomas Wood, was ordered that year to stop production following a complaint by the vicar of St. Mary’s that the works was ‘a noisome and offensive building and a great nuisance to the inhabitants of the city’. He was still in business in 1818 and the bonehouse remained there in 1836′.

I imagine it was used to grind down animal bones to make fertiliser, but if anyone knows any different, please let me know!

The idea of exploring the impact that the presence of water had on the surrounding landscape is something that really interests me. I think walking alongside our streams and canals, around our pools and millponds gives you the chance to look at a places from a different perspective. Next time though, I might take a map!

Sources:

Lichfield: Economic history’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield(1990), pp. 109-131