Park Views

When Lichfield District Council applied for Lottery Funding to improve and develop Beacon Park, Minster Pool & Walk and The Garden of Remembrance, the ‘Friends of Lichfield’s Historic Parks Group’ was set up as part of the bid. Although the work has now been completed, the Friends group has continued and have now also taken Stowe Pool and Fields under their wing.

People enjoying Fuse Festival 2013 in Beacon Park

The Friends are independent of LDC, made up of a group of residents who want these beautiful and well loved places in the heart of Lichfield to be enjoyed and valued by people of all backgrounds, ages, abilities and interests. Part of their role is to facilitate discussion between Lichfield District Council and users, volunteers, friends and local residents, so that everyone can be involved in decisions made about their parks.

Getting ready to light up Minster Pool with hundreds of flames – Minster Pool June 2012

As a way of connecting with a wider range of park users, the Friends have set up a new Facebook account https://www.facebook.com/FoLHP and want to encourage people to use this forum to share their views on the park, making suggestions and asking questions. Those not on Facebook can email their views to parks@lichfielddc.gov.uk or call the parks team on 01543 308869.

Stowe Pool Regatta June 2012.

I think it’s a great opportunity to have your voice heard, so please join in the discussion. I know I will be! Of course, if you’d like to be more than a Facebook friend, and would like to join the Friends Group itself,  they would be delighted to welcome new members. More information can be found on their leaflet here – Friends of Lichfield’s Historic Parks

Hot Fuzz

My interest in cars has always been limited but I do appreciate a good looking classic motor and so I walked through Beacon Park to have a look at some of the examples on display. As I ambled along, daydreaming about which of these vehicles from the past I’d buy if I could ever afford to in the future, one in particular caught my eye.

This is a Morris Six M.S. from 1953. I only know that because it was written on a card in the window along with a short explanation of the car’s history. Apparently it belonged to the Chief Constable of Staffordshire, one of only eleven such models converted to police cars, and now the only one left, rescued from a garage where it had spent twenty eight years. I thought it was interesting – the history of a vehicle is something I’ve never really considered before.

The sun had brought people out in droves and it was great to see the city so busy. As I walked past Minster Pool, resisting the urge to take yet another photo of the spires against the blue sky, the water appeared so green that I peered in to the depths. It soon became apparent that people weren’t the only creatures drawn out by the heat. I knew that there were fish in Minster Pool – I think angling was allowed there some years ago, and believe that hundreds of years ago it was once part of the Vivarium Episcopi, supplying the Bishop with fresh fish  – yet I don’t think I’d ever actually seen one in there. Today, they’d all come to the surface, creating ripples and lots of interest amongst the children on the banks (and me). However, I know as much about fish as I do about cars….

Sole Trader

Whilst having a browse in Lichfield Record Office,  I came across an account of more archaeological finds discovered at Minster Pool.  During the construction of a storm water sewer in the 1970s, surplus soil was taken from the pool to a council rubbish tip. One day Mr Miller, from the city’s Engineering and Surveyoring department, happened to notice fragments of Cistercian ware amongst the peaty earth and alerted local experts. On examining the tip more closely, they discovered that the soil from Minster Pool also contained lots of fragments of leather.

Mr Miller and the others had discovered the remains of medieval leather shoes from a cobbler’s workshop that had been operating near to Minster Pool between the years 1400 and 1550. It’s thought that after being repaired several times, the shoes were in such bad condition that they were discarded by the cobbler (only for them to resurface on another rubbish heap some five hundred years later!). The account I read said that after their discovery, the shoes had been taken to Lichfield Museum. On returning home I was delighted to see that some kind soul had photographed some of them and added them to the Lichfield District Council flickr stream. However, in two and a half years they’ve only had sixteen views (and I think three of those were me!) so now you know the story behind how they were found, please pop and over and take a look at them here! It’s a shame that we’ll probably never know the story of the people the shoes belonged to, or the story of the cobblers who patched them up time and time again….

Three examples of 500 year old leather shoes found in soil from Minster Pool on the council rubbish dump! Image taken from Lichfield District Council flickr stream.

Sources:

South Staffordshire Archaeological and Historical Society (SAHS) Transactions XIV – XVI, 1972 – 1975

Pilgrims' Progress

In trying to find out more about the ferry that may have taken pilgrims across the water to the Cathedral, I came across an interesting description of what they may have found there on their arrival.

A document described as an ‘indenture chirograph’ (1), two feet five inches long and eleven inches wide, lists the goods found in the sacristy in 1345. A transcript of the original Latin is included in the ‘Collections for a History of Staffordshire 1886, Part II, Vol VI’, edited by the William Salt Society. Thankfully, there is also a translation alongside, so that I don’t have to fumble my way through using google translate! (2)

A tile and a simple portrait mark the place where Chad’s shrine once stood.

The first part of the inventory lists the various relics owned by the Cathedral, including of course those of Saint Chad. Chad died in 672AD and around 700AD his bones were moved to a new church, on or near to the site of the present Cathedral. It’s thought that the Lichfield Angel, discovered in 2003 whilst work was being carried out on the nave, may have been part of the original shrine, and that it may have been destroyed by Vikings. By the time the inventory was made in 1345, the holy bones seem to have been kept in several different places within the Cathedral. Chad’s skull was kept in the thirteenth century Saint Chad’s Head Chapel ‘in a painted wooden case’. The Cathedral website describes how initially pilgrims would ascend a staircase in the wall, walk around the head, and then exit down a second stairway which still exists today.

Staircase which pilgrims may have used to exit St Chad’s Head Chapel

An old photograph of St Chad’s Chapel

Eventually, due to the volume of traffic, one of the staircases was closed and the relic was shown to pilgrims from the balcony outside the chapel.  There is also mention of an arm of Blessed Chad, and other bones in a portable shrine, as well as the great shrine of St Chad. The latter was described as being decorated with statues and adorned with precious gifts and jewels and stood in the Lady Chapel of the Cathedral until the reformation. It’s believed that some of the Saint’s bones are now kept in the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St Chad’s in Birmingham, enshrined on 21 June 1841, the day that the Cathedral was consecrated. (3)

An old photo of the Lady Chapel

It wasn’t just the relics of Saint Chad that were owned by the Cathedral. Other items recorded in 1345 include:

Some of Mount Calvary and Golgotha, a piece of the rock standing upon which Jesus wept bitterly and wept over Jerusalem, some of the bones of the Eleven Thousand Virgins, part of the finger and cowl of St William, some of the bread of St Godric and some of the wood of the cross of St Peter

There were also said to be some of St Lawrence’s bones, part of his tomb and a piece of the gridiron he was executed on. (4) Interestingly, it’s said that at number 23, The Close, different coloured bricks have been used on the south wall to depict this this symbol of St Lawrence’s martyrdom. Since I read about this, I have a look every time I walk past, but as of yet, have not managed to spot it!

Statue of St Lawrence at the church named after him in Walton on Trent, which sits on the border between Staffordshire and Derbyshire

Saint Chad’s skull may be long gone but the pilgrims still come, and on certain occasions have their feet washed at the pedilavium, a medieval feature thought to be unique to Lichfield. There are also plenty of other heads to be found at Lichfield Cathedral. Some are scarred and defaced, whilst others have been restored. They are a reminder of the medieval craftsmen who created the church, those who tried to destroy it and those whose skills and labour restored Lichfield Cathedral to the mirabilis edificii that it is today (ok, I admit I used google translate for that one!).

The medieval pedilavium where pilgrims still sit to have their feet washed.

Notes:

1) I believe this refers to a document that would have been written in duplicate on the same piece of parchment, and then divided into two with a serrated edge, so that when both parts were brought back together and compared, you could be sure that each was genuine and not a forgery.

(2) A footnote says ‘This transcript and translation were originally undertaken for ‘The Journal of the Derbyshire Archaeological Society’, and are now reprinted after careful revision and correction. It was the joint work of W H St John Hope, FSA and the compiler of this catalogue’. Thanks very much folks!

(3) The relics of St Chad were apparently smuggled out of Lichfield after the reformation and eventually ended up in Birmingham, a journey of thirty miles that took 300 years! You can read more about that journey here. I don’t think anyone knows what happened to the other relics.

(4) In a nutshell the legend of St Lawrence is that he was a Deacon of Rome, and when asked by the Prefect of Rome to assemble the treasures of the church  for him,  he brought him the poor and suffering, stating it was they who were the true treasures of the church. The legend says he was executed by being roasted over a gridiron (but some say he was most likely beheaded).

Sources: 

Collections for a History of Staffordshire 1886, Part II, Vol VI’, edited by the William Salt Society

Lichfield Cathedral Website – http://www.lichfield-cathedral.org/History/the-gothic-cathedral.html

Lichfield: The cathedral close’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 57-67

Deep and Meaningful

I mostly associate Stowe and Minster Pools with the ducks (or to be more precise the mallards, moorhens, coots, Canada geese, mute swans, and common pochards) that live on these waters. However, for the purposes of this post, it’s what has been found beneath the surface of the pools that I’m interested in.

Ducklings making their way over Stowe Pool last summer

Nesting on Stowe Pool, 2011

At a meeting of the Leicestershire Architectural Society in June 1858, the Rev J M Gresley produced a number of objects that had been discovered in the city’s pools, during the process of their conversion into reservoirs for the South Staffordshire Waterworks Company. As well as numerous cannon balls and shells, some of the other finds were described, including:

A small iron battle axe, seventeen inches in length

A spur singularly shaped of perhaps the last century

An ancient steel horse shoe by striking the holes for the nails several of which remain in them. The outer edge has a scalloped shape

Several narrow sharp pointed knives from 7 to 9 inches long of the sixteenth century. The shaft of one of them is of black bone inlaid with trefoils and ornaments of brass

A large clasp knife with buck’s horn haft twelve inches in length

Several keys of the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries and a small one of still older date

A piece of early English pottery perhaps of the twelfth or thirteenth century. It is of reddish and grey clay with a green glaze. The head and tail are broken off. It is hollow and has a large aperture at the breast but it does not look as if it could ever have been used as a jug or bottle The length of it is 6 inches

Fragment of the neck of a Flemish stone ware jug called a Greybeard or Bellarmine of the sixteenth or seventeenth century

Soles of shoes of the thirteenth or fourteenth century with small heels narrow instep broad across the ball of the foot and quite a sharp point at the toe

Soles of shoes of the fifteenth century much the same shape as the others but round at the toe

A leaden seal or bull of one of the Popes whose name is obliterated. Two rude faces upon the other side have over them S PA(ULUS) S PE(TRUS)

A number of brass counters commonly called Nuremburg tokens formerly used for making calculations…upon these tokens are various and interesting consisting of ornamental crosses, fleur de lis, heraldic bearings, ships, the globe surmounted by the cross. One was plainly an imitation of the silver pennies of Edward I and II but with pellats in place of the legend

Two leaden counters one of them with the letter K, the other apparently a saint’s head and glory about it

An angel of the seventeenth year of James I with a hole through it for suspension it having been given to a person when touched by the King for the evil. The reverse has a ship with the royal arms on the mainsail

Lichfield Coventry and Tamworth tokens of the seventeenth century

A considerable quantity of stags horns

Another discovery in Minster Pool led to a court case in 1896 between South Staffs water and a labourer named Sharman. This case is still quoted as an example in legal textbooks today. Sharman, the defendant, had been employed by the water company to clean the pool and in the course of this work found two gold rings. The court ruled that it was not a matter of finders keepers and ordered the rings to be handed over.

Whilst it seems reasonable to assume that the cannon balls and shells ended up in the pools after falling short of their intended targets during the civil war, how did these other objects end up in the water? Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find a description of the gold rings, not even a date range, and so for now we’ll have to imagine the stories behind them finding their way into Minster Pool!  Perhaps we could have a more educated guess at the origin of some of the other objects though? In the past, both pools were used as mill ponds, with tenters to dry cloth set up along the stream which fed into Stow Pool. There were also tanyards in the area and the site of the parchment works of Michael Johnson (bookseller and father of Samuel) was nearby, as can be seen on the 1781 Snape map of Lichfield (a wonderful, big-res version of the map can be found here on BrownhillsBob’s Brownhills Blog). Possibly related to these industries, the tenant of a skinhouse claimed the privilege to wash skins in Minster Pool.

Mill House, Dam St in the vicinity of the old mill

This ward banner in the Guildhall relates to Dam St, and I think it represents the mill between Minster and Stow Pool.

These objects have been lost and found once already, but where are they now? Is it possible to find them once again?

Edit: Philip just asked me about where the tanneries were, and in comparing the Snape map with Googlemaps, I found that in one of the spots marked as a tan yard on the former, there is a little road called the Tanyard (off Stowe St) on the latter!

Sources:

A survey by the Lichfield Wildlife Group in 2009, looking at the natural heritage of The Close http://www.staffs-wildlife.org.uk/files/documents/250.pdf

Thanks to Philip Mantom for drawing my attention to the legal case South Staffs Water Co v. Sharman (1896)

Smith and Keenan’s English Law Text and Cases 15th Edition – Denis Keenan

Transactions, Volume 1,  Leicestershire Architectural and Archaeological Society

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

Ferry Cross the Minster

Yesterday, the second of March, was the feast day of St Chad. In 669, Chad founded a monastery near to the site where the church named after him now stands, making Lichfield the new centre of the Diocese of Mercia (it had previously been Repton). Anyone interested in learning more about the life of Chad should read Patrick Comerford’s post here.

Statue of Chad at St Chad’s church, Lichfield

Around this time last year,  I wrote about the history of the well at St Chad’s and a little about the pilgrimage route between Lichfield and Chester. This year once again I found myself possibly following in the footstep of pilgrims, when I took a walk down Bird St.

The latest incarnation of St Chad’s Well

The view from St Chad’s. A question – why was the Saxon church built to house St Chad’s bones and later to become the Cathedral, built over there, and not at the site of Chad’s Monastery and Well?

An alley (or gully or ginnel depending on where you’re from) runs from Bird St, past the George Hotel and then takes a sharp turn towards Minster Pool. In the early fourteenth century it was called Wroo Lane, a name thought to be derived from the Middle English word ‘Wro’ meaning corner. Shortly afterwards, the lane became known as Cock Alley.  According to Thomas Harwood, this ‘new’ name came from a carpenter named Slorcock who once lived there. I’ve done my best to show the route I think the lane took but please also take a look at  it on John Snape’s wonderful 1781 map of Lichfield, which Brownhills Bob very generously shared here on his blog. Although these days it’s probably mostly used as a shortcut to the car park, the Collections for a History of Staffordshire (Volume Six) suggests that this was once an important thoroughfare, leading pilgrims to the ferry which would carry them across the water to the Cathedral.

Cock Alley. Or possibly Wroo Lane.

Looking back up towards Wroo Lane. Or possibly Cock Alley.

How did the pilgrims get over those big railings?

At present, I am unsure whether the existence of a ferry for pilgrim traffic is a theory or whether it has actually been confirmed by evidence. I shall keep looking for this and in the meantime, may I suggest that when walking around Lichfield you keep looking too. Remember, it’s not just buildings that have a history, but also the spaces between them.

 Sources:

‘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

The History and Antiquities of the Church and City of Lichfield, Thomas Harwood

Collections for a history of Staffordshire Volume 6, Part 2, Willam Salt Archaeological Society

 

 

Fallen Angel

I’m certainly not the first person to write about the deteriorating condition of the Angel Croft hotel, and I suspect that I won’t be the last – it doesn’t look like it will be relinquishing its place on the English Heritage at Risk register any time soon.

Personally, I have no connection with the building, I’ve never even been inside. As awful as it sounds, I can barely remember the days when it actually was a hotel.  It seems to have taken on a new identity as a case study in decaying grandeur, about which regrets are expressed and rumours abound, but about which no one seems to know quite what to do.

Of course other people will have memories of the Angel Croft – a wedding reception,  a work do, a meeting, a reunion dinner, or even a weekend stay. Walking through The Close recently, I saw this plaque on a bench, and it reminded me of an intriguing story I’d seen on the subject of the Angel Croft and memories a while back.

It features on a blog about a man’s research into his great uncle Jack Purcell’ s time in the Royal Australian Air Force. Jack Purcell was posted to RAF Fradley and in the collection of his documents handed down to his great nephew Adam Purcell was a postcard of a view across Minster Pool marked with a small ‘x’. Adam believes the cross could be marking the Angel Croft Hotel… you can read the whole post in full here.

It’s a fascinating story, but also a good reminder that it’s not only buildings that are  vulnerable to the ravages of time, but memories too. Of course, it’s important to preserve architecture of note, but I have to ask, what are we doing to preserve the memories and stories that make buildings so much more than an entry on a list or register?

Note – I hope Adam Purcell doesn’t mind me featuring the story of his Great Uncle’s time in Lichfield. I shall contact him.