Banned Stand

How do you make a bandstand? Take away the chairs. Or if you’re lucky, a local dignitary will provide you with one. In July 1893, during his third stint as Mayor of Lichfield, Major John Gilbert presented the city with a bandstand to mark the marriage of Princess Mary of Teck and the Duke of York (later George V and Queen Mary).

The Bandstand in 1905, taken from Wikipedia Commons

The Bandstand in 1905, taken from Wikipedia Commons

It stood in the Recreation Grounds of what is now Beacon Park but by 1925, Major Gilbert’s gift had become a bit of a problem. In March, the secretary of the Lichfield Cycling Institute wrote to the City Council saying that since the cycle track had been created in the Recreation Grounds, many thought that the bandstand should be removed. Even with padding around the structure, there was the risk of an appalling accident. Councillor Perrins agreed with the cyclists. In his opinion the bandstand was a death-trap and should be removed, or the track shut. Alderman Winter wanted the wishes of the late donor’s family to be taken into account but Councillor Tayler thought this was ‘sentiment before service’. In the end, the matter was referred to the Museum Committee. In December 1925, the Mercury gave an update on ‘that bandstand’. Lichfield City Council had decided to keep it where it was as it would collapse if it was moved. It was fortified with concrete, bricks and stone (some of which came from the old Friary – more bits of that ancient building can supposedly be found at the toilets in the park).  One member of the council defended the bandstand’s retention on the grounds it was an object of beauty.  However, the Mercury correspondent’s view was that ‘it is even less useful than it is beautiful’. One concession that was made to public demand was that the railings near to the cycle track were taken in line with the base of the stand. The Mercury concluded by suggesting that Lichfield be grateful for these small mercies, ‘even if the circumstances do not incline us to raise a song of joy about them’.

I think the bandstand was round abouts here

I think the bandstand was round abouts here

I believe that eventually the bandstand was eventually removed due to costs of upkeep. I’m not sure exactly when this was but believe it to have been sometime in the 1960s (it doesn’t show on a 1966 map of Lichfield). When I went to have a look at where the bandstand once stood, I spotted this old metal post. It looks to me as if it was part of the old gates leading into the recreation grounds, which you can see on the postcard above.

You never know what's lurking in the shrubbery...

You never know what’s lurking in the shrubbery…

Rumour has it that the bandstand itself is also still to be found in the park somewhere… Sounds a little unlikely? You’d be amazed at what people leave lying around gathering moss. I’ve heard that over the years people have called for a new Beacon Park bandstand. Yet, prior to its removal the original doesn’t seem to have been that popular or well used (although some blamed the lack of interest on Lichfield’s junior citizens for running around the bandstand making a noise, and driving the spectators away). Is a new bandstand a good idea or rose tinted nostalgia? Either way, I’d love to know if you find any bits of the old one in the shrubbery.

 

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Any Old Iron?

When I was a little girl, my great (in all senses of the word!) granddad told me that the railings at the local cemetery in Birmingham had been taken for the war effort.  Ever since then it’s been my understanding that iron and other metals collected from homes, gardens and public places during the Second World War, were transformed into munitions. However, earlier this year a comment on Facebook, suggesting that the recycling of metal for the war effort was a myth, made me question this long held belief.

What is not in doubt is that places up and down the country handed over their railings, including Lichfield.  I understand that to begin with they were offered up on a voluntary basis but in 1941, the Ministry of Supply made the requisition of all ‘unnecessary iron or steel railings’ compulsory, for use in the foundries. The Lichfield Mercury carried an announcement that the Council had been instructed to make a survey and draw up a list of those to be surrendered. Compensation was available but the Ministry hoped that the majority of owners would give their railings freely! I have seen several suggestions that any reluctance was seen as unpatriotic (and perhaps there are hints of this in the discussions that follow below). Guidelines were issued on which type of railings were necessary and therefore exempt including:

1- Railings which should be maintained for safety reasons
2- Railings necessary to prevent cattle from straying
3- Railings of special artistic merit or historic value.

The remains of metal railings at Lichfield Library (the Friary Girls School at the time of WW2).

This perhaps explains why the library (then the Friary Girls School) lost its railings, but the decorative eighteenth century wrought iron gates outside the Angel Croft remained. It’s a little ironic that these listed railings were saved from the scrapheap back in the 1940s only to be left to rust away in-situ in more recent times.

Listed wrought iron gates outside the listed Angel Croft hotel – all appear on the English Heritage ‘At Risk’ register

For an insight into some of the discussions that took place at the time,  I’ve summarised part of a Council meeting that took place in June 1941, concerning the requisition of the railings that once stood around the gardens at Greenhill. Cllr Tayler argued that their removal should be deferred as they were necessary to prevent trespassing in the garden and to protect the water tank underneath, and asked why such a small amount of railings doing such necessary work should be removed when there was a large amount of ornamental fencing in the city still in place. Cllr.Taylor mentioned the railings around the Friary School in particular, explaining that there were more tonnes of railings there than hundredweights at Greenhill. He acknowledged that they were nice to look through, and that one could almost imagine they were looking at the Garden of Eden at times, but argued that if they wanted to get the serpent Hitler out, the Friary’s railings should be taken as a valuable contribution for the Minister’s appeal.

Whilst Cllr Taylor got his way at the Friary, his point about Greenhill was rejected. The Mayor felt that the council could not expect people to remove their railings if the council was unwilling to surrender their own. He also felt the removal of the Greenhill railings would enhance the beauty of that little park, creating a place where the old people of Lichfield could go for an enjoyable smoke. Cllr. Tayler remained unconvinced by this vision – he thought it was more likely to become a car park for Winterton’s auction. Alderman Deacon agreed – he thought opening up the space would lead to trespassing left, right and centre. He also voiced his frustration regarding the government’s campaign saying, “If the necessity for railings is so urgent as the Ministry of Supply said, why don’t they make a requisition for the whole of it…the Government should adopt a proper attitude and make a requisition for the whole of it”. Cllr. Moseley’s attempts to appease both sides by suggesting the decision be deferred to allow the members to visit the site were met with strong words from Cllr. Wiliams. “It seems pitiful to me. We are at war, and the Prime Minister’s speech not many hours ago gave the excuse of getting out of Crete because we did not have sufficient of this and the other. I take it we should never have attempted to recommend the removal of this scrap metal unless it was wanted, and yet these old historical people get up and say, ‘Don’t take it away as it will spoil the beauty of the city’. We have not in Lichfield felt the war, and it would be a damned good thing if we had a shot at it, and then we should realise what our army, navy and air force have to put up with. I can’t understand this spirit of Cromwell today. If we can help a little bit in Lichfield by scrapping our railings, let us do it with a good heart. Cllr Collins echoed these thoughts by adding, “We called it the ancient and loyal city and I think we can add one word – patriotic. I would certainly support the giving up of these railings on patriotic grounds and also that all other railings in Lichfield should be given up”. With these words, Cllr Tayler’s attempt to save Greenhill’s railings was defeated.

At the same meeting, Cllr. Halfpenny suggested that the railings in the Museum Grounds be salvaged and replaced by wire and fencing. The previous summer, the Council had decided to sell the old guns from the Crimean and First World Wars which were on display in the grounds. Again, this decision was reached following a fascinating and, at times, seemingly heated discussion. Cllr. Collins opposed the sale of these old war relics believing that they had been given to Lichfield as a token of the courage, bravery and endurance of the men of the 2nd Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment (the First World War gun had apparently been captured by them on 3 August 1918). It did not cost anything to keep them, not even a rag or a drop of oil, and he believed that there may be many South Staffordshire soldiers who passed by that gun and had a chat about days gone by. The Russian gun from the Crimea put Cllr. Collins in mind of his school days and some of the battles that had been fought. In his opinion, the guns should stay where they were and wait for the next one to come and keep them company. Alderman Bridgeman agreed, as did Cllr. Williams, Alderman Hall and Cllr. Moseley, who thought that they made the grounds more interesting.  However, Cllr. Tayler was firmly in favour of the sale. He believed that the ‘morbid sentimentality’ that they had heard that evening had led the nation into the deplorable condition it now found itself in. Too much consideration had been given to German relics and Germans since 1918. The nation needed iron and what better to have than that sort of scrap iron. He acknowledged that the guns were of interest but felt that they could not afford simply to allow them to lie about for people to look at when they were the very thing the nation and the army wanted. Cllr. Nevill added that the old first world war gun had been lying around for the last twenty years, used only as a plaything for the children. Cllr. Bather reminded the meeting that the country was having to import iron from the States at exorbitant prices and believed, ‘If that gun was turned into a new one to use against the Germans, it would be the finest thing that could happen to it’. The decision was taken to sell the guns to a local metal merchant who had been granted a license by the Ministry of Supply to purchase scrap of all descriptions. However, what became of the guns after that?

The old war guns are taken away after being sold to a local scrap metal firm. Photograph taken from Lichfield Mercury Archive

There are numerous blogs and discussion boards on the subject of Britain’s war effort. On some you’ll find tales of railings being dumped in the Thames and the North Sea and of piles of metal rusting away in fields and depots. Perhaps somewhere amongst the propaganda and the myth, is the real story of what happened to the ‘scrap’ metal collected here in Lichfield and elsewhere.

Notes: There’s a great Pathe film clip called ‘Park Railings for Munitions’, which you can watch here.

Source: Lichfield Mercury Archives

Back to the Future

In the March 15th 1907 edition of the Lichfield Mercury, there’s an article written by Clifford Mackay entitled ‘Lichfield in 2007 – A Dream of the Future’. Old Ben Wallace, a Lichfield cobbler, takes a trip through the city streets and discovers how things have changed over one hundred years.

Here’s a heavily abridged version, so that you can see for yourself where Mr Mackay got it right (a new theatre called ‘The Garrick’, new houses, mixed schools), got it wrong (a tube station at the Friary, a model Venetian village hiring out gondolas) and sometimes got it very wrong indeed (meeting visitors from Mars on the way to Minster pool).

New houses, a large new theatre of varieties, and an entire renovation of the Market, now Dr Johnson’s Square, are amongst other things which come before his astonished eyes, besides a tremendous building called the ‘Royal Garrick’ Theatre, many shops bearing familiar names but entirely rebuilt, and all the streets reconstructed on an absolutely novel, yet excellent plan.

Garrick Theatre by Bs0u10e01 (image taken from Wikipedia)

….the old man noticed the date of the year – 2007- for the first time he also sees one of the airships from London come in. A tube station now stands at the Friary corner, and a large new hotel – the Savoy- has been erected. Sandford St is now a magnificent thoroughfare, and the ‘George’ and ‘Swan’ hotels have also been rebuilt. They encounter some of the visitors from Mars, and arrive at Minster pool, which has undergone great changes. The two pools, Minster and Stowe have been purchased by the council and now form magnificent pleasure lakes. The former is now illuminated every night, while a band plays from the wonderful new stand erected in the middle

They visit Elysia – the large new pleasure gardens formed out of the late Museum Gardens and Recreation Grounds, and take a trip round in a gondola hired from the model Venetian village

Museum Gardens early 20thc

Inevitably, old Ben finds himself at the Cathedral and it’s here where you begin to wonder if there is more of a point to this article than just a bit of fun. I don’t know enough about the protestant religion to comment but amongst other things, Ben the cobbler is told that,

 The church had grown very worldly – it was neither one thing nor the other – so it had to be purged. It was disestablished and set to rule itself, with the result that many parsons came to believe that after all they were not the demi-gods and worldly magnates that some of them imagined themselves to be. These people here took the lead and set the example to the rest of England – and it was quickly followed everywhere. They gave up their large houses and went to live in smallest ones(the bishop giving his up to be a hospital for the poor and needy)

…..the people are religious as anything – it is a reality to us and not a sham. The Cathedral is packed every Sunday, at all services too, it’s hard to get a seat.

Soon though whatever point is being made, has been made and Ben finds himself

…close to the new marvel, which stood in the field before the Stowe Pool….raised in five lofty square iron towers, nearly sixty feet in height, one being at each corner, and one in the middle was a gigantic platform…..Inside each of ther four corner towers the old man could distinguish lifts ascending from, and descending to the ground floor. Tethered to one of the sides her engines still throbbing, and having an indication with the word Aberdeen printed on it, affixed to its side, lay a huge aeroplane.

Away from the Cathedral Ben is surprised to learn  about the changes in another religion –  Lichfield City FC are doing well having won the English Cup seven times, fielding four international players and getting an an average gate of gate of 12 to 14,000 per match. Of course,the Lichfield manager does it for the love of the game and the reputation of the City rather than as a money making concern.

Ben also learns that the grammar school has been moved from its position near Borrowcop Hill due to drainage issues and that,

…all the schools are mixed in England now. Girls and boys all work together…its a splendid system

At the end of the walk it all goes a bit ‘Life on Mars‘ as old Ben is knocked down by a car on Wade St. But of course, as with all the best stories, it turns out to be just a dream, and he wakes back in his workshop back in 1907.

I know that a prediction of the year 2007, made a hundred years previous is a bit of an  easy target.  I’m sure if I were to make predictions here and now about the year 2112, it would be mostly ridiculous. Could we predict the next 50 or even the next 10 years? In looking to the future of Lichfield, would it reveal anything about our present? Maybe we should give it go. It’d give future generations a good laugh if nothing else. Any volunteers?