Time On Our Hands

On my way to do some Christmas shopping in Lichfield,  I went to Beacon Park to see our new old friend Erasmus Darwin properly now that the crowds had dispersed. I thought it would just be me and the good doctor this Saturday lunchtime, but in fact there were already people reading the plaque, when I arrived and another small group turned up whilst I was there. I touched the shell in Darwin’s hand, and continued over to The Close, as with all the talk of water and conduits recently, I also wanted to have another look at the old pump outside the Cathedral.

Wall of Bishop’s Palace, North East corner of The Close

I then continued my walk north of the Cathedral, along the wall of the Bishop’s Palace, wondering about the provenance of the stone used to build it. In the north east corner of The Close, next to a pile of old grass cuttings and leaves, I peered over into what would have been the old ditch surrounding The Close. Something on one of the worn sandstone blocks caught my eye. Graffiti carved into the wall! Was there any more? Retracing my steps back along the wall I found several more examples.

Unfortunately, most of the markings either aren’t dated, or the dates have weathered away. So we are left with a series of initials, and not much else to work with. They may have been carved within weeks of each other or centuries apart. They may belong to pupils of the school, or they may belong to someone passing by with time on their hands. All that we really know, is that at various points in time, people decided to make their presence known in this quiet corner of The Close

One of the only legible dates on the wall. 188?

The listed building description for the wall (which can be found here) tells us that it’s probably over 300 years old. I haven’t yet been able to find where the stone was quarried from but the variation in colour and texture is beautiful. (Yes, I touched this too!)

The wall dates back to the rebuilding of the Bishops Palace in 1687. The original palace sustained severe damage in the Civil War and since then has actually only been the residence of the Bishop of Lichfield for a relatively short period. Bishop Selwyn took up residence in the 1860s and just under a hundred years later, in 1953, Bishop Reeve moved into a house on the south side of The Close. Since then the Palace has been part of Lichfield Cathedral School.

I have a photograph of the Bishop’s Palace from the back, but not the front. I do wonder about my thought process sometimes…

Of course, if anyone has any insights or information, please do get in touch. If it was you that stood here and added your initials to this old wall, I’d love to know when and why. However, I think that sometimes we have to accept that we will never know all the answers and just enjoy the time spent asking the questions.

Sources:

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

Through Doors and Windows

Anyone who has read the Written into Lichfield History and Making your Mark posts, will know that Gareth Thomas has been exploring the Lichfield District Council Offices, and very kindly sharing the photos here on the blog.  Gareth’s doing this because the buildings were once the Lichfield Grammar School, and generations of pupils, dating back to the 17th century have left their mark on the building.

I like the idea that even those who didn’t go as far as leaving their name still left a trace on the worn bannisters and floorboards

Last time, we got as far as the attic doors, where someone called ‘Watkins’, carved his name in February 1714/5. Amongst the other graffiti is the name WHoll, and Roger Jones (Ziksby) put forward the idea that this could be William Holl the engraver, which certainly warrants further investigation.  Back then the doors would have lead to the dormitories for the boarders at the school. Now thanks to Gareth, we get to have a look at what lies behind those potentially three hundred year old doors……

Who was WL Holden? Does C1 refer to his form or something else?

To us these are old timber beams, yet once they were brand new, and according to the Lichfield Conduit Lands archives, mostly donated in the form of individual trees!

 

Gareth has taken some photographs from the windows. Not only does this give an interesting perspective of the city, it also invites you to imagine what the boys would have seen looking out of this window, what’s changed and what’s the same.

In around 1813, Cowperthwaite Smith was appointed headmaster of the school with a salary of £170 per annum, plus rent free accomodation. At the time, board, lodging & tuition was being charged at between 40 and 50 guineas a year for each scholar. In 1828, according to the ‘Account of Public Charities in England and Wales’, there were 18 boarders, and around 30-40 students in total. It goes on to say that the only scholars receiving their education free at the school were the ‘six children of poor men born within the City’ (who were also given money for books, and slightly more curiously brooms, when the school was first endowed).  The people of Lichfield were apparently not happy that their grammar school was no longer a free school.

By then end of Cowperthwaite Smith’s time as headmaster in the 1840s, no boys at all were coming to the school. Allegations were made in the Wolverhampton Chronicle that Lichfield Grammar School had been closed for six years due to the the misconduct of the master. It claimed he was violent towards the children in his care, and that ‘his treatment of two boys on two separate subjected his modes of punishment to investigation before the magistrates one boy having subsequently confined to his bed under surgical advice for a fortnight’.

The newpaper was sued for its attempt to injure Cowperthwaite’s ‘good name fame and credit’ as a schoolmaster and clergyman, and ‘to bring him into public scandal infamy and disgrace’ and ‘to hold him up to public contumely scorn and ridicule and to vex harass oppress impoverish and wholly ruin (him)’. I’m trying to piece together exactly what happened as best I can from the court cases that followed these allegations and I’m hoping that the original newspaper reports might be available. There’s also a vast amount of information at Lichfield Record Office that I’d like to look through, and I think it’s best not to speculate or comment further until I have read more on this.

I am also working on another post as Gareth’s investigations took him to another part of the building, where he made another fantastic discovery, including our oldest dated graffiti yet.  In the meantime, Gareth, do you fancy going up that ladder in the attic?

(1) A Concise Description of the Endowed Grammar Schools of England and Wales, Nicholas Carlise 1818

http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1846/apr/01/the-lichfield-grammar-school

http://www.lichfielddc.gov.uk/info/100004/council_and_democracy/588/history_of_district_council_house/2

http://eagle.cch.kcl.ac.uk:8080/cce/persons/DisplayPerson.jsp?PersonID=19831

Making a Mark

I’m pleased to say that Gareth took my hint and very kindly sent me some great photographs of the names carved into old attic doors in the Lichfield District Council office building on St John St.  This part of the offices was the old school master’s house, dating back to 1682 and it’s thought the attic was used as a dormitory for boarders at the old grammar school.

One of the carvings seems to be dated 1715. If authentic, it means this door could be around 300 years old, possibly even original? Also there’s a rogue 4 nearby, is this a red herring or something to do with the change in calendar from Julian to Gregorian? This is about as clear as a pint of guinness to me, so any possible explanation would be welcomed!

 

Gareth also sent me a scan of a document – an indenture outlining the sale of the school buildings to Theophilus Basil Percy Levett, dated Christmas Eve 1902, and signed by the the school’s governors. It’s a fascinating document, there’s  information about the buildings,  the stamp of the Birmingham Paper and Parchment dealer, the seals and the names and professions of the governors (some are more familiar than others -Lonsdale, Cooper, Lomax, Ashmall and Andrews stand out for me).   In 1903 the school moved from St John St to Upper St John’s St, merging with Kingshill Secondary Modern in 1971, to form the present King Edward VI school.

Gareth’s photographs and images from the last few days are fascinating, but what I also think is interesting is the contrast.  The inky signatures of men who have already made their way in the world, compared with names carved into wood and brick by children starting out in life.  And what about the contrast of these grammar school boys with their peers?  Whilst they may or may not have gone on to fulfil their potential (see the comments on my previous post)  what of those other children that never even had the opportunity?

A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to the headteachers of our state secondary schools here in Lichfield talk about what their school offered to students. Each of them spoke convincingly about their commitment to giving each and every pupil in their care, regardless of ability or background, the opportunity to reach their potential in life.   I found myself moved by their words. This is how it should be.

Edit 2/11/2012

Yesterday at Lichfield Library, I found the book ‘A Short History of Lichfield Grammar School’ written by Percy Laithwaite in 1925. Mr Laithwaite refers to the graffiti, and I suspect this may be the original source (I found out about the existence of the graffiti on a Lichfield District Council document. I also saw it referenced in Howard Clayton’s Coaching City, whilst I was at the library yesterday). As well as providing small biographies of some of the masters and pupils of the school,  Mr Laithwaite also mentions that wooden panelling from the old school room is now used in the council offices, and that an oak desk from the school room was used as a locker at Bridgeman’s on Quonians Lane. If we could track that down, that’d be something!

Footnote:

 

I’m really pleased to say that Gareth Thomas who provided me with the graffiti photos and the indenture document, as well as other information over the last weeks has started his own blog http://lichfield.keepsblogging.com/ Gareth’s going to be sharing the things he discovers and judging by the gems he’s come up with so far, it’s going to a great read for those of us who enjoy exploring the history of this old city.

Sources:

http://www.lichfielddc.gov.uk/info/100004/council_and_democracy/588/history_of_district_council_house/2

http://www.kingedwardvi-lichfield.staffs.sch.uk/history.html

https://wiki.leeds.ac.uk/index.php/HIST2530_Building_the_literate_nation:_the_historical_debate#Literacy_Rates