West Side Story

The view of the Cathedral as you turn from Beacon St into the Close, must be one of the most photographed in Lichfield. It’s stunning. However, if you can tear your eyes away from the spectacular west front of the Cathedral, there’s something else here that I think is rather special.

Remains of the West Gate.

Sandwiched between two houses are the remains of the West Gate, dating back to the early fourteenth century. The rest of the gate was demolished in 1800, as Thomas Harwood describes, “…that noble gate at the west entrance into the Close, a beautiful structure worthy of its munificent founder and which in April 1800 was with a barbarous taste, pulled down, and the materials applied to lay the foundation of a pile of new buildings for the residence of necessitous widows of clergymen”. (The new buildings Mr Harwood describes is Newton’s College opposite. If this is true it’s a bit more house old recycling!).

In the same book, Harwood mentions the gate again saying,”At the entrance into the close on the west stood the beautiful gate which was built by Bishop Langton in the early part of the fourteenth century. It was a very strong a double gate with portcullis of great strength and majesty. The strong tower over the gate was finished in the time of Bishop Northburgh, the successor of Langton. This noble structure which had unimpaired during the revolution of five centuries and had withstood the destructive ravages of civil war was pulled down in April 1800 to widen the road into the Close”

Personally I’m a big fan of crumbling, old bricks, but if the gate had remained then, we wouldn’t be treated to that amazing view. Whether the decision to demolish the gate was barbarous or not, all we have now are these remaining stones and the descriptions, together with some maps and drawings.  The rest is down to our imagination….

The Lichfield District Council flickr stream has this image.

Taken from Lichfield District Council flickr group

On the Staffordshire Past Track website, you can also see a view of the gate published in 1805. Still a ruin, but in slightly better repair than the previous image. There’s another image here , this time from further away showing how the gate fitted into the area around the Close. This ‘ancient view’ of the Close, seems to be an artist’s impression from 1805 to show how the Close would have looked surrounded by its protective walls, gates and towers. John Speed’s 1610 map also shows the defences, including the gate.

1610 map of Lichfield

I’d like to explore the other remaining fragments of the defences, but for now I’ve got enough questions about this part to be going on with! Why leave this portion of wall   – why not demolish the whole thing? On the wall itself, why do some of the stones have dimples on (I bet there is a technical term for this!) Were materials really used for Newton’s College?

And what about that door! What’s behind there? Who was the last person to go in there (and did they ever come out again!). Why is there a door there at all? To access the ‘strong’ tower in Harwood’s descriptions?  Most importantly, where do they keep the key and could they open it for the Heritage Weekend?!

Edit: Take a look at the comments section – some of the questions have already been answered by Nigel, Managing Director of Lichfield Lock & Key, up on Church St and Pat, who seems to know a thing or two about old bricks!


The History & Antiquities of the Church and City of Lichfield – Thomas Harwood

Lichfield: The cathedral close – A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 57-67. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=42343

Written in Stone

Walking past Newtons College in The Close, I noticed two lots of graffiti on the same building. One lot is spraypainted (I think) and looks like a name (it’s not the best penmanship ;)), the other consists of initials and a date of 1920. You can see these both below in the gallery.

I have no problem with the second one, in fact I enjoy finding a name or something else carved into stone. I do however have a problem with the first one. Why I am ok with PE leaving his or her mark in 1920 but not the graffiti artist in 2011?

Slightly different, but still maybe relevant, there was a recent story about Sex Pistols graffiti being historically and archaeologically important.

I’m still trying to work through my thoughts on this whole area. In the meantime, if anyone has any thoughts, or opinions of their own, please get in touch 🙂

 Edit 6/12/2011

Off on a bit of a tangent, a couple of stories about graffiti with a story! Thanks to Mark from Tamworth Time Hikes for letting me know about this one in Sheffield, which in turn reminded me of this one in Hagley, Worcestershire. Not at all to do with Lichfield, but of interest on the theme of graffiti I hope you’ll agree. Anyone know of any more?

 A bit later on 6/12/2011….some of my photos of graffiti…..

The Kenilworth photo reminds of going there as a little girl and noticing this kind of graffiti for the first time.  I temporarily abandoned my quest for portcullises, drawbridges and moats (which always disappointed by not being filled with water anyway) and played ‘Who can find the oldest graffiti?’. I remember seeing a date in the 1700s and realising that I was just one of the latest in a long, long line of people who had been there. I suppose, in a way those people, rightly or wrongly, became a part of the history of that building themselves. There are loads of photographs of this kind of graffiti around, there’s a whole flickr group here. I wonder if this kind of immortality was their aim or if it was more a case that they got fed up of looking for portcullises, and it gave them something to do?It seems some of our old vandals seemed happy to be easily identified, like Mr Joel Churchill at Kenilworth.  Perhaps it was an acceptable thing to do at the time?

Edit 9/12/2011

Another bit of Lichfield graffiti from the excellent Beacon Street Blog here.