A Fleeting Present

A while back I wrote about Mr J W Jackson, the ghost hunting city librarian who wrote a local history column for the Lichfield Mercury in the 1930s and 40s. Last night I found an article about ‘dear old Beacon Street’, written by Mr Jackson in November 1943, in response to a letter from one of his old school friends who emigrated to Canada in 1870, at the age of twelve. Of course, in describing the changes that have taken place in seventy years, Mr Jackson gives us a glimpse of Beacon St in both his past and his present, which is actually now our past. Before things get too wibbley wobbley timey wimey, let’s move on to a summary of the changes Mr Jackson noted in Beacon Street over the seventy years leading up to 1943.

Mr Jackson says the old pinfold still remained but was hardly, if ever, used for its original purpose – in the past it frequently containing horses, cattle or sheep caught straying on the road and penned by official pinner, Watty Bevin.  Fifty yards away from the pinfold as you walked back towards the city there used to be an old iron pump where the children used to fill up the vinegar bottles they were taking home from Hagues in Beacon St, after enjoying a couple of sips.  The Anchor Inn kept by Billy Godwin had been cleared away and the field between the Inn and Smith’s Brewery was now the residential school. The brewery itself where the children took cans to be filled with barm had been converted into a foundry.

The Fountain Inn still remained  but visitors from the Black Country no longer came to play bowls on its lawns. The Lemon Tree Inn, kept by Sam Boston was now a house, as was the old butchers shop (kept by Mr Yeomans) and the Pheasant Inn previously kept by Mr Stone is also a house.  The wall shutting off Beacon Hall had been partly taken down and was now a garage and a residence. The old fashioned grocery shop at corner of Shaw Lane, owned by Mr Hall had been sold and replaced by a much larger shop, eventually becoming an antiques shop. Whitehall and Milley’s Hospital remained as they were in 1870 but the Free Library & Museum had been built near to the site of Griffith’s Brewery. (Note: Think this was probably earlier – Free Library & Museum built 1859?)

Green house was formerly the Lemon Tree Inn

The Angel Croft was described by Mr Jackson as ‘now a hostel’. The Old Beehive Inn had also been converted into a residence as had the Wheel Inn at the corner of Wheel Lane. The windmill where Mr Jackson played as a child was no longer in use but converted to a picturesque residence. Apparently the miller came in a considerable fortune and disappeared leaving everything as it stood and nothing was heard of him again.

Beacon Gardens built 1925

Council houses known as Beacon Gardens had been built on the fields in front of the Fountain Inn. The old blacksmiths, where legend has it that a French man once took his dancing bear to be shod was still going strong.  The Feathers Inn was still licensed and the row of cottages adjoining was much the same. The Old St Chad’s Rectory garden and field had been built over, the new road known as Nether Beacon. By 1943, the wheelwrights shop on brow of Beacon Hill had long since disappeared but the Little George Inn still stood as did the George & Dragon.

Of course, we can also now compare Beacon St seventy years on from when Mr Jackson did his comparison. I took most of the photos on Sunday (before I found the article weirdly!). The old pinfold still remains, but I doubt anyone now even remembers it being used to lock up straying animals.

Beacon Street School Sanatorium

The residential school has now been converted into apartments and the site of the Foundry is now Morrison’s Supermarket. Funnily enough you can probably get barm, or something similar there once again, as I think it’s a type of yeast (as in the northern ‘Barm Cake’). The Fountain Inn is still open, and Milley’s Hospital and Whitehall are still there. The Free Library and Museum building is of course now used as the Registry Office. As we are all too aware the Angel Croft is still there, but for how much longer in its desperate state?

The blacksmiths has gone but is not altogether forgotten with road names ‘Forge Lane’ and ‘Smithy Lane’ to remind us. The Feathers Inn is still licensed but has now expanded into the row of cottages adjoining (for the record, I had a very nice jacket potato in the beer garden there on Bower Day this year). The George and Dragon, thankfully, still stands but the Little George is now a private, rather than public house. According to John Shaw’s Old Pubs of Lichfield, after WW2, the licence of the pub was transferred to the new pub on Wheel Lane, known as the Windmill. This ‘new’ pub which, wasn’t around in Mr Jackson’s time will probably not be around for much longer, as it is has been closed for some time and the site earmarked for development.

Mr Jackson’s article reminds me of the need for recording the everyday and the seemingly ordinary, as one day the present will be the past and what was once commonplace may no longer be.  I’m a big believer in using place names that reflect the history of a place, but on its own, a street sign for ‘Smithy Lane’ only tells you part of the story. Had Mr Jackson not added the story of the dancing bear’s shoes and the missing miller and his money to his reminiscences, they may well have been forgotten. “So what?” some may say, dismissing them as mere trivialities, but I disagree. I think stories matter.

Perhaps in seventy years time someone will look back at how Beacon St was in 2013. I wonder what will have changed and if we’ll have left them with any good stories?

Sources:
Lichfield Mercury archive
The Old Pubs of Lichfield, John Shaw

Watering Hole

On the way home from Tixall (of which more later), I stopped off at Longdon village and called into the Swan With Two Necks for a drink. I only had time for a very quick look around the village but even in this short space of time managed to find lots of interest, much of it water-related, which seems only natural in a place also known as Brook End. I hope to return to Longdon and the surrounding area (and of course the pub!) in the not too distant future. Amongst other things, I want to see if there are any nuggets of truth in an old ghost story I found about Lysways Hall….

The pub name Swan with Two Necks is apparently a distortion of ‘Swan with Two Nicks’, referring to the marks made on the birds’ beaks to denote ownership. More info here

Talking of ownership, the SWTN has been under the management of Mary McMeechan since 1st March 2013, the latest in a long line of landlords stretching back to 1755!

Brook End Mill dates back to the 1700s and appears on the Yates Map of Staffordshire.

The mill race still runs and you can follow it for a way up a public footpath.

This area is full of wells, some with brilliant names & legends attached. I think if I’d have carried on up past here, I’d have come to my all time favourite – Giddywell! Never mind, I did find this one near to the mill and there’s always next time…

I’m not sure if this pump is original. There are some other Staffordshire water pumps on this website, perhaps I should send them the photo and get their expert opinion?

These cottages are thought to be a 16th timber framed building that was divided up into separate houses at some point in the last half a millenium or so!

Over to the experts again, and this time John Higgins of the Mile Stone Society who researched Staffordshire Mileposts and found that in 1893, 335 posts were ordered from Tipton firm Charles Lathe & Co at a cost of 19s.6d each, including this one in St James’ Close

Co-operation

On the corner of Bore St and Breadmarket St is a building that I’ve never paid much attention to before. However, after hearing that someone carrying out some work there in the 1970s had uncovered a dolphin mosaic, I thought I’d fish a bit deeper into the building’s history…

The someone in question was Frank Clarke, a regular contributor to the fabulous Facebook group ‘You’re probably from Lichfield, Staffs if…..’. Frank found the mosaic under rotting floorboards when carrying out renovation work there in the 1970s. According to Frank, the mosaic was concreted over and may still be there to this day. Unfortunately, it seems that due to practicalities (involving concrete and money!) it’s unlikely we’ll ever know for sure.

What we do know though is that the Dolphin Inn once stood on the site, demolished in 1912 and replaced by the current building in 1913 by local builders JR Deacon to house the Walsall and District Co-operative Society Ltd Branch No.13. You can still see where the lettering for this ever so catchy name used to be, as shown in all its glory here, on the Staffs Past Track site. Burtons were the most recent occupiers, but they left in March this year, leaving the property empty. (1)

Built in 1913, this was once the Co-op, more recently Burtons.

According to John Shaw and his now legendary book, The Old Pubs of Lichfield, the Dolphin is first listed in 1818. However,after finding out that the original building on the site was timber framed, dating back to the 16th century, I was hoping to find out something about the building’s earlier uses. After reading the obituary of Rev John Kirk (d.1851),  it seems that prior to becoming an inn, the building had been occupied by a baker, with some of the upper rooms being used as a Roman Catholic chapel created in 1801.(2)

Rev Kirk had been the priest at the chapel at Pipe Hall from 1788 to 1793, where Catholics in Lichfield had previously worshipped. When this chapel was closed following the sale of the property to a non-Catholic he was asked to return to Lichfield as the resident priest at the new chapel. However, Kirk found the location and conditions far from ideal – the sanctuary was apparently directly above the baker’s oven and Kirk wasn’t happy about living in such close quarters with the baker and his family. By 1803, Rev Kirk had built a new chapel dedicated to St Peter and St Paul in Upper St John St.  Due to religious sensitivities, the chapel was originally designed to look like a dwelling house, but 1834 a turret and a new entrance was added, and the name changed to Holy Cross. The congregation was relatively small, but numbers were often boosted by those passing on their way to London and French Prisoners of War.

Holy Cross, Lichfield.
Source: Dennis Blenkinsopp (http://www.geograph.org.uk/profile/43370)

Back to the mosaic, which started all of this off! You would have to assume that its depiction of a dolphin is a reference to the name of the Inn. No great mystery there (although I would like to know why that particular name was chosen for a Lichfield pub!). What is more of a puzzle is how the mosaic came to be in the new building. Was it rescued during the demolition of the old one? Was it created to reference the history of the building that previously stood on the site? Or was the previous building not fully demolished, just significantly altered? I don’t know, and it seems probably never will.

I’m very grateful to Gareth Thomas for bringing the matter to the attention of the experts at Lichfield District Council, and also to the Civic Society for making enquiries as well. I think it’s great that members of the facebook group, the Civic Society, the council and even me have all been able to contribute to the discussion. This is how it should be, and I would like to see people working together more in the future, building on the great work that Gareth has done to bridge the gap between council and its residents, not least by making historic photographs and documents available through his own blog, and elsewhere.

I understand that talks are ongoing, however, the general feeling at present seems to be that without further evidence, the cost and disruption arising from trying to retrieve the mosaic (if indeed it has survived the last forty years) could not be justified. A shame, but for now it seems we shall have to let sleeping dolphins lie….unless anyone out there knows any more?

Edit 12/5/2013 Just reading about the opening of the Co-op. Apparently the builder, Councillor Deacon handed the chairman of the Co-op a walking stick made from one of the wooden beams of the old Dolphin Inn, which is quite a nice little addition to the story. No mention of a mosaic yet though 😉 

Notes

(1) Burtons previously had a branch on Market St, where you can still see the two foundation stones commemorating the opening by two of business founder Montague Burton’s sons. The post I did on this ages ago is here 

(2) So that takes us back to 1800-ish. Still three hundred years or so of the building’s history to account for though!

Sources:

Thanks to Frank Clarke for allowing me to share the story of his discovery here.

The Old Pubs of Lichfield, John Shaw

Catholic Staffordshire 1500 – 1850, M R Greenslade

The Gentlemans Magazine Volumes 191 – 192

Lichfield: Roman Catholicism and Protestant nonconformity’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 155-159

http://www.staffspasttrack.org.uk/

Heads Up

First it was the Burton’s foundation stones, then the cockerels and now two heads above Oxfam on Market St. Have I been walking around Lichfield with my eyes closed for the last 7 years?

I have discovered from the listed building description that the correct term is corbel heads. I’ve taken a close up of each of them.

Corbel head on left, looking at building

 

Corbel Head , on right looking at building

Information on these heads is pretty thin on the ground. The listed building description tells us that the building is late C16th, does this mean that the heads date back to this period too? I’m not quite sure whether the one on the right is supposed to be sad or asleep (or as someone on twitter suggested ‘three sheets to the wind’).  Do they represent some sort of  old joke or story or moral? The building was a pub from at least 1793 (first record) until it closed in 1962.

There is a photo of The Castle on the Staffs Pastrack website, taken in the early part of the C20th. One peculiar thing, although this might just be me, is that the head on the right doesn’t look the same.  I think on the old photo it looks like he has a beard but he looks like he’s had a shave since! On the subject of the old photo, what is that circular object between the pub windows, beneath the lamp? The thing that looks a bit like an anachronistic satellite dish.

It’s just occured to me as I’m typing this that I could pop in & ask in the Oxfam shop if anyone knows anything. Of course, if there are any corbel head experts out there,  please let me know your thoughts!

Sources:
Information on The Castle, taken from ‘The Old Pubs of Lichfield’ by John Shaw