Midnight on the Hill

borrowcop

Borrowcop Hill is a place that doesn’t want to give up its secrets easily. What interests me about places like this is how gaps in our knowledge create a space where legends and folklore can grow unchecked. It’s not just a hill with a nice view. It’s the burial place of kings and martyrs, the site of Lichfield Castle.

to borrowcop gazebo

Stand at the summit and you’re standing at the highest point in Lichfield. Beacons have been lit here certainly for celebrations, possibly as warnings. The grammar school moved here from St John Street in 1903 and in 1971, merged with the adjacent Kings Hill secondary modern school to form the current King Edward VI School.  Interesting how the folklore was even referenced in the school name here. Another school on the site, the just as evocatively named Saxon Hill, was opened in 1979.

borrowcop sign

Christmas 1940

At last year’s Lichfield Discovered talk by Peter Young on Philip Larkin’s connections to the city, he told us that that whilst staying with relatives at Cherry Orchard in 1940, Larkin had written three poems. Only one, ‘Out in the Lane’, was published but all three were inspired by his temporary surroundings. Peter believes the arched field of ‘Christmas 1940’ refers to Borrowcop Hill. I’ve reproduced it here from a folio collated by The Philip Larkin Society for their celebration of his birthday in August 2001. I hope they don’t mind, but I can’t find it anywhere else!

The name ‘Borrowcop’ does hint that there was once something here. Its earliest written forms, Burwey or Burwhay, feature the Old English element ‘burh’,  suggesting a fortified place (1).  Whilst there are vague reports of Erasmus Darwin recovering bits of burnt bone from somewhere up here, according to the Heritage Environment Report, ‘more recent excavations have so far failed to recover any evidence for human activity’. Well, I went up there on Sunday and I found this:

borrowcop chair

And this:

"The bubbles up your nose, spill on your summer clothes"

“The bubbles up your nose, spill on your summer clothes”

And this:

borrowcop graffiti

Plenty of human activity in what Five Spires Live , the Lichfield satirist who also doesn’t give up his secrets easily, yesterday described as  “… the perfect setting for bit of Larkin”. See, as much as I like legends, I also like the real.  I like layers of history that celebrate everything a place is and not just what we want it to be. The way our own memories of a place form our own folklores. The title for this post is one I’ve appropriated from one of my favourite songs by one of my favourite bands. It’s summer nights, it’s cheap cider (or ‘energy and guava’, if you’d rather), it’s messing about with your mates in a space maintained by the council because you’ve nowhere else to go. It’s perfect. Borrowcop or not, we’ve all been there. And like it or not, that’s as much a part of history as those kings and castles are.

1) A Survey and Analysis of the Place-Names of Staffordshire’ by David Horovitz, https://lichfieldlore.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/397633_vol1.pdf

Night at ye Museum

Until further notice, entry to Lichfield Museum (formerly known as the Heritage Centre) at St Mary’s in the Market Square is free of charge! On hearing this, I thought I’d find out a little more about one of its predecessors and set off to find Mr Greene’s Museum, at 12 Sadler Street.

The site of Richard Greene's house and museum, Market St, Lichfield

The site of Richard Greene’s house and museum, Market St, Lichfield

Sadler Street is now of course Market Street, and the only trace of Lichfield’s late eighteenth century ‘Museum of Curiosities’ is a plaque attached to a wall at the entrance to the City Arcade.

Richard Greene Museum Plaque

To give us an idea of what this museum was like there are some drawings here on the Staffordshire Past Track site and ‘A Descriptive Catalogue of the Rarities, in Mr Greene’s Museum at Lichfield’ (1), is available here via googlebooks. Highlights for me include my old favourite, ‘the Earthen Vessel found (with several others of smaller size) in the Walls of the late Conventual Church of Fair-well near Lichfield, at the time it was taken down in order to be rebuilt’, and also, ‘Part of the Porch, under which stood Lord Brooke General of the Parliament forces, when he receiv’d a mortal wound in his forehead, by some shot from the Battlements of the great Steeple of the Cathedral Church of Lichfield, the force of which was abated by the bullets passing through the above piece of Board’. Perhaps it was ownership of this bit of legendary Lichfield history which inspired Mr Greene to commission the plaque outside 24 Dam Street, better known as Brooke House? (2)

Photograph of plaque commemorating the death of Parliamentary general Lord Brooke in Lichfield in March 1643. Photograph by JRPG, taken from Wikipedia

Photograph of plaque commemorating the death of Parliamentary general Lord Brooke in Lichfield in March 1643. Photograph by JRPG, taken from Wikipedia

I’d also like to have seen the ‘small Leaden box, in which is contained some Relicks, and Silver Lace, found in an ancient Leaden Coffin in the Cathedral Church of Lichfield 1748’, but there may be those who would be more interested in the Horn of the Sea Unicorn, five feet and six inches long or even the balls of hair found in the stomach of a cow. Each to their own.

One of the most famous exhibits was a Musical Altar Clock. These days ‘The Lichfield Clock’, as it is now known, can be found at the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath, but what happened to the other objects from the museum?  After Greene died in 1793, the collection was sold by his son to various collectors. Some of it was bought back to Lichfield by his grandson, Richard Wright, and displayed in a new museum in the Cathedral Close, which then moved to a property in the north of Dam Street (2). When Wright died in 1821, the collection was broken up again. Given the unique nature of some of the items, I reckon that it might be possible to track these down with a bit of googling? I understand that some of the collection did remain here in Lichfield, and may in the current museum at St Mary’s. Let’s hope that if nothing else we managed to hold onto the head of a pike which weighed forty pounds, taken at Burton on Trent.

Free Entrance!

Free Entrance!

Joking apart, the museum played an important role in the West Midlands enlightenment of the late eighteenth century. According to the Revolutionary Players website,  ‘By contemporary museum standards of collection and display, Greene was an eccentric antiquarian, but he provided a window on the world for those who were enthusiastically investigating, accumulating and classifying knowledge’.

As far as I can tell, Lichfield’s window on the world was closed until 1859, when a new museum was opened at the edge of what is now Beacon Park….but that’s a visit we’ll keep for another day.

Floodlit Lichfield Museum and Free Library, Jubilee Celebrations 1936. Taken from Lichfield Mercury archive.

Floodlit Lichfield Museum and Free Library in Beacon Park, during Jubilee Celebrations 1935. Taken from Lichfield Mercury archive.

(1) A copy of which was lent to me recently – thank you Patti!

(2) Does anyone know where on Dam Street exactly?

Sources

Lichfield: Social and cultural activities’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 159-170.

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

http://www.revolutionaryplayers.org.uk/

http://www.birminghampost.co.uk/lifestyle/nostalgia/chris-upton-looks-back-lichfields-4027881

http://www.birminghampost.co.uk/lifestyle/nostalgia/crucifixion-clock-lichfield-museums-star-4053561