Well Wishers

I’ve written previously about how the appearance (and apparently, the actual location!) of St Chad’s well has changed over the years here, but I’ve recently found some contemporary accounts of the well’s previous incarnation – a ‘vertical tube built of engineering bricks, covered with a kind of gloomy sentry-box of stone’, which had apparently become so neglected in the 1940s that only a few inches of stagnant water covered in a green scum remained in the bottom of the pool. (1)

In November 1946, the Bishop of Stafford lamented that the well had once been a place of great pilgrimage but had fallen into a state of neglect and considerable disrepair and in April 1948, E Sutton, a former caretaker of the well, described it as having degenerated into a wishing well. A few weeks later, Mr Sutton submitted a further letter to the Mercury, advising, ‘I have again visited the site and found it in a worse state than on my visit there last Autumn. Then boards covered the Well. These are now removed and the Well is full of rubbish, among brick-bats and wood being a worn out coal bag! I noticed too, among the bricks and stonework lying around in wild confusion the ancient ‘St Chad’s Stone’, which the historian Leland, writing of his visit to the Well some four hundred years ago, states was then believed to be the very stone upon St Chad stood in the icy water as an act of penance, it then being the bottom of the Well. When the small building was erected over the Well in Stuart times, this stone was incorporated into the building, no doubt in order to preserve it. Many hundreds of hands have been placed upon it, mostly with reverence, since. It now lies among the rubbish, one corner broken. A fitting symbol of the ideals of 1948!’ (2)

St Chads Well

St Chad’s Well today

Saint Chad's c.1915. Taken from Wikipedia

Saint Chad’s Well c.1915. Taken from Wikipedia

I’m intrigued by this reference to ‘the ancient St Chad’s stone’. When James Rawson described the site prior to his restoration in the 1830s, he noted that, ‘the well-basin had become filled up with mud and filth; and on top of this impurity a stone had been placed, which was described as the identical stone on which Saint Chad used to kneel and pray!’. Despite Rawson’s apparent scepticism about these claims, was he somehow persuaded to use this stone in his new well structure, thereby perpetuating the myth? I’d love to see what went on in those discussions and I’d really like to know what happened to this legendary stone. St Chad may not have been anywhere near it, but the fact that people believed he had should have made it worth saving for posterity’s sake.

Water in the well

Water in the well

Unfortunately for Mr Sutton, the restoration of the well did not put a stop to people using St Chad’s Well for wishes, as evidenced by the layer of coins that still glint beneath the water, tossed in at some point over the last half century or so. It’s often suggested that this is the continuation of a ritual that our ancestors were carrying out a long, long time before St Chad arrived in Lichfield. Some things change. Some stay the same.

Notes

(1) The octagonal stone well structure erected by Rawson in the 1830s, as described by the Lichfield Mercury on May 6th 1949!

(2) A little off topic, but it’s amusing to see that it’s not just nowadays that letters appear in the Lichfield Mercury suggesting that society is going to hell in a handcart. Once again, some things stay the same…

Pilgrims' Progress

In trying to find out more about the ferry that may have taken pilgrims across the water to the Cathedral, I came across an interesting description of what they may have found there on their arrival.

A document described as an ‘indenture chirograph’ (1), two feet five inches long and eleven inches wide, lists the goods found in the sacristy in 1345. A transcript of the original Latin is included in the ‘Collections for a History of Staffordshire 1886, Part II, Vol VI’, edited by the William Salt Society. Thankfully, there is also a translation alongside, so that I don’t have to fumble my way through using google translate! (2)

A tile and a simple portrait mark the place where Chad’s shrine once stood.

The first part of the inventory lists the various relics owned by the Cathedral, including of course those of Saint Chad. Chad died in 672AD and around 700AD his bones were moved to a new church, on or near to the site of the present Cathedral. It’s thought that the Lichfield Angel, discovered in 2003 whilst work was being carried out on the nave, may have been part of the original shrine, and that it may have been destroyed by Vikings. By the time the inventory was made in 1345, the holy bones seem to have been kept in several different places within the Cathedral. Chad’s skull was kept in the thirteenth century Saint Chad’s Head Chapel ‘in a painted wooden case’. The Cathedral website describes how initially pilgrims would ascend a staircase in the wall, walk around the head, and then exit down a second stairway which still exists today.

Staircase which pilgrims may have used to exit St Chad’s Head Chapel

An old photograph of St Chad’s Chapel

Eventually, due to the volume of traffic, one of the staircases was closed and the relic was shown to pilgrims from the balcony outside the chapel.  There is also mention of an arm of Blessed Chad, and other bones in a portable shrine, as well as the great shrine of St Chad. The latter was described as being decorated with statues and adorned with precious gifts and jewels and stood in the Lady Chapel of the Cathedral until the reformation. It’s believed that some of the Saint’s bones are now kept in the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St Chad’s in Birmingham, enshrined on 21 June 1841, the day that the Cathedral was consecrated. (3)

An old photo of the Lady Chapel

It wasn’t just the relics of Saint Chad that were owned by the Cathedral. Other items recorded in 1345 include:

Some of Mount Calvary and Golgotha, a piece of the rock standing upon which Jesus wept bitterly and wept over Jerusalem, some of the bones of the Eleven Thousand Virgins, part of the finger and cowl of St William, some of the bread of St Godric and some of the wood of the cross of St Peter

There were also said to be some of St Lawrence’s bones, part of his tomb and a piece of the gridiron he was executed on. (4) Interestingly, it’s said that at number 23, The Close, different coloured bricks have been used on the south wall to depict this this symbol of St Lawrence’s martyrdom. Since I read about this, I have a look every time I walk past, but as of yet, have not managed to spot it!

Statue of St Lawrence at the church named after him in Walton on Trent, which sits on the border between Staffordshire and Derbyshire

Saint Chad’s skull may be long gone but the pilgrims still come, and on certain occasions have their feet washed at the pedilavium, a medieval feature thought to be unique to Lichfield. There are also plenty of other heads to be found at Lichfield Cathedral. Some are scarred and defaced, whilst others have been restored. They are a reminder of the medieval craftsmen who created the church, those who tried to destroy it and those whose skills and labour restored Lichfield Cathedral to the mirabilis edificii that it is today (ok, I admit I used google translate for that one!).

The medieval pedilavium where pilgrims still sit to have their feet washed.

Notes:

1) I believe this refers to a document that would have been written in duplicate on the same piece of parchment, and then divided into two with a serrated edge, so that when both parts were brought back together and compared, you could be sure that each was genuine and not a forgery.

(2) A footnote says ‘This transcript and translation were originally undertaken for ‘The Journal of the Derbyshire Archaeological Society’, and are now reprinted after careful revision and correction. It was the joint work of W H St John Hope, FSA and the compiler of this catalogue’. Thanks very much folks!

(3) The relics of St Chad were apparently smuggled out of Lichfield after the reformation and eventually ended up in Birmingham, a journey of thirty miles that took 300 years! You can read more about that journey here. I don’t think anyone knows what happened to the other relics.

(4) In a nutshell the legend of St Lawrence is that he was a Deacon of Rome, and when asked by the Prefect of Rome to assemble the treasures of the church  for him,  he brought him the poor and suffering, stating it was they who were the true treasures of the church. The legend says he was executed by being roasted over a gridiron (but some say he was most likely beheaded).

Sources: 

Collections for a History of Staffordshire 1886, Part II, Vol VI’, edited by the William Salt Society

Lichfield Cathedral Website – http://www.lichfield-cathedral.org/History/the-gothic-cathedral.html

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

Deep and Meaningful

I mostly associate Stowe and Minster Pools with the ducks (or to be more precise the mallards, moorhens, coots, Canada geese, mute swans, and common pochards) that live on these waters. However, for the purposes of this post, it’s what has been found beneath the surface of the pools that I’m interested in.

Ducklings making their way over Stowe Pool last summer

Nesting on Stowe Pool, 2011

At a meeting of the Leicestershire Architectural Society in June 1858, the Rev J M Gresley produced a number of objects that had been discovered in the city’s pools, during the process of their conversion into reservoirs for the South Staffordshire Waterworks Company. As well as numerous cannon balls and shells, some of the other finds were described, including:

A small iron battle axe, seventeen inches in length

A spur singularly shaped of perhaps the last century

An ancient steel horse shoe by striking the holes for the nails several of which remain in them. The outer edge has a scalloped shape

Several narrow sharp pointed knives from 7 to 9 inches long of the sixteenth century. The shaft of one of them is of black bone inlaid with trefoils and ornaments of brass

A large clasp knife with buck’s horn haft twelve inches in length

Several keys of the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries and a small one of still older date

A piece of early English pottery perhaps of the twelfth or thirteenth century. It is of reddish and grey clay with a green glaze. The head and tail are broken off. It is hollow and has a large aperture at the breast but it does not look as if it could ever have been used as a jug or bottle The length of it is 6 inches

Fragment of the neck of a Flemish stone ware jug called a Greybeard or Bellarmine of the sixteenth or seventeenth century

Soles of shoes of the thirteenth or fourteenth century with small heels narrow instep broad across the ball of the foot and quite a sharp point at the toe

Soles of shoes of the fifteenth century much the same shape as the others but round at the toe

A leaden seal or bull of one of the Popes whose name is obliterated. Two rude faces upon the other side have over them S PA(ULUS) S PE(TRUS)

A number of brass counters commonly called Nuremburg tokens formerly used for making calculations…upon these tokens are various and interesting consisting of ornamental crosses, fleur de lis, heraldic bearings, ships, the globe surmounted by the cross. One was plainly an imitation of the silver pennies of Edward I and II but with pellats in place of the legend

Two leaden counters one of them with the letter K, the other apparently a saint’s head and glory about it

An angel of the seventeenth year of James I with a hole through it for suspension it having been given to a person when touched by the King for the evil. The reverse has a ship with the royal arms on the mainsail

Lichfield Coventry and Tamworth tokens of the seventeenth century

A considerable quantity of stags horns

Another discovery in Minster Pool led to a court case in 1896 between South Staffs water and a labourer named Sharman. This case is still quoted as an example in legal textbooks today. Sharman, the defendant, had been employed by the water company to clean the pool and in the course of this work found two gold rings. The court ruled that it was not a matter of finders keepers and ordered the rings to be handed over.

Whilst it seems reasonable to assume that the cannon balls and shells ended up in the pools after falling short of their intended targets during the civil war, how did these other objects end up in the water? Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find a description of the gold rings, not even a date range, and so for now we’ll have to imagine the stories behind them finding their way into Minster Pool!  Perhaps we could have a more educated guess at the origin of some of the other objects though? In the past, both pools were used as mill ponds, with tenters to dry cloth set up along the stream which fed into Stow Pool. There were also tanyards in the area and the site of the parchment works of Michael Johnson (bookseller and father of Samuel) was nearby, as can be seen on the 1781 Snape map of Lichfield (a wonderful, big-res version of the map can be found here on BrownhillsBob’s Brownhills Blog). Possibly related to these industries, the tenant of a skinhouse claimed the privilege to wash skins in Minster Pool.

Mill House, Dam St in the vicinity of the old mill

This ward banner in the Guildhall relates to Dam St, and I think it represents the mill between Minster and Stow Pool.

These objects have been lost and found once already, but where are they now? Is it possible to find them once again?

Edit: Philip just asked me about where the tanneries were, and in comparing the Snape map with Googlemaps, I found that in one of the spots marked as a tan yard on the former, there is a little road called the Tanyard (off Stowe St) on the latter!

Sources:

A survey by the Lichfield Wildlife Group in 2009, looking at the natural heritage of The Close http://www.staffs-wildlife.org.uk/files/documents/250.pdf

Thanks to Philip Mantom for drawing my attention to the legal case South Staffs Water Co v. Sharman (1896)

Smith and Keenan’s English Law Text and Cases 15th Edition – Denis Keenan

Transactions, Volume 1,  Leicestershire Architectural and Archaeological Society

Lichfield: Economic history’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield(1990), pp. 109-131