Cell Mates

The Lichfield Discovered gang will be back at the old Gaol Cells at Lichfield Guildhall this coming Saturday (21st February 2015) between 2pm and 4pm, to resume our quest to record the graffiti left behind by prisoners. There’s plenty of it, but we’re up against the ravages of time and liberal applications of varnish. We did manage to pick up one definite name on our last visit. John Lafferty who, judging by the reports in the Lichfield Mercury, appears to have been a serial offender from Sandford St in the late nineteenth century, scratched his name into one of the cell doors along with the words ‘7 days’, presumably the length of his stay…on that occasion.

Gaol Graffiti 1

Lafferty graffiti

The cells officially reopen to the public in April, and will then be open every Saturday between 10am and 4pm until September.  Since 2012, over 7,000 people have visited and in order to continue to be able to give people access to this part of Lichfield’s history, Joanne Wilson, the city’s Museum and Heritage Officer, is recruiting a team of volunteers to welcome visitors to the cells, keep a record of visitor numbers, answer questions and provide information. You don’t need any previous experience just an interest in heritage, enthusiasm and the ability to smile when you hear, ‘You’re not going to lock us in, are you?’ for the twenty-seventh time that day. Each volunteer session usually lasts around three hours, but dates and times are flexible and you can do as much or as little as you are able to. It’s a great opportunity to get involved in the city’s history and to share it with all kinds of people – I volunteered a couple of years ago and welcomed local people, wedding guests, day trippers, and even someone who’d worked at the Guildhall for years without realising what was behind the red door at the end of the corridor.

Fifty shades of varnish

If you would like to know more about volunteering, please contact Joanne on 01543 264 972 or via email at sjmuseum@lichfield.gov.uk. Alternatively, pop into the Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum on Breadmarket St. You are also very welcome to join us on Saturday. And yes, we promise not to lock you in.

 

Ooh La La

When old buildings at the back of the Bolton Warehouse Company’s shop on Bird St (1) were being demolished in December 1960, a large circular room containing murals created with shells and pebbles, was found above a ceiling. One mural depicted the Cathedral, another a tree and the third was some kind of summerhouse on top of a hill (2).

The murals are thought to have been created by French prisoners of war, on parole in the city.  According to the County History, Lichfield had long been used as a place to quarter French prisoners, due to its position on a main road (and I have also read that it had something to do with us being about as far from the sea as you can get!).  On 7th January 1747, the Staffordshire Advertiser reported that a party of seventy four passed through Stafford on their way to Lichfield, where they were to be put on parole. It also mentioned a house on Bore St, where there was a cooper’s shop at the back used by prisoners (3). Eighty arrived in Lichfield in 1797 during the Napolenic Wars and in 1809, forty officers were quartered here. It seems that Dr Johnson’s birthplace was also occupied by a prisoner –  in The European Magazine for 1810, a contributor called ‘TSW’ wrote, “The house in the market place in which our great lexicographer born still remains nearly in its original state. It is now inhabited by Mr Evans a brazier and a part of it, believed to be the very room in which he first drew his breath is now let to a French prisoner of war”. According to their website, Pipe Hill House on the Walsall Rd also hosted some of the prisoners.

As well as spending their time creating enigmatic artworks, some of the prisoners gave French lessons to the city’s residents.  If the fragment of a page of French exercises, found in the same room as the Bird St mural was discovered, is anything to go by, the teachers had their work cut out. The sentences on the fragment of paper had been heavily corrected, with the comment ‘very bad’ at the end! Perhaps the Darwin and Wedgewood children who were taught French by one of the prisoners at Darwin’s house on Beacon St were better students?

The old clinic on Sandford St? Is it me or can anyone else see numbers in the brick work on the second storey?

In September 1951, the author of the ‘Round and About with Clock Tower” section of the Lichfield Mercury visited the site of the mural accompanied by the caretaker, Mrs Disney, and reported that the ‘pictures’ were still in existence in the dome-like roof of a derelict outbuilding behind the Sandford St Clinic (4). One side featured ‘a perfect replica of Lichfield Cathedral, made entirely from small stones, bits of glass and sea shells’  and other pictures included a ‘mosque-like building’, (which the reporter failed to recognise (5)), several ‘beautifully executed trees’ and a map of Lichfield. The outbuilding was in a poor condition, described as being encased in a mass of creepers, with two gaping holes in the roof. There was also a large hole in the floor, and as if things weren’t exciting enough already, Mrs Disney told the reporter that there were two passages running beneath the hole – one leading to the rear of the property and one believed to connect with the old ‘monk’s passages’ beneath the Friary.

Box made by French Prisoners of War (c) Lichfield District Council

Sadly, I think that this ‘Disney’ story doesn’t have a happy ending as the outbuilding was been demolished and the treasures inside lost (although there is the possibility that as the murals were still in existence in the 1950s/1960s someone may have been foresighted enough to photograph them?). However, there is a small consolation at Lichfield Heritage Centre in the form of a wooden box carved by French prisoners quartered in the area.

Edit 18/6/2015
A display at Lichfield Museum at St Mary’s features a photograph and a chunk of the mural together with the wooden box and some information about the soldiers themselves. St Mary’s is also staging a costume drama called ‘Lichfield’s Waterloo’ by the Lichfield Players on Friday 26th June and Saturday 27th June. More information here

Notes

(1) Does anyone have anymore information on the Bolton Warehouse Company’s shop, particularly where it was on Bird St?

(2) Could this have been a representation of Borrowcop Gazebo? The PMSA record (here) says ‘In 1694 a building called ‘the Temple’, probably stood on Borrow Cop Hill, in the 1720s an arbour was recorded, by 1750 this replaced by a summerhouse which may have been the cruciform building there in 1776. In 1756 the corporation ordered a line of trees along the path to the summit, with extra trees in 1783, possibly in connection with a fete champetre held in that year. By 1805 the building was replaced with one of brick with two arches each side and seats around to admire the view, the funds were raised by public subscription’. On the subject of Borrowcop, I just found at that an information board was installed up there in September (more about that here).

(3) Again, where would this have been?

(4) I understand that the clinic occupied the former premises of the Victoria Nursing Home which was on Sandford St until it moved to the Friary and became the Victoria Hospital.

(5) Any ideas as to what building this could be depicting?

Sources

Lichfield and Archaeological & Historical Society Transactions vol 2 1961

Lichfield: Education’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 170-184

Lichfield: From the Reformation to c.1800′, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 14-24

The European Magazine for 1810

Lichfield Mercury 21st September 1951

Battle Ground

One Lichfield place name I’ve always been curious about is Bunker’s Hill. Most people will probably know the name from the car parkin between Lower Sandford Street and the football pitches at Beacon Park, but how did it come about?

Looking towards Bunker’s Hill car park, Beacon Park

According to Howard Clayton’s ‘Loyal and Ancient City’, it’s recorded that during the Civil War, parliamentarian leader Sir William Brereton erected a mount, described by the VCH as a raised defensive position, in the Sandford Street area.  Mr Clayton suggests that the mound known as Bunkers Hill could be the location and in John Shaw’s ‘The Street Names of Lichfield’, the author suggests that the name derives from these earthworks. I’d be really interested to know if there are any relevant archaeology finds from this area of the park. I wanted to see if I could find any more information about the site. I knew that in the 1800s there had been a farm around here and also one of the old lodges to Beacon Place, the mansion which once stood on what is now Seckham Rd (demolished in the 1960s). The original Walsall Rd must have passed nearby too, before the route was altered in 1837. Records show that there were six cottages here by 1883.  In 1901, Mr George Watts, a bricklayer and his family lived in one of those cottages – 5, Bunker’s Hill. By 1916, youngest son Albert was serving in the Motor Transport Section of the ASC and had an account of his experiences in France published by the Lichfield Mercury. He described his first experience of being under fire as ‘terrifying’, but said that one got used to it. After being taken ill, he acted as a clerk in a convalescent home where one of his jobs was writing out ‘Blighty” tickets. How hard it must have been for him that he wasn’t able to write one out for himself. I wonder if he did make it home to Lichfield?  Nowadays, the area has changed considerably. The lodge and farm are long gone, although there is a water tap which seems to correspond with the site of a pump on OS maps. I wonder if this was originally a community pump for those living in the cottages? I haven’t found much else on Lichfield’s Bunker’s Hill specifically, other than in September 1905, Lichfield City Council’s Streets and Highways Committee discussed a proposal to have it enclosed. In the end, it seems that they decided to have Bunker’s Hill levelled and sown with grass seed. However, whilst searching I have found references to other ‘Bunkers Hills’. In his book on Worcestershire place names, local historian and etymologist William Henry Duignan of Walsall wrote that ‘There are numerous ‘Bunkers Hills’ throughout the kingdom, but having met with no early forms, I conclude that it is a mere fancy name conferred after the victory at Bunkers Hill, US in 1775.’. A good example are the cottages at Bottesford in Leicestershire, which were named ‘Bunkers Hill’ after this battle. It’s also interesting that the 38th Regiment of Foot, raised by Col. Luke Lillingston at the Kings Head in Lichfield in 1705, fought at this battle. So, Bunkers Hill may have got its name from the English Civil War, but could there be an outside chance that it may instead relate to the American War of Independence? Perhaps it refers to something else altogether! Any thoughts? Notes 1 – I’ve seen the name spelt with an apostrophe and without Sources Lichfield: From the Reformation to c.1800, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 14-24. Loyal and Ancient City by Howard Clayton The Street Names of Lichfield by John Shaw

Business Study

I spent the morning with Dave and Angie Gallagher, who are doing a brilliant job of taking the ever growing collection of old photographs out and about into the city, encouraging people to share their stories and memories about Lichfield. I had a great time listening to people reminisce about how Lichfield used to be in days gone by and it’s put me well and truly in the mood to share more of Mr JW Jackson’s memories of the city’s shops and trades back when he was a young boy in the 1870s.

For obvious reasons, I thought this shop, now a bookies, might be Mr Welch’s fish and poultry shop?

Mr Jackson’s article begins with Sedgewick’s fried fish shop in Tamworth St, selling oysters, cockles, mussels, periwinkles, shrimps, bloaters and kippers. He also recalls H Welch’s fishmonger and poulterer’s business opening some years later on Tamworth St (Mr Jackson’s article was written in 1945 and he mentions that at that time Welch’s shop had been rebuilt as a ladies’ hair dressing saloon). Another fish shop was owned by James Clarke on Sandford St, and Mr Jackson recalls Mr Clarke with a ‘large, deep, circular basket suspended with a strap round his neck, filled with fried fish or oysters, shrimps and shellfish or at other times nuts and oranges, of which he found a ready sale in the public houses’. In his spare time, Mr Clarke was a groundsman and umpire for the Cricket Club on the Birmingham Rd.

The corner of Beacon St and Shaw Lane

Mr Jackson says that there were a large number of greengrocers in Lichfield, including Elkingston’s in Tamworth St (Wigham’s in 1945) and Tanner’s in Bird St (Perks’ Store in 1945). Adjoining Moss’s Entry on Bird St was Mr Walker’s grocery shop, and further down the road near to the King’s Head was Mr James’s grocers. On the corner of Shaw Lane and Beacon St was another grocers, a step below the pavement and old fashioned in appearance. Originally owned by Mr Hall, it was taken over by a Mr Warmington who rebuilt the old shop and added a bakery. Also on Beacon Street was Mrs Hague’s shop which apparently sold everything from ‘a needle to a sack of flour, including bread, sweets, etc’. The grocery business of old Dan Millington on Stowe Street, was particularly memorable due to the many tallow candles suspended from the ceiling.

Moss’s Entry, leading to Friars Alley is now between Green T and Lichfield Kebab shop.

Apparently, back in the 1870s, few people in Lichfield bought ready made shoes, preferring made to order footwear from places like Heath’s in Conduit St and Playfer’s in Market St (1). Mr Jackson remembers being measured for his own boots by Mr Brockhouse of Beacon St,  who lived in a small cottage opposite St Chad’s Rectory. Mr Hodges at the bottom of Beacon Hill (near Gaia Lane) had a shop which did ‘a large better class trade in boots and shoes made by himself on the premises’. Mr Jackson says there were also many cobblers who concentrated on repairs, including Tommy Lyons who lived in a small cottage in Gaia Lane and was described as a very religious man who could often be seen making his way to a meeting with his old well worn Bible.

I’m thinking we should all take a leaf out of Mr Jackson’s book and document our surroundings. This morning showed that the places we live and work in are continually evolving and it’s not until we stop and look back that we realise how much has changed (for better or for worse, depending on your point of view……).

Notes:

I found a photo of a shop called ‘Shakeshaft and Playfer’ on Market St, Lichfield thought to be from the 1860s on Staffs Past Track here. Is this the same Playfer? After zooming in it seems to be a men’s accessories shop – I can see ties and what look like straw boaters in the window! Also after zooming in, you can see the faces of three young people at the window, looking out onto the funeral procession below. I wonder whose funeral it was? Edit: Later, I found that Shakeshaft and Playfer were also undertakers, and arranged the 1894 funeral of George Fox of Elmhurst Hall amongst others, which would explain the photograph!

Sources:

Old Lichfield Trades and Tradesmen, J W Jackson, Lichfield Mercury, April 6th 1945

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

A Lichfield Tragedy

Years ago, when I first moved to Lichfield, I went on the ghost tour around the city. One of the stories we were told was that of a Catholic family who died in a fire at their home on Breadmarket St. There was apparently an issue regarding burial because of their religion and, unsurprisingly given the nature of the tour, it was said by some that their presence was still felt at the building in some way.  Recently, this story came up again when I was chatting to a colleague. A book about ghosts happened to be nearby and caused our conversation to turn to the supernatural. The colleague in question mentioned the story, wondering if there was any truth in it.

I searched the newspaper archive, and found that the story was essentially true.  I’m not going to transcribe it, as I personally think it’s too graphic and upsetting. However,the facts are that in January 1873 there was a fire at the Breadmarket Street premises of a Lichfield clock and watch maker. Three generations of a family lost their lives and their bodies were laid out on the pavement before being taken to the Guildhall where a Catholic Priest read the burial rites. The family were then taken directly to the graveyard at St Michaels where the Rev J Sejeantson carried out a burial service – they were not taken inside the church. There are reports that no rescue effort had been made, as initially it was thought that the family has already escaped.  The Mercury reports that everyone was at a loss what to do. According to the County History, it was this tragedy that led to the council taking over the responsibility for fire fighting in the city, buying an engine and establishing a brigade, with a building in Sandford Street being used as a fire station.

I am interested in the question as to whether there is any value in ghost stories beyond the obvious ‘entertainment factor’. The mention of ghosts and haunted places can cause the rolling of eyes and mutterings of, ‘There’s no such thing’. Perhaps there’s not, but does that mean that these stories have no interest for us?  If we look beyond the shadowy figures and disembodied footsteps in such tales, can we find something real? Does telling these stories in this way ensure that otherwise forgotten people and events are remembered or is it just an excuse to be ghoulish?

 

Trading Places

In June 1945, local historican Mr Jackson contributed an article to the Lichfield Mercury in which he shared his memories of the shops and businesses that surrounded him as a young boy growing up in the city during the 1870s. I’ve summarised the article below so settle yourself down with a bottle of herb beer and a bag of toffee nobs and have a read!

In Breadmarket St, Mr Bartlam had a tinsmith business and Mr Marshall ran a dairy in the premises next to the old watchmakers and jewellers owned by Mr Corfield. Mr Corfield’s shop burnt down in 1872 – a tragedy that resulted in the entire Corfield family losing their lives (1). In 1872 there were three breweries – Griffith’s, the Lichfield Brewery Co. and Smith’s on Beacon St (the City Brewery and the Trent Valley Brewery came later). Mounsden and Sons was a wine and spirit business, according to Mr Jackson, one of the oldest in the city. There was Mr Nicholls, a photographer who also had a fancy goods shop on the site of what was to become the Regal Cinema (but has since been the Kwik Save and a nightclub, with plans to turn it back into the Regal Cinema again!).

Regal Cinema Lichfield. Late 1960s? Taken from Gareth Thomas’s Pinterest site http://pinterest.com/FieldOfTheDead/old-photos-lichfield/

A little shop in Tamworth St was kept by the Misses Wilcox who sold fancy goods and toys. Mr Jackson remembers that the shop was well below the pavement (why would this be?) and stocked everything from pins to rocking horses! He recalls buying yards of elastic for making catapults, along with marbles, tops and hoops.

Mr Young, a whitesmith, lived in the old Frog Lane School House and his workshop was in the same street. There were several ironmongers including Mr Crosskey on Market St, Sheriff of Lichfield in 1863 and Mayor in 1868. Next to the old Victoria Nursing Home at 15 Sandford St was Mr Tricklebank’s tin-ware business.

On Market St, was Mr Caldwell’s hardware business (Frisby’s Boot and Shoe store in 1945).  Over on Church St, Mr Platt made rope, twine and string (Mr Jackson believes he was the only one in the district at the time) and C W Bailey had an agricultural implement depot.  Blacksmiths were in demand – Gallimore on Lombard St, Mr Salt on Sandford St, Mr Sandland on Beacon St (later taken over by Mr Goodwin who, as you may remember from a previous post featuring Mr Jackson’s memories of Beacon St, was said to have shod a dancing bear).  Apparently, the smithy on Beacon St was the oldest in the city, dating back to the mid 1800s.

I believe that this building on Lombard St was once a blacksmith’s forge.

Wheel wrights producing traps, carts and wagons and well as the wheels to put on them could be found on Church St (Mr Davis) and Beacon Hill (Mr Horton).

This advert for John Simms shows that at some point the business moved to Church St. Image taken from Gareth Thomas’s http://pinterest.com/FieldOfTheDead/

John Simms had his mineral water works on Stowe St opposite St Chad’s School, and Mr Jackson remembers that when he was a pupil at this school in 1869, nearly every other cottage in Stowe St sold bottles of home made herb beer during the summer (was this actual proper beer or more like the ginger beer of Enid Blyton books?). Perhaps of even more interest for the little ones were the sweet shops – ‘Suckey’ Blakeman and ‘Suckey’ Perry in Market St and Mr Giles on Gresley Row with his ‘super’ toffee nobs.  When Mr Jackson moved up to the Minors School on the corner of St John St and Bore St, he recalls taking it in turns with his fellow students to fetch not just mere ‘super’ but ‘luxury’ toffee nobs from Miss Hicken’s (and later Miss Hobby’s) shop in St John St opposite the back entrance to the school.

Cities are constantly changing places. Even though my Lichfield memories only stretch back as far as the beginning of the 21st century (with the exception of one family day trip to Beacon Park in the 1980s) a lot has changed even in that short space of time with shops and businesses coming and, as is all too often the case these days, going. Just last week the Greenhill Chippy shut. A couple of years ago my friend and I were heading to the Duke of York when we got talking to a man who was passing through Lichfield on a long journey he was undertaking on foot. He didn’t explain why, and for some reason it didn’t seem right to ask him. He hadn’t any money and didn’t ask for any, but did accept a portion of chips from the Greenhill fish shop. I often think of him, and what his story may have been when passing by there. Anyway, my point is that places have memories attached to them and I think it’s important to record them, just as Mr Jackson did. There’s some great stuff being shared on the Lichfield Facebook group and some wonderful old photos on Gareth Thomas’s blog. For a much more in depth look at the shops and businesses of Lichfield, I know that there is a great book “Trades of a City: Lichfield Shops and Residents from 1850” by JP Gallagher, (although having only borrowed copies, if anyone can point me in the direction of where to purchase my own, I’d be grateful!). I think it would be brilliant to do some walks where instead of being led by a guide, people have a stroll around the streets together sharing memories and stories with each other. Until then, if anyone can identify any of the locations in Mr Jackson’s reminisces please let me know!

(1) This is a sad but interesting story in itself and I will cover it in a separate post.

Source: Lichfield Mercury 8th June 1945

Refusing to Bough Down

I didn’t spend as long as I normally do at the Bower yesterday, but I did wander around the busy streets, catching the end of the procession on Dam St, and I was glad to hear that the day had been a success. Something that I’ve always been interested in is the traditions associated with the event and today I found an interesting story from the 1950s about one of those customs.

At dawn on Bower Day in 1952, some of the male residents of Lower Sandford St were gathering elm branches near to Beacon Farm, on the edge of what is now Beacon Park. Apparently every year, for as long as anyone could remember, the boughs had been cut from the trees and used to decorate the houses in ‘Old San’ as the street was known. However, as the men gathered the boughs, a police officer arrived and instructed them to stop, on the orders of the Town Clerk and the Estates Committee of the City Council, as it had been reported that in previous years the trees had been damaged.

The residents of ‘Old San’ were angry that their ancient privilege was being threatened and sent a message back to the Town Clerk and the Mayor, Cllr. C Bridgeman, that if no further boughs were allowed to be cut, then those that had already been collected would be used to barricade Sandford St and prevent the Bower Procession from entering. As tensions rose, the Town Clerk and the Mayor arrived at the scene and gave their permission for residents to continue collecting boughs, providing that no trees were damaged in the process. The boughs were then used to decorate the houses of old Sandford St along with bunting, balloons and slogans, with prizes awarded for the best decorated properties.  One lady, born in Sandford Street in the late nineteenth century, told the reporter that when she was younger the boughs had been taken from the old brook near the Bowling Green Inn. In her opinion,  “When ‘Old San’ finishes, so has the Bower”.

What’s also interesting is that the incident seemed to awaken a fighting spirit within Sandford St. At the start of June, a committee was formed following a outdoor meeting held on some waste ground in the street. With Mr Frank Halfpenny, the former City and County Councillor, as chair, the committee asked Lichfield City Council to address not only the issues that had arisen during Bower Day, but also other matters affecting them. The wanted Sandford Street to be regularly swept and cleaned, the sites owned by the council on the street, described as being in a ‘neglected and disgraceful condition’ to be ‘cleaned up, fenced in and, at the earliest possible opportunity, built on’ and recreation facilities, such as a playground to be provided in the park. The committee also planned to organise the street’s coronation celebrations for the following year, and to send parcels to local men serving in the forces.

I usually watch the Bower procession from outside the Police Mutual on Queen St, not far from Sandford St. As far as I know, the houses are no longer decorated and I’d be interested to know more about this tradition and the Sandford Street community, who clearly had their own strong identity within the city.

Source:

Lichfield Mercury Archive