On the Rocks

Lichfield is about as far as you can get from the sea. Somebody once wrote to the Guardian to say there was a plaque somewhere in the city making this claim but I’ve never seen it. However, being stuck in the middle of the country has not prevented the formation of the Lichfield Lighthouse Company, a group who meet at the Kings Head to sing sea shanties each month. It also didn’t stop me from heading out to look for shells in the city centre yesterday.

I’d read about the London Pavement Geology project over breakfast and I persuaded the other half to put his geology degree to good use and help me find out what Lichfield is made of, other than the ubiquitous sandstone (lovely though it is).

Lichfield Cathedral on Martyrs Plaque, Beacon Park

Lichfield Cathedral on Martyrs Plaque made from sandstone

Our first port of call was another of landlocked Lichfield’s nautical links. Unless you live under a rock, you’ll probably be familiar with Beacon Park’s statue of Captain Smith which someone from Hanley in Stoke on Trent tries to appropriate whenever there’s a new chapter in the Titanic story, due to the mistaken belief that the statue was originally intended for their town. On this occasion, it wasn’t the bronze captain but the plinth he was stood on that interested me. The nearby plaque told me it was Cornish Granite, a material which has also been used at the Titanic Memorial in London and the memorial at Belfast. I wonder whether there are any symbolic reasons for choosing this stone alongside the practical and aesthetic ones?

Captain Smith plaque, Beacon Park

Captain Smith plaque, Beacon Park

Not far from the Captain, King Edward VII stands on a base made of Hopton Wood stone. Get up close and you can see that the limestone is full of fossils including (and please correct me if I’m wrong) corals, crinoids and brachiopods from around 350 million years ago when the area that was to eventually become Derbyshire was under water. Lichfield wasn’t always so far from the sea!  It seems a similar stone has been used for the plinth Samuel Johnson sits on in the Market Square, as that too is full of fossils.

Samuel Johnson statue, Market Square, Lichfield

Samuel Johnson statue, Market Square, Lichfield

Fossils in Dr Johnson statue Fossils in Dr Johnson statue 2Of all the building materials we saw on our travels, the most unusual were to be found in a wall on Christchurch Lane. According to a booklet on the history of Leomansley compiled by the Friends of Christ Church, it was built by Cloggie Smith who used anything suitable that he had in his yard at the time. So, no Portland Stone here, just two Belfast Sinks. Are there any other examples of unorthodox construction materials used in and around the city?

Wall mounted Belfast sink

Wall mounted Belfast sink

You’ve probably guessed that I am way out of my depth when talking about geology, but the point is that after eleven years, seven months and two days here in Lichfield, someone made me look afresh at things so familiar that I barely saw them any more. Sometimes, the most amazing things are right under your nose. Or, in this case, under Dr Johnson’s and King Edward VII’s noses.

11894032_818906104889274_1449376816726442835_o

King Edward VII statue Lichfield Fossils in King Edward VII statue Lichfield

 

Statuesque

Walking home last Monday I took a detour past the Cathedral to have another look for the remaining five original, medieval statues.  I was pretty sure that I’d found two on the northwest tower –  one nameless woman next to Eve and another to the left of Deborah. The Victorian statues tend to have names on their pedestals. There’s an old photograph of the western front of the Cathedral pre-restoration on the English Heritage Viewfinder website, which you can see here. It shows the front looking strangely bare – above the row of kings only the niches containing the few remaining original statues are filled.

Medieval statue?, Deborah, Rachel, Rebekah, Sarah, Medieval statue?, Eve

According to a comment someone left on here, there are other statues on the other side of the north west tower. Unfortunately, my timing wasn’t great as someone was cutting the grass alongside the tower and a Midlands Today van had not long pulled up nearby and were making preparations to film (I later found out they were there to cover the Olympic Torch route story). As I didn’t fancy making a cameo appearance, dodging the mower in the background of a news report, I took a hasty few photos of the tower and carried on around the back of the Cathedral.  Stupidly, I didn’t check them before I got home and it’s not easy to make out much.  Another trip is in order….

Affix quality control sticker here

The medieval statue hunt continued as I walked around, in case one had sneaked in somewhere other than the northwest tower. I found Christopher Wren, Elias Ashmole and Dr Johnson amongst others along the way.

“The world is not yet exhausted; let me see something tomorrow which I never saw before” said Dr Johnson.

Most of the statues are accompanied by something symbolic – Johnson of course has his dictionary.  It’s the same for the kings (e.g. William the Conqueror holds the Domesday Book) and the biblical characters (I knew nothing about Deborah, but according to wikipedia she was a prophet and a judge and delivered her verdicts near a palm tree which explains why there’s one behind her statue).  I was wondering about Eve? Surely that’s an apple near her foot but what is she holding in her hand?  Imagine if you someone was to create a statue of you and they had to sum up your life with an object or two!

Image taken from Wikipedia

Just past Dr Johnson and his big, papery thing is another statue.  She has no name and as far as I can see there is no clue to her identity. I’m speculating, but is this one of the many statues destroyed or defaced by the parliamentary troops during the Civil War?   Most of the other damaged statues were removed – where did they end up I wonder? I came across some great photos of a figure of Christ on Aidan McRae Thomson’s flickrstream at a church in Swynnerton, Staffordshire together with an interesting theory that the statue originated from Lichfield Cathedral. If anyone else has any theories or even evidence of where the statues ended up, I’d love to hear them!

I have to confess that for me, sometimes the Cathedral is just there, part of the scenery as I go about the city. However, there are other times when, either by chance (catching the light a certain way) or by design (medieval statue hunting), the Cathedral commands my full attention and once again, I am reminded of what an incredible building this is, and the skill and talent of the craftspeople who made it so.

Hollow within a holloway

Like its neighbour Abnalls Lane, Cross in Hand Lane is (at least in parts) a holloway. As mentioned before, Cross in Hand used to be the main road to Stafford. I understand from reading information on the Two Saints Way project that it would also would have been one of the last stages of the pilgrimage route between Chester and Lichfield. According to Thomas Harwood it was also where the Sheriff’s Ride (the next one coming up soon on 10th September) used to begin and finish. So, that’s what I do know.

Now for what I don’t know…..

This ‘cave’ can be found by walking about 200m up Cross in Hand Lane from the A51. It’s on the right hand side, opposite a lovely white cottage.  I first read about it in Cuthbert Brown’s Lichfield Remembered, but he doesn’t know what it is either! Is it somewhere stone has been extracted from? A natural feature? Anyone have any ideas?

Edit 25 minutes later!
It is natural. Brownhills Bob tells me via Twitter that it is a water fissure where softer rock has been washed out. So thank you to him, mystery solved 🙂

The Tombstone at Lichfield Library

I may be wrong but I’m assuming that there aren’t many libraries which have a 14th century tombstone embedded in their wall. I couldn’t quite believe that Lichfield library did either and so after watching the Queen travel up Bird St to the Cathedral, it was time for the really exciting part of yesterday to commence! Sorry Ma’am.

I was reading a copy of ‘Hyacinths and Haricot Beans: Friary School Memories’ by Jean Bird.  The book tells of a slab from a tomb found during renovations in 1926 being incorporated in the Friary building itself, which of course housed the school prior to its move to Eastern Avenue.

Checking the site’s listed building description confirmed this:

“…window to right of entrance has ex-situ gravestone of C14 or earlier below: calvary cross fleury and worn inscription to Richard the Merchant, found in 1746”

Another fairly recent reference was the Public Monument and Sculpture Association National Recording Project which described the stone as being placed ‘at the rear of Tamworth & Lichfield College, set into the wall by founder’s door’.

Anyone passing would never notice the stone....

At the rear? Well, at least that would explain how I managed to visit at least once a week, without noticing a large tombstone embedded into the wall.  In fact, once I got to the back of the building and the founder’s door, it was clear that few would notice the stone. Partially obscured by a shrub, a faint carving of a cross can be detected. Time and weather have not treated the stone well.

The fading stone

A trip to the Staffs Past track website reveals a drawing of the stone as it was around 250 years ago. It seems the stone was found in 1746 and then somehow lost and then rediscovered in 1926!  Bulldozers working on the new Friary Road in the 1920s cut through the site of the Grey Friars cemetery.  One of the contributors to the Friary School book recalls the bones that were uncovered being reburied ‘in the site opposite’.  Perhaps that’s where the remains of Richard are today.

Whilst round the back of the library, I also discovered the wonderful Monk’s Walk garden, which I shall do a separate post on.  Something else I hadn’t noticed on all of my visits to the library. That’s one of the things with Lichfield, you just never know what’ll turn up next……

Edit 29/8/2011

In ‘A Topographical History of Staffordshire ed. William Pitt’ (1817), I came across a description of how the tombstone turned up in 1746. Apparently on October 14th of that year, Mr Michael Rawlins was living at the Friary and was building a wall with a gate. Whilst digging the foundations, he found the grave stone about 6 foot under the surface with a coffin and bones underneath it. He placed the stone in a niche in the wall of the stables.

 Sources:

Hyacinths and Haricot Beans: Friary School Memories 1892 – 1992 by Jean Bird

From: ‘Lichfield: Education’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 170-184. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=42354 Date accessed: 20 July 2011.

http://lichfielddc.limehouse.co.uk/portal/planning/conservation_area_appraisals/lichfieldcaa?

http://www.staffspasttrack.org.uk

Public Monument and Sculpture Association National Recording Project