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

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