Serving Time

Throughout the year, the Lichfield Discovered group has hosted some fascinating talks on a range of subjects from symbolism in cemeteries (we never did find out about the mackerel!) to urban exploration and we’ve visited pubs, the Cathedral Close, Roman forts, pill boxes and tunnels. Before we hang up our boots and put the lid back on the biscuit tin for 2014, we have two more events coming up, which I want to let people know about.

This coming Monday (10th November), we are delighted to welcome local author and journalist Joss Musgrove Knibb who will be taking a look at the previously unpublished letters of four Staffordshire Regiment soldiers who fought, and in some cases died, in the trenches of WW1. The vibrant letters of Alfred Bull of Lichfield, Sydney Norton of Tamworth, James Stevenson of Stoke-on-Trent and Jake Armes on the 1914 Christmas Truce bring the voices of these men vividly to life. With lots of photographs, stories and ‘trench humour’, it will be a thought provoking way of marking the centenary. The event takes place at 7pm at St Mary’s in the Market Square, Lichfield. There is no charge, but donations towards the centre are always appreciated.

First Lines by Joss Musgrove Knibb

First Lines by Joss Musgrove Knibb

The letters are part of Joss’ recently published book – First Lines. First Lines is published by Gazelle Press and is available to purchase across the region. Local outlets include WH Smiths (Three Spires Shopping Centre), St Mary’s Heritage Centre, The Cathedral Shop and the National Memorial Arboretum. First Lines retails at £9.99.

On Saturday 15th November we are meeting at the Guildhall at 2pm, where we’ll be exploring what remains of the city’s old gaol, first opened in 1548. After three hundred years, changes in the law meant that Lichfield’s prisoners were transported to Stafford after their trial, but a small number of cells were retained and used as the city lock-up. In 1847, the Inspector of Prisons visited the gaol and found that ‘the initials and names of many prisoners were cut deep into the wood work’. On our visit we’ll be attempting to locate and record this graffiti and have access to some of the cells which are not usually open to the public. Any names or initials that are discovered will then be compared with prison documents held by Lichfield Record Office at a later date. As it would be good to have an idea of numbers (it might get a bit cosy in those cells if there are too many of us!), please let me know if you would like to join us. We also need people to bring torches and cameras to help with the recording process.

prison door

We’re currently working on next year’s programme of events for Lichfield Discovered but so far we’ve pencilled in a visit to the Spital Chapel – one of Tamworth’s oldest and loveliest buildings, a talk on Holy Wells of the Midlands, a visit to the timber framed Sinai Park House (where there’s also a holy well!) and closer to home, an exploration of Beacon Park and Beacon Street. As ever, we are open to suggestions and so if there’s anywhere you’d like to visit, or anything you’d like to know more about, tell us and we’ll see what we can do! Dates to follow, so watch this space. You can also keep up to date by following us on twitter @lichdiscovered or liking us on Facebook.

Spital Chapel of St James, Tamworth

Spital Chapel of St James, Tamworth. During an archaeological dig in the latter half of the 20thc, to find any earlier structures on site, three skeletons were unexpectedly discovered in the area where the table is.

 

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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

Bones of Contention

Last week, together with other members of the Lichfield Discovered group, I enjoyed a Gruesome and Ghostly tour around the city lead by one of Lichfield’s Green Badge Guides. Some tales were familiar (although it’s always fascinating to hear someone else’s version of a story you know), others were complete revelations. I was particularly intrigued by the story of an ancient adult male skeleton, apparently discovered with the remains of a tiny baby in his arms when an access road was being built behind Bakers Lane. (1) Obviously when listening to stories in these circumstances, you’re never quite sure where truth ends and anecdote, myth and legend creep in, and I was interested to know whether there was any substance to this story. As of yet I haven’t been able to find anything on this particularly, but as you might expect, searching for skeletons in Lichfield turns up all sorts of intriguing information….

In 1925, the Tamworth Herald got very excited when it heard that workers digging a trench in the grounds of St John’s Hospital in Lichfield had discovered human remains, announcing that the skeletons discovered were ‘probably over 700 years old’ and that they may be ‘priors and their bretheren’. The Rev John Ernest Auden, chaplain at the hospital, wrote to the Lichfield Mercury to set the record straight – yes, ten bodies had been discovered but it was unlikely that they were seven hundred years old, or even half that. It was also unlikely that they were priors as such burials were usually discovered alongside an article of their service, often a chalice and patten, as had been discovered in 1917 at the former leper’s hospital at Freeford (2).  It was much more likely that they were old residents of the hospital. Archaeological evidence in the form of tiles and pottery found alongside the bodies suggested that they had been there for around two hundred years. Rev Auden also recalled how, when he was curate of St Mary’s in 1886 to 1889, he could remember funerals taking place at St Johns and several older people he had known, including former resident of the hospital Henry Cartmale and City Coroner Charles Simpson, could recollect burials taking place in the grounds. Rev Auden also pointed out that there were three fairly modern gravestones under the Yew Tree supporting this.

Part of the courtyard at St John’s Hospital

Apparently one woman had protested at ‘the hideous sacrilege and desecration in using ground solemnly consecrated and dedicated as God’s acre for ever, for a bed for sewers’, and so Rev Auden took the opportunity to reassure her, and anyone else that was concerned about the work that was being carried out, that the bones had been collected and reburied together and that the Hospital Quadrangle would soon resume its peaceful aspect, plus the manholes.

Although they did make assumptions in this particular instance, to be fair to the Tamworth Herald, evidence for much older burials, in and around the hospital, was discovered in 1967, when according to the County History, a medieval burial was found during alterations to the almshouses. In June last year, Annette Rubery and local newspapers reported that further remains were found just one metre below the pavement outside the hospital, when workers were repairing a gas pipe, although I don’t think the date of this burial was ever confirmed?

In another post, I’ll look at ‘Councillor Moseley’s Graveyard’, the nickname given to the site of the Friary after Thomas Moseley secured permission to excavate the site in the 1930s, uncovering several skeletons and other archaeological remains, and also the area in and around Lichfield’s Cathedral Close, where amongst other discoveries, a very unusual burial was reportedly found within the walls of one of the buildings in the early eighteenth century. They don’t call this the Field of the Dead for nothing you know (4).

Notes:

(1) One of the reasons I find this particularly interesting is that it seems unusual that it’s a male skeleton with a young child. Over in St Michael’s churchyard, the remains of an adult with a child were discovered, but this was thought to be a mother who had died in childbirth (and was of course in consecrated ground). For more information on that see here. Also, it makes you think about past uses of land and what discoveries like this can tell us. Edit: I’ve just re-read the report and the actual wording is ‘an adult and tiny baby found buried together…it is possible they represent a mother and child who died at childbirth’, so I should make it clear.

(2) For more information on the human remains discovered at Freeford, and thought to be related to the fomer lepers hospital there, see here

(3) Mr Charles Simpson b. April 9th 1800. Solicitor, Town Clerk and Coroner for the City of Lichfield, and Clerk of the Peace for Staffordshire 1825.  d. April 22nd 1890Details from the Shrewsbury School Register 1734 – 1908, edited by….Rev J E Auden!

(4) As I’m sure everyone knows by now, Lichfield doesn’t really mean Field of the Dead, it’s just an old myth that’s most likely stuck because it’s more evocative than the real meaning of the the name which is thought to be something like ‘common pasture in or beside the grey wood’. For more on the place name and yet more Lichfield bones see here 

Sources:

:Lichfield Mercury Archive

Tamworth Herald Archive

www.annetterubery.co.uk

Hospitals: Lichfield, St John the Baptist’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 3(1970), pp. 279-289

Shrewsbury School Register 1734 – 1908, edited by Rev J E Auden