Elephant Stone

At the end of a long week of exams, assignments and driving backwards and forwards to Wolverhampton, I needed to refresh my tired eyes and mind. Others in my situation may have headed for a spa but I headed for Lichfield bus station. The plan was to jump on the first bus that came, get off a certain number of stops later, and to explore wherever it was that I ended up.

Image (c) Central Buses

Image (c) Central Buses

The first bus to turn up was for Route 66 and, as I was in a fatalistic kind of mood, I took this as a good omen. However, the driver was reluctant to let me buy a day ticket, pointing out that not only did the bus only go as far as Burntwood, it stopped running about 4 o’clock. Not quite the epic journey I was hoping for, so I took his advice and decided to get my kicks on Route 62 instead. It winds from Lichfield to Cannock. More than eleven miles all the way. Well it goes past Sandyway, Pipehill and Boney Hay. And Cannock Wood looked oh so good.  Plus you can change at the bus station for Tamworth. All for £6.20.

I had planned to get off after an arbitrary ten stops but I was enjoying looking out of a window rather than at a screen so much, I stayed on the bus for an hour. As the clock struck two we arrived in Hednesford. On first sight, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’d been miraculously transported to Lourdes instead.

Our Lady of Lourdes, Hednesford

Grotto hednesford

hednesford grotto mary

Hednesford’s first Roman Catholic priest, Dr Patrick Boyle, made frequent pilgrimages to the shrine in France.  Concious that many in the Diocese hadn’t a prayer of being able to visit themselves, he conceived the idea of bringing the experience of Lourdes to them but died long before the thirteenth century style church and replica grotto were completed in 1934.

Due to mining subsidence in the area, the concrete church is built on an adjustable concrete raft. Standing alone in the grotto, all I saw was an architectural curiosity, although the floral offerings hint at how much more this place is to others.  Perhaps, if I were to come back in July to join the nine hundred or so pilgrims from across the Archdiocese of Birmingham, or in August for the annual Polish rally, which at one point attracted almost ten thousand people (1), I too would see it in a different light.

For now though, back on the bus and to Cannock and something I feel much less guilty about labelling an architectural curiosity. Meet Khushi.

cannock elephant

Khushi the elephant is a replacement for the vandalised Canumbo (a.k.a Nocky), a fibreglass elephant  commissioned by WH Smith Do-it-All in 1989. No-one seems to know why.  Was it inspired by Walsall’s infamous hippo I wonder? A lady sitting nearby didn’t know either, but she said she thought she knew of a rhinoceros statue in Birmingham. It turned out she was in fact thinking of the Bullring Bull but she did make me wonder what other beasts are lurking out there? I’ve started to draw up a list, and it’s a work in progress, but so far, in Staffordshire alone, we have a surprised looking white cow on a flying carpet, a lion in a pensive mood,  a panther influenced by the geometric forms of Cubism and a bronze stag and hind, won by a woman from Cannock on the Price is Right and donated to the High Court shopping centre in Cannock. Forget the road trip, next time we’re going on safari (2).

Notes:

1) The rally was established in August 1948 by Father Mieczyslaw Bossowski, who I believe came to England with the II Corps at the end of the Second World war and became the resident priest at the Wheaton Aston Polish Resettlement Camp.

(2) That one is especially for you Matt R.

Sources:

http://www.birminghamdiocese.org.uk/2014/09/hednesford-pilgrimage/

http://www.polishresettlementcampsintheuk.co.uk/wheatonaston1.htm

http://www.expressandstar.com/news/2009/02/09/elephants-name-is-khushi-little-number/

Wolverhampton Wandering

I had to pop into Wolverhampton today. I knew from my search for an ancient cross in Lichfield a couple of years back that there was a Saxon cross shaft here and went to find it.  Unlike the Lichfield cross, I didn’t have to try too hard – it’s huge! Its size, and also the fact that it is made from sandstone not found in Wolverhampton, has led some archaeology types to suggest that it is probably a reused Roman column, possibly from Wroxeter or even just up the road in Wall.

Saxon Cross Shaft, WolverhamptonThe elements and pollution have not treated the shaft kindly but its still clear that this was an incredible piece of craftmanship – the Black Country History website describes it as, ‘one of the finest cross shafts in the Midlands’. The carvings of acanthus leaves which decorate the shaft alongside those of birds and beasts have given archaeologists some problems when trying to establish a date as they suggest different periods. The plaque accompanying the shaft in the churchyard has decided to go with the earlier date of the ninth century, whilst others believe late tenth century is more accurate.

Cross Shaft Wolverhampton

On the way out of the churchyard I noticed another stone with a good back story. Known as the Bargain Stone, its said to be where the good (and probably not so good) folk of Wolverhampton would agree sales and make deals by shaking hands through the hole. The nearby plaque suggests it is an old gargoyle and the hole is what remains of its mouth.

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Talking of hands, why didn’t it occur to me to put my hands over the railings to take a better photo?

As if ancient crosses and stones weren’t enough of a treat, we also found Holden’s Brewery’s Great Western near to the train station. This is a proper pub – cobs on the bar, Holden’s Golden Glow (amongst other delights) on tap and really friendly staff. Although we were tempted to sit outside in the sun, the interior was so quirky and there was such a nice atmosphere, we sat inside.

Great Western

Wished I’d got the train. Definitely not driving next time.

The Great Western

The great Great Western

We walked off our pork baps with a little bit of a wander around the city streets. This building caught my eye, not only because it has no floors, meaning you can see down into the cellar, but also because of the handwritten sign someone had stuck to the window.

SAM_0045SAM_0046I’m not sure a traffic warden would be the person I’d turn to in a trapped bird scenario but maybe they do things differently in Wolverhampton.

Another perplexing sign is the one suggesting that the half timbered building on the junction of Victoria St and St John’s Lane was built in AD1300. It wasn’t and no-one knows the reason behind the claim – the best suggestions anyone has seems to be that it was some kind of joke to emphasise that it was a really, really old building! It more likely dates back to the seventeenth century when it was once an inn known as The Hand. These days its home to Wolverhampton Books & Collectables, where you can buy anything from an ancient tome on the history of Staffordshire to a souvenir 1950s Wolverhampton Wanderers hankerchief (which you may, or may not, wish to blow your nose on, depending on your allegiances…).

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We took the scenic route back to Lichfield (not through choice but because I went the wrong way on the ring road), passing through Wednesfield, Sneyd, the intriguingly named New Invention and Brownhills before stopping off at Waitrose for a couple bottles of Golden Glow.

Sources:

http://blackcountryhistory.org/collections/getrecord/WOHER_MBL337/

http://www.historywebsite.co.uk/listed/lindylou.htm

Lamb Carvery

Just a very quick update on the old church tower at Shenstone. I haven’t had chance to get over there since writing the previous posts on the subject and so this morning, I was really grateful to receive a couple of photographs, taken just today, which show the carved stone on the tower really clearly.

In the churchyard at the top of the hill is an old tower...

In the churchyard, at the top of the hill, there is an old tower…

...and in the old tower is a door...

…and in the old tower, there is a door…

The carved stone at the ruined old church at Shenstone

…and next to the door is this carved stone

Although centuries of exposure to the elements has worn away much of the detail, including the lamb (which Mr Foulkes may have been referring to when he reported seeing a stone with a carving of a lamb near to the north door in the late 1890s), it can be identified as the arms of the Merchant Taylors, one of the twelve great Livery Companies of London. It shows a tent (which apparently the Taylors would once have made for jousting tournaments) with an ermine robe either side (another nod to their trade) beneath a lamb within a sun. The lamb represents John the Baptist, the saint whose name was given to both the old church and the more recent church here.  It looks like there is some graffiti carved into the old sandstone blocks of the tower too, which may also be of interest.

St Michael's Church at Lichfield's version of the arms

St Michael’s Church at Lichfield also has a version of the arms on the porch.

There was a story that after the old church was abandoned as it was deemed unsafe, ‘it was found to be so remarkably sound that blasting operations were required to demolish the masonry’. Eventually they succeeded and materials from the old church were sold in 1853/54 for £111 2s 8d.

I am not sure what the connection between the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors of the City of London, and parish churches at Shenstone and Lichfield could have been, but I’ll keep looking and if anyone has any ideas or suggestion in the meantime, please share them!

Sources:

Parliamentary Papers, House of Commons and Command, Volume 48

Shine On

Still curious about the old church of St John the Baptist at Shenstone, I did a bit more reading.  Inevitably, I’ve ended up even more curious than I was before.

In 1890, the Lichfield stone mason and sculptor Robert Bridgeman was appointed by a restoration committee to carry out work on the now disappeared pinacles of the tower. (You can see how the old church used to look, pinnacles and all, from drawings of the church in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century here on Staffordshire Past Track). At the time Mr Foulkes, an architect living at The Ivy House, in Shenstone, wrote to the committee saying,

I am anxious to assure the Restoration Committee how fully I concur in the steps they have taken to preserve the old tower, for both on practical and sentimental ground it should be upheld. The appointment of Mr Bridgeman as restorer is the best your Committee could make, and I know he will thoughtfully and carefully carry out the work entrusted to him.

Mr Foulkes then goes on to give some of the history about the old church saying,

The old tower so called is really not very ancient, except perhaps the internal base; the upper part boasts of no architectural feature of note, the details being of a debased character, and early in the present century there evidently existed a kind of central beacon flag-pole and vane combined. There were also diagonal shaped dials upon the tower. One other feature worthy of mention, and of which I fear no trace remains, was a stone hollowed out in the Romish times, for the reception of holy water. It formerly stood near the north door and over it was carved the figure of a lamb’.

It took a while for the last line to click but eventually I remembered reading about a carved stone in the report of the excavation of the old church in 1973 by Dorothy and Jim Gould of the South Staffordshire Archaeolgical and History Society. A note by Mr J W Whiston, appended to the SAHS report says that there is no reference to the carving in any published description of the church, but that, ‘although mutilated, the carving can be identified as the arms originally granted to the Merchant Taylors Company of London before, in the time of Elizabeth I, the chief of augmentation was added (a lion passant and guardanty). These arms were frequently used by provincial merchant-taylors’. It also mentions that there is a similar carving on the porch of St Michaels in Lichfield. When I checked back on my photos of St Michaels from last spring, I found it (which saved me a trip). Funny how you see things that you don’t realise the significance of at the time, but fit into the big jigsaw eventually.

St Michaels Carving

The carving at St Michaels, Lichfield

Not knowing anything about the Merchant Taylors’ Company I looked them up and found that their patron saint is St John the Baptist. As you can see from the above (sort of), their coat of arms features a pavilion with a mantle either side, with the Holy Lamb within a sun. Perhaps this is the lamb to which Mr Foulkes was referring? You can read more about the company here.

Bottom right hand side of door - is this the carved stone?

Bottom right hand side of door – is this the carved stone? Should have taken a closer look.

According to William Whites Directory of Staffordshire (1834), the annual feast or wake at Shenstone was held on the Sunday after St John the Baptist’s day. Something that’s not mentioned in the archaeology report, or the newspaper report as far as I can see, is the existence of a holy well somewhere in the churchyard. On the saint’s day (or Midsummer if you prefer), St John’s Well  was believed to be a place of healing and of miracles. I can’t see it on any of the old ordnance survey maps but I am hoping it’s still gurgling away and hasn’t dried up. On the subject of St John and Midsummer, I know I probably shouldn’t speculate about the place name Shenstone – bright/beautiful/shining stone or rocky place – but the idea of the sun and bonfires associated with the festivities of St John’s Eve and Midsummer has popped into my head and now I can’t get rid of it. Feel free to shoot me down in flames.

I’ll try and distract myself with another example of pieces of the jigsaw fitting together eventually.  In an account of ‘ Ancient Shenstone’ by Madge Rogers in the Lichfield Mercury in the late 1940s that I was reading, she mentions, ‘A Peat Moor once stretched highly polished stone was erected in the churchyard, and was the tomb of 25 year old Richard Burgess of Leicester who journey by stage coach to the Welsh Harp in Stonnall and there took his own life’.

I don’t really understand the bit about Peat Moor but the story of Richard Burgess sounded familiar.  I remembered that a while ago, when trawling the newspaper archive for something to do with pubs, I had read a story from the Derby Mercury, June 1754, about a young Gentleman who was travelling with the Chester Stage Coach, on his way to Ireland to be married. Apparently, en-route he had received a letter from his fiancee’s Father, telling him not to pursue his journey, as she would not marry him. When the stage coach stopped off at Noon at the Welsh Harp near Lichfield, the young man took his own life. Surely this must be the same tragic young man?

To think up until recently the only place I’d ever visited in Shenstone was the Tesco Express. What a fascinating place it is, and I haven’t even started to read about the prehistoric and Roman connections yet.

Sources

The History and Antiquities of Shenstone in the County of Stafford, Henry Sanders
South Staffordshire Archaeological and Historical Society Transactions XV
Derby Mercury Archive
Lichfield Mercury Archive

A Stone's Throw Away

I recently read a great post about the map maker John Ogilby on Kate Shrewsday’s wonderful blog. In 1675, Mr Ogilby was the creator of the first ever British road atlas, and after reading Kate’s post, I took another look at the section of his map of the London to Chester road, as it passed over the Warwickshire border into Staffordshire and on through Lichfield. You can see the map here.

The majority of the place names are recognisable and in use today, albeit with some changes to the spelling –  Burowcop Hill, Cank Wood and Sutton Cofield amongst others.There are however a handful of names that appear to have been lost over the last three hundred or so years. One intriguing feature marked on the route is the ‘Bishop’s Heap of Stones’, eight miles or so from Lichfield, between Canwell Hall (or Sir Francis Lawley‘s Cannell Hall as it’s shown on the map) and Hints.

The name seems to refer to a literal heap of stones, and it seems there are at least two  possible explanations for why this pile of pebbles was associated with a bishop. Thomas Pennant, when writing about his journey from Chester to London, discovered a handwritten note in a copy of William Dugdale’s ‘Warwickshire’, added by Dugdale himself, which read as follows:

There is a common report (which passeth for currant amongst the vulgar) that the great heape of stones, which lyeth near the road way from Litchfeild towards Coleshill, upon Bassets heath, called the Bishops Stones, and those other lesser heapes, which lye in the valley below; were at first laid there in memorie of a bishop and his retinue, who were long since rob’d and killed, as they were travailing upon that way: but this is a meere fabulous storye: for upon an inquisition made in King James his time, concerning the extent of common upon that heath, betwixt Weeford and Sutton;there was an old woman, called old Bess of Blackbrooke, being then above an hundred yeares of age, who deposed (inter alia) that the Bishop of Exeter living then at Moore Hall: taking notice how troublesome such a number of pibble stones as then lay in the roade thereabouts, were to all passengers, caused them to be pickt up, and thus layd upon heapes

In 1769, in his book The History and Antiquities of Shenstone, in the County of Stafford, the Reverend Henry Sanders, gives a similar but more detailed explanation. Sanders says that a woman from Blackbrook came to the inquiry into the parish boundaries and testified that in the reign of Henry VIII, or just after, John Vesey, the Bishop of Exeter had decided to become a benefactor to his birthplace of Sutton Coldfield. Bishop Vesey obtained a charter of incorporation for the town, revived the market and also built a number of stone houses (1) as part of an attempt to create an industry manufacturing Kersey, as they did in Devon. Bess (I’m assuming that she is ‘the woman from Blackbrook’ Sanders refers to), also told how when the Bishop was at Sutton he was annoyed by the rolling pebbles on the road which caused travellers’ horses to stumble and sometimes fall and so he employed poor people to gather them and lay them in heaps. Sanders describes the position of these heaps as follows:

On the hollow way between Weeford Hills or rather between Swynfen and Canwell lie divers heaps and one great one at the top of the hill at Weeford park corner which according to the tradition of the country people were placed there in memory of a bishop of Lichfield who riding with many attendants was slain with those servants by robbers and that these heaps were where the bodies were found which agreeable to this account and to honest and accurate antiquaries is entirely fabulous

I also think these stories are fabulous, but I suspect not quite in the way that the Reverend meant! It seems the tale of the murdered bishop didn’t ever hold much weight, but what about the version given by the local centenarian (who sounds like a legend in her own right!)? Were the stones gathered by the poor at the request of a Bishop or did they serve another purpose?  It’s interesting that there may have been more than one heap. Piles of stones are of course found across the world, and have many meanings and significances. I suspect that the Bishop’s heaps of stones will have been swept away, perhaps gradually scattered back onto the roads from where they came. It’s interesting to think that even a humble pebble beneath your feet may once have been part of a much bigger story.

Notes:

1 You can see one of the stone houses built by Vesey here

2 Kersey was a coarse cloth, often used to make servants clothing, and although it takes its name from the village in Suffolk, I understand that in Vesey’s time it was Devon that was at the centre of the Kersey industry in England.

 

Time On Our Hands

On my way to do some Christmas shopping in Lichfield,  I went to Beacon Park to see our new old friend Erasmus Darwin properly now that the crowds had dispersed. I thought it would just be me and the good doctor this Saturday lunchtime, but in fact there were already people reading the plaque, when I arrived and another small group turned up whilst I was there. I touched the shell in Darwin’s hand, and continued over to The Close, as with all the talk of water and conduits recently, I also wanted to have another look at the old pump outside the Cathedral.

Wall of Bishop’s Palace, North East corner of The Close

I then continued my walk north of the Cathedral, along the wall of the Bishop’s Palace, wondering about the provenance of the stone used to build it. In the north east corner of The Close, next to a pile of old grass cuttings and leaves, I peered over into what would have been the old ditch surrounding The Close. Something on one of the worn sandstone blocks caught my eye. Graffiti carved into the wall! Was there any more? Retracing my steps back along the wall I found several more examples.

Unfortunately, most of the markings either aren’t dated, or the dates have weathered away. So we are left with a series of initials, and not much else to work with. They may have been carved within weeks of each other or centuries apart. They may belong to pupils of the school, or they may belong to someone passing by with time on their hands. All that we really know, is that at various points in time, people decided to make their presence known in this quiet corner of The Close

One of the only legible dates on the wall. 188?

The listed building description for the wall (which can be found here) tells us that it’s probably over 300 years old. I haven’t yet been able to find where the stone was quarried from but the variation in colour and texture is beautiful. (Yes, I touched this too!)

The wall dates back to the rebuilding of the Bishops Palace in 1687. The original palace sustained severe damage in the Civil War and since then has actually only been the residence of the Bishop of Lichfield for a relatively short period. Bishop Selwyn took up residence in the 1860s and just under a hundred years later, in 1953, Bishop Reeve moved into a house on the south side of The Close. Since then the Palace has been part of Lichfield Cathedral School.

I have a photograph of the Bishop’s Palace from the back, but not the front. I do wonder about my thought process sometimes…

Of course, if anyone has any insights or information, please do get in touch. If it was you that stood here and added your initials to this old wall, I’d love to know when and why. However, I think that sometimes we have to accept that we will never know all the answers and just enjoy the time spent asking the questions.

Sources:

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

Men of Letters

Following on from this morning’s post,  here is Gareth’s latest fantastic Lichfield Grammar School related discovery. The plaque suggests that this stonework was originally the front doorway to the Grammar School, and was redressed and placed around this doorway in the Lichfield District Council Offices in 1928. The second photograph shows our oldest dated graffiti yet – RS 1681.

As I’ve been reading about the school’s history, I’ve been jotting down the names of students. Here they are so far, in no particular order….some you may recognise, others you may not.

Isaac Hawkins Browne    Gregory King
John Wyatt                       George Smallridge
David Garrick                    Andrew Corbet
Thomas Newton                John Willes
Robert James                   Thomas Parker
Elias Ashmole                   William Talbot
Edmund Hector                William Noel
John Taylor                       Richard Lloyd
Charles Congreve            Samuel Johnson
William Wollaston            Theophilius Buckeridge Lowe
Francis Chetwynd            Joseph Addison
John Rowley                     Henry Salt
John Colson                     Joseph Simpson
Walter Bagot                    Charles Bagot
William Bailye

Do any of them match any of the initials found throughout the school? I have to say it’s the ones we don’t know much about that interest me the most. We all know what Mr Ashmole did, but what about those whose achievements weren’t documented to the same extent? What about those poor boys (with or without their brooms)? How did attending the school affect the course of their lives?

Image taken from Wikimedia Commons. Murray, John. Johnsoniana, 1835. reprinted Lane, Margaret (1975), Samuel Johnson & his World, p. 26. New York: Harpers & Row Publishers

Several engravings and drawing of the Grammar School exist showing the schoolroom building at various stages in its history. Gareth is working on something that will hopefully show the changes in the schoolroom since it was first erected on the site in around 1577. This should hopefully help us to discover the original location of the stone doorway too.  The schoolroom was rebuilt in c.1848, and as the dates on the stonework are before and after this date, I wonder whether materials from the old schoolroom of 1577 were reused in carrying out this restoration work?  I’m hoping to go to the Lichfield Record Office as the National Archives catalogue is showing that the hold lots of information on this, and on may other aspects of the school’s history, dating back to around the same time RS carved his initials into the old doorway.

Finally (for now!), I’ve suggested that the doors of the Old Grammar School, both inside and out, be opened to the public for the Lichfield Heritage Weekend.

Update:

I found a book ‘The Wanderings of a Pen and Pencil’ from 1846, in which the authors FP Palmer and A Crowquill desribe their visit to Lichfield. Illustrations of the exterior and interior of the Grammar School are included in the book. Interestingly, their visit was at the time the school was in decline, and there were no pupils attending (see previous post).  They record that the upper schoolroom was tenanted by lumber, and the lower school room unoccupied, and asked ‘How is it the Lichfield Grammar School is so shamefully deserted and what amount is received by the master for doing nothing?’. In the interior, the stool that they have sketched was apparently the ‘flogging-horse’. The exterior drawing confuses me further – hopefully Gareth will be able to shed more light on how this compares with the other views of the schoolroom we have!.