The Mortal City

After reading that an inquest into a young boy’s death from drowning in the nearby canal at Sandfields in 1884 had been held at the Three Tuns Inn on the Walsall Road, I wanted to know more about the use of pubs in these circumstances.

The Three Tuns Inn, Walsall Rd, Lichfield, formerly Panache Restaurant & currently being developed

I had a look at the newspaper archive and found another report in the Lichfield Mercury, this time from December 1885, regarding the death of a soldier who had been found in the Birmingham Canal near Quarry Lodge. After being discovered, the body was taken to the Shoulder of Mutton in a cart on a Monday afternoon, where it was examined by Brigade Surgeon G Simon M.D. The following evening Mr C Simpson, the City Coroner, held an inquest into the death where a verdict of ‘drowned’ was returned by the jury.

I understand that this was how things were done all across the country. I think I’m right in saying that until the Public Health Act of 1875, there were no public mortuaries and in the event of a sudden or unnatural death, inquests were held at a nearby public building, often an inn or public house. If a body was discovered outdoors, the pub would also become a temporary mortuary.

On Google books, I found a document from 1840 detailing Coroners’ Reports for England and Wales. The Lichfield Coroner at the time, Mr Simpson, submitted a return giving the number of inquests held in Lichfield in each of the years between 1834 and 1839, together with a schedule of allowances and disbursements to be paid by the Coroner, as follows:

To the bailiff of the court for summoning the jury and witnesses attendances on the coroner and at the inquest: 5 shilling
To the witnesses not exceeding per day (besides travelling expenses): 3 shilling
For the jury, each juror: 1 shilling
For the use of the room: 5 shilling

The returns submitted by Coroners vary from place to place in the amount of detail included. For example, the return for Ripon outlines further payments made, including 5 shillings paid per day, ‘to expenses of room and trouble, where dead body is deposited till inquest held’, and ‘to the crier of any township for crying when body found and not known’. The return of Mr H Smith, the Coroner for Walsall, gives names of the deceased and the dates on which the inquests were held. In Leicester, John Gregory recorded the number of inquests in the four years ending August 1839 and added an explanatory note that the increase in inquests in the last year was mostly due to accidents occurring in the formation of the Midlands County Railway through the county. In a handful of towns, the Coroner also recorded the verdict (e.g. accidental, visitation of God, wilful murder) of the inquest. It doesn’t make for pleasant reading, but it’s a fascinating and important document for local or family historians.

By the late nineteenth century, things began to change. As previously mentioned, the Public Health Act 1875 gave permission for local authorities to provide public mortuaries and in the early twentieth century, The Licensing Act of 1902 stated that:

From and after the thirty-first day of March one thousand
nine hundred and seven, no meeting of justices in petty or special
sessions shall be held in premises licensed for the sale of intoxicating
liquors, or in any room, whether licensed or not, in any
building licensed for the sale of intoxicating liquors ; nor shall
any coroner’s inquest be held on such licensed premises where
other suitable premises have been provided for such inquest.

Yet at this time in Lichfield, there was no suitable premises, as can be seen from a further report in the Lichfield Mercury on 24th April 1903, regarding an inquest into the death of a woman in Old Sandford St.  The inquest was held at the nearby Hen and Chickens pub, although the post mortem was carried out by Dr F M Rowland at the deceased’s address, as her body had been discovered at home in bed. At the inquest, the coroner, S W Morgan commented on the situation, stating that it was a case that should have been taken to a mortuary. The room was nine or ten feet square, with a window right down to the floor. The double bed in the room had to be taken out and a table brought in. All of the utensils had to be borrowed, as there was nothing in the house that could be used. The Foreman of the Jury, a Mr Cooney, was reported as saying it was ‘disgraceful’. He considered it a scandal that there wasn’t a mortuary, though he was under the impression that one had been built in the city over at the council property on Stowe Street. With the rest of the jury sounding their agreement, the Coroner added,

“I called the attention of the council to this matter…12 or 18 months ago, when a recommendation was passed by a Jury. It is astonishing that the City of Lichfield does not possess a mortuary, when one takes into consideration the fact that there are two stations in the place, and how frequently people meet with fatal accidents on the railway. It is most unfair that publicans should be called upon to take in these cases, and it is unfair to ask them to do it. Suppose a tramp happened to die, whilst passing through the town, that man, unless some kind publican happened to take him would have to be hawked around from public house to public house, until someone consented to take the body. It is simply a scandal and a disgrace that such a state of things should exist especially when a mortuary could be built at a small cost”.

Dr Rowland added that there had been plans for a mortuary, but they had been shelved, to which the Coroner replied, ‘It is not fair to the medical gentlemen to ask them to make the post-mortem examination under such conditions’. The Jury recorded a verdict of ‘Death from Natural Causes’, and added to it a rider calling on the City Council to proceed with the erection of a mortuary.

In May 1903, the body of a man was found on the railway line at Shortbutts Lane. The Duke of Wellington refused to admit the body, but the landlord of the Marquis of Anglesey allowed his stable to be used. The Coroner commented that it was as if the fates were conspiring to emphasise the need for a public mortuary in Lichfield. By June that year, plans to convert one of the storerooms at the Stowe Street Depot had been put forward amidst concerns by some members of the council that a scheme to erect a purpose built mortuary in the city was too costly. By August, discussions over the expense were continuing. Councillor Johnson claimed he was in favour of a mortuary but not wasting money on it. Councillor Raby replied by saying that the City had been brought into oppobrium enough through not having a mortuary, and that ‘the ghost of obstruction which Mr Johnson had conjured up should be buried’.

Finally, in November 1903, the Surveyor reported that the Stowe Street mortuary had been completed at a cost of £48 9s 5d. Exactly a year later, the City Council’s attention was drawn to the fact that dead bodies covered in sheets could be seen from Stowe Pool Walk. It was agreed that a blind should be installed and lowered when the mortuary was occupied, an almost symbolic drawing of the veil between those living in this world and those who had joined the next. Death in Lichfield was no longer in the public eye.

Made of Stone

During the last couple of weeks, if you’ve walked along the path that runs along the top of Beacon Park (between the A51 and the football pitches), chances are that you might have spotted this pile of moss covered stones. A lot of the vegetation in this area has been removed recently, making their presence much more obvious than when I first came across them in Spring last year.

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Back when I first noticed them, I did a bit of asking around and I was given three different stories regarding their provenance. The most likely explanation came from someone at Lichfield District Council who said that the stonework was a section of the balustrade which runs around the park at the Beacon Street/Bird Street entrance, which had been removed to make a new corner entrance (near to the Chandlers kiosk/public toilets) sometime in the 1980s. However, someone else thought that the stones were what remained of a structure belonging to the farm which once occupied this area of the park and another person suggested that they were part of some sort of tower which was at Stowe Pool until it was dismantled after becoming structurally unsafe.

Last week, Bob Houghton, from the Burntwood Family History Group and Lichfield and Hatherton Canal Restoration Trust noticed them and sent me an email to say that some of the people who work at the park had told him that they were from the old post office which once stood on Bird Street, where Ego now is. So now we have yet another explanation!

To be honest, I’m torn between the truth and enjoying the ongoing speculation about what the stones are and how they came to be in a patch of woodland in the park. As the moss grows fat on these old stones, I hope that the stories keep growing too.

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The last time I walked past the stones,  I found a handful of bits and bobs scattered around them.  I’m pretty sure these are jigsaw pieces to other stories and nothing at all to do with this little puzzle. However,  if you want to include a scrabble tile, some pottery, a piece of tile and an old clay pipe into your version of the story, then please feel free!

 

Park Views

When Lichfield District Council applied for Lottery Funding to improve and develop Beacon Park, Minster Pool & Walk and The Garden of Remembrance, the ‘Friends of Lichfield’s Historic Parks Group’ was set up as part of the bid. Although the work has now been completed, the Friends group has continued and have now also taken Stowe Pool and Fields under their wing.

People enjoying Fuse Festival 2013 in Beacon Park

The Friends are independent of LDC, made up of a group of residents who want these beautiful and well loved places in the heart of Lichfield to be enjoyed and valued by people of all backgrounds, ages, abilities and interests. Part of their role is to facilitate discussion between Lichfield District Council and users, volunteers, friends and local residents, so that everyone can be involved in decisions made about their parks.

Getting ready to light up Minster Pool with hundreds of flames – Minster Pool June 2012

As a way of connecting with a wider range of park users, the Friends have set up a new Facebook account https://www.facebook.com/FoLHP and want to encourage people to use this forum to share their views on the park, making suggestions and asking questions. Those not on Facebook can email their views to parks@lichfielddc.gov.uk or call the parks team on 01543 308869.

Stowe Pool Regatta June 2012.

I think it’s a great opportunity to have your voice heard, so please join in the discussion. I know I will be! Of course, if you’d like to be more than a Facebook friend, and would like to join the Friends Group itself,  they would be delighted to welcome new members. More information can be found on their leaflet here – Friends of Lichfield’s Historic Parks

Pillars of the Community

Back in April, I found what I thought were moss covered stone pillars in the undergrowth at Beacon Park, and asked if anyone knew what they were, or where they had come from. Well now, thanks to members of Lichfield District Council and the Beacon Street Area Residents Association, we have not one possible solution but three!

Could they be:

a) a section of balustrading from the Bird St/Beacon St side of the park, removed in the 1980s to create a corner entrance to the park over by the new Chandlers kiosk and the public toilets?

b) part of a structure used by a dairyman to shelter in during bad weather? There was once a farm in the vicinity of the Bunkers Hill Car Park, and a dog walker remembers that before the war, dairy cows were kept on the land that is now the football pitches and woodland.

Beacon Park map. Source: Gareth Thomas and his excellent blog – http://allaboutlichfield.blogspot.co.uk/

c) part of a “tower” that was originally at Stowe pool?  Apparently, after it became unsafe, the tower was dismantled and some of the stonework was put in the woodland.

d) None of the above?!

It’s great how by trying to uncover the story behind the stones, it’s also uncovered other things – the memories of cows on what’s now the football pitch and the possibility of a tower at Stowe Pool for starters! It’s also a good reminder that the version of a story we’ve been told, or the one we remember, might not be altogether correct. That’s not to say that such stories don’t have value, it’s just we need to be careful about accepting things at face value.

By the way,  if I was betting woman I’d go for option a….

The Dunk Cow

Trying to find a bit more out about the old Dolphin pub in Bore St, I had a look through the newspaper archives. I did find one really nice snippet – at the grand opening of Lichfield’s Co-op in 1914, Councillor JR Deacon, who built the new Co-op on the site of the Dolphin, presented the chairman with a walking stick made from one of the old inn’s beams.

However, I confess that sometimes when trying to find information in old newspapers, I often find myself distracted. I am utterly incapable of passing by a story with an intriguing headline.  If you think you could stay focused after turning up ‘Antics of Mad Cow. Swam Stowe Pool Twice’ in a search, then I salute your willpower. I, however, needed to know more about these events immediately and thought I’d share the unusual story here.

Ducks but no cows. By the way, is this Johnson’s Willow (well its replacement anyway)?

In 1946, two young men were spending a quiet Monday afternoon fishing at Stowe Pool Suddenly, they noticed a cow swimming towards them. The heifer got out of the water, charged at them and then started swimming back towards Stowe St. However, something must have changed its mind, as the cow then decided to come back, charging at a policeman who had just arrived on the scene. By this time, the fishermen and the pool attendant, a Mr Boston, were hiding behind Johnson’s Willow. Deciding to make a run for it Mr Boston headed for the Boathouse and the two lads jumped over the hedge. Unfortunately, so did the cow. With PC King in hot pursuit, the poor beast ran up The Windings and into a field, where finally having calmed down, it stayed overnight, before ‘being removed’ the following morning (the Mercury reporter thought it had been destroyed). Where the cow came from, and what caused this odd behaviour is not known. For those involved, I’m sure that this was quite a frightening experience at the time, but I do wonder if, once the shock had subsided, it went on to become a favourite family story e.g. “Tell us about the time you got chased by a cow, Grandad…”?

By coincidence the story is actually linked to the previous post about the Dolphin in a way – the two young men were butchery assistants at the Co-op! From a dolphin in Bore St to a cow in Stowe Pool, I love how you just never know what story is going to turn up next!

A Dark Chapter

I vaguely knew the story of Thomas Day and his attempt to mould a perfect wife from one of two orphan girls, that he ‘acquired’. However, until I read ‘How to create the perfect wife’, by Wendy Moore, I hadn’t appreciated just how much of an ordeal Day subjected the two young girls to.

After taking them from the orphanage, Day took the girls, Sabrina and Lucretia, to France, where they lived a life of drudgery and servitude.  On their return to England, Day decided to focus his efforts on Sabrina, and packed Lucretia off to be a milliner’s apprentice. Sabrina was brought to Lichfield, where they became part of the social circle that included Anna Seward, Erasmus Darwin and members of the Lunar Society. Sabrina and Day lived at Stowe House, and it was here that some of his worst treatment of the girl took place. As well as making Sabrina carry out all of the household tasks in the four storey house looking over Stowe Pool, Day subjected her to sadistic ‘training’ designed to develop stamina, strength and courage. Apparently, despite knowing that she was unable to swim,  Day even forced the poor child into the waters of the pool itself on one occasion. Once soaked through, Day made her lie in one of the nearby fields until she dried out.

Although many in Lichfield knew of Day’s experiment, Wendy Moore believes that a combination of Day’s money and background, and the fact that many of his Lichfield ‘friends’ had their own scandals to deal with, meant that a blind eye was turned to his treatment of the girl.

Day eventually decided Sabrina wasn’t suitable and so she too was sent away, whilst Day turned his attentions elsewhere. Whilst the book explores Day’s continuing quest for the perfect wife, it was the story of what happened to Sabrina that I was really interested in. Thankfully,  Wendy Moore does not abandon Sabrina as Day did and follows her life up until the end, thereby allowing us to know the full story of Sabrina as a person in her own right, and not just as part of a bizarre experiment carried out by a cruel and irresponsible man.

Stowe House, overlooking St Chad’s and Stowe Pool

‘How to create the perfect wife’ by Wendy Moore is published by Orion. Details here.

 

Deep and Meaningful

I mostly associate Stowe and Minster Pools with the ducks (or to be more precise the mallards, moorhens, coots, Canada geese, mute swans, and common pochards) that live on these waters. However, for the purposes of this post, it’s what has been found beneath the surface of the pools that I’m interested in.

Ducklings making their way over Stowe Pool last summer

Nesting on Stowe Pool, 2011

At a meeting of the Leicestershire Architectural Society in June 1858, the Rev J M Gresley produced a number of objects that had been discovered in the city’s pools, during the process of their conversion into reservoirs for the South Staffordshire Waterworks Company. As well as numerous cannon balls and shells, some of the other finds were described, including:

A small iron battle axe, seventeen inches in length

A spur singularly shaped of perhaps the last century

An ancient steel horse shoe by striking the holes for the nails several of which remain in them. The outer edge has a scalloped shape

Several narrow sharp pointed knives from 7 to 9 inches long of the sixteenth century. The shaft of one of them is of black bone inlaid with trefoils and ornaments of brass

A large clasp knife with buck’s horn haft twelve inches in length

Several keys of the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries and a small one of still older date

A piece of early English pottery perhaps of the twelfth or thirteenth century. It is of reddish and grey clay with a green glaze. The head and tail are broken off. It is hollow and has a large aperture at the breast but it does not look as if it could ever have been used as a jug or bottle The length of it is 6 inches

Fragment of the neck of a Flemish stone ware jug called a Greybeard or Bellarmine of the sixteenth or seventeenth century

Soles of shoes of the thirteenth or fourteenth century with small heels narrow instep broad across the ball of the foot and quite a sharp point at the toe

Soles of shoes of the fifteenth century much the same shape as the others but round at the toe

A leaden seal or bull of one of the Popes whose name is obliterated. Two rude faces upon the other side have over them S PA(ULUS) S PE(TRUS)

A number of brass counters commonly called Nuremburg tokens formerly used for making calculations…upon these tokens are various and interesting consisting of ornamental crosses, fleur de lis, heraldic bearings, ships, the globe surmounted by the cross. One was plainly an imitation of the silver pennies of Edward I and II but with pellats in place of the legend

Two leaden counters one of them with the letter K, the other apparently a saint’s head and glory about it

An angel of the seventeenth year of James I with a hole through it for suspension it having been given to a person when touched by the King for the evil. The reverse has a ship with the royal arms on the mainsail

Lichfield Coventry and Tamworth tokens of the seventeenth century

A considerable quantity of stags horns

Another discovery in Minster Pool led to a court case in 1896 between South Staffs water and a labourer named Sharman. This case is still quoted as an example in legal textbooks today. Sharman, the defendant, had been employed by the water company to clean the pool and in the course of this work found two gold rings. The court ruled that it was not a matter of finders keepers and ordered the rings to be handed over.

Whilst it seems reasonable to assume that the cannon balls and shells ended up in the pools after falling short of their intended targets during the civil war, how did these other objects end up in the water? Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find a description of the gold rings, not even a date range, and so for now we’ll have to imagine the stories behind them finding their way into Minster Pool!  Perhaps we could have a more educated guess at the origin of some of the other objects though? In the past, both pools were used as mill ponds, with tenters to dry cloth set up along the stream which fed into Stow Pool. There were also tanyards in the area and the site of the parchment works of Michael Johnson (bookseller and father of Samuel) was nearby, as can be seen on the 1781 Snape map of Lichfield (a wonderful, big-res version of the map can be found here on BrownhillsBob’s Brownhills Blog). Possibly related to these industries, the tenant of a skinhouse claimed the privilege to wash skins in Minster Pool.

Mill House, Dam St in the vicinity of the old mill

This ward banner in the Guildhall relates to Dam St, and I think it represents the mill between Minster and Stow Pool.

These objects have been lost and found once already, but where are they now? Is it possible to find them once again?

Edit: Philip just asked me about where the tanneries were, and in comparing the Snape map with Googlemaps, I found that in one of the spots marked as a tan yard on the former, there is a little road called the Tanyard (off Stowe St) on the latter!

Sources:

A survey by the Lichfield Wildlife Group in 2009, looking at the natural heritage of The Close http://www.staffs-wildlife.org.uk/files/documents/250.pdf

Thanks to Philip Mantom for drawing my attention to the legal case South Staffs Water Co v. Sharman (1896)

Smith and Keenan’s English Law Text and Cases 15th Edition – Denis Keenan

Transactions, Volume 1,  Leicestershire Architectural and Archaeological Society

Lichfield: Economic history’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield(1990), pp. 109-131