Review of the Year…1884

Around this time, we seem to get the urge to look back and reflect on the events of the dying year. However, as I’m sure memories of 2013 are still fresh in your mind, let’s imagine instead that it’s the year 1884 that is drawing to a close and take a tour of the ‘Chronological List of the Principal Local Events’ of that year, courtesy of the Lichfield Mercury.

I never did get around to arranging that New Year's Eve party at the Friary Clock Tower...

I never did get around to arranging that New Year’s Eve party at the Friary Clock Tower…

In January, we have the adoption of fish dinners in the Lichfield Union Workhouse and a local government board enquiry into the affairs of Walsall Workhouse.  Whatever those affairs may have been, the next entry informs us they were concluded and moves on to the conviction of Thomas Skelton, a Lichfield Jockey and Trainer, fined £5 for assaulting a commercial traveller at Nottingham. The Trent Valley Brewery Company were in trouble too, alleged to have illegally seized the goods of a Southwell brewer. There was yet more excitement towards the end of the month with a ‘daring till robbery’ at Mr R Cleaver’s shop on Tamworth St.

Sports news in February when Lichfield Cricket Club decided to rent the ground previously known as the County Ground, to raise funds for a pavilion and to obtain the services of a professional cricketer. Over at Hednesford, the Poultry and Pigeon show took place over two days. Mrs Scott’s annual sale of work in Lichfield (who Mrs Scott was and what she was selling is tbc). More seriously, there was an inquiry into the sanitary conditions at the Birmingham Road Barracks in Lichfield, and a railway accident at Sutton Coldfield left an engine and guard’s van wrecked. As the month progressed,  the Brethren of St John’s Masonic Lodge decide to present a statue of Queen Victoria to fill in one of the niche’s on the Cathedral’s Western Front and the Lichfield Board of Guardians decided not to extend the workhouse. The month ended on a high with the Lichfield Old Fair.

March began with trouble on the railways –  a ‘slight accident’ at Lichfield and the commitment for trial of a Cannock Chase miner for attempting to wreck trains near Lichfield, both of which events warrant further exploration. Sir Arthur Scott at Great Barr passed away, as did Lichfield Workhouse Master, Mr Winkely, replaced almost immediately by Mr and Mrs Williams.

At the beginning of April, there was a meeting at Rugeley to condemn the ‘Deceased Wife’s Sister Bill’, and the sad discovery of a soldier found dead in an entry of Rotten Row in Lichfield. The inquest, unable to determine a cause of death, simply returned a verdict of ‘Found Dead’. In the middle of the month, the Lichfield Spring Races took place and the Sister Dora Memorial Convalescent Hospital at Milford was opened. On the 22nd, the Bishop of Lichfield said goodbye to the Derbyshire Clergy, as the county left the Diocese. and over at Brownhills, William Henry Wombwell was convicted of non-delivery of voting papers in the Local Board of Brownhills elections.

May 1884 was a grim month.  Two miners were committed for trial for shooting a man at Gentleshaw and the trial of the seventeen year old miner who attempted to wreck at train on the Trent Valley Line concluded with him being convicted and sentenced to seven years penal service. There was more trouble at Walsall Workhouse when the Master, William Pritchard, was accused of embezzlement and there was a tragic accident on the Walsall Rd, when a young man shot himself. One positive thing that took place this month was the rededication of the restored Western Front of Lichfield Cathedral.

Festivities in the month of June included the Court of Array and the Greenhill Bower, and the decoration of Dr Johnson’s Statue by the Staffordshire Yeomanry who were assembled in Lichfield for a week’s training under the command of Colonel Bromley-Davenport. Yet within days, things had taken a sour turn with a disturbance between the Yeomanry and Lichfield civilians and then the sudden death of Colonel Bromley-Davenport in St John St. In the days that followed, an inquest into the Colonel’s death, returning a verdict of ‘death by natural causes’, was held, as was a Military Court of Inquiry at Yeomanry House on St John St into the disturbances which had taken place.

July brought with it the closing of Fair Oak Colliery, a ‘Great Temperance Fete’ at Hagley Park, Rugeley and a guilty verdict for Mr Pritchard, the Walsall Workhouse Master, who was sentenced to fifteen months imprisonment for fraud.

August was a quiet month. The cornerstone of a new mission church was laid at Chase Terrace and there were a lot of sheep sales – the Beaudesert Flock and the Freeford Flock amongst them.

September was more eventful with the opening of the Lichfield and Sutton Coldfield Railway for goods traffic and of course, the annual Sheriff’s Ride. There was a fire at Mr Williams’ chemist on Bird St and Mr Peattie, of the Old Crown Hotel died from injuries sustained after being thrown from a trap near Whittington Barracks.  There was an Autumn race meeting at Lichfield, as well as the fifth annual Working Men’s Association Produce and Poultry Show.

In October, the Mercury reported on riots and destruction of property at a Conservative rally in Aston, Birmingham and the presumably much more sober affair that was the ‘Annual Festival of the Lichfield Diocesan Church of England Temperance Society’ rounded the month off.

November saw the opening of the new Lichfield City Station, an event seemingly marked with tragedy when, ten days later, a railway porter was killed there. Councillor J H Hodson was elected Mayor and there was a dinner at the Swan Hotel for the outgoing Mayor, T H Hunt. The Lichfield Board of Guardians were back to discussing the extension of the Workhouse again.

As the year drew to a close, there was another railway tragedy when a guard was killed on a siding at Shenstone, on the same day that the new Lichfield and Sutton Coldfield Railway was opened. The year ended with Lichfield Cricket Club deciding to purchase their pavilion for £150, a performance of Handel’s Messiah at St James’s Hall, a bazaar at Elmhurst Hall to raise funds for St Chad’s Church tower and finally, on 30th December 1883, a Great City Tea.

As well as the obvious interest of following up on some of these stories, something I find fascinating about something like this is how it’s so locally orientated, but then every now and then, you get glimpses of what was going on in the big wide world outside of Lichfield, and our corner of Staffordshire. I’m also tempted to look back over copies of the Lichfield Mercury for 1884 to see if I agree that these were the ‘Principal Local Events’ of that year or just something that the writer threw together in a hurry.

Of course, as well as looking back, it’s also a time to look forward. I may not be reviewing 2013 here but do just want to mention that I am looking forward to 2014, and especially the upcoming walks, talks and workshops that we’ve got planned for our group Lichfield Discovered. More to come on that shortly.  This history lark is always more fun when you do it with others and on that note, I’d just like to say thanks for reading the blog, especially to those who contributed in some way, whether by providing information or support and encouragement along the way. A very Happy New Year to you all!

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.