Water Slides

Ross Parish has been researching holy wells since the 1980s and has published several books on the subject.  Ross is currently working on a Staffordshire volume and a couple of weeks back, we were delighted to have him at our Lichfield Discovered meeting to share his research with us. Ross took us through the history of holy wells, and some of the customs associated with them, pouring cold water on some of the popular views that have sprung up around them. At the risk of firing up inter-county rivalry, you’ve heard the saying ‘The best bits of Derbyshire are in Staffordshire’?. Well, Staffordshire is also a bit hard done by when it comes to the tradition of well dressing. Google it and you’ll find claims aplenty that it’s ‘unique to Derbyshire’. Try telling the people of Endon and Mayfield that. Interestingly, we also went through a phase of decorating St Chad’s well here in Lichfield for a time, but this tradition seems to have dried up in 2010.

St Chad's Well Lichfield,  only decorated by nature these days.

St Chad’s Well Lichfield, only decorated by nature these days.

With so many fascinating sites to chose from,  we forgave Ross for not including St Chad’s in his top ten list of Staffordshire wells. You can discover the ones that did make it, along with an abundance of other fascinating information, on the slides of the talk that Ross has very kindly shared with us online here.

If you’ve a thirst to know more about holy wells and sacred springs, here in Staffordshire and further afield, please do check out Ross’ blog here and also take a look at the Facebook group he’s involved in here.

 

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Sites for Sore Eyes

Springs and wells are sources not only of water but also of folklore and legend. There are healing springs and fortune telling wells. Some are associated with saints, others with spirits.

St Chad's in Lichfield. Photo by Lichwheeld

St Chad’s in Lichfield was believed to cure sore eyes (photo by Lichwheeld)

On Monday 9th February, Ross Parish, author of the Holy and Healing Wells blog and a series of books on the subject, will be giving a talk to our Lichfield Discovered group. Ross will be telling us about some of the sites we have here in Staffordshire and some of the traditions and stories associated with them. The talk starts at 7.30pm at St Mary’s in the Market Square (where there was a once a well of the same name at the west end!) and there is no entry charge, although voluntary donations towards the running of St Mary’s are always welcome. After the talk, people are invited to stay behind to discuss the future vision of the county’s archive and heritage service, over a cup of Staffordshire water (plus milk and teabag).

Objects of My Affection Pt 1

Our next Lichfield Discovered meeting is fast approaching (7pm on 10th March at Lichfield Heritage Centre) and this time round we’re having a bit of a show and tell. We’ll be having a go at telling one hundred years of Lichfield History in twelve objects and we want people to get involved by bringing along their Lichfield related objects to show us all.

There are loads of objects that I’d love to be able to bring along with me, but can’t, either because they’re lost, immovable or I’d be arrested. So instead, over the next week or so, I’ll share some of them here instead.

First up, the earthenware jars found in the south wall of Farewell Church during its partial demolition.

Farewell Church

St Bartholomew’s in Farewell was once the site of a Benedictine Nunnery. The place name refers to the ‘pure or clear’ spring which still flows here. The original church incorporated material from the nunnery, but much of it was demolished and rebuilt in brick in the 1740s.

Trust me, there is a spring beneath here.

Trust me, there is a spring beneath here.

In my opinion, it takes something pretty special to top an ancient spring, but here at Farewell, the most interesting thing for me is the discovery of three rows of different sized earthenware vessels in the south wall of the church at the time of the renovations. The jars were lying on their sides, their openings facing inside the church, covered with a thin coat of plaster. Sadly most were broken during the work but one of the jars found its way to Mr Greene’s Museum of Curiosities on Market St, Lichfield. Its whereabouts is now unknown but luckily, someone did make a woodcut engraving of it, as seen here on Staffordshire Past Track. The purpose of the jars remains a bit of a mystery. The accepted explanation is that they were ‘acoustic jars’, used, as the name suggests, to improve the acoustics in the church, based on a theory from a Roman architect called Vitruvius. However, others have suggested that they may be related to the idea of votive offerings (interesting article here).

It’s a good example of how important is it to not to separate objects from their stories . Without knowing the context in which it was found, the jar becomes just another piece of pottery and without being able to examine the jar itself, the real reason why (and when) it was placed in a church wall in Farewell centuries ago may never be known.

When Spring finally does arrive, do try and visit Farewell via Cross in Hand Lane, the old pilgrims route & former road to Stafford. It’s a lovely walk to a lovely place with the banks of the ancient holloways covered in flowers and the Ashmore Brook running alongside if you fancy a paddle.

farewell

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

Know Your Boundaries

I’d wondered about this curious sandstone block, embedded in one of the gate posts of the Garden of Remembrance on Bird St, but it wasn’t until I read a newspaper article on the unveiling and dedication of the war memorial that I learnt that it is apparently an ‘ancient’ boundary stone. The article in the Lichfield Mercury, dated October 22nd 1920, describes how a high wall running along Bird St was demolished and replaced by the stone balustrade that now runs along the edge of the garden. Prior to its demolition, the boundary stone was originally incorporated into this wall, but whether that was its original location, or was an earlier effort to preserve the stone, I don’t yet know. It seems to be marked and I’m wondering whether this is deliberate or not (or if I’m imagining it!). Also, just how ancient is ancient?

Boundary stone embedded in lower part of right gate pier of Lichfield’s Garden of Remembrance

Close up of the ‘ancient’ boundary stone

A newspaper report from May 1936 describes how the Cathedral Choristers observed the tradition of ‘Beating the Bounds’ each Ascension Day. Accompanied by members of the clergy, the boys would start opposite St Mary’s Vicarage and stop off at places were there was, or had been, a well – ‘midway between the pool and Gaia Lane’, the Bishop’s kitchen garden, the Dean’s kitchen garden, Milley’s Hospital, the boundary stone on the Minster Pool Bridge and the Verger’s house in the corner of the Close before finally gathering at the old pump to the North West of the Cathedral, to which water from the Conduit Heads up near Maple Hayes once flowed along a lead pipe. The boys would carry elm boughs, and at each of the stop off points there was a reading from the scriptures and a verse of a hymn was sung. In 1936, the elm boughs were brought inside the Cathedral and laid on the font. An account from 1910 describes how choristers would collect boughs from the Dimbles and then return to the Close where they would decorate the houses before commencing their perambulation. I understand that these days Ascension Day is marked by the choristers singing from the roof. It’s interesting that elm boughs used to play a part in the custom; it makes me think of old traditions related to the Lichfield Bower which takes place in the same month.

‘Beating the bounds’ apparently dates back to a time before maps and was a way of ensuring that the knowledge of where the boundaries of an area, or a parish, lay was passed on. The tradition in The Close seems to have been centred around wells and water, but in other places boundaries were also marked by other natural features.  A Gospel Tree is marked on OS maps of Gentleshaw up until the 1930s and Gospel Oak is a common place name, found all over the country.

On the subject of maps, there’s a great version of John Snape’s 1781 map on BrownhillsBob’s Brownhills Blog here. I think that the boundary of the Close, similar to that described above, is shown clearly on this map in the form of a dotted line running around the Close.

There’s a lot more to be said on boundaries and their markers, including the exciting possibility (for me at least!) that if this one is still here, there just might be others preserved somewhere in or around the city. In fact, we may even have located a couple, purpose as yet unknown.

Edit: Just had one thought myself actually! In many places it seems boundary stones and trees were actually hit with sticks (as can be seen here in Oxford) or physically marked in some other way, as people passed by them on their perambulation. Is it possible the marks on our boundary stone are evidence of it being ‘beaten’ over the centuries?

 

 

 

Fareground Attraction

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve done a fair bit of walking in the lanes (and on one misjudged occasion, a potato field) around the Lichfield/Burntwood area. On one walk I was accompanied by my husband, on another I was alone. Well, I say alone, but actually you bump into others – cyclists, horseriders and of course other walkers, who generally smile and say hello, and exchange pleasantries. I like that a lot. On the walk I did alone, I made the mistake of trying to take a shortcut. It was a way marked path through fields and the views were great but it felt too lonely. I retraced my steps back through the potatoes and back to the lanes. I’ve realised that I’m not much of a fan of walking through fields. I prefer to be somewhere where others have been, and others are.

Anyway, in case anyone wants to do a similar walk themselves, here’s a suggested route. I think it’s about 5 and a half miles.  As you can see it’s pretty straight forward, and in fact you could do it either way around, but I’d been reading the book ‘Holloway‘ and liked the idea of walking from Farewell towards the Cathedral down Cross in Hand Lane, as pilgrims did in the past, and indeed still do.

On walks these days, I am torn between the joy of discovering the unknown, and the disappointment on getting home and finding that you were just minutes away from a Tudor gatehouse/CAMRA pub of the year/ancient burial site etc. I hope that including a couple of photos with suggestions of things to look out for won’t make it too prescriptive, but will give you a flavour of the walk.

In parts, Abnalls Lane cuts through sandstone, and tree roots grow above your head.

According to the Staffordshire Heritage Environment Record, there are a series of these holloways on the Lichfield/Burntwood border.

Walking through the potatoes, it felt like there was nothing else but fields.

I was glad to get back on the lanes and see signs of human life, like these old cottages at Spade Green, on Abnalls Lane before turning up The Roche.

Found lots of water around Cresswell  (except for the well itself!). This is part of an old mill race, seemingly all that’s left of Little Pipe corn mill.

The Nelson Inn shows up on the 1815 map, and the pub’s website says that there may have been a pub onsite since the 1500s (presumably with a different name?). The low building to the left (which I’ve practically cut off the photo!) was a smithy. In 1909, Clifford Daft advertised himself as a general shoeing smith, willing to undertake all kinds of jobbing and repairs to farm implements.

Looking at a series of old maps, there’s not just the one well around here but several. However, I didn’t find any of them, so I had to settle for a different form of refreshment. And a very nice pint of Theakston’s Lightfoot  it was.

We found the old Farewell and Chorley schoolhouse, but I haven’t been able to find out much more about Elizabeth Annie Page as yet.

An old farm at Chorley

The Malt Shovel at Chorley. Great pub.

A lovely babbling brook running alongside the path. Was tempted to have a paddle as it was hot and my feet were rubbing, but thought I’d never put my not entirely appropriate shoes back on again if I did.

In between walks, some of the wildflowers on the roadside verges had been chopped down which was a shame, but there were still pockets of them in places, including these incredibly late bluebells.

Farewell church, a church of two halves. Once the site of a Benedictine Priory and where some mysterious jars were found in the wall, during renovations….

…and somewhere beneath the greenery is the ‘pure spring’ that gives the place its name. You can’t see much, but you can sometimes hear it gurgling away if the water table is high enough (thank you Brownhills Bob for explaining away this mystery)

Down Cross in Hand land, past Farewell Mill. There’s been a mill here since the 12th century. It was apparently in operation until the 1940s (source: Staffordshire Past Track).

Past the sheep taking a dip in the sparkling water that flows along the lane.

Cross in Hand Lane, I understand, was once the old road to Stafford. As you reach these lovely white cottages set back into the sandstone, you are nearly back at the A51, which is of course the new road to Stafford…

Of course, if you don’t want to say farewell (ho,ho) to the walk just yet, somewhere around these cottages is an old track called Lyncroft Lane, which leads to Lyncroft House aka The Hedgehog!

Watering Hole

On the way home from Tixall (of which more later), I stopped off at Longdon village and called into the Swan With Two Necks for a drink. I only had time for a very quick look around the village but even in this short space of time managed to find lots of interest, much of it water-related, which seems only natural in a place also known as Brook End. I hope to return to Longdon and the surrounding area (and of course the pub!) in the not too distant future. Amongst other things, I want to see if there are any nuggets of truth in an old ghost story I found about Lysways Hall….

The pub name Swan with Two Necks is apparently a distortion of ‘Swan with Two Nicks’, referring to the marks made on the birds’ beaks to denote ownership. More info here

Talking of ownership, the SWTN has been under the management of Mary McMeechan since 1st March 2013, the latest in a long line of landlords stretching back to 1755!

Brook End Mill dates back to the 1700s and appears on the Yates Map of Staffordshire.

The mill race still runs and you can follow it for a way up a public footpath.

This area is full of wells, some with brilliant names & legends attached. I think if I’d have carried on up past here, I’d have come to my all time favourite – Giddywell! Never mind, I did find this one near to the mill and there’s always next time…

I’m not sure if this pump is original. There are some other Staffordshire water pumps on this website, perhaps I should send them the photo and get their expert opinion?

These cottages are thought to be a 16th timber framed building that was divided up into separate houses at some point in the last half a millenium or so!

Over to the experts again, and this time John Higgins of the Mile Stone Society who researched Staffordshire Mileposts and found that in 1893, 335 posts were ordered from Tipton firm Charles Lathe & Co at a cost of 19s.6d each, including this one in St James’ Close