Off the Mark

I’m supposed to be revising right now, but it does you good to have a little diversion now and again. So, just a quickie but it’s an interesting one. On my way to Wall last Monday, I spotted this marker stone outside Redlock Cottage on the Birmingham Rd. As this isn’t too far from the route that the Wyrley and Essington canal once took through Lichfield, I assumed that it was some sort of boundary marker, with ‘L.C’ standing for ‘Lichfield Canal’, possibly salvaged by previous owners of the cottage when this stretch of the Curly Wyrley was filled in.

LC marker

Turns out my theory was as rubbish as a shopping trolley at the bottom of the cut. Christine Howles, one of the Lichfield & Hatherton Canal Restoration Trust’s volunteers, reminded me on Facebook that the name ‘Lichfield Canal’ only came in to use when the trust started their restoration work. So, what else could ‘L.C’ stand for? Having done a bit of digging (her pun, not mine!), Christine thought it may be part of a boundary marker for the Lichfield Conduit Lands, with an ‘L’ missing?

As I was writing this, I remembered that back in October 2013, on one of our Lichfield Discovered walks around Leomansley, my friend and neighbour Kerry showed me a mystery stone that had turned up in her garden….marked with a letter L. I’ll blame a head full of phonology for not making the association sooner but surely there is some connection between these two stones? Really do need to book myself in for a week at L.R.O. After the exams though, must concentrate on those kinds of marks first….

leomansley stone 2

 

Route Canal

Following on from yesterday’s post, I had an email from David Moore pointing me in the direction of an aerial photograph of the canal running past Sandfields Pumping Station. You can see it on his flickr stream here, and you can also see lots of other great images, including my own personal favourite photograph – the Sandfields staff in 1893 here. Please go and take a look! If you do manage to rejoin me at some point, here’s a fairly recent aerial view of the pumping station, plus some photos I took myself in summer this year. I thought that the canal was in front of the building (I know, I’m an idiot sometimes!), but clearly it ran parallel to the railway line on the opposite side of the pumping station. (On that note, it would be interesting to explore the relationship between all of these elements  of the landscape – the canal, the brewery, the railway, Sandfields etc).

The last photograph doesn’t show anything to do with the route of the canal, but I’ve included it because if you looked at David’s photograph of the Sandfields workers in 1893, you might recognise the steps! If you haven’t been over to David’s website on the history and future of Sandfields yet, you can find it here – please do go and take a look now. David’s also going to hopefully add some more photographs of the canal later and I thank him for all his help in steering me in the right direction!

Finally, I’d also like to mention that Philip John has let me know that the route of the Lichfield Canal has been mapped by the volunteers at the OpenStreetMap project that he’s involved in. There are mobile apps too, so when I attempt to follow the route of the canal beyond Sandfields, I can download one of these to stop me going too curly wurly!

Concrete Evidence

Due to a vague notion I had that canals had to follow a straight line, my previous attempt to follow the route of the Wyrley & Essington canal from the London Rd bridge to Sandfields Pumping Station had not been a resounding success. Determined to find the stretch of the Curly Wyrley (the canal’s nickname derived from the way it, ahem, doesn’t follow a straight line) that I’d missed,  I had a walk along the Birmingham Rd. Near to the Duke of Wellington, half a canal bridge and two modern street names – ‘Wyrley Close’ and ‘Essington Close – confirmed that this had once been part of the route of the canal between Shortbutts Lane and Sandfields.

Canal where?

Essington Close and Wyrley Close to the left as you look at the photo.

Standing in Essington Close looking back up the line of the canal towards the bridge.

In fact, I’d already been over the bridge plenty of times before but just never taken any notice of the clues staring me in the face. My excuse is that my head is always turned the other way, ready to look out for the old Maltings on the other side of the road.

Lichfield Maltings

One of my first friends in Lichfield used to live on the site.  One of our favourite topics of conversation, inevitably, was the history of the building we could see from her house, especially on those occasions when my friend had chatted with one of the employees and was able to regale me with tales of burning buildings, footsteps and orchards.  Through these chats and a bit of reading, we discovered that the malthouse had belonged to The City Brewery Company (Lichfield). In October 1916, a fire destroyed most of the brewery leaving only this building, and the red brick brewery manager’s house and offices (see my earlier post on the fire here). Shortly afterwards, Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries took over the site.

What we didn’t appreciate enough at the time is that as we were scouring the archives for events that took place nearly a century ago, history was also happening right there under our noses – in 2004, this was one of only six remaining operational floor maltings in the country.The following year, it closed and the building was eventually purchased by a propery developer. Thanks to a Historic Building Assessment and photographs from urban explorers, the architectural features of the building have been documented. However, I wish we’d have talked to more people and asked more questions and recorded the first hand experiences of people doing a job that would very shortly cease to exist, in a building that would soon no longer be used for its primary purpose. You live and learn….

After standing unused for several years, scaffolding now surrounds the malthouse, and the adjoining modern shed has now gone. This could be an indication that the building’s transformation from industrial to residential use is now underway.  It seems to me that giving new life to an old building like this is a good way to balance the need to protect the past and the need to look to the future.  I hope that wherever possible the old features that tell the story of the building’s old life are retained, as recommended by the Historic Building Consultant’s assessment.

On the opposite side of the road to the Maltings, I followed a drive that lead under a railway bridge to some rusting gates. Until I got home and looked at an old map, I had no idea that this had formerly been a concrete works. Back in 1986, the Domesday project recorded that this was once the site of Bison Concrete. Unlike the canal and the maltings, I can see no reference to the site’s recent history. Maybe the time when we celebrate concrete is still to come…

I think that those of us that don’t have the nerve to explore & photograph the inside of derelict buildings or the necessary funds to pay for the physical restoration of a building, do have another weapon that we can employ in the defence of our history – the ability to listen.

The three places I visited above are all a part of Lichfield’s industrial heritage. On my way over to them, I passed a fourth – Sandfields Pumping Station. David Moore is gaining a lot of support for his campaign to safeguard this overlooked yet important part of our social and industrial history. You can listen to what he has to say by visiting his blog here!

Notes

I think my research could also be described as a bit ‘curly wurly’ as I never seem to be able to resist taking the scenic route instead of going from A to B. When I was on the Domesday site, I read some of the other entries for the Birmingham Rd area and the one that especially caught my eye was ‘Shire Horses – Lichfield’, with an accompanying photograph of said horses emerging from stables on the Birmingham Rd. Does anyone know anything about these in addition to the short description here?

On a final curly wurly note, this tree on the Birmingham Rd looks like it has teeth.  The one next to it doesn’t, so I’m not sure why…

Bark worse than its bite?

Sources:

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/publications/maltings