Friday, 12 March 2010

Signs, wonders and mysteries in Lichfield

Thin ice ... very thin ice in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

Last week in Lichfield, I spent a lot of time on my own, walking and thinking. The sunshine was pleasant, but cool enough to walk for hours – and yet cool enough too to remind me that there had been heavy winter snow only a few weeks earlier.

And there was a reminder of it on Minster Pool. The ice had long gone … but there were some humorous remaining signs, such as the sign in the water that still declared last week: “Warning Thin Ice.”

So thin, I suppose that, like Canadian snow, this water might still be good enough for skating in the Canadian Winter Olympics.

Walk .. but did the bishop ever hop, skip or jump? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

To the north of Stowe Pool, a sign made me wonder whether a bishops ever ran, swaggered, tripped or crawled.

It was hardly worth bringing them in ... they can’t sing the versicles and responses (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

At the southern entrance to The Close, there is a forbidding sign:

The Road through the Close
not being a Public thoroughfare
no Waggons, Carts or Cattle
are allowed to pass through.

By Order of the Dean & Chapter.

Not that I was thinking of bringing my waggons, carts or cattle with to choral evensong.

South of the Cathedral, a sign on Brooke House in Dam Street recalls a famed incident from the Civil War:

How to annoy the Roundheads (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

March 2nd 1643 Lord Brooke a general
of the Parliament Forces, preparing to
besiege the Close of Lichfield, the garrisoned
for King Charles the First, received his death wound
on the spot beneath this inscription by a shot in the
forehead, from Mr Dyott, a gentleman who had
placed himself on the battlements of the
great steeple to annoy the besiegers

John Dyott, or “Dumb Dyott” as he is remembered in Lichfield to this day, had placed himself as a sniper high on the roof of the cathedral, beside the central spire.

The word “annoy” conveys such different meanings today. I’m annoyed when I leave the keys to my office at home in the morning; I’m annoyed when I find I have no change for the bus in my pocket; I’m annoyed when I’m buying books and the pin-number gets a blank response from a credit card machine. I imagine I would be more than annoyed if they if someone took a pot shot at me, especially from a cathedral.

Quonians Lane ... the Tudor-style buildings date here from at least 1555 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Around the corner from Dam Street, in the quaint-looking and quaintly-named Quonians Lane, an inscribed stone in this narrow, short street, laden with charm, indicates that the Tudor-style buildings date here from at least 1555.

There is a carving of Saint Christopher carrying the Christ Child (above) on his back.

Another carving is peeling in the Spring sunshine. This one (above depicts the Last Supper … an appropriate one to pay attention to as we approach Holy Week and Easter.

At the end of the street, there is an arresting carving (above) of the Virgin Mother holding the Christ Child.

And there is a most peculiar, undated stone plaque that reads:

Reader. whoever thou art.
Prepare to meet thy descending
God. Erelong the clod’s of the
valley shall cover thee: and the
worms feed sweetly upon
thy flesh. Be ye always ready:
Since no device, or work is found,
Nor faith, Nor hope, beneath the ground.
Seeing we are as grass.
Or like the morning flower;
if one sharp blast sweep oer the field.
We wither in the hour.

As a tribute of sincere affection,
a memento of true friendship,
and a memorial of a faithful
Christian. N. Bradbury erect’s
this monument.

I delight in the punctuation, capitalisation and syntax … the greengrocer’s apostrophe’s in both clod’s and erect’s are perfect.

Remembering the Reformation martyrs of Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

In the Market Square, signs on the side of Saint Mary’s Church recall Lichfield’s Reformation martyrs – Thomas Hayward (1555), John Goreway (1555), Joyce Lewis (1557), Edmund Gennings (1591) and Edward Wightman (1612) – and the visit to the “bloody city of Lichfield” by the Quakers’ founding figure, George Fox, in the winter of 1651.

Like death, birth is remembered too: there are signs throughout the city recalling famous citizens born in Lichfield, including Samuel Johnson (above), Elias Ashmole and Bishop Newtown of Bristol.

A sign marks out the remains of the Friary walls (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

At the corner of The Friary and Saint John Street, signs mark out the wall of the Franciscan Friary, which was dissolved at the Reformation, and the site of the Crucible Conduit (above), which survived for centuries.

Further up Saint John Street, along the exterior, street-side walls of Saint John’s Hospital, a small hole now covered in with a fogged window (above)is said to mark the spot where pilgrims to the shrine of Saint Chad were fed at night when they arrived too late in the day to pass through the city gates after the curfew.

Bless us O Lord, in our coming in and in our going out (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

In the archway leading from the street into the hospital, a wise old sign reminds those coming in and going out:

It is admirable
to consider, how many millions
of people, come into & go out of
the world, ignorant of themselves
& of the world they have lived in.

The wise sign writer never considered telling the many passing people who had said this. Perhaps he thought we were not so ignorant of the world we live in after all.

But then, in my going in and in my coming out of Lichfield I have always been blessed.