Friday, 12 August 2011

Do I look big in Shortbutts Lane?

The quaint-looking and quaintly-named Quonian’s Lane, off Dam Street in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Al the rooms in Innkeeper's Lodge, the Hedgehog, in Lichfield, are named after prominent local personalities, including Saint Chad, Samuel Johnson and David Garrick. My room is named Thomas Milley after Milley's Hospital nearby in Beacon Street.

In a cathedral city, you could expect to find street names like The Close, Bishop’s Walk, Dean’s Croft, Cathedral Rise and Vicar’s Close, as well as names that recall former bishops, such as Reeve Lane.

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

Lichfield also has a clusters of streets named after apostles, evangelists and saints. Christchurch Lane and Christchurch Gardens, Saint Chad’s Road, Saint Michael’s Road, Saint Peter’s Court, Saint John Street (Upper and Lower), Saint John’s Close, are linked with the names of nearby churches.

In one tight cluster on the north side of the city, I have also come across Augustine Walk, Christopher Walk, Jude’s Walk, Luke’s Walk, Mark’s Walk, Matthew’s Walk, Paul’s Walk, Peter’s Walk, Stephen’s Walk, all close to Saint Anne’s Road, Saint Catherine’s Road, Saint Giles Road, Saint Helen’s Road, and Saint Mary’s Road.

A city with such an important ecclesiastical past also has The Friary, Friary Avenue and The Spires, and two cardinals from different periods of history come to mind at Wolsey Road and Heenan Grove. But has anyone who lives in Alpha Terrace ever done an Alpha Course?

Has anyone who lives in Alpha Terrace ever done an Alpha Course? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I suppose it was a clever idea too for someone to suggest naming one whole area after other cathedrals. Close to all those saints, I’ve found Canterbury Close, Chester Close, Gloucester Close, Lincoln Close, Norwich Close, Salisbury Close, Southwark Close, Truro Close, Winchester Close, Worcester Close and York Close.

Nearby, at least six composers are remembered in street names: Purcell Avenue runs from Curborough to Netherstowe. Off Purcell Avenue are both Elgar Close and Handel Walk. On the south side of Netherstowe, Sullivan Way and Gilbert Walk and Gilbert Road, and nearby is Verdi Court.

It seems appropriate that Britannia Way, Europa Way, Hermes Road, Titan Way and Vulcan Road are in industrial and business parks on the east of the city.

Perhaps pining for lost fields and farms, someone also decided to use the names Barn Close, Fallow Field, Field Road, Meadowbrook Road, Ploughman’s Walk and Shepherd Close.

And there are enough trees and shrubs to have a forest: Alder Close, Ash Grove, Aspen Close, Beech Gardens, Birchwood Road, Blackthorne Road, Cedar Close, Cherry Orchard, Copper Grove, Elm Gardens, Greenwood Drive, Hawthorn Close, Hazel Grove, Heather Close Larch Close, Lime Grove, Maple Grove, Mulberry Drive, Oakhurst, Rowan Close, The Sycamores, Walnut Grove, Willow Tree Road, Willowsmere Drive, Woodlands, Woods Croft and Yew Tree Avenue ... now if Lime Grove had been called Lime Green instead, that would have shown imagination.

All seasons are here too: there is Spring Road, Summer Grove, Autumn Drive and Winter Close. So too with the birds of the air: apart from Bird Street, and Swan Road which leads off it, there are Swallow Croft, near to Martin Croft, Drake Croft and Mallard Court are side-by-side, and there are Bluebird Close, Crane Field, Curlew Close, Partridge Close, Swallow Croft and Swan Court.

Market Street, leading to Samuel Johnson’s birthplace and Market Square (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

As you might expect local writers, literary figures and artists have their place too. Lichfield’s own Samuel Johnson gives his name – rather, gives his names – to Samuel Close and to Johnson Close, Elias Ashmole gives his names to both Elias Close and Ashmole Close, and Charles Darwin’s father, Erasmus Darwin, who lived in a fine house on Beacon Street, is recalled in both Erasmus Way and Darwin Close on either side of the street.

But there is also David Garrick Gardens, Garrick Close, Garrick Court and Garrick Road, remembering David Garrick the actor who was pupil and friend of Samuel Johnson. Siddons Close and Kean Close recall Sarah Siddons and Edmund Kean, who worked on the stage with David Garrick. There is Edgeworth House, after Maria Edgeworth’s father, Richard Lovell Edgeworth; Lomax Close, after Thomas George Lomax, a local printer, engraver and publisher; Seward Close, after the poet Anna Seward, known as the ‘Swan of Lichfield’; and Reynolds Close, after Joshua Reynolds, who painted many of the members of this influential circle.

Walter Scott, who edited Anna Seward’s work, has his own tributes too in Abbotsford Road, Ivanhoe Road, Kenilworth Road, Scott Close and Waverley Walk.

Writers who may have had little or no association with Lichfield are not forgotten either: Burns Close, Byron Avenue, Chaucer Close, Masefield Close, Shakespeare Avenue, Spencer Road, Stevenson Walk and Wordsworth Close,

Do Patrick Mews and Anson Avenue on either side of Beacon Street recall the local royal photographer Patrick Anson, Earl of Lichfield? Other local land-owning families are here too: there are Levetts Fields and Swinfen Broun Court; while the Pagets of Beaudesert who held the Anglesey title, gave their names to Anglesey Road and Paget Close.

Curious figures in local history are called too, but the most interesting puzzle is posed by Wightman Close. Does this place take its name from Edward Wightman, who claimed he was Elijah, the Promised Messiah the Saviour of the World and the Holy Spirit – all in one? He and was burned at the stake in the Market Square in Lichfield in 1612, and was the last man executed as a heretic in England. Or is Wightman Close named after William Wightman, who was executed with John Neve and James Jackson in 1810 for uttering false banknotes – they were last men to be executed in Lichfield.

Saint John’s Close ...but I wonder how close is he? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

On a more cheerful note, racetracks also have their place in the landscape, with Ascot Close, Epsom Close and Goodwood Close, as well as The Paddocks, while royal palaces have bestowed their names on Balmoral Close, Buckingham Gardens, Richmond Drive, Windsor Court, all, appropriately, close to Eton Court Grosvenor Close and Henley Court.

I’m here this week to see the Staffordshire Hoard on exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral, so it is good to be reminded of the rich history of the city in names like Roman Way, Rynkild Street, Saxon Hill and Mercian Court.

But what inspired someone to call a place Thomas Greenway after a 19th century Premier of Manitoba?

Conduit Street, from Bore Street, looking towards Dam Street and the Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Lichfield also has its own unique placenames, which add colour and a sense of place to wandering the streets of this cathedral city: Borrowcrop Hill, Conduit Street, Cross in Hand Lane, The Dimbles, Dovehouse Fields, Friday Acre, Nether Beacon, Netherstowe, Quonian’s Lane, Rotten Row and Shortbutts Lane.

But then, all human life is here, I suppose

Viewing Staffordshire’s Anglo-Saxon Hoard in Lichfield Cathedral

A selection of finds from the hoard unearthed near Lichfield and now on display in the Chapter House in Lichfield Cathedral

Patrick Comerford

I am back in Lichfield this week and was in Lichfield Cathedral last night for a guided tour of the exhibition, “the Staffordshire Hoard on Tour,” which is on show in the Chapter House

This exhibition, which has come to Lichfield from Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent, is a unique opportunity to see the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found. But we also had an opportunity to learn about in the context of the arrival of Christianity in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia and about Lichfield’s patron, Saint Chad.

Canon Pete Wilcox, Canon-Chancellor of Lichfield Cathedral, who led Evening Prayer in the Cathedral earlier in the day, has said: “We’re delighted to be working alongside our colleagues at Birmingham and Stoke to help bring the temporary touring exhibition to life. In Lichfield, visitors will get the chance to learn more about the links between the hoard and the cathedral's existing priceless treasures, including the Saint Chad Gospels and the Lichfield Angel.”

I was fortunate to get to see this exhibition last night – it emerged a few days ago that all the tickets to see the Staffordshire Hoard at Lichfield Cathedral were snapped up four days before the exhibition opened on Saturday 30 July.

The Staffordshire Hoard is the largest hoard of gold from the period ever found in England, and this harvest of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver is so beautiful that it even brought tears to the eyes of at least one expert. None of the experts who examined the hoard has seen anything like it before. All have been impressed not just by the quantity, but by the dazzling quality of the pieces, which has left them groping for superlatives.

The finds in the exhibition

The hoard was unearthed in a field near the village of Hammerwich, near Lichfield, two years ago on 5 July 2009. It is the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork yet found, and it eclipses, at least in quantity, the hoard found in the Sutton Hoo ship burial in 1939.

This is a find without precedent and experts would regard any one item a spectacular discovery. But there are more than 3,000 items, nearly all of them martial in character. They have been dated to the 7th or 8th centuries, placing their origin at the height of the Kingdom of Mercia. The hoard includes spectacular gem-studded pieces decorated with tiny interlaced beasts, which were originally the ornamentation for Anglo-Saxon swords of princely quality, 84 pommel caps, 71 hilt collars, weapons and helmet decorations, coins and Christian crosses, adding up to 5 kg of gold and 2.5 kg of silver.

Dr Kevin Leahy, National Finds Adviser of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, says the quantity of gold is extremely impressive and that, “more importantly, the craftsmanship is consummate, this was the very best that the Anglo-Saxon metalworkers could do, and they were very good.”

But he points out that the make-up of the hoard is unbalanced. “There is absolutely nothing feminine. There are no dress fittings, brooches or pendants. These are the gold objects most commonly found from the Anglo-Saxon era. The vast majority of items in the hoard are martial – war gear, especially sword fittings.”

The hoard includes:

Weaponry: The contents include many finely worked silver and gold sword decorations removed from weaponry, including 66 gold sword hilt collars and many gold hilt plates, some with inlays of cloisonné garnet in zoomorphic designs. The 86 sword pommels found amount to the largest ever discovery of pommels in a single context, with many different types Рsome previously unknown Рsupporting the idea that the pommels were made over a wide range of time.

Crosses: The only items in the hoard that are obviously not martial are two, or possibly three, crosses that are among the 40 or selected items in the exhibition. Some of the crosses were folded up casually, the largest is missing some decorative settings, but otherwise remains intact, and it may have been an altar or processional cross. Yet the cross was folded, either prior to burial “to make it fit into a small space,” or as a sign that the burial deposit was made by pagans. On the other hand, Christians at the time were capable of despoiling each other’s shrines.

This gold strip is one of the most intriguing items in the hoard

Gold strip: One of the most intriguing items in the exhibition is a small strip of gold, folded in half and inscribed on both sides with an Old Testament quotation from Moses in occasionally misspelled Latin and capital letters: Surge Dne disepentur inimici tui et fugent qui oderunt te a facie tua (Surge Domine et dissipentur inimici tui et fugiant qui oderunt te a facie tua).

This translates: “Arise, O Lord, and let thy enemies be scattered; and let them that hate thee flee before thee” (Numbers 10: 35); or “Rise up O Lord; may your enemies be scattered and those who hate you be driven from your face” (Numbers 10: 35, NRSV).

Pommel caps: Dr Kevin Leahy also points to the significance that the find includes dozens of pommel caps – decorative attachments to sword handles – and that Beowulf contains a reference to warriors stripping the pommels from their enemies’ swords.

Significance of find

The hoard has been described by Dr Leslie Webster, formerly of the Department of Prehistory at the British Museum, as “absolutely the metalwork equivalent of finding a new Lindisfarne Gospels or Book of Kells.” She says: “This is going to alter our perceptions of Anglo-Saxon England as radically, if not more so, as the Sutton Hoo discoveries.”

The first pieces of gold were found on 5 July 2009 in a field on a farm in Hammerwich, near Lichfield, by Terry Herbert, an amateur metal detector who lives alone in a council flat on disability benefit. Never before had he found anything more valuable than a nice rare piece of Roman horse harness.

He was exploring an area of farmland using a metal detector and working with the permission of the landowner, Fred Johnson, when he uncovered what is now known as the Staffordshire Hoard. The field is now under grass, but that year it had been ploughed deeper than usual by Fred Johnson, and experts believe this brought the pieces closer to the surface.

Over the next five days, Terry Herbert recovered enough gold objects from the plough soil to fill 244 bags. At this point, he contacted Duncan Slarke, the Finds Liaison Officer for the Staffordshire and West Midlands Portable Antiquities Scheme. Fred Johnson gave permission for an excavation to search for the rest of the hoard.

Putting the finds on exhibit

The exhibition continues at Lichfield Cathedral until Sunday 21 August and moves to Tamworth Castle on 27 August

The hoard, now valued at over £3 million, has been bought by the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent.

The first exhibition in Birmingham, from 24 September to 13 October 2009, attracted 40,000 visitors, with queues several hours long. Part of the hoard then went on display at the British Museum from 3 November 2009 to 17 April 2010, and a further selection of 80 items went on display at the Potteries Museum, including a gold horse’s head that has not been exhibited previously. Key items and numerous smaller pieces were then taken to the British Museum, where cataloguing began, along with some initial cleaning and conservation work.

The current exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral includes two extra, exclusive items: the Lichfield Gospels and the Lichfield Angel, with an extra-interactive exhibition in the cathedral of replica helmets, swords and other items, children’s activities and DVDs.

The exhibition opened in the Chapter House on Saturday 30 July and continues until Sunday 21 August, with free timed entry tickets and exclusive paid tours. There were two tours last night, limited to 30 pre-booked people on each occasion. All donations are going towards conserving, researching and displaying the hoard in the future as part of the emerging Mercian trail.

The tour has already visited the Shire Hall in Stafford (2 July to 24 July) and continues at Tamworth Castle from 27 August to 18 September, before going on to Washington DC in October. After the exhibitions in Lichfield, Tamworth and Washington, the hoard goes on permanent display in Birmingham and in Stoke-on-Trent.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin