Friday, 1 November 2013

The rain turns autumn into winter in
a Lichfield waiting for Christmas lights

Late autumn grapes clinging in bunches to the vines at the Hedgehog on the northern edge of Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

Although there are still large bunches of grapes dangling from the branches of the vines in the small courtyard at the Hedgehog on the corner of Stafford Road and Cross in Hand Lane, autumn turned to winter late this morning as the cold rains descended on Lichfield in a downpour that lasted for the rest of the day.

Shortly after breakfast, I had a meeting in the Hedgehog with Paul Oakley, editor of the Lichfield Gazette, and it is good to be invited to write occasion guest features for a local magazine over 40 years after I first started as a freelance journalist with occasional contributions to the Lichfield Mercury.

Afterwards, I had a walk through the rain and the wet grass in front of the Hedgehog, enjoying the vista south towards Lichfield Cathedral from a small precipice that looks down on Cross in Hand Lane.

Ron Brazier, the landlord of the Hedgehog – once known as Lyncroft House – is confident that one of the trees in the grounds is over 300 years old and that it may well be the oldest tree in Lichfield.

Later in the morning, I strolled down Beacon Street. At the end of the street, the old Angel Croft Hotel continues to deteriorate and decay. Despite many campaigns on the internet and on social media by concerned local residents, it appears that this once elegant Georgian house may be lost as part of Lichfield’s architectural heritage.

The former Angel Croft continued to deteriorate and decay (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

I was in Lichfield Cathedral for mid-day prayers, and tool some photographs of monuments and windows before taking part in the Eucharist, celebrated for All Saints’ Day at the High Altar.

Afterwards in the cathedral, I bought my first Christmas Cards this year and revisited the exhibition with the Lichfield Angel and some of the finds from the Staffordshire Hoard in the Chapter House before visiting the Cathedral Bookshop at No 9 The Close. The shop not only has good sections on theology, liturgy and local books, but also has a book second hand section.

I came away with two new books this afternoon: Paul Avis, The Anglican Understanding of the Church (2nd ed, London: SPCK, 2013); and Paul Gooder and Michael Perham, Echoing the Word, The Bible in the Eucharist (London: 2013).

I browsed a little longer rummaging through the second-hand section at the back of the shop, in a room looking out onto the gardens at the back of Erasmus Darwin House. There I came across an out-of-print gem: a translation of Simone Weil’s The Need for Roots, first published in English in 1952 with a preface by TS Eliot, who reluctantly concedes that her “soul was incomparably superior to her genius” and recommends this book “to be studied by the young before their leisure has been lost and their capacity for thought destroyed in the life of the hustings and the legislative assembly ...”

I stopped briefly in the Market and once more in Saint Mary’s Church, where the Dyott Chapel and the sanctuary area remain intact but the rest of the building gave way many years ago to a cafĂ© and heritage centre, with exhibitions telling the history of Lichfield.

Lunch with an old friend in the Spark on Tamworth Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The rain continued to pour to down and I decided to have a late lunch in the Spark on Tamworth Street. My only companion as I enjoyed a warm goat’s cheese salad and a glass of wine was an old friend – the Lichfield Mercury.

I thought of taking a stroll around Stowe Pool, but the rain was so heavy that wisdom overcame instinct.

Autumn turns to winter ... but already the Christmas Tree is up in the Three Spires Shopping Centre, long before Advent (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The rain may a true sign that autumn has given way to winter in Lichfield. And yet, although Advent is another four weeks away, the Christmas Tree is already up in Baker’s Lane in the Three Spires Shopping Centre, waiting for the lights to be switched on.

Evening lights in the chapel in Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

On these quiet days and personal retreats in Lichfield, it is important for me to visit the chapel at Saint John’s Hospital in John Street. I notice now, with interest, that Lichfield District Tourism now lists Saint John’s Hospital and Chapel among the 10 “must-sees” and favourite attractions and landmarks.

The ten are:

1, Lichfield Cathedral.
2, The Staffordshire Hoard.
3, The National Memorial Arboretum near Alrewas.
4, The Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum.
5, Erasmus Darwin House.
6, Lichfield Historic Parks, including Beacon Park, the Garden of Remembrance and Minster Pool.
7, Saint John’s Hospital and Chapel.
8, Drayton Manor Theme Park.
9, Staffordshire Regiment Museum.
10, Lichfield Heritage Centre in Saint Mary’s Church.

After time for personal prayer and reflection in Saint John’s, there was little point in walking any further in the driving rain. A hoped for meeting with some friends never materialised in this winter downpour, and I caught the next train to Birmingham New Street, and then on to Birmingham International Airport to catch the last flight back to Dublin tonight.

Rain falls on the Cathedral Close in Lichfield this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

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Welcome to my ‘rural retreat’
close to Lichfield Cathedral

Autumn colours in the fields near my ‘rural retreat’ in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

Having spent most of the week travelling between Oxford and Nottingham, visiting theological colleges in the Church of England, and a disrupted train journey late yesterday, it was a pleasure to be back in Lichfield last night [31 October 2013], which is a convenient half-way point between Oxford and Nottingham.

I am staying at the Hedgehog Vintage Inn on Stafford Road, and at the end of a busy and demanding week I am planning my own one-day retreat today for All Saints’ Day [1 November], attending the mid-day Eucharist in Lichfield Cathedral, visiting the chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, and going for a few walks in the countryside around the Hedgehog, which is at the junction of Stafford Road and Cross-in-Hand Lane.

The Hedgehog on Stafford Road, Lichfield … ‘welcome to your … rural retreat’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Although I have stayed many times in the Hedgehog in recent years, an email from Ron Brazier and the team here earlier last month said: “Welcome to your new rural retreat.”

It is an insightful description for the way I have benefitted in recent years from my stays at the Hedgehog, with its rural charm and rustic character, enjoying walks in the countryside or strolling in along Beacon Street to Lichfield Cathedral.

“Make yourself at home,” said that recent email.

But I wonder whether Ron and the team at The Hedgehog know that that this house, once known as Lyncroft House, was home in the 19th century to a host of interesting characters in Lichfield, including a friend of Mozart, a charitable vicar, a speculative doctor and a once-famous painter.

Muzio Clementi (1752-1832) was a celebrated composer, piano-maker, conductor and music publisher from Rome; the Revd Henry Gylby Lonsdale (1791-1851) was Vicar of Saint Mary’s in the centre of Lichfield; Dr Charles Holland lived in Lyncroft House for a while before he bought Stowe House in 1856; and the artist Henry Gastineau lived in Lyncroft House in 1860s.

Lyncroft House has been beautifully restored in recent years as the Hegdehog, and further renovations are planned later this month, reopening in time for Christmas and New Year parties.

For all the Saints ...’ seven Fathers of the Church carved on the south side of Lichfield Cathedral (from left): Saint Augustine, Saint Jerome, Saint Ambrose, Saint Gregory, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Athanasius and Saint Basil (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)