08 November 2013

What are your 10 favourite
‘must-sees’ around Lichfield?

Lichfield Cathedral last week ... topping the list of 10 “must-sees” and favourite attractions and landmarks compiled by Lichfield District Tourism (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

Lichfield District Tourism lists 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, Breadmarket Street.
5, Erasmus Darwin House.
6, Lichfield’s Historic Parks, including Beacon Park, the Garden of Remembrance and Minster Pool.
7, Saint John’s Hospital and Chapel, Saint John Street.
8, Drayton Manor Theme Park, near Tamworth.
9, Staffordshire Regiment Museum.
10, Lichfield Heritage Centre in Saint Mary’s Church.

It is a long time since I visited the Staffordshire Regiment Museum (No 9) in Whittington in the 1970s, and I have yet to visit both the National Memorial Arboretum (No 3) near Alrewas and Drayton Manor Theme Park (No 8). But I have regularly visited the other seven, and over the past forty years or more my favourite places must include Saint John’s Hospital and Chapel, which has played a key and life-changing part in my life-story, and Lichfield Cathedral, which played a decisive role in setting me on the path to ordained ministry.

But what are your ten favourite places in Lichfield?

Which places would you include that are not already on the list?

Keep in mind, of course, that this list was compiled by Lichfield District Council and Lichfield District Tourism Association. So your choice is not limited to the cathedral city alone.

Who would include the Garrick Theatre? And where does Wall stand, with Letocetum and the Roman site and museum.

Here is my list, whether they are my next ten, or my alternative top ten:

1, Vicar’s Close

Vicar’s Close ... the most complete row of mediaeval buildings is along the north side (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Hidden in behind the Cathedral Close and behind Erasmus Darwin House and Vicar’s Hall on Beacon Street, there are two paired courtyards known collectively as Vicar’s Close.

Vicar’s Close dates back to at least 1315, when Bishop Langton gave land at the west end of the Close to the vicars choral who sang the daily offices in the cathedral. The vicars built their houses in collegiate style around two courtyards with a common hall at the west end of the central range.

The houses were built ca1315–1500, with a common hall at the west end of the central range rebuilt in 1756 and No.5 in the west range rebuilt in 1764. The most complete row of mediaeval buildings is along the north side of Vicar’s Close, where the timber-framed houses are all of one bay; they are jettied to the south and have a tall chimney stack against their north wall. The buildings are all Grade II* listed buildings.

2, The Cathedral Close

The Cathedral Close, including Nos 8 and 9, seen from the Cathedral in the rain last week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The Cathedral Close encircles the cathedral and most of the buildings are associated with the cathedral and the clergy. Some of the buildings are mediaeval, but the majority date from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

The many buildings worth looking at in the Close include the Bishop’s Palace, dating from 1687 and now part of Lichfield Cathedral School; the Deanery, north of the cathedral, built in 1707 and a fine example of the Queen Anne style of architecture; and parts of the former Lichfield Cathedral College, overlooking Minster Pool at the back.

At one time, I stayed regularly in No 8 The Close, when this was a bed and breakfast house run by Gill Jones. In those days, it was a delight to wake in the night to the sound of the cathedral bells, or to wake in the morning looking out on the cathedral at the front or onto to the gardens of Erasmus Darwin House. Next door, at No 9, is the Cathedral Bookshop, with an exceptional second-hand section in a hidden corner at the back.

3, The Markets in Market Square

Lichfield’s Market Square and Johnson’s statue viewed from Johnson’s house in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I know the Market Square does not qualify as a building, but it is surrounded by several historic buildings, including Samuel Johnson’s birthplace and Saint Mary’s Church, with has statues of Samuel Johnson and his biographer, James Boswell, and it is certainly high on my list of places worth visiting.

In recent months, I have bought not just one but two hats at bargain prices. I gave one away in recent weeks, but the other hat is keeping my head warm and dry since the winter rains arrived.

The Market Square has been the home for Lichfield’s markets since King Stephen granted the first markets charter in 1153. The Market Square has also been the setting for many scenes in Lichfield’s history. In the 1550s, during the reign of ‘Bloody Mary,’ Thomas Hayward, John Goreway and Joyce Lewis were burnt at the stake here. In 1612, Edward Wightman was convicted of heresy and was burnt at the stake here – the last person to be executed in this way England. In 1651, George Fox, the Quaker, stood barefoot on the Market Square, crying out: “Woe to the Bloody City of Lichfield.”

The Lichfield Markets are run by the City Council. The general markets on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday each week have a wide range of goods and produce on sale. The Farmers’ Markets on the first Thursday of the month (except January) sell locally-produced food and other goods, including hand-made arts and crafts.

4, Dr Miley’s Hospital, Beacon Street:

Dr Milley’s Hospital, Beacon Street ... dates back to 1504 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Dr Milley’s Hospital is a Grade II* listed building on Beacon Street, opposite Vicar’s Hall and Erasmus Darwin House. This Tudor building is not actually a hospital; it was founded as an almshouse for the poor and built in the town ditch on land given by Bishop Heyworth in 1424. The only rent the bishop stipulated was a red rose to be given to the Bishop of Lichfield on Saint John the Baptist’s Day (24 June) each year. The custom was revived in 1987 and the bishop is now offered ten red roses, one for each resident.

Thomas Milley, who gives his name to the building, was a canon of Lichfield Cathedral. He re-endowed and probably rebuilt the hospital in 1502-1504. At that time it housed 15 poor women. In the early 1900s, the building was in a bad state of repair and the trustees planned to demolish it. But the building was saved when the Charity Commissioners refused permission.

Dr Milley’s was refurbished in the 1980s and the Hospital now provides for ten residents – six in self contained flats and four in studio apartments, each with her own kitchen and bathroom. The chapel over the porch is in the oldest part of the building, dating back to the 1504.

5, The Tudor Café at Lichfield House, Bore Street:

The Tudor at Lichfield House ... a story that dates back to the early days of Henry VIII (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

One of the first places I bring new visitors to is The Tudor of Lichfield at Lichfield House, 32 Bore Street – a “tea house with a history,” dating back to 1510, the year after Henry VIII became king. This is a black-and-white, timber-framed building that served as a prison during the Civil War in the 1650s. It has been a family business since 1935, when the founders Wilfred and Evelyn Burns-Mace opened it as a tea shop. Today, Lichfield House continues to offer morning coffees, lunches and afternoon teas, along with a range of specialty dairy ice creams.

When the old glass houses were demolished, nine shops were built in 1980 as Tudor Row on the lines of the Shambles of York or the Lanes of Brighton. Later, the old coach house was developed into two further shops.

6, Bridgeman’s Shop in Quonians Lane

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

Quonians Lane is a hidden gem off Dam Street, where the Tudor-style buildings date from at least 1555. Robert Bridgeman’s stonemasonry business has been in Lichfield since the 1860s.

The place has interesting collection, including a 1920s panel of the Last Supper, based on Bridgeman’s earlier marble frieze for Saint Cuthbert’s, Edinburgh; a carving of Saint Christopher carrying the Christ Child on his back; and a plaque warning the reader of impending death and to “prepare to meet thy descending God” … with delightful punctuation, capitalisation and syntax, including perfect “greengrocer’s apostrophe’s” in both clod’s and erect’s.

7, The Guildhall, Bore Street

The Guildhall, Bore Street ... local government has functioned from this site since 1387 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

There has been a Guildhall on this site on Bore Street since 1387, when the Guild of Saint Mary and Saint John the Baptist was founded. The guild remained the effective government of that part of Lichfield outside the Bishop’s Manor until Lichfield received a charter in 1548. The present building dates from a substantial rebuilding in 1846.

The hall was rebuilt by Joseph Potter jnr, who created the Gothic-style facade and the magnificent panelled main hall on the first floor. This mediaeval-style room is 87 ft long and 25 ft wide, with a high pitched, hammer-beam roof. At the north end, the room has a large stone tracery stained-glass window, which was moved from the north transept of the Cathedral to the Guildhall in 1891.

The Guildhall is used for council meetings and civic events including the ancient Court of Arraye and Saint George’s Court. The main hall and smaller rooms can be hired for public meetings and private functions. Lichfield District Arts Association organises a full programme of arts events and concerts in the Guildhall, which is also available as a venue for civil marriages. At the back of the ground floor you can also visit the cells where prisoners were once detained.

8, The Hedgehog, Stafford Road

The Hedgehog on Stafford Road, Lichfield, lasr week … ‘welcome to your … rural retreat’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

For the last few years, I have stayed regularly at the Hedgehog Vintage Inn at the junction of Stafford Road and Cross-in-Hand Lane, which has become my “rural retreat” ... as it was described on a recent email from Ron Brazier and the team there. “Make yourself at home,” they said warmly.

These are insightful descriptions of the way I have benefitted 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.

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 Lichfield; Dr Charles Holland lived in Lyncroft House before he bought Stowe House in 1856; and the artist Henry Gastineau lived there 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.

9, The King’s Head and The Queen’s Head

Two favourite pubs ... the King’s Head and the Queen’s Head (Photographs: Patrick Comerford)

Am I cheating by including not one but two buildings under the one heading? Well, these two are among my favourite pubs in Lichfield.

Since the Swan closed in the late 1970s or early 1980s, the King’s Head on Bird Street has become the oldest pub in Lichfield. It dates back to 1408, which means it is more than 600 years old. This is a former coaching inn, with brick façade, timber-framed interior, cobbled courtyards and walls dripping with memorabilia from the Staffordshire Regiment, which was formed here.

The King’s Head was first known as the Antelope, and then as the Unicorn. No-one knows which king it was called after, and the head on the sign outside is that of King Edward VII. But, as the present name was used from 1650 on, it must have been named after the execution of Prince Rupert’s uncle, King Charles I, who lost his head the previous year.

The King’s Head was popular with my age group when I first came to Lichfield in 1970. It is a family-run pub, offering home-cooked, traditional pub grub, and a selection of real ales, with live entertainment every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. The cobbled courtyard is a wonderful place to drop into for a quiet drink and to read the paper on a sunny afternoon.

Another favourite traditional pub in Lichfield is the Queen’s Head in Queen Street. I try drop in here when I’m in Lichfield. This is a legendary and friendly pub just on the margins of the city centre. It is popular with the cathedral choristers, and has the friendly and family feeling of being a real local pub.

The Queen’s Head was the first building to be completed on Queen Street. Building work started in 1835, and although it opened in year of Queen Victoria’s coronation, the name may have been taken from a pub in Bore Street, which then became the Turf Tavern, and later the Prince of Wales – now sadly closed.

There is a strong sense of community in the Queen’s Head. One of the amazing features is the huge cheese counter where you can order from a large variety of cheese, pickles and bread. A sign outside is a reminder of wise words from Dr Johnson: “There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man by which happiness has been produced by a good tavern or inn.”

10, Comberford Hall

Comberford Hall ... ‘sold subject to contract’

If I can cheat by squeezing two pubs under one heading, then can I cheat by finally mentioning Comberford Hall, which in many ways is the ancestral home that first brought me to Lichfield in 1970?

Although it is closer to Tamworth than it is to Lichfield, Comberford Hall is within the boundaries of Lichfied District Council.

The house was the market for a long time with Paul Carr of Sutton Coldfield, who recently announced that it has been sold subject to contract. Their website said the price has been reduced from £899,590, and until recently they were inviting offers in the region of £850,000.

Comberford Hall is a gated, Grade II listed, Georgian three-storey family residence set in extensive grounds, with stabling, detached garaging and a lake, in an idyllic rural setting.

For many generations, my family continued to regard Comberford as our ancestral home, despite some of the complicated details in the family tree. My great-grandfather, James Comerford, had a very interesting visit to Comberford and Tamworth at the end of the 19th or in the early 20th century, visiting the Peel family who lived there … he probably had his heart set on consolidating those family links. I first visited Comberford Hall and the village in 1970 and have been back many times since then.

When my mind and imagination go wild, I think of how nice it would be to buy back Comberford Hall, and even dream of using this grand old house as a retreat centre or as a centre for spirituality and the arts, with the village church close at hand, across the fields at the end of a public right-of-way footpath. But the church closed for the last time last month, and now it seems Comberford Hall has been sold too.

Some more favourite buildings

Worth seeing on Beacon Street: the George and Dragon (above), the timber-framed houses on Beacon Street (below), and the Angel Croft (right) (Photographs: Patrick Comerford)

But this has been a difficult list to refine. There are many more buildings I could have included.

I recently wrote in the Lichfield Gazette about the Regal Cinema on Tamworth Street, which is a a unique part of Lichfield’s architectural heritage and under threat.

On Beacon Street, I could have included the Angel Croft Hotel, in its sad state of decay, the George and Dragon, with its warm welcome – it’s also worth visiting Prince Rupert’s Mound behind the pub; and the interesting timber-framed houses on Beacon Street.

Tell me what your favourite buildings are.