30 June 2015

Anglo-Saxon treasures, Victorian
tiles and a very English composer

Looking into the Cathedral Shop in Lichfield from the garden in Vicars’ Close, behind Erasmus Darwin House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

With a more relaxed attitude on Ryanair to hand baggage, it is becoming more difficult to resist good book bargains in good bookshops, particularly in English cathedrals.

The shop in Lichfield Cathedral is closed at present, because of works needed for the lighting and rewiring project. But the Cathedral Shop at No. 9 in the Cathedral Close is open every day (Monday to Saturday 9.30 to 17.00; Sunday 12.00 to 17.00), with its eclectic second-hand corner and a wide range of books of theological and local history interest.

Last week, I spent some time browsing in the shop and ended up with three books that I had missed when they were first published.

Stephen Pollington’s Tamworth: The Ancient Capital of Mercia was published by Tamworth Borough Council in 2011 to mark Tamworth’s part in the story of the Staffordshire Hoard of gold, jewellery and silver, found in near Wall, outside Lichfield, in July 2009. The find included more than 3,000 pieces, and some it went on exhibition in Tamworth Castle for three weeks in 2011.

Stephen Pollington is a celebrated Anglo-Saxon historian, lecturer and author. This 64-page illustrated book was commissioned by Tamworth Borough Council and looks at the history of Tamworth.

Tamworth was the capital of Mercia for many centuries and its wealth and power were widely known across northern Europe in the 7th to 10th centuries.

Pollington charts the historical significance of this part of England, from the Roman settlements along Watling Street, including Letocetum (Wall), and the collapse of Roman society with the arrival of the Angles. He follows the rise and fall of Mercia, the military and economic power that could have brought the Staffordshire Hoard together, and he looks for clues as to why it was buried in the ground near Wall, outside Lichfield.

If Tamworth was the political capital of Mercia, then Lichfield was its ecclesiastical capital. So it is surprising that this finds little reference in this book ... Lichfield gets as much mention as Dublin, and is named on none of the maps.

Herbert Minton tiles in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

After visiting Lichfield Cathedral and Christ Church in Leamonsley, with their tiles by Herbert Minton, I wondered why I had never bought Church Tiles of the Nineteenth Century by Kenneth Beaulah and Hans van Lemmen (Oxford: Shire Album, 2001).

This book describes how the 19th century Gothic Revival in architecture encouraged the development of decorative encaustic tiles, inspired by mediaeval church tiles, tells how they were made, looks at the stories of the designers and manufacturers, and provides a helpful if limited list of places to visit.

Kenneth Beaulah had a life-long interest in decorative tiles, particularly mediaeval tiles and Victorian encaustic tiles. He was a founder member of the Tiles and Architectural Ceramics Society. This book was first published in 1987, and died in 1994. Hans van Lemmen, an established author on the history of tiles, revised this book in 2001, and the edition I bought last week is a 2012 reprint.

More than half the churches in Britain are paved at least in part with 19th century decorative encaustic tiles and there are also churches with striking pictorial tile panels. Apart from the windows, they are often the most notable features in a church, yet are rarely mentioned in guidebooks.

This small but delightful book describes how they are derived from mediaeval church tiles, how they were made and who designed and manufactured them. It deals with their place in the Gothic Revival, how to identify and date them, and lists some of the cathedrals and churches where interesting examples can be found.

There are many illustrations of the wide variety of designs that were used and the many different arrangements in which they were laid.

A useful two-page “genealogical” chart (pp 20-21) traces the link between the main manufacturers and partnerships involved in producing Victorian church tiles, including Wright, Minton, Hollins, Chamberlain, Campbell, Taylor, Maw, Godwin, Hewitt and Craven.

The list of places to visit – understandably in a book of this size – is not exhaustive. For example, the list for Staffordshire is short, considering the work of Pugin and Minton throughout the county. Between 1844 and 1854, Herbert Minton presented encaustic floor tiles to a total of 46 churches and vicarages in Staffordshire, and over 150 churches in the Diocese of Lichfield were supplied with Minton pavements by 1859, including Lichfield Cathedral, which is mentioned in the book, and Christ Church, Leamonsley, which is not.

The list might also have been helpful if it extended to Ireland. Christ Church Cathedral Dubin has an interesting arrangement of tiles by Craven Dunnill, and the churches with Minton tiles include Saint Aidan’s Cathedral, Enniscorthy, Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Killarney, and Saint Mary’s Church, Tagoat.

This week’s reading ... from the Cathedral Shop in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The third book on my desk bought in the Cathedral Shop in Lichfield last week is a 2013 reprint of Herbert Howells by Paul Spicer (Bridgend: Seren Books, 1998).

Paul Spicer lives in the Cathedral Close in Lichfield and with Tom Wright he wrote his Easter Oratorio when the two were neighbours – Tom Wright was then Dean of Lichfield and Paul Spicer was still the Artistic Director of the Lichfield International Arts Festival. The oratorio was conceived in 1998 to mark the 1,300th anniversary of the founding of Lichfield Cathedral.

Last year, I attended the launch of Paul Spicer’s biography of the composer Sir George Dyson in the Cathedral Shop. He began his musical training as a chorister at New College, Oxford, and he studied with Howells at the Royal College of Music in London.

Herbert Norman Howells (1892-1983) is a major figure in English music and he captures an essence of Englishness that has been achieved by few other composers apart from Vaughan Williams.

His three choral masterpieces, Hymnus Paradisi, Stabat Mater and Missa Sabrinesis are classic. He has made one of the greatest contributions to Anglican church music in the 20th century, and his church music, especially his Collegium Regale setting, is sung daily in Anglican cathedrals, churches and college chapels throughout these islands: on Sunday afternoon in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, we sang the canticles Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis from his Saint Paul’s Service (1951), one of his most celebrated settings of these texts, and a work in which Howells seems to be at his most confident and optimistic.

Howells was the son of an amateur organist in a Baptist chapel in the small town of Lydney in the Forest of Dean. He became an Anglican at the age of 11, and studied first at Gloucester Cathedral, alongside Ivor Novello and Ivor Gurney, before going on to the Royal College of Music, where he studied under Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, Hubert Parry and Charles Wood.

He was the assistant organist at Salisbury Cathedral in 1917, and later the acting organist at Saint John’s College, Cambridge, during World War II. His potential in church music was identified at an early stage in his career. Eric Milner-White (1884-1963), Dean of King’s College, Cambridge, and one of the Church of England’s more visionary priests, heard an early performance of A Spotless Rose in the Chapel of King’s College in 1920 and immediately wrote to Howells encouraging him to do more for the liturgy of the Church of England.

As Dean of King’s College, Milner-White introduced the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve 1918. This was first broadcast in 1928 and is now a major item in the BBC’s Christmas schedule. In the 1940s again, Milner-White sowed the seeds of the idea that bore fruit in his Collegium Regale settings written for King’s College.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Howells focussed mainly on orchestral and chamber music, including two piano concertos. He became increasingly identified with the composition of religious music, most notably his Hymnus Paradisi for chorus and orchestra, composed after his son’s death but not released until 1950 at the insistence of Vaughan Williams, who had been a close friend since 1910.

His large output of Anglican church music includes his Collegium Regale and his settings of the canticles Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis for the choirs of Saint John’s College, Cambridge, New College, Oxford, Westminster Abbey, Worcester Cathedral, Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, and Gloucester Cathedral, and for the parish churches of Saint Mary Redcliffe, Bristol, and Saint Augustine, Edgbaston.

His very last piece was an organ Partita written in 1972 for his former student, Edward Heath, who became Prime Minister in 1970.

But behind a life of achievement, Howells experienced a difficult childhood, a life-threatening disease, the tragic death of his son Michael from polio at the age of nine, and a marriage that was constantly troubled by his serial infidelity.

This biography began as research for a film project and offers insights into the composer and his extraordinary life.

He looks at all of the main landmarks in Howells’s career, starting in the small town of Lydney, 20 miles south-west of Gloucester, and ending up in Barnes where he spent most of his adult life, as well as the Royal College of Music, Saint John’s College and King’s College, Cambridge, and Saint Paul’s Girls’ School, where he succeeded Gustav Holst as the Director of Music.

This is a very personal portrait that also introduces the reader to many of the great composers of the 20th Century, including Edward Elgar, Hubert Parry, Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, Sir David Willcocks, Sir George Thalben-Ball, Sir Adrian Boult, John Birch and John Rutter.

Paul Spicer draws on unpublished material, including Howells’s diaries, and original interviews for this accessible, revealing and sympathetic account of the composer’s life and work, warts and all – which, in this case, include vanity, social climbing and an all-consuming attraction to women.

This book has since become the basis for the entries on Howells both on Wikipedia and in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Spicer skilfully presents a great musician, a complex man, a devoted and devastated father, a loyal but unfaithful husband, a teacher, a writer and a great composer.

The composer Paul Spicer speaking at the launch of his biography of Sir George Dyson in the Cathedral Bookshop in Lichfield last year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

29 June 2015

«Μία κλίνη κενὴ φέρεται ἐστρωμένη τῶν ἀφανῶν
… Ἀνδρῶν ἐπιφανῶν πᾶσα γῆ τάφος»

A photograph in Corfu Restaurant in Dublin of the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider in Greece … a proud symbol of Greek resilience (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

Trust has been lost, time has run out, and the bailout that runs out tomorrow [Tuesday] is not going to be extended until after the referendum in Greece next Sunday [6 July 2015].

Politicians and commentators alike are speaking about inevitable aftershocks. But the truth is it is impossible to say what the week ahead holds for Greece, let alone what Greece is going to have to endure after the referendum.

The Greek government is likely to run out of money to pay pensions and public sector salaries. It has already stopped paying suppliers, many of them are being pushed to the wall, and businesses and individual taxpayers are withholding their payments.

The one certainly is the Greek collective sense of resilience in the face of insulting ultimatums or overbearing and overpowering pressures and from outsiders.

Herodotus, recounting an incident before the Battle of Thermopylae, recalls how Dienekes of Sparta was told that the Persian archers were so numerous that when they shot their volleys, their arrows would blot out the sun. He responded with laconic resilience: “So much the better, we’ll fight in the shade.”

The last time a referendum was held in Greece was over 40 years ago, when Greeks voted for the abolition of the monarchy on 8 December 1974.

Before they fell, the colonels’ regime had already staged a plebiscite on 29 July 1973, establishing a republic. However, after the fall of the colonels, the new government, under Constantine Karamanlis decreed all military actions had been illegal, and a new referendum was called.

The proposal from the Karamanlis government was backed by 69.2% of voters with a turnout of 75.6%. Indeed, in Crete more than 90% of the people voted or a republic, and in about 30 constituencies the vote for a republic was around 60-70%.

When the results were announced, Karamanlis declared “a cancer has been removed from the body of the nation today.”

The Greek nation today is caught in a sense of uncertainty not just about the future, but even about the present.

Greek protesters say «'Οχι» (“No!”) in front of Parliament and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Athens yesterday (Photograph: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP/Guardian)

But throughout the last two centuries, Greeks have responded to war, invasion, occupation, civil war, uncertainty, instability, economic depression and political oppression with a strong collective sense of resilience. In 1940, the Greek Prime Minister, Ioannis Metaxas, responded to the war-time ultimatum from invading Italians and Germans with a single-word laconcic riposte: «'Οχι» (“No!”).

In the past, the traditional Greek safety nets in any economic crisis were the family, the black economy, seasonal tourism, emigration and the pensions of parents and grandparents. But the old certainties can no longer be relied on in the same way. Pensions are withering away, more family members are dependent on them, the black economy is the target of all clampdowns, and if the Troika negotiators are to get their way, increased VAT levels on tourism may kill off many centres of popular tourism.

One opposition deputy claimed at the weekend that the government is presenting voters with a false choice: “The real question is, Euro or Drachma? And I am sure that the Greeks will once again say yes to Greece’s European perspective. Greece cannot become Albania and Skopje.”

Old money or new money … is the real question the Euro or the Drachma? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The collective sense of uncertainty was visible throughout the weekend in the endless queues outside ATMs throughout Greece. The banks are going to close today in an attempt to avoid financial panic. But are they going to open tomorrow? Is there going to be a problem about accessing personal cash? Are wages, pensions and bills going to be paid? Is there going to be a run on the banks?

Greeks will be restricted to taking out just €60 a day for the next week, some reports say tourists may have access to up to €200 a day, and the banks are not going to re-open until next Tuesday (7 July), two days after the referendum. This may be a minor inconvenience for tourists this week, but for people who live in Greece access to their deposits could become a major crisis, with severe anxieties about savings, about paying bills, about paying for day-to-day necessities.

The ATM machine at the National Bank of Greece in Tsouderon Stree, Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The collective sense of resilience is symbolised for many Greeks in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (Μνημείο του Αγνώστου Στρατιώτη), at the bottom of a high wall surrounding the Parliament Building in Syntagma Square, Athens.

Protesters have gathered along the top of this wall constantly in recent days and nights. The wall displays a relief that depicts a fallen soldier, and is surrounded by quotations from the funeral oration by Pericles. To the left and right are further inscriptions that tell of historic battles where Greek soldiers took part – the most recent one in Cyprus in 1974, the year of the last referendum in Greece.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is is guarded day and night by two Evzones from the presidential guard, dressed in traditional uniforms. Every hour, the ceremony of changing the guard takes place at the Tomb, and once a week, at 11 am every Sunday, the official guard change takes place.

The monument was inaugurated on 25 March 1932. The central sculpture by Kostantinnos Dimitiradis is a low relief depicting a dying hoplite or citizen soldier of Ancient Greek. These hoplites or citizen soldiers were armed with spears and shields and their main tactic was the phalanx formation. They were primarily free citizens – farmers with property or artisans – who could afford the bronze armour suit and weapons. Then, as now, the people who could afford it bore the cost of maintaining the security of society, and they did it with characteristic Greek resilience.

In classical Greece, the survivors of a battle gathered their dead and placed them on beds for the funeral rituals. They also placed on each bed several personal belongings of the dead soldier. In addition, there was one more bed that was ready, but empty. It represented those soldiers who had died in the battle but had not been found. These unknown soldiers did not remain unsung heroes, and their heroism was celebrated too.

On each side of the sculpture of the dying hoplite there is an inscription with a quotation by Thucydides from the Funeral Oration by Pericles.

On the left is written: «Μία κλίνη κενὴ φέρεται ἐστρωμένη τῶν ἀφανῶν», “and one bed is carried empty, made for the unknown ones” (2.34.3).

On the right are the words: «Ἀνδρῶν ἐπιφανῶν πᾶσα γῆ τάφος», “The whole earth is the burial ground of famous men” or “For heroes have the whole earth is their tomb” (2.43.3).

When Leonidas was in charge of guarding the narrow mountain pass at Thermopylae with just 7,000 Greeks, endeavouring to delay the invading Persian army, Xerxes offered to spare his men if they gave up their arms. Leonidas replied: «Μολών λαβέ» (Molén labé), “Come and take them.”

Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, once sent an ultimatum to Sparta, warning: “If I invade Laconia you will be destroyed, never to rise again.” The Spartans replied with a single word: “If” («αἴκα»). Neither father nor son ever tried to capture Sparta.

It is this collective and communal resilience that has been displayed by Greeks throughout the present crisis so far.

The government party, Syriza, has called a mass rally in Syntagma Square tonight to say «'Οχι» (“No!”) to austerity. It seems the Greek answer in Sunday’s referendum to demands that are seen as being made primarily by Germany is going to be expressed once again, like Metaxas, with resilience in that simple yet laconic, single-worded reply: «'Οχι».

Sunset on the harbour in Rethymnon … in the last referendum in Greece, in 1974, over 90% of people of Crete voted to abolish the monarchy (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

28 June 2015

The charms of Chesterfield near
Lichfield, and some family links

Poppies against a wall at Chesterfield Farm … the area has a farming history dating back to Roman times (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

After visiting the Roman remains at Wall and a long lingering mid-week lunch in The Trooper, I found myself strolling in the country lanes south of Lichfield, in the tiny village of Chesterfield.

There is a unique charm about tiny villages in the English countryside. Chesterfield, north of Shenstone and south of Wall, is clustered along the northern section of Ashcroft Lane where Ashcroft Lane is crossed by Raikes Lane. It is part of the civil parish of Wall and within Lichfield District Council, but while it has no pub, church, shop or village green, it is an attractive and inviting village, with a sense of a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

A local blogger, Brownhills Bob, says on Tumbler: “Chesterfield is a lovely little hamlet, just south of the A5 between Wall and Shenstone. Standing on the junction of Ashcroft and Raikes lanes, it’s a small, rural idyll where cows still hold up traffic and fascinating houses from several periods give the place an air of permanence and tranquillity.”

I found my way from the Trooper to the junction with Ashcroft Lane at Manor Farm, and continued on along the lane, below the bridges of the A5 and M6, through open green fields and pastures

Grazing in fields and pastures at a farm in Chesterfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The name Chesterfield means open land by a Roman town. Chesterfield takes its name from the Roman settlement at Wall, half a mile to the north. Shenstone is mentioned in the Domesday Book and this establishes the existence of an estate here before the Norman Conquest.

Although this was my first time to visit the village, the Comberford family connection with Chesterfield dates to as far back as end of the 11th century or early 12th century, when Alan de Comberford held lands at Chesterfield, near Shenstone, south of Lichfield.

A generation later there are records of Alanus de Comberford is mentioned during the reign of Henry I (1100-1135), in the Pipe Rolls and other Staffordshire records. He held lands at Wigginton, near Tamworth, and Chesterfield in Scertestan (Shenstone).

The Staffordshire historian Stebbing Shaw notes that during the reign of Richard I (1189-199), the Comberford family owned the Manor of Chesterfield, near Wall, south of Lichfield.

However, there was probably no village or hamlet in Chesterfield from Roman times until the early 14th century. The early references to settlements in the Shenstone area include references to Chesterfield in 1300, and Wrottesley indicates Chesterfield was in existence by 1324.

Chesterfield Farm … by the mediaeval period, the Vicars Choral of Lichfield Cathedral owned substantial lands at Chesterfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

In mediaeval times, the Vicars Choral of Lichfield Cathedral owned substantial lands in the parish of Shenstone, mainly at Chesterfield but also further south near the Bourne Brook.

In the 14th and 15th centuries, the Vicars Choral received many gifts of land in Chesterfield and the parish of Shenstone. In 1468, for example, John Teddesley of Chesterfield gave to Thomas Heywood, Dean of Lichfield, and the Revd William Hukyns his messuage in Chesterfield, along with six acres of arable land in Chesterfield field, and other parcels of land in the area, including meadows and pastures. The deed includes the names of four common fields of Chesterfield: Chesterfield, Sladefield, Horseley and Lyndefield.

The religious census of 1532 shows seven families and 43 individuals living in Chesterfield.

Later that century, Raphael Holinshed, the 16th century chronicler of English history, refers to Chesterfield as Chesterford in 1577.

Meanwhile, the Comberford family continued to hold its land in the Chesterfield area until at least the late 16th century, although family members never seem to have built a house in the village. William Comberford (1551-1625) had houses at Comberford Hall, Wednesbury Manor and the Moat House, Tamworth.

On 27 April 1586, when William was in Shenstone, where he held lands at nearby Chesterfield, he was set on by “Little Neddy,” a well-known highwayman, who stole £72, a £5 gold ring, and a sword worth £1 from him. Later, Little Neddy (Edward Stevenson) was apprehended and convicted.

In 1642, the population of Chesterfield was 19, by 1666 there were eight households, and in 1667 there were seven households.

In 1634, William Comberford’s daughter, Anne, married Benjamin Rugeley, a younger son of Richard Rugeley (1564-1623) of Shenstone. His eldest brother, Colonel Simon Rugeley (1598-1666) of Shenstone, was a member of the parliamentary committee at Stafford and inherited Hawksyard near Rugeley.

When he died in 1653, Colonel William Comberford (ca 1592-1653) left £5 to each of his godchildren, including Robert Ward, son of Alexander Ward of Shenstone. Alexander Ward had acquired a large estate in Shenstone and was buried there when he died on 10 December 1663 at the age of 75. The Comberford interests in Chesterfield faded as the family’s prosperity waned after the English Civil War.

Chesterfield House … dating from 1732, but it may have an earlier history (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

There was a Quaker meeting in Shenstone from 1654 until it moved to Chesterfield, where the meeting continued from 1669 until the 1720s. These Quakers in Chesterfield tried but failed to establish a Friends’ meeting house in Lichfield in 1703-1704.

But if Chesterfield was a quiet sleepy backwater since the Romans left Wall, Bowen’s map of Staffordshire in 1749 shows that Chesterfield was close to the main road from Tamworth to Wolverhampton cutting across the parish of Shenstone in an East-West direction near Chesterfield.

The road left Tamworth at Coton, passed Hopwas, and travelled north of Weeford where it met the old Lichfield to London Road. It then passed through Shenstone parish between Chesterfield and the brook north of Shenstone Village. The road then went slightly south between Lynn and Stonnall, where it met the Lichfield to Walsall road at Shire Oak, and then continued down to Shelfield and Goscote.

Yates’s map in 1774 is the first map to show all the settlements within the Parish of Shenstone. This map clearly identifies the village of Shenstone and the surrounding hamlets, including Chesterfield.

The Parish of Shenstone built is workhouse quite a distance from Shenstone, just outside Chesterfield, hidden well away from the hamlet. An adjoining field is named as the Poor’s Garden on a map in 1818. The workhouse was closed when Shenstone was joined to Saint Michael’s Union in Lichfield in the 1830s and it was demolished soon after.

Canon James Thomas Law, Master of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, owned much of the land in Chesterfield by 1851

By 1851, it appears, most of the lands in Chesterfield were owned by Canon James Thomas Law (1790-1876) and John Yardley (1813-1867).

Canon James Thomas Law was the Chancellor of Lichfield Cathedral and the Master of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (1821-1826), where I was preaching on Wednesday evening. Law was an early member of the Cambridge Camden Society, which was strongly influenced by AWN Pugin. With the Lichfield architect Thomas Johnson of Davidson House, he was a founding member in 1841 of the Lichfield Society for the Encouragement of Ecclesiastical Architecture, which often met in Canon Law’s house in Market Street. He was buried in an elaborate mausoleum in Saint Michael’s churchyard, Lichfield.

John Yardley of Chesterfield Lodge was a son of John Yardley of Wednesbury. Chesterfield Lodge stands on Raikes Lane, and the blogger Brownhills Bob suggests it stands on the site marked on Victorian maps as a workhouse.

There are other interesting houses in the village too. Chesterfield House is of Georgian origin, and dates back to at least 1732, if not earlier. It is a seven-bedroom house with a cellar, mature gardens, two coach houses, loose boxes, a kitchen garden and fenced paddocks. It was sold about four years for £825,000.

Carisbrooke and Woodleigh form a pair of elegant, matching Victorian houses on the corner of Ashcroft Lane and Raikes Lane (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Carisbrooke and Woodleigh form a pair of elegant, matching gabled five-bedroom Victorian houses on the corner of Ashcroft Lane and Raikes Lane.

Further south along Ashcroft Lane, we crossed the Crane Brook where it flows from Hammerwich to Chesterfield and on to the north-west of Shenstone Village and then into the Black Brook.

At the end of Ashcroft Lane, we turned into Lynn Lane, crossed the bridge over Footherley Brook, and arrived at Shenstone in time to catch the train back into Lichfield.

Willows at the bridge over Footherley Brook in Shenstone (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Further reading:

AJ Kettle, A List of Families in the Archdeaconry of Stafford (Staffordshire Record Society, 1976) The census is discussed in more detail by Ann Kettle in her introduction to the printed version in Historical Collections for a History of Staffordshire (4th series, Vol 8, Shenstone).

Richard Totty (ed) A Landscape Survey of the Parish of Shenstone, edited for The Staffordshire Archaeological and Historical Society (Lichfield, 2009).

G Wrottesley, ‘The Subsidy Roll of 1327,’ in Staffordshire Historical Collections, vol. VII part 1 (1886).

Last updated, 2 July 2015.

27 June 2015

Two sets of Tudor and Georgian
houses hidden away in Lichfield

Nos 45 and 47 Stowe Street … a surviving pair of Tudor cottages in the heart of Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

In my strolls around Lichfield this week, I came across two sets of houses that are architectural delights: a pair of houses in Stowe Street and four houses forming a hidden terrace at Lombard Gardens off Lombard Street.

No 45 and No 47 Stowe Street, like the neighbouring Cruck House, stand out from the surrounding 20th century housing developments in an area south of Stowe Pool and immediately east of the heart of Lichfield’s city centre and main shopping streets.

These semi-detached houses were probably built in the late 16th or early 17th century, and have early 19th century alterations.

This is a pair of Tudor timber-frame and brick houses. The timber-frame and brick work on No 47 is covered in stucco work, but despite this alteration to the outside appearance, the houses are best described as one unit.

The houses have a shared tile roof with brick stacks. They are two storeys high and form a single four-window range.

The left half, known as Tudor Cottage, has a pretty flower garden in front, and has an entrance to the right of centre with a 20th century door, surrounded this week by a flowering red rosebush. There are 20th century three-light casements, and close studding to the first floor with bracing.

The right half, with its woodwork painted in green, has bracketed eaves. The entrance is to the left end and has a doorcase with offset buttresses, a frieze and a brattished cornice. There are; panelled reveals and a pointed-panelled door with a nowy-headed lock plate.

The windows have sills, and label moulds over three-light windows of 2/4-pane sashes with Tudor heads. The window over the entrance is of two lights, the other two windows have three lights. The stack is to the rear of the ridge. The right return has timber framing that can be seen over the 20th century garage wing.

The brick rear wing has pebble-dash to the rear with a weather-boarded gable. The other wing has exposed timber-framing with a glazed lean-to and a stack to the side of the ridge.

I believe that inside the houses the timber framing is exposed and there is a large fireplace, but I was not cheeky enough to knock on the doors and ask to see inside … well, not this week, anyway.

Lombard Gardens is a terrace of four 19th century, Grade II listed houses (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

On way back into the centre of Lichfield, and only a few steps away at the bottom of Lombard Street, I noticed for the first time a pair of matching pillars covered in ivy. The one to the right had an inscription “Gardens”; I pulled the ivy back on the pillar to the left, to see the word “Lombard.”

Lombard Gardens is not a hidden public garden but a terrace of four 19th century, Grade II listed houses in a leafy, tree-lined cul-de-sac.

Nos 1, 2 and 3 Lombard Gardens were built in the early 19th century, and have later alterations. They are built in the Georgian style in brick, with a slate roof and with two brick cross-axial stacks and an end stack. This is a two-storey terrace with a six-window range: two to No 1, three to No 2, and one to No 3. There are plain eaves.

No 1 is a three-bedroom end of terrace house. It has a round-headed entrance the right of centre, a door-case with fluted pilaster strips, deep, a consoled, cornice and a fanlight with radial glazing bars over a six fielded-panel door. No 1 also has two ground floor windows to the left of the entrance, and one to the right.

No 2 Lombard Gardens has a similar entrance to the left of centre.

No 3 Lombard Gardens has a segmental-headed entrance to left with an over-light to a six-panel door. No 3 has a window to each floor, and the windows have sills, and brick flat arches over 12-pane sashes.

The rear of the houses have varied wings, including large 20th century additions.

No 4 Lombard House was built later in the mid-19th century. This is a two-storey brick house with a slate roof with coped gables and brick end stacks. It is gable facing, with the front to the left and a symmetrical three-window range. At the top there is a modillioned cornice. The entrance is a full-height canted bay with weather-boarding between the floors and a top cornice. There is an over-light to the half-glazed door. The windows have sills, all except those to bay with segmental heads, and all have plate glass horned sashes. The right return has narrow windows flanking a slightly projecting stack.

At the bottom of the path in front of the terrace of houses, a wooden gate under a leafy bough looks onto the grassy area around Stowe Pool. But the first-time visitor to this rustic hideaway it almost looks like its leading out into open countryside.

A wooden gate under a leafy bough at the end of Lombard Gardens looks like an invitation into open countryside (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Christ Church, a Gothic Revival
church in Leamonsley, Lichfield

Christ Church, Lichfield ... a Gothic Revival triumph by Thomas Johnson, the Lichfield architect (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

After visiting Davidson House on Upper John Street and writing about its distressed state and about the work of its eminent former resident, the Lichfield architect Thomas Johnson, I decided to visit one of Johnson’s finest works in Lichfield.

Christ Church was built in 1846 in Christchurch Lane in Leamonsley, just off Walsall Road in the south-west corner of Lichfield. It serves a parish that includes the areas around Leamonsley, Sandfields and Lower Sandford Street.

The church was photographed extensively and described beautifully in January 2013 by the Lichfield blogger and local historian Kate Gomez. I was interested in visiting it this week because of its connections with Thomas Johnson and another great Gothic revival architect, George Frederick Bodley, its Hardman and Kempe windows and its interior decorations. They bring together a truly delight expression of the late period of Gothic Revival architecture and art in Staffordshire.

My visit was arranged by the Revd Janet Waterfield, and I was shown around the church by the verger, Margaret Beddoe.

Christ Church is a fine example of the Decorated Gothic revival style of the 19th century. The church is a Grade II* listed building. On the ceiling of the chancel are some unique Pre-Raphaelite canvas panels painted by John Dickson Batten.

A growing population in the west of Lichfield created the need for a new church in the area. Building work on Christ Church began in 1844 and it was completed by 1847, making it the first new parish church in Lichfield since mediaeval times.

The ¾ acre site for the church was a gift in 1844 from Richard Hinckley, a Lichfield solicitor and the owner of Beacon Place and its surrounding estate grounds. The site was about 500 metres south of Beacon Place at the edge of the grounds of the Hinckley estate and could be seen by the Hinckleys from their home.

The church was built in the corner of the park surrounding Beacon House. Because the church had no parish, a new parish was created by annexing parts of the parishes of Saint Michael and Saint Chad.

‘The Sleeping Children’ ... the monument to Ellen Hinckley’s daughters in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The church was built and endowed by the generosity of Richard Hinckley’s wife, Ellen Jane Hinckley, the daughter of John Chappel Woodhouse (1780-1815), Dean of Lichfield (1807-1833). She was a niece of the Lichfield hymn-writer, Frederick Oakeley (1802-1880), best known as the translator of ‘O come, all ye faithful.’

Ellen had suffered tragic family losses. Her first husband was Canon William Robinson, and they had two daughters, Ellen-Jane and Marianne, who died in their childhood in 1813 and 1814. These two children are the subject of the memorial in Lichfield Cathedral carved by Sir Francis Chantry and known as ‘The Sleeping Children.’

Canon Robinson died in 1812 while he was still in his 30s. In 1817 in Lichfield Cathedral, Ellen married her second husband, Hugh Dyke Acland (1791-1834). But she was widowed a second time when he died in 1834. A year later, in 1835 she married her third husband, Richard Hinckley. In 1837, they moved into Beacon Place, and soon after donated a corner of their estate for building a new church.

Christ Church was built of sandstone quarried in Lichfield and was designed by the Lichfield architect, Thomas Johnson, who lived in 67 Upper John Street, later known as Davidson House.

The tiles in Christ Church are by Herbert Minton ... most are now covered by carpets (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The church was built with local red sandstone in a decorated Gothic revival style under the design of Thomas Johnson of Lichfield. When the church was completed in 1847, it consisted of a chancel, nave and west tower with a bell cast in 1845 by CG Mears of London. The tiles are by Herbert Minton, whose firm also worked closely with AWN Pugin and donated tiles to about 40 or 50 churches and vicarages throughout the Diocese of Lichfield.

The church was consecrated on 26 October 1847 by the Bishop of Lichfield, the Right Revd John Lonsdale. The first incumbent was Canon Thomas Alfred Bangham (1819-1876). He been ordained priest only a few months earlier in May 1847, but he stayed at Christ Church until his death.

Over the decades, the church has been richly endowed with many treasures and more practical items such as a modern heating system due to the generosity of a number of local benefactors.

Hardman windows in the chancel of Christ Church (Photographs: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The north and south chancel windows, transept east window and nave south window date from the 1870s and 1880s and were designed by Hardman & Co, the Birmingham firm founded by John Hardman (1811-1867) of Handsworth, who worked closely with AWN Pugin.

The church was enlarged to designs by Matthew Holding of Northampton in 1887, when the north and south transepts and bays were added. The north extension consisted of a Lady Chapel and the south extension provided the church with an organ chamber and vestry. The extensions were partly funded by Samuel Lipscombe Seckham, who had bought Beacon House from the Hinckley family in 1881, and partly by public subscription.

Samuel Lipscomb Seckham (1827-1901) was a prosperous architect, developer, magistrate and brewer. He was employed by Saint John’s College, Oxford, to develop parts of North Oxford, including Park Town, Walton Manor and Norham Manor. From 1877 to 1883, he owned Bletchley Park, later known as the location for the code-breakers in World War II. In 1889, he bought Whittington Old Hall, a 16th-century country house outside Lichfield.

The chancel screen in Christ Church was presented by Seckham’s wife, Kinbarra Sweene (nee Smith), in 1888, but this has since been removed to the former choir gallery.

In 1897, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the church, the vicar and churchwardens commissioned the decoration of the chancel ceiling and walls by John Dickson Batten (1860-1932). Batten is better known as an illustrator, and his work for Joseph Jacob’s various editions of fairy tales in the 1890s display his magnificent talent for design and creativity.

Batten painted his canvases for Christ Church in the Pre-Raphaelite style, depicting Old Testament figures with symbols of the Passion and the Eucharist. In these canvasses Batten represents the Biblical figures pointing to Christ as the promised and hoped for Messiah and the Eucharist as the Christian’s means of union with him.

The paintings by John Dickson Batten on the ceiling on the north side of the sanctuary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The paintings on the north side of the sanctuary represent (viewed from left to right):

● Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden;
● Noah, with the rainbow, the sign of God’s promise and blessing;
● the Archangel Gabriel guarding the gates of Paradise until Paradise should be regained by Christ;
● Abraham with Jacob, with Jacob’s vision of a ladder between Heaven and Earth;
● Moses, the leader and lawgiver, with Aaron, the High Priest who offers sacrifice to God.

The paintings by John Dickson Batten on the ceiling on the south side of the sanctuary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The paintings on the south side of the sanctuary represent (viewed from left to right):

● Joshua leading God’s army into the Promised Land;
● David, the king and psalmist from whose royal house the Messiah would come;
● Solomon, the builder of the Temple in Jerusalem;
● Elijah, the prophet of God’s judgment, with Isaiah, speaking of comfort;
● the Archangel Gabriel, with Saint John the Baptist, calling the Virgin Mary to be the mother of Christ.

The original watercolours used by Batten as cartoons for his work on the ceiling paintings were discovered in the tower of Christ Church in the early 1980s. At first, it was thought they were the work of the Birmingham stained-glass artist Florence Camm (1874-1916). But this was disputed while the watercolours were being restored at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Art historians and the BMAG and the Victoria and Albert Museum now agree that they are the work of Batten.

The reredos was designed by the Tractarian artist CE Kempe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The Tractarian artist, Charles Eamer Kempe (1837-1907), designed the glass for the north transept west window in 1894. Kempe, who studied architecture under George Frederick Bodley, also designed the colourful triptych that forms the reredos of the altar in the Lady Chapel in Lichfield Cathedral.

The reredos and marble sanctuary floor were presented to Christ Church in 1906 by Thomas Cox, a churchwarden, and his daughters in memory of Sarah Cox, wife and mother.

The Adoration of the Magi ... a window by CE Kempe in the Lady Chapel in Christ Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The sanctuary refurbishings were designed by George Frederick Bodley (1827-1907), and were built by Robert Bridgeman and Son of Quonian’s Lane, Lichfield.

Bodley was a lifelong friend of Kempe, and he was the first major patron of William Morris’s stained glass. He is closely associated with the Gothic Revival and High Anglican aesthetics, and his biographer Michael Hall argues he “fundamentally shaped the architecture, art, and design of the Anglican Church throughout England and the world” (George Frederick Bodley and the Later Gothic Revival in Britain and America, Yale University Press, 2012). The Church Historian, Owen Chadwick, says Kempe’s work represents “the Victorian zenith” of church decoration and stained glass windows.

Bodley’s other works in the Diocese of Lichfield include the Church of the Holy Angels, Hoar Cross (1871-1872), the Mission Church in Hadley End (1901) and Saint Chad’s Church, Burton-on-Trent (1903-1910).

The sailor from HMS Powerful on the former museum and library was designed by GF Bodley and carved by Bridgeman (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Other churches designed by Bodley include All Saints’ Church on Jesus Lane, Cambridge, close to Westcott House and Sidney Sussex College; and the Chapel of Queens’ College, Cambridge. He also designed the statue of a sailor from HMS Powerful, carved by Bridgeman, on the wall of Lichfield’s former museum and library, now the city Register Office, at Beacon Park.

The clock on the tower of Christ Church was presented in 1913 by the Burton brewer Albert Octavius Worthington (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The clock on the tower of Christ Church, installed in 1913, was presented by the Burton brewer by Albert Octavius Worthington of Maple Hayes in memory of his wife Sarah. He was the vicar's warden in Christ Church, and after he died on Ascension Day 1918 the east window was installed by his children in his memory in 1920.

The churchyard was enlarged twice, in 1895 and again in 1929. Three tombs of the Hinckley and Acland families at the rear of the church also have Grade II listing as monuments.

Today, Christ Church stands serenely in a beautiful and peaceful churchyard. It has a very village-like feeling to it in this quiet corner of Lichfield. The church is an active parish church with regular Sunday services at 8 am, 9.45 am and 6 pm, with weekday services at 7.30 am.

After visiting Christ Church, I strolled for a little while through the woods behind the church, and then crossed the Western Bypass and into Beacon Park, where I strolled through the former estate of the Hinckley family, before making my way into the Cathedral Close and the mid-day Eucharist in Lichfield Cathedral.

The tombs of the Hinckley and Acland families at the east end of Christ Church are Grade II listed monuments (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Kate Gomez, who blogs regularly about Christ Church and the Leomansley area, points out that on the weekend of 4 and 5 July, Christ Church is combining an Open Gardens event with an exploration of the social history of the area. The organisers, the Friends of Christ Church, have studied census records, deeds and maps, and collected oral histories to produce a guide to houses and gardens in the area. Admission to the gardens is between 2 pm and 6 pm on both days, and programmes will be available from Christ Church, with refreshments at 19 Christchurch Lane.

26 June 2015

Marlborough House, a Georgian
gem on Saint John Street, Lichfield

Marlborough House at 26 Saint John Street, Lichfield … a listed Georgian house in the centre of the city (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

After writing this morning about the sad neglect and decay of Davidson House in Upper John Street, Lichfield, it is a pleasure to write this evening about one of the well-preserved Georgian houses a few steps away on Saint John Street.

No 26 Saint John Street, also known as Marlborough House, is a Grade II listed Georgian house on the south-west side of the street, between No 20 Saint John Street and Saint John’s House, which I have written about recently.

Marlborough House was divided into offices until it was recently converted into apartments. The house dates from ca 1740, with a late 18th century rear wing. It is built in brick with plaster dressings, and it has hipped tile roofs with brick stacks.

The house was built with a central staircase plan in the early Georgian style. It is a two-storey house with an attic, and a symmetrical five-window range. There is a brick plinth and top cornice.

The entrance has a porch with paired Tuscan columns, frieze, cornice and blocking course. There is an architrave and an overlight to the six-panel door, and there are steps with handrails.

There are segmental-headed casement openings with grilles. The segmental-headed windows have sills and plaster arches with keys over 12-pane sashes. Those to first floor are segmental-headed. The central first floor window has an apron and eared and shouldered architrave with a key. The five hipped dormers have lead sides and six-pane sashes.

There is a late 20th century addition in sympathetic style to the left.

The right return has a hipped dormer.

A late 18th century wing has a canted end and cornice, with a lateral stack to the front. The return has segmental-headed windows with 12-pane sashes and one 4:12:4-pane sash to the ground floor, and a lateral stack.

The rear has similar windows. The gabled wing to the right has coped gable with kneelers. There is a 20th century single-storey infill block.

Inside, I understand, there is an open-well stair that has cut string, column-on-vase balusters, turned newels, a ramped handrail and a fielded-panelled dado.

In 2002, there was an application to Lichfield District Council for a change of use to a residential language school. Marlborough House was sold on 15 November 2002 for £720,000. In 2006, permission was granted to convert Marlborough House from commercial and educational use to form nine residential apartments.

The sad plight of Davidson House
on Upper John Street, Lichfield

Davidson House, Upper John Street, once the home of one the finest of Lichfield's architects, is now at risk (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

On each visit to Lichfield, I try to visit a building of architectural interest that I have not yet written about. Last month, I visited Dr Milley’s Hospital on Beacon Street, the Cruck House on Stowe Street, the fine Georgian townhouse at No 20 Saint John Street, and the late Victorian Boat House at Stowe Pool.

This week, I visited Davidson House at 67 Upper Saint John Street, close to Saint John’s Hospital, where I was preaching on Wednesday evening.

According to the local history group, Lichfield Discovered, and the innovative local historian Kate Gomez, this house is part of Lichfield’s “at-risk” heritage. On the ground floor, the windows in this once elegant house are boarded up, the stonework is crumbling and there is a sad air of abandonment about the whole site.

It was once the home of the Old Comrades Association of the South Staffordshire Regiment and the collection of the Regimental Museum from 1938 until 1963, when it moved to Whittington. But Davidson House is of particular architectural interest today because it was once the home of the Lichfield architect Thomas Johnson, who lived here from 1834 until his death in 1853.

Thomas Johnson trained as a pupil of the Lichfield architect Joseph Potter (1756–1842) and was influenced by his method. Potter, who had a large practice in Staffordshire and the neighbouring counties in the late 18th and early 19th century, lived in Pipehill, south-west of Lichfield, but had his office in Saint John Street. Apart from restorations to Lichfield Cathedral, his work included Newton’s College (1800-1802), the Causeway Bridge, Bird Street (1816), Freeford Hall, which he enlarged for William Dyott (1826-1827), and Holy Cross Church, Upper John Street (1835), and his son designed the Guildhall (1846-1848).

By 1814, the Potter practice was run from a house on the north side of Saint John’s Hospital. Later it was was continued by his son, Joseph Potter, who died in 1875.

Meanwhile, Thomas Johnson went on to work as a junior partner with the prolific Staffordshire architect James Trubshaw (1777-1853) of Little Haywood, near Colwich. Soon, Johnson married Trubshaw’s eldest daughter, Mary.

In 1828 Johnson and Potter worked on the nave of Saint Mary’s Church (Church of England) in Uttoxeter. But a year later, in 1829, Johnson set up his own practice as an architect in Tamworth Street, Lichfield, and he continued to design churches, including the very large Saint James’s in Longton (1832-1834). By 1834, he was living in the house that later became Davidson House in Upper Saint John Street.

Around this time, Johnson fell under the influence of the Cambridge Camden Society, which was strongly influenced by AWN Pugin. The early members included Canon James Law, a prebendary and chancellor of Lichfield Cathedral and a former Master of Saint John’s Hospital (1821-1826).

Both Law and Johnson were founding members in 1841 of the Lichfield Society for the Encouragement of Ecclesiastical Architecture, and both were active committee members. Canon William Gresley (1801-1876) of Saint Mary’s, a leading Tractarian and former curate of Saint Chad’s, was the first chairman, and the committee met in Canon Law’s house in Market Street. Other committee members included the antiquarian and lawyer, William Salt of Stafford, and the Revd Richard Rawle of Cheadle.

In 1841, Johnson also began working on the restoration of Saint Chad’s Church, Lichfield, and he did further work there in 1848-1849.

In 1842-1843, he worked with the London-born architect Sydney Smirke, who also designed the Hinkley family home at Beacon Place, in the controversial restoration of Saint Michael’s Church in Lichfield. During that work, the original memorial stone commissioned by Samuel Johnson for his family was removed as Saint Michael’s was repaved, and much of the mediaeval fabric of the church was lost. But Johnson’s restoration work is a remarkable example of the strong influence of Pugin’s ideas on his work, and the historian of Staffordshire Gothic architecture, the Revd Michael J Fisher, says it is a surprisingly god example of Gothic for its time.

In 1844-1845, Johnson designed Saint Mary’s Church, Great Wyrley, two miles south of Cannock, in the Gothic style.

In 1846, Johnson completed his rebuilding of All Saints’ Church, Leigh, two miles off the A522 between Cheadle and Uttoxeter. Michael J Fisher, in his book Staffordshire and the Gothic Revival, describes this as “one of the most remarkable of Staffordshire’s Victorian churches” and he laments that the importance of this church has not been fully recognised. This work was funded mainly by Richard Bagot of Blithfield, Bishop of Oxford and later Bishop of Bath and Wells, and a former rector of All Saints’. The bishop’s son, the Revd Lewis Bagot family, was the incumbent at the time of Johnson’s rebuilding, while the bishop’s nephew, the Revd Hervey Bagot was Rector of Blithfield and an active member of the Lichfield Society with Johnson. The chancel furnishings and floor tiles at Leigh have been attributed to Pugin and were donated by Herbert Minton, who also donated the reredos.

Johnson was also the architect for Christ Church, Lichfield, which was built in 1846-1847 on Christchurch Lane, just off Walsall Road. The church was designed in the Victorian Gothic Revival style and was built of sandstone quarried in Lichfield. It was consecrated on 26 October 1847 by the Bishop of Lichfield, John Lonsdale.

Christ Church was endowed by Ellen Jane Hinckley, daughter of John Chappel Woodhouse, Dean of Lichfield. In 1835, she married her third husband, Richard Hinckley, a Lichfield solicitor and they lived in Beacon Place. Ellen had suffered tragic family losses: her first husband was the Revd William Robinson, and they had two daughters who died in childhood and are commemorated in the memorial known as Chantry’s ‘Sleeping Children’ in Lichfield Cathedral.

Johnson’s other works in Lichfield include a wing, school room and front wall built ca 1849 at the former Lichfield Grammar School on Saint John Street.

At the same time, he designed the railway bridge crossing Upper Saint John Street which leads trains to and from Lichfield City Station, and which I described in the Lichfield Gazette in October 2013. The bridge, close to Davidson House, was built in 1849 for the South Staffordshire Railway Company. In his design, Johnson tried to evoke a city gate, with battlements, heraldic decoration, and side towers containing multi-arched pedestrian ways. Bishop Lonsdale, who consecrated Christ Church a few years earlier, and the Bagot family are among the Lichfield notables he singled out for commemoration in the heraldic images on the bridge next to his home in Upper John Street.

The Corn Exchange in Conduit Street was designed by Thomas Johnson in a Tudor style (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The Corn Exchange in Conduit Street was designed by Johnson in a Tudor style. It was built by a company formed for the purpose and was opened in 1850. The arcaded ground floor was a market hall, and the upper floor, with an octagonal north end, housed the corn exchange. A savings bank in the same style was built at the Bore Street end of the building.

When Thomas Johnson died in 1853, he was succeeded by his son, also Thomas Johnson, who died in 1865, and the work of the two sons is sometimes confused.

From 1938 to 1963, Davidson House housed the South Staffordshire Regimental Museum, named after Brigadier General Charles Steer Davidson, who donated the building to the regiment.

In recent years, Davidson House was divided into offices. But given its past association with one of Lichfield’s architectural giants, it is sad to consider the neglect of this architectural gem in recent years.

Davidson House is a three-storey, three-window range house built ca 1810. It is a brick building with ashlar dressings, a hipped slate roof with two large brick stacks, a gable facing, with a front to the left. There is an ashlar plinth, with sill bands and a top modillioned cornice with a blocking course.

The central entrance to Davidson House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The central entrance has an architrave and an overlight to the paired three-panel doors, in an altered porch with slender Tuscan column to the right. The bay window to the left has a cornice.

The windows have pilasters, friezes and cornices. There was a tripartite bay window with colonnettes and 8:12:8-pane sashes, but these have now been lost. Asimilar window to the right had brick piers and a central open pediment. There are two similar tripartite windows to the first floor and these have colonnettes and central open pediments. They flank a window with an open pediment over a 12-pane sash. The second floor windows have architraves to six-pane sashes.

The steps to the street level at Upper John Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The terrace to the right end has steps to the street level and there are plain iron railings to both.

The street façade at Davidson House, facing onto Upper John Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The street façade has similar details. You can see a high plinth, tripartite windows to ground and first floors, and the plinth to the ground floor has brick piers.

At the rear there is a two-storey gabled service range. The right return has a cogged brick cornice and varied fenestration, and at one time the windows inside had shutters, although this is impossible to verify today.

The service range at the rear of Davidson House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

25 June 2015

How many gentle flowers grow
in an English country garden?

Looking out onto the garden at the Hedgehog and down toward Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

How many gentle flowers grow
In an English country garden?
I’ll tell you now of some I know
And those I’ll miss I hope you’ll pardon
Daffodils, heart’s ease and flox
Meadowsweet and lilly stalks
Gentain, lupine and tall hollihocks
Roses, foxgloves, snowdrops, forget-me-nots
In an English country garden.

I have been spending the last few days in Lichfield, with a preaching engagement in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, and celebrating the anniversaries of my ordinations as deacon and priest 15 and 14 years ago.

Each day, two of us have slipped quietly in the stalls by the High Altar in Lichfield Cathedral for the mid-day Eucharist, which is normally quiet reflective with no more than ten or a dozen people present each day.

On Wednesday, we celebrated the Feast of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist; tday we were back in Ordinary Time, liturgically speaking, with green frontals and vestments.

But for me, time like this in Lichfield may be in Ordinary Time, but it is more than ordinary time and it is a very special place for me.

Today, we wandered from Leomansley Woods through Beacon Park and its gardens to the Cathedral.

Before the mid-day Eucharist, we spent a little time in Erasmus Darwin’s Herb Garden in Vicars’ Close, between the Cathedral Shop and Erasmus Darwin House on Beacon Street.

Flowers in a garden on Beacon Street this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Later, we strolled up Beacon Street to the Hedgehog Vintage Inn, where we lingered over a lazy lunch in the gardens – a lunch that was extended a little longer than we expected when it was accompanied by a jug of Pimm’s.

But then, a jug of Pimm’s always adds to the feeling that summer has arrived in an English garden.

A jug of Pimm’s always adds to the feeling that summer has arrived in an English garden (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Because schools in England continue a lot later than school in Ireland, the summer calm was even more noticeable in the gardens of the Hedgehog this afternoon.

Below us, we could see the three spires of Lichfield Cathedral rising above the house tops of the city. The warmth of the summer sunshine and the stillness of the garden were going to be savoured a little longer.

Jimmie Rodgers recorded the popular folk song In an English Country Garden in 1962. In the half century since then, it has become part of the staple diet of Morris dancers, banjo players, and school orchestras throughout England, and the lyrics paint a colourful image, from the flowers to the wildlife that visit English gardens.

Walking back down Stafford Road and Beacon Street this afternoon, I was aware of how an English garden is a matter of culture and pride, and not just in the countryside.

The gardens were rich with roses, rhododendrons, lupines, dahlias, foxgloves, ladies bonnets, fuchsias, irises, lavender, proud lilies, tamed poppies in every variety … and there was every shade and mixture of blue, purple, red, orange, yellow, green … and more.

There is a feeling of being in an English country garden in Lombard Gardens in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

On Wednesday, there were similar delights and unexpected pleasures when I stumbled for the first time into Lombard Gardens. This hidden terrace of Georgian houses is in the heart of Lichfield, off Lombard Street, but with its “country garden” feel it could be miles outside in the countryside.

I got out into the countryside for long walks on Wednesday afternoon, when I went to the tiny village of Wall south of Lichfield, and its excavated site of Roman ruins.

Once again, I had a long and lingering lunch – this time on the terrace of The Trooper. Although we would catch a glimpse and of traffic on the motorway nearby and hear its muffled roars, it was a pleasant afternoon in the countryside and in the summer sunshine.

Later, we strolled through the countryside, under the motorway and along the lanes that led us through tiny Chesterfield. The village may have appeared sleepy, but the fields were busy and the farmers were working in the heat of the afternoon sunshine.

Each farmhouse and country cottage had an English country garden, and the sights and smells of the countryside were enthralling until we arrived at Shenstone and caught the train back to Lichfield, in time to preach in Saint John’s.

Country flowers in a country garden in Chesterfield, a tiny village south of Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The Bishop’s Lodging has survived until
now … but can it continue to survive?

The Friary in Lichfield … from Franciscan Friary to private house, to school, to library (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

I am staying this week on Swan Road in Lichfield, close to the Friary, the Library and the site of the former Franciscan Friary.

The Franciscans were founded by Saint Francis of Assisi in 1209, and within a generation, they had founded a Friary in Lichfield in 1237. Alexander de Stavenby (1224-1238), Bishop of Lichfield, made the foundation of the Friary possible when he granted the friars “certain free burgages in the town for them to set their house on.”

The Friary was destroyed in a large fire that raged through Lichfield in 1291. But it was quickly rebuilt thanks to the generosity of the people of Lichfield. In time, the Franciscans were known as the Grey Friars because of the colour of their habits.

When John Comberford of Comberford died in 1414, his bequests included 10 shillings for masses to the Franciscan mendicant friary in Lichfield. With generous bequests and increasing wealth, the simple timber structures in the Friary in Lichfield were replaced by large sandstone buildings standing on a site of over 12 acres. The nave of the large church measured 110 ft x 60 ft, the chancel 95 ft x 28 ft and the cloister 80 ft square.

At the dissolution of the monastic houses in 1538, most the Friary buildings, including the church, cloisters, refectory and most of the domestic buildings, were demolished, and the site was cleared and sold for £68 to George Stonyng, Master of the Guild of Saint Mary and Saint John, which had been the effective civic government of Lichfield.

Part of the surviving walls on the Franciscan Friary on Saint John Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Apart from some of the walls, the only buildings to survive were the Dormitory on the west range and a house known as ‘Bishop’s Lodging’ in the south-west corner of the 10.5 acre estate of the former site.

In 1545, Stonyng remodelled the remaining Friary buildings for his own domestic use, and built a brick house on part of the site of the mediaeval friary.

Over the next four centuries, the buildings were bought and sold to different people. Gregory Stonyng was one of the first two bailiffs of the new Lichfield corporation in 1548-1549.The Friary estate was inherited by his son Edward, who died in 1611. But Edward’s son Henry sold the estate to Thomas Clayton, and then passed through the Hill and Johnson families.

Tenants in the 18th century included Michael Rawlins, a former town clerk, and Thomas Cobb, political agent for Lord Anson and Lord Gower. Mrs Cobb and her niece, friends of Samuel Johnson, who often visited them. William Inge of Thorpe Constantine, a magistrate for both Lichfield and Staffordshire, lived here later in the 18th century and carried out many improvements.

In 1891, the trustees of Richard Johnson’s charity sold the 11½ acre estate to the tenant John Godfrey-Fausett. When he died, it was sold to Harry Tichborne Hinckes of Tettenhall, and it was then sold in turn to Colonel Henry Williams and Sir Richard Ashmole Cooper, MP for Walsall.

The Cooper family business is noted for the invention of insecticides related to veterinary products and the Sheep Dip. Sir Richard's son, Sir William Cooper, once boasted: “Our family solved Australia’s economy overnight.”

In 1920, Cooper gave the 11 acre estate to the city for the purpose of developing the area and laying out a new road. Bird Street and Bore Street had become congested with traffic and the west side of Lichfield was still under-developed.

The new Friary Girls’ School was built in 1921, and incorporated the building known as the Bishop’s Lodging on the south west of the building. The school was designed around the existing buildings in 1921-1928 by GC Lowbridge, the Staffordshire County Architect.

The road named ‘The Friary’ was built across the Friary site in 1928 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

In 1928 the road named The Friary was built across the former Friary site. The new road called for the relocation of the clock tower, the demolition of buildings on the south side of Saint John Street and the demolition of much of the west range of the remaining buildings from the original Friary.

The Friary site was marked out after intervention by Thomas Moseley (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The former church site of the Friary was threatened with development in 1933. However, Councillor Thomas Moseley secured permission to carry out an archaeological excavation. The dig revealed the extent and layout of the ruins of the Friary. The site was eventually designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument, stopping any danger of development.

The classical style portico framing the entrance to the excavated ruins came from Shenstone Court in 1937 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The site is now a public garden and slabs set in the grassy ground show the layout of the walls of the cloister, as well as parts of the north wall of the nave. A classical style portico was erected in 1937 to frame the entrance to the excavated ruins. The portico came from Sir Richard Cooper’s home at Shenstone Court.

The Friary School moved to the north side of Lichfield in 1975, and the former school building now serves as Lichfield Library.

At the present library, a window to the right of the entrance has an ex-situ gravestone found in 1746 but dating from the 14th century or earlier with a Calvary cross fleury and a worn inscription to Richard the Merchant.

The entrance hall of the Library also has a ceramic mosaic panel depicting a bull’s head – this was rebuilt on a smaller scale, and was originally a stall riser in a butcher’s shop in Tamworth Street.

A surviving stone fireplace from the Tudor buildings can be seen in the children’s library. This elaborate fireplace, ornamented with Gregory Stonyng’s name, is decorated with blue and white 17th or 18th century Dutch tiles. The tiles, which are somewhat battered, show street and working scenes, mainly centred on a single figure.

The Bishop’s Lodging is the only remaining part of the original Friary to survive since the dissolution (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The Bishop’s Lodging is the only remaining part of the original Friary to survive since the dissolution. This red sandstone Grade II listed building one of the oldest buildings in the heart of Lichfield and is a Grade II listed building.

The house is presumably “the inn called le Bishop’s Lodging or le Great Chamber,” which was used by the friars as a guest house and included in the sale to Gregory Stonynge in 1544.

The Bishop’s Lodging is built of sandstone, probably in the early 16th century. The house, together with the south end of the west range of the Library, is L-shaped with a wing on the west.

However, local historians and local community groups are concerned that the integrity of the Bishop’s Lodging can survive the development known as the Chapter House, which was announced in Lichfield some months ago [19 March 2015].

This development of apartments in the grounds of the former friary, surrounded by landscaped gardens, is being developed by Pegasus Life as retirement housing for people approaching or enjoying retirement.

The development work on the site has already started. The developers promise to preserve some of Lichfield’s important historical heritage and say Chapter House will include 38 apartments in a new building with a design inspired by the Franciscan friary.

They say Monks’ Walk Garden – adjacent to the site – will also be protected as part of the plans. The green space, which includes nature areas and provides a teaching facility for local schools, will be preserved as a community area open to all. They also plan to restore the Bishop’s Lodging and to convert it into further apartments.

Whether the Bishop’s Lodging can be conserved and converted remains to be seen.

Part of the Friary ruins facing the Library (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)