01 June 2015

Fields of green and signs of summer
on a country walk near Lichfield

Purple and pink blossom on the grass at the Hedgehog Inn in Lichfield on Saturday afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

A new ap on my phone tells me how long I have walked and how many steps I have taken each day. I am at a daily average of 2.63 km and over 3,000 steps, which seems to be the general average, but a long way from what all the experts recommend.

On Saturday, however, I managed to raise the stakes for myself, with about 15 km of walking during my visit to Lichfield.

I have some favourite walks when I am staying in Lichfield, and Saturday’s weather was certainly the beginning of summer, with blue skies and temperatures in the high teens.

Early in the morning, I had a stroll around the Cathedral Close, and there were short visits to Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield Cathedral and the Cathedral Bookshop before joining the visit to Dr Milley’s Hospital on Beacon Street with Lichfield Discovered.

Walking around Stowe Pool in Lichfield on Saturday afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

After coffee with friends and visiting the Cruck House, I strolled around Stowe Pool, by Samuel Johnson’s willow and the boat house, and then along Minster Pool below the three graceful spires of Lichfield Cathedral.

In the Remembrance Gardens beside Minster Pool, the foxglove tree is in full bloom. This magnificent, ornamental flowering tree is a native to China and was introduced into Britain around the 1830s. The fragrant, mauve, bell-shaped flowers open in late Spring if the buds have not been damaged by winter cold in the previous months. The tree grows rapidly in its younger years and thrives best when it has a large amount of light and good shelter.

At present, the largest foxglove tree in Britain is over 15 metres tall and is growing in Cardiff. A note pinned to the tree in Lichfield wonders whether this may yet grow to be the tallest foxglove tree in Britain.

The foxglove tree is flowering in the Remembrance Garden, by Minister Pool and below Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

From Minister Pool, I then continued on a lengthy walk in the sunshine along Beacon Street, until it turns into Stafford Road. There I crossed into Cross in Hand Lane and out into the countryside on the northern fringes of Lichfield.

Cross in Hand Lane was the main road from Lichfield to Stafford from the late 13th century until 1770, but today it is a quiet country lane that leads eventually to the quaintly-named village of Farewell.

It was named Cross in Hand Lane because pilgrims or travellers on their way between Chester and Lichfield used this route, carrying a cross in their hand.

There are records of a mediaeval cross between Beacon Street and Cross in Hand Lane, but there are no traces of this cross today. The story goes that the cross with the hand that was standing at the fork in the road in the 15th century was simply a post to point directions.

Cross in Hand Lane … a quaint name with many explanations (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

In 1770, the course of the road was straightened and was diverted to follow a new line to the east, now the present Stafford Road.

Last Saturday afternoon, however, it was a pleasant, quiet country lane, in the bright sunshine, inviting me to stroll through fields and farmland, by country cottages, farmhouses and timber-framed barns and by babbling brooks.

Watch out for horses and riders … a sign on Cross in Hand Lane (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The fields are rich and green, the traffic is gentle to the point of being almost non-existent, and the only road signs I noticed warned me to watch out for horses and riders.

It was hard to imagine that I was still close to urban and suburban life, and I found myself rejoicing in the joys of creation, and delighted in the divine gift of the countryside.

The hedgerows are forming over-hanging garlands enclosing Cross in Hand Lane (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The hedgerows were forming over-hanging garlands, yet through them there was glimpse of the country road ahead, fields lined full with crops and lined with trees on each side of me, and charming cottages sprinkled through the countryside.

I have walked this country lane many times in the past few years, and it never ceases to make me thankful for God’s good gifts.

Fields of green by Cross in Hand Lane on the northern fringes of Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Eventually I turned back along Cross in Hand Lane, and strolled into the grounds of the Hedgehog Vintage Inn, where I have stayed many times over the last few years.

In the early summer weather, the trees were majestic, the pink and purple blossom covered some of the grounds, and families were enjoying the sunshine with their children.

Colourful suburban growth on Stafford Road (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

After a late lunch with a long-standing friend and a glass of wine in the sunshine on the lawn in front of the Hedgehog, I decided to stroll back into Lichfield along Stafford Road and Beacon Street. Even in the suburban gardens, the colours were rich.

As I came close to the Cathedral, the growth along the walls of Vicars’ Hall were profuse, and the afternoon sunshine was still warm and embracing … even if I realised that I have a lot of work to do before my daily walking average comes up to a healthy figure.

Rich growth around Vicars’ Hall near Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

A visit to a rescued and restored
mediaeval cottage in Lichfield

Cruck House … a rescued and restored mediaeval house in Stowe Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

After visiting Dr Milley’s Hospital on Beacon Street, Lichfield, on Saturday, I also visited another surviving mediaeval house in Lichfield that has been restored carefully in the past few decades.

Cruck House is a restored Grade II* timber-framed mediaeval cottage at 71 Stowe Street, which is a continuation of Lombard Street, and close to south side of Stowe Pool.

Cruck House is an impressive sight on Stowe Street in the midst of modern residential and commercial buildings. Yet, despite first impressions, this is a surprisingly small building.

This jointed cruck and part-box-framed house fell into disrepair before it was rescued from demolition in 1971. It was discovered during the redevelopment of Stowe Street and was restored to its original state.

In the mid-1950s, many of the old buildings in Stowe Street pulled down. During the demolition work, the Cruck House was revealed within the outer cladding of a building whose outer walls had obscured the framework supporting it.

Whoever spotted the house during the demolition process and called a halt had saved a rare building dating back to the late 14th or early 15th century.

Cruck House, Lichfield … a unique example of its type in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

In the past, there were two main types of timber buildings in England – the box frame construction, and cruck.

Box frame was a construction of mainly pre-fabricated sections that were made up, and then erected on the site to form the shell of the building, with the roof supported on beams carried on to the top plates – or wall plates on the upper frames, thus transmitting the roof load down to the ground via the framework below.

Cruck buildings were mainly made up in-situ. The roof load was carried directly from the apex to the ground via pairs of arching beams such as those at the exposed end of the Cruck House. This building is what is known as jointed cruck, since the main beams are jointed instead of being in one piece.

Although it looks bigger this is a single-storey, two-bay building with a half loft. There are two windows of two lights with an upper three-light window between, all with leaded glazing. The left return has a cruck truss with a tie beam, cruck spurs, collar and yoke with short king post.

The right return is similar, with braces to a king post, and two two-light ground floor windows. At the back of the house, the entrance is connected through a 20th century glazed porch connecting with the terrace behind Cruck House.

Some of the timber has been renewed in the restoration work in recent decades, especially the sill plates and the rear framing.

There were other examples of cruck-style buildings in Lichfield in the past. For example, when an old pub was being demolished on the corner of Frog Lane and Saint John Street, cruck beams were visible in the party wall between the old pub and the building immediately to the north of it. It was swiftly demolished and removed, although not before the pieces were photographed before they were removed.

Cruck House was open to the public last year as part of the Lichfield Heritage Weekend. Dave Moore, who was involved in Saturday’s visit to Dr Milley’s Hospital and who has interviewed me about my Lichfield links, recently gave an interesting talk to Friends 2 Friends, explaining how Cruck House was built.

Cruck House is now a day care centre and is used by a variety of community groups, including Friends 2 Friends (F2F), which supports adults with learning difficulties. In recent years it was also used for Sunday meetings for worship by the Society of Friends (Quakers), although they have since moved to the Martin Heath Hall in Christchurch Lane.

Cruck House is close to Stowe Pool, to the east of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)