Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Finding the garden and house behind
the secret-looking gate in Lichfield

The secret-looking gate in the former Friary wall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

During the weekend, I posted a photograph of a curious gate in the old Friary Wall on the corner of Saint John Street, Lichfield, beside the Library.

The photograph attracted a number of interesting comments on a Facebook site and raised a number of curious questions.

Two people thought it looked very secretive, and a conversation developed on the Facebook group, “You’re probably from Lichfield, Staffs, if …”

One person asked: “What’s behind that gate anyway?”

Another said she could remember going through this gate into the garden behind when she was in the Girl Guides.

The garden behind the ‘secret gate’ on the corner of Saint John Street and the Friary (Photograph: Johann Popp)

Johann Popp, who was the proprietor of nearby Saint John’s House when I once stayed there, pointed out that behind the gate is a private garden on the north side of the wall, and posted a photograph of it.

Another person recalled how the gate leads into the gardens of No 20 St John Street, the former offices of Hinckley Birch & Exham where she worked for many years before moving to Ansons in 2010, when Hinckley Birch & Brown merged with Ansons. The house is now owned by Access Bookings.

No 20 Saint John Street … a fine example of a well-preserved Georgian house (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

No 20 Saint John Street is an early Georgian house, standing next to the Friary site, and it is easy to pass by without noticing. Yet, as I wrote in a posting earlier this summer, this house is a fine example of a well preserved Georgian house that has survived since about 1700.

The 300-year-old house in the early Georgian style is now in offices. It is a Grade II* listed building. The house was built ca 1700 with additions from the mid-18th and early 19th century.

No 20 is a brick building with plaster dressings and a hipped tile roof with brick stacks. It has a double-depth plan with side and rear wings, is two storeys tall with an attic, and has a symmetrical four-window range.

The house has a plaster plinth and top cornice. The entrance has an architrave and bracketed canopy. The front door is a four-fielded-panel door with two glazed panels.

There are two basement lights. The windows have brick flat arches and cross-casements. There two gabled dormers with two-light casements.

The left return has a small leaded light, there is a lateral stack and a wing with a gabled first floor with a cross-casement window over the carriage way. The right return has two brick platt bands and two stair windows with flanking windows, all with cross casements and some with leaded glazing. The two hipped dormers have two-light casements and an inserted entrance to left end. There is a lateral stack and a rainwater head with a downspout.

The two-storey 18th century wing has a platt band over the ground floor, three windows with 12-pane sashes to each floor, a coped gable end and an end stack.

The 19th century wing has a segmental-headed window to each floor, one small-paned casement and a six-pane horned sash. The rear of the house has two gables. There is varied fenestration, including a tripartite sash to the return of the wing, and the rear of the side wing has a hipped roof over a sashed window.

Inside the house, the room to the left has an ovolo-moulded beam with run-out stops. The room to the right has early 18th century panelling with a dado rail, a bolection-moulded fireplace with an over-mantel with egg-and-dart moulding to the panel and scrolled relief frieze and drops. There is a similar room above.

The dog-leg stair has turned balusters and square newels with finials and pendants, and a bolection-moulded dado. On the first floor, the room to the left has an angle fireplace with Delft tiles.

And so, the secret behind the secret gate is a fine example of Lichfield’s Georgian architectural heritage.