23 April 2020
Saint George’s Day tales
from Lichfield, Tamworth
and Comberford church
Today is Saint George’s Day (23 April), and during the day my thoughts turned to a number of places I associate with Saint George:
1, Saint George’s Court, Lichfield: an ancient Manorial Court dating from 1548, when the manorial rights of the Barony of Lichfield were transferred by charter to the Bailiffs, Burgesses and the commonalty of the City, now the Mayor, Councillors and citizens. The court is held in a light-hearted and jovial manner in the Guildhall in Lichfield, but it did not take place today because of the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions.
2, The statue of Saint George in the War Memorial in the Garden of Remembrance, Bird Street, Lichfield.
3, A window in the chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, depicting Saint John the Baptist and Saint George.
4, Saint George’s Chapel in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, where I spoke last year (9 May 2019) on the Comberford Family and the Moat House, at the invitation of Tamworth and District Civic Society.
5, The George and Dragon on Beacon Street, Lichfield.
6, A hassock in Lichfield Cathedral decorated with Saint George’s Cross and a white rose (for the Virgin Mary), recalling Saint Mary’s and Saint George’s Church in Comberford; the cross and the rose are also reminders of some of the symbols on the coat-of-arms of the Comberford family.
7, The many churches and monasteries named after Saint George that I know throughout Greece, particularly in Crete.
8, And, of course, Saint Mary’s and Saint George’s Church in Comberford village, between Lichfield and Tamworth, which was closed in October 2013.
I certainly do not get it right all the time, even most of the time, and when I get it wrong, I am happy to be corrected.
On many postings in recent years, I had stated that the architect of Saint Mary’s and Saint George’s Church in Comberford was designed by Andrew Capper, a Gothic revival architect who he worked closely with George Edmund Street.
But it seems I was wrong all those years. An anonymous poster told me this week that the architects for the church were Hicks and Charlewood of Newcastle-on-Tyne and that Robert Bridgeman & Sons of Lichfield were the builders and also responsible for the interior fittings.
The architectural practice of Hicks and Charlewood began as Austin & Johnson, and later became Hicks & Charlewood, Wilson & Wilson, Charlewood, Curry, Wilson & Atkinson, and, from the mid-1980s, Charlewood Curry. The archives of the practice include plans, drawings and photographs for a number of churches and other buildings.
The origins of all these practices date back to in 1882 when the architect William Searle Hicks (1849-1902) established his own business. Hicks was a great nephew of Sir Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament. In 1866 He was articled in 1866 to the Newcastle architects Thomas Austin and Robert James Johnson who had bought John Dobson’s practice the previous year. When Austin died, Johnson took Hicks into partnership.
Hicks was joined by his brother-in-law, Henry Clement Charlewood (1857-1943), in 1888, when they formed Hicks & Charlewood. Charlewood was born in Kinoulton Nottinghamshire, was educated at Marlborough College, and in 1879 travelled through Italy. Hicks was the Diocesan Surveyor for Newcastle, and the practice specialised in the building and restoration of churches.
Hicks died in 1902, and he and Charlewood were succeeded by their sons, Henry Leicester (Harry) Hicks (1881-1947) and George E Charlewood (1890-1962). By 1936, both sons were operating separately, and HL Hicks died in 1947. Charlewood Curry was dissolved in 1993, with Christopher Downs setting up his own practise, and Ian Curry becoming resident architect at Durham Cathedral.
But I was more interested to learn that the church in Comberford was built by Robert Bridgeman (1844-1918), the architectural sculptor, ecclesiastical sculptor, stone carver and stonemason, who was based for most of his career at Quonians Lane in Lichfield.
Bridgeman was born in Burwell, Cambridgeshire, the son of Charles Bridgeman (1825-1903), a farmer, turf dealer and digger. Robert learned his craft with one of the large carving firms in Cambridge, such as Rattee and Kett. He married the daughter of his landlady in 1872, and by 1877 they were living in Lichfield where Robert worked on the cathedral.
He first worked from a small workshop close to Minster Pool, but later moved to larger premises in Quonians Lane, off Dam Street. Bridgeman lived on Dam Street and established his own firm in Lichfield in 1879, specialising in ecclesiastical and architectural work in wood, stone, alabaster and metal.
When the west front of Lichfield Cathedral was being restored by Sir George Gilbert Scott, the Bridgeman workshops produced the majority of the statues on the new façade, which include more than 100 biblical figures, saints, kings and other figures.
By 1912, Robert’s son Joseph had joined the firm and it traded as Robert Bridgeman & Son. Robert Bridgeman died on 1 March 1918.
A third generation, Charles William Bridgeman (1902-2004), son of Joseph, later joined the business It traded as Bridgeman & Sons of Lichfield until his retirement in 1968, when it was sold to Linfords and operated as Linford-Bridgeman.
Bridgeman’s major commissions include the restoration work on the west front of Lichfield Cathedral in the 1870s and 1880s. Other works from the workshops in Lichfield include:
● The lone sailor, originally intended for a Boer War memorial in York, later given to the City of Lichfield by Robert Bridgeman in 1901, and placed on the Free Library and Museum, Bird Street, now the Registry Office.
● The statue of King Edward VII (1908) in the Museum Gardens in Beacon Park.
● The War Memorial in the Gardens of Remembrance.
● The medallions of George V and Queen Mary on the Bore Street façade of the Guildhall.
The Church of Saint Mary and Saint George in Comberford was built by Bridgeman’s on a site donated in May 1914 by Howard Francis Paget (1858-1935) of Elford Hall to the Lichfield Diocesan Trust for the erection of a mission church. Howard Paget’s father, the Revd Francis Edward Paget (1806-1882), was Rector of Elford, an early follower of the Oxford Movement, and the author of Tractarian fiction, including The Curate of Cumberworth (sic) (1859).
The Bridgeman workshops produced pieces for churches, cathedrals, schools and other historic buildings, as well as doing conservation and restoration work. Their other commissions included the Gothic façade of the John Rylands Library, Manchester, as well as pieces in the two cathedrals in Birmingham, Saint Philip’s and Saint Chad’s, and sculptures in cathedrals throughout England and works in Australia, New Zealand, the US and Italy.
Until recently, the former Bridgeman premises in Lichfield had an interesting collection that has since been dispersed. This included 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.
After Saint Mary’s and Saint George’s closed in 2013, Bridgeman’s rood in the church in Comberford was transferred by faculty to the church at Coven near Brewood in 2014.
It is always good to be corrected when I am mistaken in my historical details. It was particularly pleasant this week to find this link between Comberford and the Bridgeman workshops in Lichfield, and to find out more about the Church of Saint Mary and Saint George in Comberford in advance of Saint George’s Day.
Bridgeman’s statue in the War Memorial in Lichfield shows Saint George as a proud, youthful and alert warrior encased in armour. This depiction is influenced by Donatello’s standing figure of Saint George for the Orsanmichele or Oratory of Saint Michael in Florence (1416-1417). The design is also influenced by the 16th century statue on the façade of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice by the sculptor Giulio dal Moro, where Saint George stands with a staff in his right hand and a shield in his left, and with the slain dragon at his feet.
There are lions’ heads on either side of the statue. The lower panels were added later and are dedicated to those who had died in the World War II and later struggles. These words are found in the centre of the lower panels:
‘These lower panels are dedicated to those who died in the cause of freedom during the World War 1939-1945 and the struggles which followed.’
The Garden of Remembrance is owned and managed by Lichfield City Council. It forms part of the Grade II-registered Cathedral Close and Linear Park. The garden was restored in 2011/2012 as part of the Historic Parks restoration project.
Kate Gomez, ‘Bridgeman’s Works of Art,’ Lichfield Gazette, April 2013 (pp 22-23).
Joss Musgrove Knibb, Lichfield in 50 Buildings (Stroud: Amberley, 2016).
Jono Oates, A-Z of Lichfield, People-Places-History (Stroud: Amberley, 2019).
(Sir) Nikolaus Pevsner, Staffordshire (London: Penguin, 1974, The Buildings of England series).
‘Robert Bridgeman,’ Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain and Ireland 1851-1951, University of Glasgow History of Art and HATII, online database 2011 [http://sculpture.gla.ac.uk/view/person.php?id=ann_1394806036, accessed 22 April 2020]