24 August 2021

A reminder of a pilgrim visit
to Saint Bartholmew’s in
Farewell, on the saint’s day

Saint Bartholomew’s Church and tower in Farewell, near Lichfield … now a Grade II* listed building because of its mediaeval fabric and fittings (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Feast of Saint Bartholomew (24 August). As I reflect on this apostle and his feast day, my mind goes back to Saint Bartholomew’s Church in Farewell, just north of Lichfield, and one of my favourite walks in the English countryside, along Cross in Hand Lane, which starts at the back of the Hedgehog Vintage Inn.

As the vaccination programmes continue to be rolled out, and pandemic restrictions are lifted, I hope to back in Lichfield in October, and I have already booked myself into the Hedgehog Vintage Inn on the corner of Stafford Road and Cross in Hand Lane.

This walk along Cross in Hand Lane is one of my favourite walks in the area around Lichfield. It marks the beginning – or the end – of the pilgrim route between the shrine of Saint Chad in Lichfield and the shrine of Saint Werburgh in Chester Cathedral.

Today, this pilgrim route is marked out as the Two Saints’ Way. And little has changed in the landscape along this route since mediaeval times. The road twists and turns, rises and falls, with countryside that has changed little over the centuries.

At this time of the year, the fields are green and golden under the clear blue skies of summer. There are horses in paddocks here, or cows there, and most of the land is arable or being used for grazing.

Although farming patterns have changed in the last 30 or 40 years, these fields may not have changed in shape or altered in their use for centuries, and even the names on new-built houses can reflect names that date back to a period in the 12th to 14th century.

Apart from the occasional passing car or van, one other walker and two cyclists, the only hints of modernity are the overhead pylons, and until their demolition earlier this year the smoking towers of the power station in Rugeley could be glimpsed in the distance.

Often as priests, we think we should be filling the silent spaces in time with intense prayers and thoughts about sermons and services that need preparation. But sometimes we need to just let go and empty our minds, or thoughts – even our prayers. We take everything else to be recycled as we clear out spaces in our houses, our offices and our studies. But we seldom give time to clearing out the clutter in our inner spiritual spaces, allowing them to benefit from recycling.

Setting out on a morning walk along Cross in Hand Lane, on the edges of Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the past, this walk has offered me opportunities to clear out the cobwebbed corners of my brain and (hopefully) my soul, and allowed me time to enjoy this walk as this walk and as nothing more.

I have stopped to admire the shapes and patterns of the fields and the trees. I have stopped in silence at the babbling brook. I have stopped to look at Farewell Mill. The local historian Kate Gomez suggests the name has nothing to do with saying goodbye and points out that the alternative spelling of ‘Fairwell’ refers to a nearby ‘fair or clear spring.’

Eventually, at the top of Cross in Hand Lane, I have reached Farewell, about 2½ or three miles north-west of Lichfield.

I have stopped briefly to look at Farewell Hall, and wondered about its history, before making my way down the path to Saint Bartholomew’s Church.

The East End of the church in Farewell retains parts of the priory church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The story of this country parish church dates back to a small Benedictine nunnery founded there by Bishop Clinton of Lichfield ca 1140.

The Priory of Farewell was founded at Farewell by Roger de Clinton (1129-1148), Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry (1129-1148), who endowed the place with several episcopal estates. Bishop Roger’s original grant gave to the church of Saint Mary at Farewell and the canons and lay brothers there the site of the church and important tracts of neighbouring land.

The Benedictine Priory was a stopping point on the pilgrim route between Lichfield Cathedral and Chester Cathedral that gives its name to Cross in Hand Lane.

Although it began as a foundation for monks or hermits, Farewell soon became a nunnery. Around 1140, the bishop made a new grant to the nuns of Farewell at the request of three hermits and brothers of Farewell, Roger, Geoffrey, and Robert, and with the consent of the chapter of Lichfield.

He gave the nuns the church of Saint Mary at Farewell, with a mill, a wood, pannage, the land between the stream of ‘Chistalea’ and ‘Blachesiche,’ and six serfs (coloni), formerly his tenants, with their lands and services. In addition, at the request of Hugh, his chaplain, and the canons of Lichfield, he granted the nuns large swathes of lands and woods in the area.

Bishop Roger’s charter was confirmed by his successor, Bishop Walter Durdent (1149-1159). Later, the nuns received a charter from Henry II, probably in 1155, along with lands in the forest at Lindhurst within the royal manor of Alrewas. The nuns were to hold their lands free of all secular service, and the charter was confirmed by King John in 1200.

By 1283, Farewell Priory had acquired a house in Lichfield but assigned the rent to the fabric fund of Lichfield Cathedral. Other priory lands were in Curborough, Chorley, Hammerwich, Abnalls, Ashmore Brook, Elmhurst, Longdon, and ‘Bourne,’ with farms at Farewell, Curborough, and Hammerwich, where the nuns were engaged in sheep-farming and arable farming by at least the 1370s.

Abnalls Farm … a name that dates back to priory lands in the 13th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

But, as the nunnery prospered, all was not well in Farewell. Reports from 14th-century episcopal visitations found incidents of nuns who left the nunnery and put aside their habit, and nuns who were sleeping two in a bed and with young girls in their beds.

The bishops’ reports recommended that no secular women over the age of 12 were to live in the house unless they were going to become nuns, and only women of good fame and honest conversation were to be employed. Indeed, the door at the back of the garden leading to the fields was to be kept locked because of several scandals.

The nuns were forbidden to keep more than one child each for education in the priory, and no boy over seven years of age was allowed. The nuns were not to go into Lichfield without leave of the prioress, each nun had to be accompanied by two other nuns, and there was to be no ‘vain or wanton’ delay.

The priory did not survive the general Dissolution. When Cardinal Wolsey carried out a visitation of Lichfield Cathedral in 1526, he discussed the suppression of the priory with Bishop Blythe. In 1527, Richard Strete, Archdeacon of Salop, and Dr William Clayborough, a canon of York, were given a commission to dissolve the priory and to disperse the nuns.

The prioress and the other four nuns at Farewell were moved to other Benedictine nunneries, and their property was to go to the Dean and Chapter of Lichfield Cathedral for the support of the cathedral choristers.

In August 1527, the Chapter of Lichfield was granted all the possessions of Farewell Priory, including the house and church, which were assigned to the 12 choristers of Lichfield Cathedral.

Farewell Hall, on the brow of a hill above the church in Farewell (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

At the dissolution, the vast priory estates included the Manor of Farewell and property in Chorley, Curborough Somerville, Elmhurst, Lindhurst, Alrewas, Hammerwich, Ashmore Brook, Lichfield, King’s Bromley, Water Eaton (in Penkridge), Pipe, Abnalls, Cannock, Burntwood, Rugeley, Brereton, Handsacre, Oakley (in Croxall), Tipton and Longdon.

By the 18th century, the Parish Church of Saint Bartholomew seems to have been the only surviving part of the priory buildings. This church was rebuilt in brick in 1745, and the only mediaeval portion now surviving is the stone chancel at the east end. There was further restoration in 1848 when the church was re-roofed.

Saint Bartholomew’s Church is now a mixture of two different building styles and materials. The church is a Grade II* listed building for its surviving mediaeval fabric and fittings.

The square, plain topped west tower now serves as a vestry, with kitchen and storage space, but the bells are no longer used. The churchyard is well maintained and is bordered by brick walls and some hedging.

Farewell itself is small, and covers only 1,049 acres. A mile further on is the small village of Chorley, so the church in Farewell is not the focal point of village life. Today, Farewell and Chorley form a civil parish, but the parish council is a joint one with Curborough and Elmhurst, all within Lichfield District.

Farewell Manor … no longer part of the nuns’ vast estates (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty and everlasting God,
who gave to your apostle Bartholomew
grace truly to believe and to preach your word:
Grant that your Church may love that word which he believed
and may faithfully preach and receive the same;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Little has been altered in the landscape along this pilgrim route for centuries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


John G Lamb said...

My Uncle, Dr John Edwin Gregory used to play the organ at Saint Bartholomew's Farewell, many years prior to electricity being installed. He also conducted the service as a Lay Preacher I had the job of pumping the bellows to provide the necessary. Although a Doctor of Divinity he did not become ordained until he was sixty, but taught Chemistry at what was then Aston Tech, now Aston University (B'ham).Saint Bartholmews was just one of the little Churches in the Lichfield Diocese and many had such pump up organs, so my job was secure, sadly no pay was ever proffered, but at least I got to know a lot of hymns. I am 76 now, and was 9 or ten years old then...so a long time ago.

Andrew said...

Dear Patrick,

What an evocative description of the walk up Cross in Hand Lane. Yesterday I also took to the Two Saints Way, having first paid tribute to the statues of St Chad, St Werburgh and St Bartholomew on the West Front of the Cathedral. “The fields are green and golden under the clear blue skies of summer” and you’re right, apart from the odd overhead cable I could almost have been back in the 12th century.

You’ll be pleased to hear in the early afternoon I heard the bells of St Bartholomew’s ring out again around the surrounding countryside. On an earlier visit the friendly churchwarden Mick Wigley told me they’ve got the smallest bell in Staffordshire, and we all know small is beautiful. I imagine you’ll be pleased to hear the church is ringing back into life. Oh, and the monks at Kings Bromley are walking the Two Saints Way via Farewell in a couple of weeks time…at least to St Chad’s in Stafford and hopefully Stone Priory. The story of St Chad is ever-evolving.

Best wishes to someone who clearly appreciates the beauty and silence of Farewell, Andrew

Anonymous said...

Andrew, thank you for your comments and messages. I have no contact or email details for you. Could you send these to me in another comment that I don’t need to post but that would allow me to reply to you, please? Patrick