27 April 2023

Bistro 19 at Lichfield Cathedral
stands on the site of older
houses in the Cathedral Close

Bistro 19 nestles beneath the spires of Lichfield Cathedral … the house was first built by Archdeacon George Strangeways in the early 16th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

The ‘Green Man’ on the invitations to the royal coronation next week has created some discussion and much ridiculous speculation in the ‘red top’ newspapers. But, if like me, you have no personal invitation, you can still see a ‘Green Man’ above the stables in the Cathedral Close in Lichfield, behind Bistro 19 on the south side of the cathedral.

Two of us had coffee in Bistro 19 earlier this week during our visit to Lichfield, and Richard Sewell, who has been managing the café for the past year, showed us around the building, and basement which dates back to the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries, if not earlier.

Bistro 19 sits beneath the three spires of Lichfield Cathedral, and the gardens overlook Minster Pool.

As we wandered around the house and the gardens, Richard Sewell asked me how much I knew about the history of the house, which is nestled beneath the three spires of Lichfield Cathedral and has an interesting view across Minster Pool.

Bistro 19 looks out onto Minster Pool below Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

It is always interesting to see inside historic houses in Lichfield, and the arched and vaulted basement of No 19 in the Cathedral Close with its steep steps, long dark corridors and passageways, and its old wooden doors, posts and beams, may be much older than the Georgian house above and its Caroline and Tudor predecessors.

This was once the house of archdeacons and diocesan registrars, the childhood home of Charles Darwin’s grandmother, and, for one short time, was also the bishop’s house. Later, it was the house of the diocesan registrars, and more recently was part of a visitors’ centre, before becoming a café.

The first known house on the site of No 19 was a brick house, built in the early 16th century by the Archdeacon of Coventry, George Strangeways. It was probably built on the site of an earlier house between the cathedral and Minster Pool.

George Strangeways was the Prebendary of Stotfold from 1485, and later served as Archdeacon of Coventry in the Diocese of Lichfield ca 1505-1509. As Archdeacon of Coventry, he presented the Book of Hours of René d’Anjou to King Henry VII.

Until then, the archdeacons did not have a house in the Cathedral Close. This house may have been the residence of the Archdeacons of Coventry in the Diocese of Lichfield in the late Tudor period.

Strangeway’s immediate successors, who may have lived in this house as archdeacons, included Ralph Colyngwood in 1509-1512, later Dean of Lichfield; John Blythe, who was archdeacon in 1512-1558; and Henry Comberford, who was also Precentor of Lichfield until he was deprived of his church offices in 1559 due to his Catholic sympathies.

No 19 was the home of Bishop John Hacket after the English Civil War and the Caroline restoration (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

After the English Civil War and the Caroline restoration, the Bishop’s Palace in Lichfield was still in ruins in the wake of the Civil War. When John Hacket (1592-1670) became Bishop of Lichfield at the end of 1661, he chose this house built by Archdeacon Strangeways as his new residence.

Hacket believed the bishop’s house was beyond repair, and he moved into No 19 in 1661. He spent £800 on restoring the house and adding to it. At the same time, he was engaged in the unenviable task of overseeing the restoration of Lichfield Cathedral.

When Hacket’s work on the house was completed in 1667, it included a dining room and a gallery and 34 or 35 other rooms, with a stable for 16 horses in the south-east corner of the garden.

Hacket apparently tried to secure the house as the bishop’s palace but after he died in 1670 it once more became a canonical house.

In the later 18th century, Charles Howard (1707-1771), a proctor in the consistory court of Lichfield, lived in the house. Howard, who was a school friend of Dr Samuel Johnson, improved the garden behind the house with a grotto of shells and fossils.

Charles Howard and his wife Penelope (née Foley) were the parents of Mary ‘Polly’ Howard who married Erasmus Darwin in Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield, in 1757. Polly died on 30 June 1770 and her funeral took place in Lichfield Cathedral. Her grandson was the naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1882).

This house was assigned to the diocesan registrar in 1797, when it had a central range with wings at either end. At the back, the ground floor, which extended beyond the Close bank, was supported by arches.

The house was demolished in 1799, and rebuilt by William Mott, a Lichfield lawyer who was the Deputy Diocesan Registrar, Registrar of the Dean and Chapter, and Chapter Clerk. However, Mott retained the vaulted and arched basement that provided sturdy foundations for the house he rebuilt.

Mott also fitted out Hacket’s stable as a muniment room. He bought Wall House near Lichfield and the manorial rights with it in 1813.

When William Mott died in 1826, he was buried in the cathedral churchyard and there is a monument to him in the cathedral. His son John Mott (1787-1869) rebuilt No 20 in the Cathedral Close. He was Sheriff of Lichfield in 1836 and Mayor of Lichfield in 1850. John Mott’s wife, Henrietta Oakeley (1787-1869), was a sister of Canon Frederick Oakeley, the Lichfield hymnwriter associated with the carol, ‘O come, all ye faithful.’

The vaulted and arched rooms and the long corridors of No 19 may predate the house built by Archdeacon George Strangeways in the early 16th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

A new stable was added on the north side of Mott’s muniment room, and part of it was converted into the chapter clerk’s office in 1925. The office was moved in 1975 to No 14 the Close. Most of the diocesan records were deposited in the Lichfield Joint Record Office between 1968 and 1984.

The house continued to be used by the diocesan registrar or his deputy until 1987. When MBS Exham retired as registrar, the house passed to Lichfield Diocesan Board of Finance, and was sold that year to the dean and chapter. The whole building was converted into the Lichfield Cathedral Visitors’ Study Centre, the first part in 1986 and the second part in 1989.

The present house is Georgian in style, two storeys high with a rear basement, and a double-depth plan. In recent years, it housed Chapters, the cathedral restaurant and coffee shop, which closed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Bistro 19 opened last year (29 May) and is run by Richard Sewell, and is a perfect place to stop in during a visit to Lichfield Cathedral.

• Bistro 19 is run independently, is set within the grounds of Lichfield Cathedral, and serves Breakfast, Brunch, Coffee with a bar, seven days a week, from 10 am until 4 pm.

The ‘Green Man’ on the walls of the former stables beside Bistro 19 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting and detailed account ,thanks