17 July 2023
The George and Dragon
reopens on historic site
beside Lichfield Cathedral
I was back in Lichfield a few days ago, and it was a delight to see that the George and Dragon on the east side of Beacon Street has reopened after being closed for eight months.
The George and Dragon is a friendly local pub and one of the oldest pubs in Lichfield, built in 1818, and with the biggest beer garden that boasts outstanding views of Lichfield Cathedral.
The garden is also a site of historical significance as the site of Prince Rupert’s Mound, an important battle site during the Siege of Lichfield in the English Civil War in the 1640s.
Prince Rupert lay siege to the Parliamentarians during the English Civil War from this site. Prince Rupert’s Mound is a grassy knoll behind the George and Dragon, and is easily found by turning from Beacon Stret into Gaia Lane, and walking down a few paces, where it rises on the left or north side.
Prince Rupert’s Mound is one of two open space areas in Lichfield that are scheduled as ancient monuments: the other is the site of the Friary. Prince Rupert’s Mound takes its name from the earthworks that supported the artillery bombardment of the Cathedral Close by Prince Rupert of the Rhine during the sieges in the English Civil War in the mid-17th century.
During the second siege of The Close in 1643, after the Parliamentarians had consolidated their positions in Lichfield and strengthened their defences in the Cathedral Close, Prince Rupert (1619-1682) entered the city on 7 April. He surrounded the Close, setting up his artillery on this high ground north of the cathedral close.
Within two weeks, Prince Rupert had captured the Close for King Charles. During this siege, the bombardment from the platform proved ineffective, and Prince Rupert recruited miners to tunnel beneath the north-west tower, where they laid the first land mines ever used in Britain.
The parliamentarian commander, Colonel Russell, surrendered on 21 April, and a Royalist garrison with Colonel Richard Bagot as governor took over.
Prince Rupert, who was born in Prague, was the German or Bohemian (take your choice) grandson of James I and a nephew of Charles I. He passed through Lichfield again in March 1644 on his way to relieve Newark and once more on his way back.
Lichfield remained a royalist stronghold, supported by financial levies, donations, and money taken from the enemy, until 1646. On 9 March 1646, Sir William Brereton captured Lichfield and began a four-month siege of the Cathedral Close.
The besieged royalists used the central spire of the cathedral as a vantage point, and when they flaunted regimental colours and officers’ sashes from it on May Day, it became a symbol of resistance in the eyes of the parliamentarians.
Brereton bombarded the cathedral for five days, and on 12 May the central tower collapsed, damaging the choir and nave. However, the royalist garrisons in the Close continued to resist even after the fall of Oxford on 26 June and only surrendered on 10 July, marching out on 16 July.
The cathedral was desecrated by the parliamentarians in 1643, when its glass, statues and organs were destroyed. The final siege left it in ruins, along with the Bishop’s Palace and many of the houses in the Close. The looting that followed brought about further destruction.
Beacon Street was burnt by the royalists during the final siege to deprive the attackers of cover, and 52 houses there belonging to the vicars choral were destroyed, although some had been rebuilt by 1649.
With the destruction of the cathedral in 1646, centuries of religious custom came to an end, for the next 14 years the cathedral was ‘a place of ruin, inhabited by squatters and haunted by owls a night,’ according to the local historian Howard Clayton.
Meanwhile, what happened to Prince Rupert? In English folklore, he remains the archetypal cavalier. But he was quarrelsome and difficult, and regularly fell out with both his uncle Charles I and with his fellow royalist officers
After the civil war, he became a pirate in the Caribbean and a slave trader, but he returned to England after his cousin Charles II was restored to the throne, and gained a new reputation for his scientific explorations and discoveries. Samuel Pepys regarded him as the finest tennis player in England. He died in 1682 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
His sister was the mother of George I, and so the British monarchy passed to a line of German princelings from Hanover.
Apart from Prince Rupert’s Mound in Lichfield, he also gave his name to Prince Rupert’s Land in Canada, to the towns of Prince Rupert in British Columbia and Edmonton, and to the Rupert River in Quebec.
Prince Rupert’s Land no longer exists. The Hudson’s Bay Company sold most of Prince Rupert’s Land to Canada in 1869-1870. The territory was later parcelled out to Manitoba, Saskatchewan, southern Alberta, southern Nunavut, northern parts of Ontario and Quebec, as well as parts of Minnesota and North Dakota, and small portions of Montana and South Dakota.
Today, Prince Rupert’s Mound behind the George and Dragon is a Scheduled Monument and Lichfield District Council lists it as an important historic site within the designated character area of Gaia Lane.
The George and Dragon is a popular community pub, and it reopened last month (17 June 2023) after being taken over by the woman who lives next door.
Jenni Walls became the new landlady of the George and Dragon after it had been closed for eight months. She was originally a medical secretary, and she gained experience in the trade running premises in Tamworth in recent years.
Of course, there were teething problems as the place reopened, including a leak in the cellar and storage space due to heavy rain on Beacon Street, forcing the place to remain closed for days. But reopening the George and Dragon has also created eight jobs.
The George and Dragon enjoyed so much success on the day it opened once again that every draught product was a sell-out.
‘The George and Dragon was a lovely little pub when I first moved in,’ Jenni Walls told local media. ‘But it wasn’t looked after in the end. I seized the opportunity to take it on and thought it would be nice because I could run it the way I wanted to.’
I lingered in the afternoon summer sunshine on the grassy mount, with reflections of the cathedral filling my glass, before leaving in time for Choral Evensong in Lichfield Cathedral.