18 July 2023
The Lichfield grave of
a Victorian church figure
is a national monument
Throughout my many visits to Saint Michael’s churchyard on Greenhill in Lichfield, I seem to have missed out on seeing the monumental mausoleum of Chancellor James Thomas Law.
James Thomas Law (1790-1876) was the Chancellor of the Diocese of Lichfield from 1821 to 1873, and he was an important public benefactor. His bequests to the city include both the statue of Samuel Johnson in the Market Square and the fountain in Beacon Park.
He was a towering figure in church life in Lichfield for much of the 19th century, and his grave is an important and listed public monument. But for many years it was covered by overgrowth, and I saw it again for the first time in decades earlier this month.
James Thomas Law was born on 8 December 1790 in Carlisle where his grandfather had been bishop, and his father, uncle and grandfather were all bishops.
His father, George Henry Law (1761-1845), was Bishop of Chester (1812-1824) and later Bishop of Bath and Wells (1824-1845); his mother Jane was a daughter of General James Whorwood Adeane MP, of Babraham, Cambridgeshire. His uncle, John Law (1745-1810), was Bishop of Clonfert (1785-1787), Bishop of Killala (1787-1795) and Bishop of Elphin (1795-1810).
His grandfather, Edmund Law (1703-1787), was Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge, Knightbridge Professor of Philosophy in the University of Cambridge (1764-1769), Archdeacon of Stafford and Prebendary of Sandiacre in Lichfield Cathedral (1763-1769), and Bishop of Carlisle (1768-1787).
James Law went to school in Carlisle and Greenwich, before studying at Christ’s College, Cambridge (BA 1812, MA 1815, Fellow 1814-1817). He was ordained deacon by his father, the Bishop of Chester, on 18 September 1814, and priest three months later on 18 December 1814. After serving briefly as his father’s chaplain, Law’s first church appointments were as Rector of Tattenhall, Cheshire (1815-1821), Vicar of Childwall, Lancashire (1818-1821), Vicar of Bowdon, Cheshire (1818-1821), and the King’s Preacher in Lancashire (1818-1821).
Law was made a prebendary of Chester Cathedral on 9 April 1818 and then came to Lichfield, where his grandfather had once held a sinecure, and where he was made Prebendary of Bobenhull in Lichfield Cathedral on 18 July April 1818.
Law was soon appointed Chancellor of the Diocese of Lichfield in 1821 and Master of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (1821-1826). A typical pluralist of his day, he was also commissary of the archdeaconry of Richmond in 1824, and in 1840 he was the special commissary of the Diocese of Bath and Wells, where his father was bishop. In addition, Law was the Vicar of Harborne, Staffordshire (1825-1845).
Law resigned as a Prebendary of Chester in 1828 and as Prebendary of Bobenhull in Lichfield on 4 July 1837. But he remained a pluralist, holding an array of church offices and appointments. Yet, his principal focus was on his role as Chancellor of Lichfield, and he also sat as a judge on the Diocesan Consistory Court and in the local Probate Court.
As the Master of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (1821-1836), Law secured a number of leases of hospital property for himself, but he also spent a considerable amount enlarging the hospital chapel. A north aisle, containing a gallery, was built in 1829 at Law’s expense. At the same time, the east gable was faced with stone.
Law was an early member of the Cambridge Camden Society, which was strongly influenced by AWN Pugin. With the Lichfield architect Thomas Johnson of Davidson House, he was a founding member in 1841 of the Lichfield Society for the Encouragement of Ecclesiastical Architecture, which often met in Law’s house in Market Street.
Law supported the Birmingham School of Medicine and Surgery at Queen’s College, Birmingham, and he was elected honorary warden of Queen’s College in 1846. He also supported the foundation of Lichfield Theological College, founded in the Cathedral Close in 1857 at the inspiration of John Lonsdale (1788-1867), Bishop of Lichfield.
Law published many papers and pamphlets, mostly on church law. He was also an early advocate of allotments, publishing The Poor Man’s Garden, or a few brief Rules for Regulating Allotments of Land to the Poor for Potato Gardens (1830), which ran into four editions.
Law lived on Market Street, Lichfield, but acquired a number of properties in the vicinity. By 1851, for example, it appears most of the lands in Chesterfield near Lichfield were owned by Chancellor Law and John Yardley (1813-1867).
Law was an important benefactor to the city of Lichfield. His bequests include the statue of Samuel Johnson in the Market Square. Law presented the statue by Richard Cockle Lucas (1800-1883) to Lichfield in August 1838.
Lucas retuned to Lichfield to touch up his statue in 1859. By then, he had taken up photography to assist his work, and his photograph of the statue in the Market Square is one of the oldest photographs of Lichfield.
The rear panel has a fading inscription commemorating Law’s gift: ‘This statue was presented to the citizens of Lichfield by James Thos. Law Chancellor of the diocese August 1838.’ A later plaque commemorating the 200th anniversary of Johnson’s death is more legible.
Law also donated the fountain in Beacon Park to the people of Lichfield. At the unveiling ceremony on 18 May 1871, local children sang Psalm 100 while Law handed the keys to the Mayor of Lichfield. He also donated part of the land for the new Public Library in Beacon Street.
Law married Lady Henrietta Charlotte Grey (1799-1866) on 16 December 1820. She was the eldest daughter of George Grey, 6th Earl of Stamford.
They were the parents of four children, including the Revd George Henry Law, who was Principal Surrogate in the Diocese of Lichfield (1847-1857) and Vicar of Locking, Somerset (1857-1875), and Major James Adeane Law, a JP for Somerset.
Lady Henrietta Charlotte Law died on 25 February 1866, James Law died in Lichfield on 22 February 1876. They are buried in an elaborate mausoleum he commissioned in Saint Michael’s churchyard, Lichfield.
The monument to Law and his wife is at the north-east edge of the churchyard and is a listed Grade II building. Initially built for Lady Henrietta, it resembles a canopied mediaeval tomb. The structure originally included a clock with two dials that were illuminated at night by gas.
The mausoleum was built on a height above the Trent Valley Road, and the clock once served as a reminder of the time to travellers on their way to Trent Valley Railway Station or further on to Burton.
The mausoleum is a Grade II listed building. This is a rectangular, ashlar monument on two steps, with three trefoil-headed arches on each side and two at each ends, square piers, a pyramidal ashlar roof, iron rails and a finial with cross in a heavy roundel.
The clock is now missing, and the inscriptions on the two gabled slabs inside are no longer legible. For many years the mausoleum was overgrown, but the growth has been cleared away in recent years, and the tomb of James Thomas Law and his wife Lady Henrietta Charlotte is clearly visible on the precipice in the corner of Saint Michael’s churchyard.