Friday, 1 November 2013
The rain turns autumn into winter in
a Lichfield waiting for Christmas lights
Although there are still large bunches of grapes dangling from the branches of the vines in the small courtyard at the Hedgehog on the corner of Stafford Road and Cross in Hand Lane, autumn turned to winter late this morning as the cold rains descended on Lichfield in a downpour that lasted for the rest of the day.
Shortly after breakfast, I had a meeting in the Hedgehog with Paul Oakley, editor of the Lichfield Gazette, and it is good to be invited to write occasion guest features for a local magazine over 40 years after I first started as a freelance journalist with occasional contributions to the Lichfield Mercury.
Afterwards, I had a walk through the rain and the wet grass in front of the Hedgehog, enjoying the vista south towards Lichfield Cathedral from a small precipice that looks down on Cross in Hand Lane.
Ron Brazier, the landlord of the Hedgehog – once known as Lyncroft House – is confident that one of the trees in the grounds is over 300 years old and that it may well be the oldest tree in Lichfield.
Later in the morning, I strolled down Beacon Street. At the end of the street, the old Angel Croft Hotel continues to deteriorate and decay. Despite many campaigns on the internet and on social media by concerned local residents, it appears that this once elegant Georgian house may be lost as part of Lichfield’s architectural heritage.
I was in Lichfield Cathedral for mid-day prayers, and tool some photographs of monuments and windows before taking part in the Eucharist, celebrated for All Saints’ Day at the High Altar.
Afterwards in the cathedral, I bought my first Christmas Cards this year and revisited the exhibition with the Lichfield Angel and some of the finds from the Staffordshire Hoard in the Chapter House before visiting the Cathedral Bookshop at No 9 The Close. The shop not only has good sections on theology, liturgy and local books, but also has a book second hand section.
I came away with two new books this afternoon: Paul Avis, The Anglican Understanding of the Church (2nd ed, London: SPCK, 2013); and Paul Gooder and Michael Perham, Echoing the Word, The Bible in the Eucharist (London: 2013).
I browsed a little longer rummaging through the second-hand section at the back of the shop, in a room looking out onto the gardens at the back of Erasmus Darwin House. There I came across an out-of-print gem: a translation of Simone Weil’s The Need for Roots, first published in English in 1952 with a preface by TS Eliot, who reluctantly concedes that her “soul was incomparably superior to her genius” and recommends this book “to be studied by the young before their leisure has been lost and their capacity for thought destroyed in the life of the hustings and the legislative assembly ...”
I stopped briefly in the Market and once more in Saint Mary’s Church, where the Dyott Chapel and the sanctuary area remain intact but the rest of the building gave way many years ago to a café and heritage centre, with exhibitions telling the history of Lichfield.
The rain continued to pour to down and I decided to have a late lunch in the Spark on Tamworth Street. My only companion as I enjoyed a warm goat’s cheese salad and a glass of wine was an old friend – the Lichfield Mercury.
I thought of taking a stroll around Stowe Pool, but the rain was so heavy that wisdom overcame instinct.
The rain may a true sign that autumn has given way to winter in Lichfield. And yet, although Advent is another four weeks away, the Christmas Tree is already up in Baker’s Lane in the Three Spires Shopping Centre, waiting for the lights to be switched on.
On these quiet days and personal retreats in Lichfield, it is important for me to visit the chapel at Saint John’s Hospital in John Street. I notice now, with interest, that Lichfield District Tourism now lists Saint John’s Hospital and Chapel among the 10 “must-sees” and favourite attractions and landmarks.
The ten are:
1, Lichfield Cathedral.
2, The Staffordshire Hoard.
3, The National Memorial Arboretum near Alrewas.
4, The Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum.
5, Erasmus Darwin House.
6, Lichfield Historic Parks, including Beacon Park, the Garden of Remembrance and Minster Pool.
7, Saint John’s Hospital and Chapel.
8, Drayton Manor Theme Park.
9, Staffordshire Regiment Museum.
10, Lichfield Heritage Centre in Saint Mary’s Church.
After time for personal prayer and reflection in Saint John’s, there was little point in walking any further in the driving rain. A hoped for meeting with some friends never materialised in this winter downpour, and I caught the next train to Birmingham New Street, and then on to Birmingham International Airport to catch the last flight back to Dublin tonight.