12 May 2014
‘Cathedral Close Stories’ ... a walking
tour of the Cathedral Close, Lichfield
From 1441, the Cathedral Close in Lichfield was a self-governing unit. As we walk along the south side of Minster Pool, looking at the backs of the former Theological College and the present bishop’s house, as well as Newton’s College, as they slope down to the pool, we can see how Minster Pool provided a natural boundary and defence for the Close.
The Cathedral and Close had a deep dry moat on three sides, while the fourth was protected by the waters of the Moggs, now Minster Pool. By the 14th century, the fortifications included a crenellated stone wall around the Close, with corner and interval towers, while the south-east gate had a portcullis and drawbridge across the outflow from the Minster Pool.
All these features survived until at least the 17th century, thus visibly and physically enforcing the separation of the Cathedral community from the city.
We have a number of primary and secondary sources that give us details not only about the Close and its administration, but about each house, its architecture, its history and its residents.
For example, the Victoria County History of Staffordshire provides a very detailed history of the Cathedral, the Close and the city of Lichfield based on a wide range of original documents, including information on Dean Heywood and the late 15th century canons.
Dean Heywood’s ‘Visitation Book’ for part of the 1460s throws light on the way the Dean controlled aspects of the life of the citizens and the relations between the Close and the city and can be used as a guide to possible events later in the 15th century. Registers and some ordinances of the Guild of Saint Mary survive, illustrating the city’s religious and social life and showing the relations between the two communities, city and Close.
Bishop Langton’s new palace was surrounded by its own wall, along the east wall of the Close, further separating the Bishop from the Chapter, other clerics and the laity. The Dean’s residence certainly existed from the early middle ages. The Bishop assigned houses in the Close to canons when they came into residence, but others were assigned by the Dean and Chapter.
The canons residentiary were responsible for the day-to-day administration of the cathedral and its property, and the post of canon residentiary was a desirable one. When a vacancy occurred, a prebendary’s application for residence in the Close was determined by the remaining members of the chapter, and some men might make repeated applications before being admitted.
The number of canons in residence at any one time fluctuated until the mid-19th century. In the 1540s, it seems there were five or six residentiary canons besides the dean. Bishop Overton’s statutes of 1596 sought to reduce the number to four. In 1706, an Act sought to bring the chapter up to nine by allowing canons to hold two or more prebends. An Act in 1797 set the number of residentiary canons at six, and each had specified prebends and or offices attached. Legislation in 1840 reduced the number to four by suspending the post of Canon Treasurers on its next vacancy, as well as the next position of canon residentiary to fall vacant.
So, the Close is a separate civic unit but also a compact, cohesive unit. Later rebuilding and the frequent subdivision and amalgamation of houses have obscured the original structures. But the Close surrounding Lichfield Cathedral has its own story to tell. In mediaeval times it was a fortified area.
The Western Edge of the Close:
Before we enter the Close, we look at the western edges, which are the boundaries of the mediaeval Close.
The Garden of Remembrance:
After World War I, the people of Lichfield were anxious to create a memorial to those who had died in the war. This location was chosen because of its picturesque setting between Minster Pool and Cathedral Close.
An 18th century map shows the wall of the former cathedral fortifications passed through the centre of what is now the Garden of Remembrance. Over time, as parts of Minster Pool silted up, the area of land where the garden now stands doubled in size and by 1738 it was large enough to produce rent. Through the years, it was used for a variety of purposes, including livestock grazing.
In the background, we can see the three spires of the Cathedral, often referred to as the Ladies of the Vale.
The War Memorial was designed by the architect Charles Edward Bateman and created by local stonemasons Bridgeman and Sons of Lichfield. Carved from Guiting stone, with the central figure of Saint George sculpted in Portland stone, the memorial is the focal point of the garden.
Work on laying out the garden began in 1919. The stone lions on the gate piers reputedly came from Moxhull Hall in Warwickshire and the 18th century stone balustrades and plinth came from Shenstone Court, outside Lichfield. A ceremony of dedication was held on 20 October 1920.
Lower panels were later added to the war memorial, dedicated to those who had died in World War II and later wars. The Garden of Remembrance is owned and managed by Lichfield City Council, and was restored in 2011/2012 as part of the Historic Parks restoration project.
The Causeway Bridge:
The Causeway Bridge was first erected ca 1300 and rebuilt in 1816 by Joseph Potter snr of Lichfield, County Surveyor.
The bridge is built of ashlar and cast-iron, with three elliptical arches, the outer ones blind, with pointed cutwaters, roll moulding and low parapet with iron railings. There are four openwork boxes, with openwork lamp standards to ends reminiscent of the railings to the Shire Hall, Stafford.
The bridge incorporates the mediaeval causeway under the surface. The original causeway bridge carried the main London to Chester road over the junction between the Bishop’s Fish Pool, which has since been drained, and Minster Pool.
Langton House, Bird Street:
Langton House, now in offices, was built ca 1775. It is a three-storey Georgian building, with an interesting round-headed stair window at the rear.
Moat House, Bird Street:
The Moat House, now in offices, dates from ca 1750, and was built by Thomas Ames. There is an additional small, gabled 19th century out-building to the rear 20th century wing. It is worth looking for the two 18th century rainwater heads with downspouts, and for the stone-coped wall with its segmental-headed entrance.
No 10, Newton’s College:
We can see this part of Newton’s College from the street here, but we shall look at it again when we are discussing Newton’s College as part of the Close.
Erasmus Darwin House, Beacon Street:
Erasmus Darwin House as we see it dates from 1758, but it was converted for Dr Erasmus Darwin from a mediaeval timber-framed house on the west side of the south court or lower courtyard of Vicars’ Close.
This Georgian-style, two-storey over basement, brick house is double-depth, with a central staircase plan and a symmetrical three-window range. The centre breaks forward under the pediment. There are Venetian windows to each floor, and the rear has a rounded-headed stair window.
The house was originally approached from Beacon Street by a bridge over the ditch. Later this bridge was replaced by a double flight of stone steps.
Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802) lived here until ca 1781. He was a doctor and a member of the Lunar Society, and his researches in botany and zoology led him to explore a theory of evolution. He was the grandfather of Charles Darwin.
Of course, the house had other residents who are worth mentioning, even if not as famous as Dr Darwin. When Erasmus Darwin moved to Radburn Hall in Derbyshire with his second wife, the former Mrs Elizabeth Chandos Pole, the house passed to his brother-in-law, Charles Howard, in 1781.
Darwin House is a Grade I listed building. It is now a museum and visitor centre open to the public from 1 April to 31 October.
Dimble House, 2 Beacon Street:
Dimble House stands in what was the north-west corner of the ditch surrounding the Close. It dates from ca 1770, is built in an L-plan, and is three storeys, with a symmetrical three-window range. It now houses the Music Department of the Cathedral School.
We all know the Dimbles, but this house is not named after the housing estate. It takes its name from the word Dimble or Dimple means a deep hollow filled with trees or bushes. In the mid-17th century, the Ditch surrounding the Cathedral Close was known as the Dimble, for indeed there is no evidence that the Close ditch was ever filled with water, despite the existence of a drawbridge and an outflow of the Minster Pool close to the West Gate.
The archdeacon’s house, Beacon Street
Not all the cathedral clergy lived within the Close. For example, from the 13th century the Archdeacon was assigned a house in Beacon Street. The archdeacon’s house was on the corner of Beacon Street and Shaw Lane on the west side of Beacon Street, opposite Gaia Lane.
It was described in 1448 as being outside the Close but in the town. The site is now occupied by the premises housing the Lichfield Family Dental Practice, 19 Beacon Street.
Inside the Close:
No 1 The Close
The first house on our left, No 1 The Close, stands outside the Gateway but is numbered as part of the Cathedral Close. We do not know what the original house looked like, but it survived the Civil War, unlike some of its neighbours. By 1661, James Barrow, a tailor, was the tenant of the house that stood here. When he converted a dungeon underneath the house to a cellar for his own use, the Cathedral Chapter ordered him to dig another dungeon of the same size with a hole to provide direct light.
In 1734, the cathedral verger lived in this house. A new house was built in 1835, although this may have been a rebuild of the older house, for this is a two-storey Jacobean-style house, with coped gables and brick end stacks that have diagonal shafts, and there is a Tudor-headed entrance. The gable has an ashlar shield with the coat of arms of the Diocese of Lichfield.
The remains of the West Gate:
Next we see the remains of the north side of the west gate of the Close fortifications, dating from ca 1300, and completed between 1322 and 1358 for Bishop Langton. This is two storeys high, with a small segmental-headed entrance. It is one of the few remaining visible parts of the Close fortifications. The rest of the gate was demolished to make way for Newton’s College opposite, which we return to on our way out.
Nos 2, 3 and 4, the Close:
We should take these three addresses together. They stand on the site of the mediaeval buildings on the south court of the Vicars’ Close that were destroyed in the 1640s and 1650s during the Civil War. They probably incorporate some if not much of the original houses, but at the beginning of the 18th century the houses on the south-side of Lower Courtyard of Vicars’ Close were remodelled, refurbished, rebuilt and re-oriented so that instead of facing into the lower courtyard they faced out onto this street.
We know No 2 and No 3 once formed one house. That house was converted into two houses ca 1720. They are built of brick, three-storey over basement, with a double-depth plan in an early Georgian style.
Notice the entrances up opposed steps with plain iron handrails.
There is a segmental-headed entrance to No.2 up steps with a plain iron handrail. The door-case has pilasters and a bracketed cornice, and there is a six-panel door.
The entrance to No 3 has a door-case with architrave, frieze and consoled cornice, and a six-fielded panel door.
The entrance to No 4 has a door-case with an eared architrave, frieze and pediment, and a half-glazed door.
Have you noticed the variety in the basement openings?
Now look up at the windows above. The windows have rubbed brick flat arches and 12-pane sashes with moulded frames. No 3 has two four-pane sashes and two six-pane sashes to the second floor. No 4 has a large 19th century canted oriel with hipped roof and plate glass sashes to the first floor right, and horizontally sliding sashes to the second floor.
Look up at the 18th century rainwater head and see if you spot the downspout.
To bring these houses up-to-date, No 4 is the home of the composer Paul Spicer, who has been artistic director of the Lichfield Festival.
No 5, The Close:
This house too was originally part of the lower court of Vicars’ Close. Although the façade can be dated to the early 18th century, the house dates from the 14th century. Like Nos 2, 3 and 4, No 5 originally faced north into the lower courtyard of the Vicars’ Close, but it was re-oriented to face south in the early 18th century, with a gabled façade. Despite the brick front, this is a timber-frame building, built on a right-angle plan, two storeys over basement, and a two-window range. The basement has some stone.
Once again, the entrance is up opposed stone steps. Notice the variation in the windows. We see two small and one three-light casements to the ground floor, and the first floor has a small casement in the originally larger opening, with leaded light to the right end. The interior has three bays of framing, with framing in large square panels to the left wall.
Today this house is the home of Idris Tawfiq, an internationally renowned Islamic theologian, teacher, writer and broadcaster.
No 6, The Close:
This house too was originally part of the lower court in Vicars’ Close. It also dates from the 14th century, when it faced north into the lower court. It was probably a canon’s house. However, what we see today from the street is an early 18th century south façade, from the time the house was re-oriented to face south in the early 18th century.
This is a two-storey, timber-framed house, with a brick front with some dressed stone, a tile roof with brick stacks. The entrance is to the right of centre up opposed stone steps with a plain iron handrail. The windows have small-paned cross-casements. At the back, when we visit the lower courtyard, remember to look out for the brick under-building to the close-studded first floor. If we could go inside, we would see this house has re-set 16th century linen-fold panelling.
Ian S Clark says this house with one of the great 18th century scandals in the Close. Anna Seward caused this scandal when she became the daily companion of John Saville, a vicar choral of the Cathedral. Saville abandoned his wife Mary (née Leaf) and his family, and Clark says Anna bought him No 6 as a new residence. I repeated this identification in my feature on Stowe House in the Lichfield Gazette earlier this year [January/February 2014]. However, Marion Roberts, in her dissertation, identifies No 8 as this house.
In the first half of the 20th century, No 6 was the house the bishop’s chauffeur. It was one of the few houses not owned by the Dean and Chapter; instead, it was the property of the Church Commissioners. It is now in private hands.
No 7, The Close:
On the corner, facing the Cathedral, we have another 15th century house that was originally part of lower court of Vicars’ Close. This is a timber-frame house built on a right-angle plan with ashlar under-building to south and east; tile roof with brick stacks. It is a two-storey house with an attic. Look up at the attic above: there is a two-light casement in the attic, and there is a similar window in the gabled dormer to the right.
We have some interesting timber-framing here too. Another interesting feature, of course, is the round-headed entry under part of No 7, against No 8.
This corner house was converted into offices in 1988, and until last year it hosted the offices of the Lichfield Festival, a very contemporary use for a 15th century house. The Festival office has now moved to Donegal House in Bore Street, and No 7 is vacant once again
No 8, The Close:
The next house is a personal favourite. I stayed here may times, sometimes in a room looking out onto the west façade of the cathedral, at other times at the back of the house, looking out onto the Lower Courtyard of Vicar’s Close and the garden of Darwin House. It was then guesthouse run by Gill Jones, highly recommended in travel guides, including the Lonely Planet. Today it is the house of the Canon Treasurer of the Cathedral.
Anna Seward caused scandal in Lichfield and further afield when she made a daily companion of John Saville, a vicar choral of the Cathedral, with whom she shared many cultural and intellectual interests. He abandoned his wife Mary (née Leaf) and his family, and Anna bought him No 8 as his residence. Ian S Clark says the house she bought was No 6, and I repeated this in a feature on Stowe House in the Lichfield Gazette in January/February 2014. However, Marion Roberts, in her dissertation, is confident that No 8 is the house Anna Seward bought for John Saville.
Their friendship or affair, whatever it may have been, continued for 30 years. When Saville died in 1803, Anna paid his debts, supported his family, and had a monument built to his memory just outside the cathedral.
This three-storey brick house, with a double-gabled tile roof with brick stack, was probably built ca 1860. But it looks older, because what was involved was the re-fronting of an earlier, 18th century house. Once again, like other houses here, it is built on a right-angle plan. Look at the gables with enriched bargeboards with pendants, and the gabled timber porch. The two-storey canted bay window to the left has stop-chamfered jambs, timber panelling between the floors and cornice and casements.
The cast-iron rainwater head has a dragon and downspout. At the back, there is a rear has two-storey lean-to out-shut with a tall stair window.
Nos 9, 9a and 9b, The Close:
This house is also an original part of the lower court of Vicars’ Close. It is now divided between the Cathedral Shop on the ground floor and flats above. It was first probably built in the 17th century, remodelled in the early to mid-18th century, with the top storey and alterations, including the two-storey canted bay window, dating from the mid-19th century.
This is a double-depth, three-storey brick house, with the front painted and with ashlar dressings; tile roof with brick stacks. The entrance to each end has a door-case with panelled pilaster strips and bracketed canopy and the lean-to out-shut at the back, and a narrow over-light to the half-glazed door.
No 9 was remodelled in 1988 – at the same time as No 7 – when it opened as a bookshop and coffee shop.
No 10, The Close:
No 10, The Close, is a Grade II* building, and one of the most photographed houses in The Close. It forms part of the southern range of the Vicars’ Close, and it appears to have once formed part of a much larger timber framed building. The earliest of the surviving timbers within this house was dated to the late 15th century.
This two-storey house was originally part of north range of Vicars’ Close and a range of five vicars’ lodgings. It seems to date from the 15th century, with alterations dating from ca 1600. It is built of timber frame and painted brick, with a tile roof a brick stack. Once again, we have house with a right-angle plan. Please look at the jettied first floor with brick under-building and the jettied gable.
The windows have leaded glazing. On the ground floor, the windows have pegged cross-casements with leaded glazing flanking the window with two pointed timber lights. The first floor has a continuous oriel from ca 1600 on coved soffit with three cross-casements, the opening lights with H-L hinges. The 16th century gable has bargeboards and herring-bone framing that conceals the original over-sailing rafter couple.
The right return has a lateral stack that originally was projecting, but the walls are built out to form a flat façade. See also the canopy at the entrance.
Inside, there is timber framing and the ceiling and newel stair date from ca 1600.
Opposite No 10, Conduit on North West Corner of the Close:
Opposite No 10, we stop to look at the Conduit head and pump in the north-west corner of the Close. This pump is encased in a tall square structure, with an adjoining low platform. The pump casing has a band below a round niche to each face and a simple domed cap. There is a slit for the handle to the west, and a spout to the north. The platform has an inset stone basin.
Although the pump dates from 1786, the conduit was established ca 1140-1147, and the water supply was augmented in 1259, making it an early example of a piped water supply. The old structure was demolished and replaced by the present structure in 1786, and this in turn was superseded in 1803 by the conduit we shall see in front of No15.
No 11, The Close:
This two-storey house with attic probably dates from the 15th century, although there were extensive alterations in the 17th century. It is built on an L-plan: look at the gabled two-window north elevation with a similar elevation facing east. The entrance to the left end has a bracketed canopy Look too at the adjacent elevation which has a projecting ground floor with wall posts, and enriched bargeboards. The rear of the house faces into the upper courtyard of the Vicars’ Close. Inside there are roof trusses with heavily cambered tie beams.
No 12, The Close, Saint Chad’s School House:
This three-storey house has been part of the Cathedral School since 1942. It dates from the 18th century, but it stands on earlier foundations, and we know there was a house on this site from the early 14th century.
The house here was damaged in the 17th century during the Civil War, but was lived in soon again in 1666. In 1797, the house was assigned to the second residentiary canon. And here it is appropriate to recall another scandalous story of life in the Close.
When William Vyse (1741-1816) became Prebendary of Flixton and Offley in 1774, he was assigned a house in the Cathedral Close. In 1781, while his wife was still alive and while he was living in a canon’s house, Vyse became engaged to be married to Miss Sophia Streatfield (1755-1835) – conditional on his wife’s death. Sophia was described as “a young lady with a lovely neck, a knowledge of Greek and the ability to weep easily and beautifully.”
A few years earlier, Mrs Thrale feared her husband had fallen for Sophy and wrote in 1779:
Mr Thrale is fallen in love really and seriously with Sophy Streatfield; but there is no wonder in that: she is very pretty, very gentle, soft, and insinuating; hangs about him, dances round him, cries when she parts from him, squeezes his hand slyly, and with her sweet eyes full of tears looks so fondly in his face – and all for love of me as she pretends; that I can hardly, sometimes, help laughing in her face. A man must not be a man but an it, to resist such artillery.
Vyse moved in the same circles as Samuel Johnson, Hester and Henry Thrale and James Boswell. He claimed he had married too young, and he openly talked of hoping to be rid of his first wife through divorce or through her death. William and Sophy remained engaged for many years. But when his wife died, William jilted Sophy and married another woman.
Perhaps there are good social explanations for the fact that there were no repercussions for Vyse’s behaviour. His grandfather, Richard Smallbroke, was Bishop of Lichfield (1672-1749). William was a chaplain to Archbishop Frederick Cornwallis of Canterbury. His father, also William Vyse (1710-177), was Archdeacon of Salop and Rector of Saint Philip’s, Birmingham, and as a Canon Residentiary, he too had lived in the Close. In 1798, Mary Vyse, a sister of the chancellor, married the widowed Spencer Madan (1729-1813), Bishop of Peterborough.
Without any whiff of scandal surrounding his behaviour, William became the Archdeacon of Coventry in 1792, and then the Chancellor of Lichfield and the second residentiary canon in the Cathedral Close in 1798. He continued to hold these high offices, as well as being Rector of Lambeth and of Sundridge, until he died in Lambeth on 20 February 1816.
His obituary in the Gentleman’s Magazine says he “was a diligent Pastor, endeavouring, both in the Church and out of it, to promote the great Christian duties of charity, moderation, and benevolence; the recommendation of which, indeed, was seldom omitted in any of his Sermons.” The obituary, however, omits any mention of his wives, naming neither his first nor his second wife – nor the jilted Sophy. Nor are they mentioned on his memorial plaque in the north transept in the cathedral.
The central range and cross wing of the present house probably date from the 17th century, and the brickwork of the lower floors is from the 18th century.
The house was extensively remodelled in the early 19th century by Joseph Potter senior of Lichfield. The top floor and the tower, with its pyramidal roof were added in 1865 and most of the windows were altered at the same time. There are later additions dating from the 20th century.
The house has a plain Tudor-headed entrance with a panelled door and a statue above with a canopy. Most of the inside really dates from the changes in 1865, and one room has a rich cornice.
No 12 remained the residence of the canon-chancellor until 1942. A preparatory school, Saint Chad’s, opened here in 1942. A fire at No 12 damaged the building in 2012, but it has since been refurbished and the house is still part of Lichfield Cathedral School.
No 13 and No 14, The Close:
I suggest that we look at these two houses, No 13 and No 14, together. From 1942 until recently, No 13 was the home of the Canon Chancellor. The last chancellor to live here was Canon Peter Wilcox, and his wife the novelist Catherine Fox. When Pete became Dean of Liverpool Cathedral, he succeeded Justin Welby, who had become Bishop of Durham and is now Archbishop of Canterbury. Cathy has a PhD in Church History, and some of her signed novels are available in the bookshop at No 9.
More recently, Lichfield Cathedral School acquired the house as a new Sixth Form Centre.
No 13 was probably built ca 1527, and re-fronted probably in the early or mid-18th century. The former hall and cross-wing now incorporated in this symmetrically planned house, with a projecting later wing to the right.
Today, No 13 looks like a two-storey Georgian-style house with full-height canted bays and a stone-coped brick parapet. Look for the 18th century rainwater head and fire mark in the shape of the sun. Inside, No 13 still has parts of the 16th century structure, including one bay of the hall with cambered tie beams to queen-strut trusses and a pitched ceiling with a spine beam and closely-spaced joists. Other bays survive in part; and the framing of the cross wing remains to the left end. Late 18th century features inside include the window shutters.
No 13 was a separate house from ca 1826 or earlier.
No 14, The Close:
The house at No 14 was built in 1772-1800 as a wing of No 13, and the entrance hall was built in the early 19th century with an early 19th century entrance hall and a late 19th century bay window. No 14 has vaulted brick cellars, including parts with groin vaulting. These include a cellar to the front with brick bins, one to rear retaining coppers and stone bowl. There is an open well staircase with cut string, stick balusters, a turned newel to the foot and s ramped handrails.
No 14 later became an office, library and flats.
The Dean Savage Library is an important resource in the Cathedral’s education and outreach programme in the diocese. The Library was founded in 1924 by the then Dean of Lichfield, the Very Revd Henry Erwin Savage. It is currently housed in the Old Song School, and holds a large stock of theological and modern religious books, which are regularly updated and expanded. The Library is intended to support clergy and active lay Christians. However, the library is under-used and under-exploited, and there are plans to move its contents to other premises.
No 15, The Close:
Although No 15 is mainly late 17th century, a house has stood on this site since 1367. The present house incorporates earlier elements, including the thick front wall and re-used timber from the building that stood here since 1367.
In the mid-17th century, the house had a gatehouse adjoining the choristers’ house. However, the house was severely damaged during the Civil War, and much of it was demolished. The central range of No 15 and a short east wing probably date from the Caroline Restoration.
In 1797, the house was assigned to the Fourth Residentiary Canon, then the Ven William Brereton, Archdeacon of Stafford and Prebendary of Ryton and Pipa Minor, who died in 1812. It is in private ownership today.
In the late 18th century, piecemeal extensions were carried out to the house, it was extended and the interior was remodelled ca 1800, and a number of additions were made in the early 19th century, including a new staircase, and west and south-west wings, each of one room.
As we see it today, No 15 is built on a two-unit plan with one wing to the left, a single-storey wing projecting to the right, and a double-depth rear wing.
This is a two-storey house with an attic, two gables with a parapet between them, and another parapet between the lateral stack and the left gable, and a tall, single-storey wing below the gable to the right.
In front of No 15:
There is a former Conduit to the South-West corner of the garden at No 15, later used as a refreshment kiosk. It dates from 1803, with later alterations. It is a brick, octagonal structure with a lower extension to the corner of the garden wall with a pyramidal slate roof, which has a canted angle, and a round-headed entrance with a 20th century glazed door an early 20th century canted timber oriel with leaded glazing to the front.
The conduit was first established ca 1140 in the north-west corner of the close, and it was replaced in 1803 by this structure, which remained in use until 1969. It was converted to a kiosk in the late 1980s.
The Deanery is a two-storey Queen Anne style house built ca 1707, with substantial alterations in 1807-1808, and further alterations in 1876, 1893 and 1974.
But the Deanery stands on an ancient site that stood to the west of the Bishop’s Palace. The hall of the medieval house apparently projected east from a north/south range 148 ft long.
In 1637, Samuel Fell, who had been Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity in Oxford, became Dean of Lichfield, but he returned quickly to Oxford when he became Dean of Christ Church a year later. His son John Fell is the same Dr Fell who is taunted in the nursery rhyme attributed to the English poet Tom Brown:
I do not like thee, Doctor Fell,
The reason why – I cannot tell;
But this I know, and know full well,
I do not like thee, Doctor Fell
The author Thomas Harris uses the name of Dr Fell as a pseudonym by Hannibal Lecter in the novel Hannibal when he poses as a library curator in Florence. The Irish playwright Bernard Farrell also gave one his plays the title I Do Not Like Thee, Doctor Fell in 1979.
Dr Fell’s deanery was badly damaged during the Civil War and was assessed for tax on only two hearths in 1666. Dean Thomas Wood (1663-1671), who would later become Bishop of Lichfield, dismantled what remained of the hall with the intention of rebuilding it, and the house was sufficiently habitable in 1687 to host King James II during his visit to Lichfield.
William Binckes, who had become dean in 1703, built a new deanery in the early 18th century. The southern part of the long range was taken down, because it was ruined and it obscured the view from the new palace. A front was built at a right-angle to the remaining portion of the range with a central doorway flanked by three windows on either side. The building was completed in 1707.
The doorway was moved to its present position on the east side of the house in 1807-1808, when internal remodelling was also carried out. Additions and further alterations were made in 1876 and 1893. The northern part of the mediaeval range, which had been converted into outbuildings, was demolished in 1967.
The entrance has fluted Tuscan pilasters. Some of the original windows have been blocked, and it seems one of the original doors may have been moved. The 18th century gate is attached to rebuilt brick piers.
Although the house has been much altered, it retains an impressive façade and some interior features of interest. Inside, many early 19th century details survive, including a fireplace, cornices, doorways, the round arches connecting the front rooms, and the elliptical arch to the right of the stair hall. But the open-well stair was altered in the early 19th century and again in 1974. Queen Elizabeth stayed here in 1988 when she was distributing the Maundy Money in the Cathedral on Maundy Thursday.
Notice that the frontage of the Deanery is 120 ft; next door, the frontage of the Bishop’s Palace is twice that length, 240 ft, while the frontage of the canon’s house on the other side is half the length, 60 ft. … so the bishop was twice as important as the dean, and the dean was twice as important as a residentiary canon.
The pleasant walk of lime trees was planted by Dean Binkes who built the present deanery.
Across from the Deanery we can see the north door of the Cathedral. If we are talking about the residents of the Close, take a close look at those who inhabit the space around this door. Later on, as we move around the cathedral, see if you can find Dr Johnson, the sisters Mary and Martha, Charles II and some famous Lichfield names.
Lichfield Cathedral School and Chapel, previously the Episcopal Palace:
The former episcopal palace is now a school, and includes what was the bishops’ private chapel. The building is impressive, with many original features and sensitive 19th century additions.
It was only in the 1860s that the palace became the home of the Bishop of Lichfield. Before that being the home of Gilbert Walmsley, a friend of David Garrick and Samuel Johnson, and of Anna Seward, the poet who was known as the Swan of Lichfield.
The present palace was built in 1687-1688 by Edward Pierce, who was one of Christopher Wren’s masons. The wings and chapel date from 1869.
This is a U-plan building with later wings to the front, forming an H-plan, with the chapel to a rear angle. Although built in the reign of James II – the date 1687 can be seen on the pediment with the episcopal coat of arms – we call this Queen Anne style.
The entrance is up 10 bowed steps, with iron handrails and a 19th century lamp.
The 19th century wing to the left is two-storey; the 19th century wing to the right is single-storey, with a Diocletian window above the window to the front.
The four-bay chapel has a buttress to the right of left end bay marking the sanctuary.
Inside, the hall has a fireplace with a panelled over-mantel with the coat of arms of Bishop Hacket and the date 1669. The open well stair has turned balusters, panelled newels and a moulded handrail.
The chapel has an arch-braced roof with wall shafts marking the sanctuary, which has ceiling and window recesses forming a sedilia. The sanctuary wall painting is dated 1916. If you get in it is worth looking at the west gallery over an arched timber, and the screen with attached stalls and misericords. The stained glass windows have 19th century panels.
The Palace became a school in 1954, known first as Saint Chad’s and now Lichfield Cathedral School.
The lodge and stables date from about 1870.
While we are standing here, it is also worth looking at the front wall, main gate and gate piers, because they form an important contribution to the setting of the palace. This wall runs for about 82 metres along the front of palace courtyard, with three gates. It too was built in 1687-1688. The main gate piers are rusticated with cornice caps and buttresses to inner faces to take gates. The two gates to the left have plainer details, one with a wrought-iron gate, the other at the far end with paired plank gates.
The North-East Tower:
The remains of the North-East Tower and ditch also form a scheduled monument, sometimes known as the Bishop’s Tower. The tower was part of the original, mediaeval bishop’s palace.
Originally, the tower 52 ft high, and each of its 10 sides was 13 ft on the outside. Adjoining this tower was a square room with stone stairs leading to the top on the north west of which was an apartment with a cellar underneath 22 ft in breadth and 63 ft in length. The bishop’s lodging room was 40 ft by 32 ft, with a leaden roof and cellar underneath. On the north side of this room was a large chimney piece opposite to which a door led to the dining room, which was 60 ft long and 30 ft wide. At the east end was a door opening into the second tower which consisted of five squares 11 ft in width and 32 ft in height. There were two apartments, each 20 ft by 7 ft, and separated from each other by the large hall chimney: the lady’s chamber, the brewhouse, and the kitchen.
Selwyn House stands in the ditch on the east side of the Close. It was built on the site of the mediaeval moat and closes our view at the east end of the Close, and there was a house built of brick here from at least the early decades of the 18th century.
The first house is said to have been built by one of three sisters as a “spite house.”
There is well-known legend in Lichfield that says three houses were built by three sisters in the 1750s:
Elizabeth Aston, daughter of Sir Thomas Aston of Runcorn, Cheshire, lived in Stowe Hill, later Stowe Hill House. She died in 1785.
Her sister Jane, wife of the Revd Francis Gastrell, is linked with Stowe House. It was home first to the Revd Thomas Hinton of Saint Chad’s, who died in 1770, and then home to Richard Edgeworth and his family and Thomas Day. The third house was empty in 1777 and is never mentioned again.
But legend has developed to say that this third, unmarried sister lived at Selwyn House, and built this house in order to spoil their view of the cathedral from Stowe Hill and Stowe House. She had suffered from being shuffled between the houses by her sisters, and in a fit of indignation she built a house as tall as possible to block their view. And so it got the popular name of “Spite House” or the “Hate House.”
In the early 1970s, F Marston, a local historian, carried out an extensive study of the legal titles to the land, the building records for the house, and the measurements between Stowe Hill and Stowe House and both Selwyn House and the Cathedral.
In 1930, in her biographical book, An Autograph Collection, Lady Charnwood, who lived at Stowe House, said the story had “no foundation, still less authority.”
We can date the building of the house because it does not appear on the Conduit Lands Trust map of 1766, but the deeds to the house point to an initial lease around 1777 and it appears on John Snape’s map in 1781. It is built at the southern-most edge of the site, as close as possible to the canonical house that later became Saint Mary’s House, and not anywhere on the site that would have blocked a view from Stowe House or Stowe Hill south-west towards the Cathedral.
Having inspected the deeds and measured the distances, Marston concluded that the story is no more than a “calumny, so often repeated, against a person who never existed.” But, as Annette Rubery says, “Even though the facts have since been since been disproved, the tale still lives on.”
The present Selwyn House was built ca 1777-1780 for Canon James Falconer (1735-1821), Rector of Thorpe Constantine (1762-1809), Vicar of Lullington (1772-1809) and Prebendary of Ufton Decani (1777-1809), and later Archdeacon of Derby (1795-1821). Falconer, who was a close friend of Canon Thomas Seward, was not a residentiary canon with a house in the Close, and the house was not one of the Close houses counted in the allocations to chapter members. So it seems to have been built by Falconer immediately after his appointment to the cathedral chapter.
There is a sad story that illustrates the silly snobbery within the Close at the time. When Archdeacon Falconer’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth, became engaged to the Revd John Batteridge Pearson (1749-1808), Falconer and his wife opposed the marriage, believing Pearson was not their daughter’s equal in birth or fortune, although Pearson was the Perpetual Curate or Vicar of Saint Michael’s, Lichfield, from 1774 to 1782.
But when Samuel Johnson’s step-daughter, Lucy Porter, left Pearson her fortune, the Falconers withdrew their opposition, and a year after Lucy Porter’s death the couple were married in Saint Mary’s Church on 17 September 1787. However, it is said Mrs Falconer was so annoyed she lay in bed all day until she became reconciled – nevertheless, money talks!
Falconer was a forceful character who was nicknamed ‘Dr Impudence.’ In contrast, his son-in-law was known as ‘a most amiable and excellent man’ and was nicknamed ‘The Peacemaker.’ So what was Pearson’s connection with Dr Johnson?
Johnson was also a friend of the two sisters at Stowe Hill and Stowe House. Pearson knew him from at least 1776, we know, for both he and Canon Seward supped with Johnson and Boswell at the Three Crowns Inn in Lichfield on 25 March, 1776. In 1779, he was appointed Vicar of Croxall, Derbyshire, but remained in his post at Saint Michael’s, Lichfield. The doctor’s letters show Pearson was very intimate with Lucy Porter during her later years, and even wrote her letters if she felt disinclined to write herself. At times, he was the only person she would see, and in a letter to Boswell on 25 March 1785, Anna Seward tells him that Lucy Porter is breaking up, and that “she is now too ill to be accessible to any of her friends, except Mr Pearson.”
In the year after Lucy Porter’s death, Pearson – now a man of means – married Elizabeth Falconer in Saint Mary’s, Lichfield, on 17 September 1787. On 20 March 1790, two weeks after Thomas Seward’s death, Pearson became Prebendary of Pipe Parva, in Lichfield Cathedral, but he never received a prebendal house in the Close. His eldest son, the Revd George Pearson (1791-1860), was baptised on 29 November 1791 in Lichfield Cathedral by his grandfather, Archdeacon Falconer, and the child’s sponsors included the Earl of Belfast, later Marquis of Donegall, who bought Comberford Hall and who gave Donegal House in Bore Street its name. Pearson’s third son, Captain John Pearson (1798-1855), was baptised on 24 March 1798 in Saint Mary’s by Archdeacon Falconer, and his sponsors included Lord Donegall.
Pearson moved into Lucy Porter’s house when she died, and lived there with his family until he moved to Croxall, Derbyshire, in 1801. He died in Croxall on 14 August 1808; his widow, who survived him for almost half a century, inherited Selwyn House when her sister died. She remained in the house until 1824, and died on 8 December 1856 in Hill Ridware, aged 72.
Incidentally, the fortune Pearson inherited from Lucy Porter included her house and a number of valuable relics from Dr Johnson (1709-1784), including the manuscript of his dictionary – later put in the loft in Lichfield, where it was eaten by rats; the bust of Dr Johnston taken after his death – it was displayed on a shelf over a door but fell and broke when the door slammed; and his walking stick – lost when the family home burned down accidentally ca 1917. However, his writing desk, some of his letters and a signed copy of his dictionary survived.
Lucy Porter (1715-1786) was the daughter of Henry Porter, a Birmingham mercer and wool merchant, and his wife Elizabeth who, when she was widowed, married Samuel Johnson. She was just six years younger than her new stepfather, Samuel Johnson, and their friendship grew increasingly warm as the years passed. She continued to live in Lichfield after her mother moved to London, living with Johnson’s mother Sarah, and helping her to run the bookshop. Lucy inherited £10,000 on her brother’s death and built herself a large house on Tamworth Street that was demolished in the 1920s. In 2007, a collection of four letters from Johnson to Lucy Porter came on the market after being in the Pearson family for 220 years. Her name continued in Lucy Porter’s shop in Dam Street, which adopted her silhouette as a logo.
Meanwhile, what about his father-in-law who has Selwyn House built or rebuilt for him? About the mid-1780s, Archdeacon Falconer built two cold baths near Parchment House north of Stowe Pool. He may have been influenced by his nephew, Dr William Falconer of Bath, who was an authority on cold-water cures.
In 1798, when Stebbing Shaw compiled his history of Staffordshire, he said Falconer’s house stood on a site beside the Bishop’s Palace.
When Archdeacon Falconer died in 1809, his widow continued to live in the house. When Mary Falconer died in 1821, the house passed to one daughter, Catherine Miles, widow of Colonel Edward Miles, and then to the other daughter, Elizabeth Pearson, widow of Canon HB Pearson. But the house passed out of the family in 1824.
The house was enlarged in the early 19th century, when an iron balcony was added on the north side. It is three storeys with basement, with its elevation facing the Close, and two lower floors facing the ditch. An unusual feature is the central full-height canted bay windows to the front only.
At the beginning of the 20th century, it was home to Harriet Selwyn, widow of a former Bishop of Lichfield, George Augustus Selwyn (1809-1878). He had previously been Bishop and Primate of New Zealand (1841-1868), before becoming Bishop of Lichfield (1868-1878), and gave his name to Selwyn College, Cambridge.
Harriet Selwyn died in 1907, and in 1908 the house became the Selwyn Hostel for ordinands or students in the Lichfield Theological College, and it was named Selwyn House in her honour. For a brief period during World War I, Bishop Kempthorne lived in the house, but it became a hostel for theological students once again in 1918.
In 1922, the students moved out of Selwyn House and into the Bishop’s Palace, and Selwyn House was the bishop’s residence until 1931, when the students moved back in.
The theological college closed in 1972, and Selwyn House was divided into flats.
Saint Mary’s House:
The Grade II* Listed Saint Mary’s House, in the south-east corner of the Close, has been the subject of an archaeological building recording. It was concluded that although those parts which were incorporated into the Close wall were of 14th century date, there was evidence to suggest that the earliest extant parts were of 13th century origin. The property may be one of two canon’s houses known to have been commissioned by Bishop Langton in the late 13th or early 14th century.
Saint Mary’s House is built into the south-east angle of mediaeval Close wall. It has an hexagonal stair turret to an angle and an attached length of wall extending about 42 metres to the foundations of the east turret of the south gate.
The first house on this site was probably built in the early 14th century. The house was originally L-shaped, or built around a courtyard, with a first-floor hall `that was reached on the west side by an external staircase. Three more storeys were reached though an internal staircase that was inside a second, internal staircase, contained inside a defensive turret that projected from the south-east corner of the house. The top storey gave access to the parapet of the Close wall.
At least one window to the south side of the ground floor of the house dates from the late 15th century, according to the evidence of moulded jambs with offset sill, although the leaded cross-casement is 18th century and the lintel dates from ca 1805.
The house was occupied by the Prebendary of Freeford. However, in 1626 this house was known as the “Old Palace.” But the house stands outside the perimeter of the grounds of the mediaeval palace, so this name has still to be explained.
The inside of the house was altered and extended in 1710 (see the date-stone) by the residentiary canon, Canon Walter Horton.
In the chapter reforms of 1797, the house was assigned to the third residentiary canon. It was reshaped again in 1804-1805 to fill in the L-plan, making a rectangular plan. Further reforms in 1840 abolished the position of the third residentiary canon, but the canon who had been assigned the house remained there until he died in 1845.
It then became the Vicarage for Saint Mary’s in 1851.
There were extensive alterations in the 1860s, but it ceased being Saint Mary’s Vicarage in 1965 when it became diocesan offices. There were further alterations in 1966-1967, and the house was again refurbished in 1988-1990.
The house is built of ashlar and brick with ashlar dressings. It has a double-span tile roof with a hipped north end, and there are two brick stacks to the valley. In the 19th and 20th centuries, different windows have been blocked up, re-opened and inserted to the left end of the first floor. A window to the right was re-opened ca 1990.
Although Saint Mary’s House has been much altered over the centuries, inside it retains significant remains of the mediaeval house suggesting a first floor hall plan with two wings to the west, and an interesting early 18th century range. The basement still has mediaeval ashlar and openings, and 17th or 18th century brick walls and later groin vaulting, and 1710 fireplace can be dated to 1710. The ground floor has an open-well staircase from 1805, and some re-used early 18th century panelling below the rear window, a Latin inscription of either 1758 or 1858.
Saint Mary’s now includes the offices of the cathedral treasurer and the Archdeacon of Lichfield.
The attached low wall to the left can be dated to the early 14th century and leads to the foundations of the turret. The turret has two small lights, one with 17th century casement.
We can see arrow slits on the turret and part of the Close wall on the east and south side. Kate Gomez also says there are rumours of a secret tunnel down below … although she concedes it’s not that secret is so many people have heard about it.
Remains of Eastern Tower of South-East Gate:
The gate built by Bishop Langton at the south-east corner of the Close had two towers. The base of the eastern tower was excavated in the late 1980s. The excavations show this was a half-octagon with sides measuring 12 ft. The western tower was presumably of similar dimension. The gate had a portcullis in 1376. There was a drawbridge, still in existence in the earlier 18th century, which crossed the outflow of water from Minster Pool, and also a wicket for pedestrians. The gate was removed in the mid-18th century in order to improve access for coaches into the Close.
A portion of the wall can also be seen behind Chapters coffee shop.
The Visitors’ Centre
The Cathedral Visitors’ Study Centre has been a study centre from 1986. It is a former stable and coach-house, and it was used as the muniment room from 1799. What we see is mainly late 17th century, but incorporating some mediaeval masonry. There were extended additions to the north ca 1800 and later alterations. Notice the 19th century star-shaped cross-axial stacks with moulded caps. A short length of mediaeval wall extends along the side of Minster Pool.
Look out for the re-set gargoyle.
And read the painted sign to the front prohibiting waggons, carts and cattle from the close:
The Road through the Close
not being a Public thoroughfare
no Waggons, Carts or Cattle
are allowed to pass through.
By Order of the Dean & Chapter.
No 19, 19a and 19b, The Close:
The first house on the site of No 19 was a brick house, built in the early 16th century by the Archdeacon of Coventry, George Strangeways, Prebendary of Stotfold from 1485 and later Archdeacon of Coventry ca 1505-1509. This may have been the residence of the Archdeacons in the late Tudor period. Until then, the archdeacons did not have a house in the close. [A later Archdeacon of Coventry may have been Henry Comberford, ca 1558-ca 1559, although this disputed.]
After the Caroline restoration, with the Bishop’s Palace still in ruins in the wake of the Civil War, Bishop Hacket chose this house built by Archdeacon Strangeways as his new residence in 1662. He believed the bishop’s house was beyond repair, and spent £800 on restoring No 19 and adding to it.
The present house was built in 1800 and has a later 19th century addition. It is Georgian in style, two storeys high with a rear basement, and a double-depth plan. Today, it houses Chapters, the Cathedral restaurant and coffee shop.
No 20, The Close:
The site of No 20 was also acquired by Bishop Hacket at the restoration. In 1666, he built a stone house here, possibly as a banqueting hall. An oak panel dated 1669, bearing his coat-of-arms and the arms of the diocese, was placed over the fireplace in the house. It was moved in the early 19th century to the entrance hall of the palace, where it remains.
In 1692, this house was used as the diocesan registrar’s office and muniment room. William Mott moved the registry to No 19, and bought No 20 in 1803. He let it to Richard Wright, who used it until 1806 to display items from the museum of his grandfather, Richard Greene.
The house built by Bishop Hacket was demolished in 1819, and it was rebuilt in 1833 by William Mott’s son, John Mott, who was also the Deputy Diocesan registrar. In 1871, the house was acquired for the principal of Lichfield Theological College. The college was closed in 1972, and in the late 1980s the house was occupied by the cathedral custos.
The house is double-depth plan Georgian-style, three-storey house.
Saint John’s Within the Close, and the Refectory:
There was a canonical house west of the site of No 20 in the early 15th century. Land further west was assigned in 1411 by Bishop Burghill as the site for a residence, later known as New College, for the 13 cathedral chantry priests. This college was built opposite the Cathedral’s south door in 1414 and improved in 1468. It included a range of chambers round a central courtyard. The hall stood at the south-east corner with a kitchen and a buttery at its west end. There was a chapel in the west range. After the dissolution of the chantries in 1548, the college was sold to London speculators, and by 1564 it was occupied by the Archdeacon of Stafford, Richard Walker.
Archdeacon Walker was also the Master of Lichfield Grammar School. He endowed the school and the college was acquired by Lichfield Corporation. An extension at the south end of the west range was mentioned in a lease ca 1590 to Edward Noble and his wife Isabel. In 1666, the property was assessed for a tax on 16 hearths. It was later divided into separate houses. There were three houses here in 1708 and four in 1755. One was demolished in 1817, and the others were let by the corporation in 1819 to William Mott for an astonishing lease period of 10,000 years.
In 1798, one of the houses was leased to William Mott, who then bought it in 1803. His son John Mott rebuilt the house at the same time as he built or rebuilt No 20 in 1833. In 1872, Mott’s house was also acquired by Lichfield Theological College. The site was acquired by Lichfield Theological College in 1872, and a library and student rooms were built on it.
After the Theological College closed, the house was leased to the trustees of Saint John’s Hospital. They demolished it in 1981 built an almshouse, Saint John’s within the Close, which was designed by the architects W Hobbiss & Partners of Birmingham.
A chapel was built for Lichfield Theological College in 1885. In 1980 the chapel was converted into an educational and social centre, known as the Refectory.
The Bishop’s House (No 22):
This house is a mainly 18th century remodelling of what was probably a mediaeval building. There was extensive remodelling in the 19th century, including re-facing. The two-storey house, with a basement and an attic, has a double-depth plan.
The design of the porch at the entrance was influenced by a 17th century example at Tutbury Castle, once the preferred residence of the Bishops of Lichfield.
Seven more residents of the Close:
While we are here, look at the Close residents above the South Door of the Cathedral. A caption on Wikipedia describes the seven figures carved in Roman cement as having Christ in the centre, with, on the right are Saint Chad, Saint James and Saint John the Baptist, and on the left Saint Peter, Saint John and the Virgin Mary.
In fact, they are Seven Fathers of the Church: Saint Augustine, Saint Jerome, Saint Ambrose, Saint Gregory, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Athanasius and Saint Basil.
So, there’s a table quiz question for you: Which Pope was seen on Monday evening in the Cathedral Close in Lichfield?
No 23, The Close (No 23a and 23b The Close):
This house, with its Attached Wall and Gate House, is now divided in two. What we see today is a two-storey house in the “Georgian Gothick” style, but it incorporates substantial remains of a late 15th century house, although it was remodelled and altered many times since, No 23 remains one of the original houses of the Close.
The first house we know of this site was a courtyard-style house built in redbrick by Canon Henry Edial, Prebendary of Gaia Minor 1480-1520. Remnants of Edial’s redbrick courtyard house survive in the south and west walls of No 23. The brickwork was decorated with representations of a Cross and the Keys of Saint Peter on the west chimney stack and the gridiron of Saint Laurence on the south wall.
In the early 18th century, the 15th century house was remodelled, with its roofs renewed using old timber. In 1797, the house was assigned to the First Residentiary Canon. It was extensively remodelled again and a new front built ca 1812.
In 1891, part of the house became Saint Werburga’s Home, which was run by a community of deaconesses as a training home and retreat house, with the Canon Precentor as the Warden.
Today the house is being refurbished and covered in cladding and scaffolding. But if we could look at the ground floor window to the left end, we would see an iron balcony on an enriched openwork pier. The right return has some brick diapering, marked it seems by a cross and what looks like the Keys of Saint Peter.
The recessed block connects with No 24, our next house.
No 24, The Close:
Although much altered, this house with a basement and attic, is two-storeys at the front or north side, and three stories on the south side where is leads down to Minster Pool. The house may incorporate many parts of the house that was in ruins in 1461. So this is one of the original houses of The Close.
The house was in a ruinous state in 1461 when it was assigned to Canon Thomas Milley, who was Prebendary of Hansacre from 1457 and later Archdeacon of Coventry from 1488 to 1505 and regularly in attendance at Chapter meetings. He built or rebuilt the house in brick over stone vaults incorporating the base of a stone tower, parts of which survive in No 24. We still know him today as the founder of Milley’s Hospital in Beacon Street. He rebuilt the house in redbrick over stone vaults that abutted the cathedral ditch.
The house was damaged during the Civil War, and it was restored later in the 1660s by Sir Walter Littleton, Chancellor of the Diocese of Lichfield, at a cost of over £500. Although his widow Dame Priscilla Littleton was supposed to surrender the house to Canon Edward Fulham, she was still living there until 1683, when the house was assigned to Canon Thomas White.
The house was remodelled again in the 18th century, when the additions included a staircase and a Gothick triple window on the north side.
In 1797, this house was assigned to the fifth residentiary canon. It was remodelled once more around 1814, when part of the south wall was rebuilt and most of the windows were altered.
The central entrance has a porch with a cornice and parapet, and an interesting elliptical arch-within-arch, half-glazed door. The ground-floor left window has a stucco surround and label mould to three ogee-headed lights. Notice how the gable to the left has a blocked window with a four-centred head.
Once again, this house has a blocked fireplace, blocked windows, a blocked opening, even a blocked brick stair and half arch, and also has a missing kitchen section. At the rear, there is a summerhouse with a loggia above.
The house appears to incorporate the base of a tower that we may presume was part of a wall built on the bank of Minster Pool.
Until the retirement of the Ven Chris Liley in 2013, the house was home to the Canon-Treasurer of Lichfield who was also the Archdeacon. It is now the home of the Canon-Chancellor.
The attached short wall to the front right has a garden gate and a pier to the rear entrance to Newton’s College. The wall attached to the right rear extends to the rear wall of the Garden of Remembrance.
[No 25, The Close:]
A house adjoining No 24, and the coach house for No 24, were demolished in 1800, along with most of the West Gate and part of a house in the ditch, to clear the site for Newton’s College.
The West Front of the Cathedral:
Nearly all the 113 figures on this front were replaced during Sir George Gilbert Scott’s restoration of the cathedral. Nikolaus Pevsner dates them to 1876-1884, “replacing cement or stucco statues of 1820-1822.” Most of the statues were produced locally in the Bridgeman workshop. The only exceptions were a likeness of Queen Victoria herself on the main façade, by her sculptor daughter Princess Louise, and these around the central doorway by Mary Grant (1831-1908).
A mediaeval carving of Christ in Glory remains in place in the canopy over the doorway.
In the centre of the door stands Mary Grant’s sculpture of the Virgin Mary. She supports her lifelike infant gently. The Christ Child has one arm raised in blessing. Next to them on the left stands Saint Mary Magdalene, holding the jar of myrrh she brought to Christ’s grave on Easter morning.
Looking at the West façade, the figures on the front row represent the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child, Mary Magdalene, the 12 Apostles and early disciples. Look for Saint Peter with the keys, Saint Andrew with the diagonal cross on which he was executed, and Saint Stephen who was stoned to death.
Above them on the second row, Saint Chad is in the centre, flanked on the north (our left) by English kings who reigned after 1066, including William I with the Domesday Book, William II who was shot by an arrow, Henry III, who founded Westminster Abbey, Edward III with the Order of the Garter, and Richard II who visited Lichfield. On the south (our right), we see English kings before 1066, including King Canute who looks out to the sea.
The third row of sculpted figures includes Queen Victoria (third in from the left), sculpted by her daughter, Princess Louise; four Old Testament prophets (the first four of the nine figures to the right); and three Bishops of Lichfield (the last three figures to the right), Roger de Clinton (1129), Hugh Pattishall (1240) and (of course) Walter Langton (1296).
The fourth row includes on the south (right) side, firstly four Old Testament Old Testament figures and at the end four Bishops of Lichfield, John Hacket (1661), John Lonsdale (1843), George Augustus Selwyn (1868) and William Dalrymple Maclagan (1878).
In the middle of these two tiers on the third and fourth row we see on the north (left) the Archangel Gabriel above the Archangel Uriel and on the south (right) the Archangel Michael above the Archangel Raphael.
High above, on the fifth row, those on the south (right) side are Old Testament figures.
Some of the other saints we can see here include Saint Werburgh of Chester. Who else have you noticed on the cathedral walls?
In the Gable Apex, there are seven figures, with the primary position going to Christ blessing his people (although at the restoration this place was given to King Charles II – can you see where he is today? Answer, the corner of the South Transept).
1-12 and 12a Vicars' Close (Flats) and Vicars’ Hall:
The Vicars’ Close is an important surviving example – perhaps the best one after the Vicars’ Close at Wells – of a vicars’ close in England, and forms an attractive group to the north-west of the Cathedral. It consists of four ranges of houses and a common hall for the Vicars Choral, which is now in flats, all comprising the upper court of the Vicars’ Close.
Although these houses are mostly 15th century, parts of them are probably earlier. The common hall was rebuilt in 1756 and in the west range, No 5 was rebuilt on 1764, while No 8 and No 9 were restored in 1990.
These two-storey buildings are timber-framed with brick stacks and brick rebuilding, and tile roofs.
The South range:
Nos 1-4 are varied, but mostly two-storey.
No 1 is 16th century with close-studded timber-framed gabled addition. Inside, No 1 has an inserted early coffered ceiling.
No 2 has a brick front with a wall plate.
No 3 projects with a brick front, a right angle plan, and an entrance with an over-light to the door. The house has a four-bay timber frame. No 3 is probably 14th century with 15th century alterations, and has a timber-framed first floor and a timber-framed end gable.
No 4 was largely rebuilt ca 1756 and adjoins the common hall. No 4 and the hall have some remaining interior features, and much may be hidden.
The Vicars’ Hall has an elevation to Beacon Street. This is a two-storey brick building.
The West range:
No 5 has been divided into two apartments. The rear facing Beacon Street has a stone plinth, a projecting ground floor window and flanking Venetian-form sashes.
The north range:
The north range, Nos 6-9, is timber-framed with a jettied first floor, with a brick ground floor to No 7.
The houses have plain entrances: that to No 6 has a half-glazed door, No 7 and No 8 have plank doors, and No 9 has a two-panel door in architrave.
We see a variety of windows, and they are mostly small-paned casements. No 6 has a small window to the angle; No 7 has 1990 a reconstructed oriel window with leaded glazing, and two tiny flat-roofed dormers; No 8 has a shuttered ground floor window with a three-light leaded casement to the former oriel above; No 9 has a shuttered ground floor window, and the first floor no windows. Behind, there has been much brick rebuilding to left end, and we would see mostly small windows. The left end facing Beacon Street has a lean-to outshut and brick stack.
Inside, the houses have chamfered beams and flat joists, with segmental-headed brick fireplaces. No 9 has a winding stair. No.6 has an attic floor of re-used 15th century joists.
The East range:
Nos 10, 11, and 12, are two-storey, mostly with brick under-building to close-studded first floor.
No 10 was recorded in the 18th century as having a splat baluster staircase. No 10 has an entrance to the north range.
No 11 has a four-flush-panel door.
No 12 was extensively remodelled in the 17th century and is slightly taller than its neighbours. It has an entrance to the passage. The windows are three-light casements to the left end, and leaded cross-casements to the right end.
The rear has timber-framing, with a brick lean-to to the left end, and a gabled range over entrance passage. The north gable end has raking buttress and a projecting brick stack.
Numbers 1-9a Newton’s College and Attached Gate Pier:
Newton’s College is not a college in the educational sense, just as Saint John’s Hospital is not a hospital in the medical sense. Both are what the Church traditionally calls almshouses, this one was built 1800-1803, although we do not see it all for the right end was demolished in 1929.
The college was built by the Lichfield architect Joseph Potter senior of Lichfield, and the building was financed by Andrew Newton, the son of a Lichfield brandy and cider merchant, and endowed the college with a bequest of £20,000.
Andrew Newton and his brother Bishop Thomas Newton (1704-1782) are commemorated by a plaque above No 11 and No 9 Bird Street. It reads: “Bishop Newton (Bristol) was born here. Born 1704 Died 1782 He was the brother of Andrew. The founder of Newton’s College in the city. Educated at Lichfield Grammar School.”
Newton’s College was built to provide accommodation for the widows and single daughters of clergymen, and the first almswomen moved in probably towards the end of 1803, and Newton died just over two years later on 14 January 1806, aged 77. The college trustees transferred the building to the Dean and Chapter of Lichfield Cathedral in 1988.
This is a two-storey, classical-style brick building and although we now see a 14-window range, it was originally a symmetrical 17-window range, with the forward break under a pediment at the centre.
The round-headed entrance at this former centre has a fanlight with flat wooden glazing bars and a cast-iron overthrow with a lantern. See how the left return has two blind windows to each floor.
No 10, Newton’s College:
No 10, Newton’s College faces Bird Street. Although a separate building, No 10 is also part of the almshouse.
It too was designed by Joseph Potter senior of Lichfield for Andrew Newton and is in the classical style, but it is a three-storey building.
The Lamp Post to South of West Front of Cathedral:
This lamp post, dating from ca 1880, is made of cast-iron and wrought-iron. It was originally connected to a lamp post to the north of the west front by enriched iron railings.
Tony Barnard, Lichfield Cathedral (Andover: Pitkin Guides, 2001).
‘Canons residentiary of Lichfield,’ Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1541-1857, vol 10: Coventry and Lichfield diocese (2003), pp 78-94.
Lady (Dorothea) Charnwood, An Autograph Collection and the making of it, (London: 1930).
Ian S Clark, Behind ‘Close’ Doors (Lichfield: Erasmus Darwin House, 2008).
P Drury, The Capitular Estate of Dean and Chapter of Lichfield Cathedral (1987).
MW Greenslade, RB Pugh (eds), The Victoria County History of Staffordshire, vol 3 (London 1970).
MW Greenslade (ed), The Victoria County History of Staffordshire, vol 14, Lichfield (Oxford, 1980).
AJ Kettle, ‘City and Close: Lichfield in the Century before the Reformation,’ in CM Barron and Christopher Harper-Bill (eds), The Church in Pre-Reformation Society (Woodbridge, 1985).
TG Lomax, A Short Account of the Cathedral of Lichfield (Lichfield: Lomax, 1831).
TG Lomax, A Short Account of the City and Close of Lichfield (Lichfield: Lomax, 1831).
F Marston, The ‘Hate House’, Lichfield, Staffs. and the Revd Dr James Falconer, South Staffordshire Archaeological & Historical Society Transactions, vol 12 (1970-1971), pp 49-53.
Nikolas Pevsner, Staffordshire (London: Penguin, 1974).
Marion Roberts, ‘Close encounters: Anna Seward, 1742–1809, a woman in provincial cultural life’ (unpublished M Litt dissertation, The University of Birmingham, December 2010).
W Rodwell, St Mary’s House, Provisional Account of its Architectural History (1988).
Annette Rubery, Lichfield Then & Now in colour (Stroud: The History Press, 2012).
(Very Revd) HE Savage, Thomas Heywode, Dean (Lichfield 1925).
Patricia Scaife, The Carvings of Lichfield Cathedral (Much Wenlock, Shropshire: RJL Smith, 2010).
Stebbing Shaw, History and Antiquities of Staffordshire (1798).
Carol M. Southworth, ‘Pluralism and Stability in the Close, The Canons of Lichfield Cathedral in the Last Quarter of the Fifteenth Century,’ unpublished MPhil dissertation, University of Birmingham, January 2012.
Staffordshire County Council, Lichfield Historic Character Assessment, (accessed 8 February 2014).
Staffordshire County Council and English Heritage, Staffordshire Extensive Urban Survey, Lichfield, Historic Character Assessment (draft, March 2011).
The Revd Canon Professor Patrick Comerford Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin. These notes were prepared for a walking tour of the Cathedral Close, Lichfield Cathedral, on 12 May 2014, organised by the local history society, Lichfield Discovered.
Updated with additional photographs: 4 June 2014