Words of wisdom from Dr Johnson as you enter and leave the Queen’s Head (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
With the cancellation of my planned visit to Myanmar this week, I had booked myself into the Hedgehog Vintage Inn in Lichfield later this week, for my own mini-retreat, visiting Lichfield Cathedral and the chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, which have been my spiritual home since I was in my late teens 50 years ago.
However, this visit has been cancelled – or postponed – too, with the closure of English pubs and hotels, and the cancellation of Ryanair flights between Dublin and Birmingham.
Lichfield has some wonderful traditional English pubs. I’m not very fond of pubs and have very little interest in beer. But there’s something homely and comforting about English pubs … they have something that I seldom find in Irish pubs.
So, I decided this evening to invite you to join me on a virtual tour of some pubs in Lichfield.
1, The Hedgehog, Stafford Road:
The Hedgehog Vintage Inn on the corner of Stafford Road and Cross in Hand Lane is more than a pub or inn. It is a boutique hotel, with a wonderful menu, a wonderful staff, expansive grounds, views across to Lichfield Cathedral, and easy access to walks in the countryside, yet only 15 minutes walk along Beacon Street into Lichfield.
A plaque at Hedgehog honours the 19th century composer Muzio Clementi, who lived here when it was known as Lyncroft House after he moved to England from Italy in 1830.
Lyncroft House was built in 1797. A few decades later, the house was home to Muzio Clementi (1752-1832), a celebrated composer, piano-maker, conductor and music publisher. Critics in the 19th century enthusiastically praised Clementi as ‘the father of the pianoforte,’ the ‘father of modern piano technique,’ and the ‘father of Romantic pianistic virtuosity.’ He also wrote four symphonies.
After Clementi moved out, Lyncroft House became the home of the Revd Henry Gylby Lonsdale (1791-1851) when he became Vicar of Saint Mary’s in Lichfield in 1830 – at the time there was no vicarage for Saint Mary’s. Lonsdale came from a well-known clerical family that had Anglican clergy in at least four successive generations.
While he was Vicar of Saint Mary’s, his brother, John Lonsdale (1788-1867), was Bishop of Lichfield (1843-1867). Bishop Lonsdale was the founder of Lichfield Theological College, a supporter of the abolitionist Wilberforce and a friend of the radical theologian FD Maurice. It was said at the time of his death that he was the best bishop the Diocese of Lichfield had ever had, the ‘perfect model of justice, kindness, humility and shrewd sense.’
While he was living at Lyncroft House, Henry Lonsdale proposed rebuilding Saint Mary’s in a Victorian Gothic style. The new church would serve as his memorial, and when Henry Lonsdale died at Lyncroft House on 31 January 1851, he was buried beneath the west tower of Saint Mary’s.
His nephew, Canon John Gylby Lonsdale (1818-1907), later became Vicar of Saint Mary’s (1866-1878), and oversaw the completion of the building programme. He was the father of Sophia Lonsdale, one of Lichfield’s great Victorian social reformers. In the 1880s, she declared that Lichfield’s slums were worse than anything she had seen in London. She was an active in demands for poor law reforms and her outspoken criticism eventually led to a slum clearance programme in Lichfield from the 1890s on.
When she died in 1936 at the age of 82, Sophia Lonsdale was described in an obituary in The Times as ‘remarkable in her generation … She was absolutely fearless and disinterested.’ It added: ‘Her strong sense of religion was the directing star of all her activities.’ The Lonsdale family is still remembered in the name of Lonsdale, a house on Beacon Street.
Other residents of Lyncroft House in the past have included Dr Charles Holland, and the artist Henry Gastineau (1791-1876), who lived there in 1863-1864.
The Hedgehog was recently refurbished, and reopened on Friday (20 March 2020), with new menus, only to find it had to close again within hours. But they’re still doing to takeaway sales, and it’s worth checking out their website and their Facebook page.
2, The Queen’s Head, Queen Street:
My favourite traditional pub in Lichfield must be the Queen’s Head in Queen Street. I always drop in here when I’m in Lichfield. This is a legendary and friendly pub just on the margins of the city centre. It is popular with the cathedral choristers, and has the friendly and family feeling of being a real local pub.
The Queen’s Head was the first building to be completed on Queen Street. Building work started in 1835, and although it opened in year of Queen Victoria’s coronation, the name may have been taken from a pub in Bore Street, which then became the Turf Tavern, and later the Prince of Wales –sadly closed for many years now.
There is a strong sense of community in the Queen’s Head. One amazing feature has been the huge cheese counter where you can order from a large variety of cheese, pickles and bread ... it has often been the obvious choice for a late lunch, but I was there the or a nightcap after the lights go out the cathedral.
A sign outside the Queen’s Head is a reminder of the wise words of Dr Samuel Johnson: ‘There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man by which happiness has been produced by a good tavern or inn.’
3, The King’s Head, Bird Street:
One of my favourite pubs on Bird Street is the King’s Head. The Swan nearby closed in the late 1970s or early 1980s, and is now a restaurant, Ask. Since then, the King’s Head has become the oldest pub in Lichfield. It dates back to 1408, which means it is more than 600 years old. This is a former coaching inn, with brick façade, timber-framed interior, cobbled courtyards and walls dripping with memorabilia from the Staffordshire Regiment, which was formed here.
The King’s Head was first known as the Antelope, and then as the Unicorn. No-one knows which king the place was called after, and the head on the sign outside is that of King Edward VII. But, as the present name was used from 1650 on, it must have been named after the execution of King Charles I, who lost his head the previous year.
The King’s Head was popular with my age group when I first came to Lichfield in 1970, but it is a family-run pub, offering home-cooked, traditional pub grub, and a selection of real ales, with live entertainment every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night.
Hopefully, the cobbled courtyard continues to be a wonderful place to drop into for a quiet drink and to read the paper on a sunny afternoon.
4, The George and Dragon, Beacon Street:
The George and Dragon on the east side of Beacon Street is a friendly local pub with stunning views of Lichfield Cathedral from the garden behind, including 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’s Mound is a grassy knoll is behind the George and Dragon on the east side of Beacon Street, and is easily found by turning 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 Friary remains site. 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 of the mid-17th century.
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. In April 1643, Prince Rupert commanded the second siege of The Close, and captured it for King Charles within two weeks. During this siege, the bombardment from the platform proved ineffective, and Prince Rupert recruited miners to tunnel beneath the north-west tower, where they successfully laid the first land mines ever to be 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 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.
Today, Prince Rupert’s Mound is a Scheduled Monument and is listed by Lichfield District Council as an important historic site within the designated character area of Gaia Lane.
5, The Earl of Lichfield, or ‘The Drum,’ Conduit Street:
The Earl of Lichfield Arms on Conduit Street, known to many people in Lichfield as the Drum, is a cosy, traditional, friendly local pub, with a secret beer garden at the rear. The present pub incorporates the premises of a barber’s shop that stood next door until about 1970. I still remember the Central Garage, which occupied the neighbouring premises, now a certain ubiquitous fast-food business that has also announced it is closing in the present crisis.
The main bar area is long and narrow, with a space at the far end for the regular open mic nights and live bands that perform here. As well as the real ales, the pub also serves a variety of food and meals.
The Earl of Lichfield Arms has been described as ‘one of the most compact pubs in the whole of Staffordshire.’ It is known locally as the Drum, after the drum used in the 1830s by recruiting sergeants who tried to press gang vulnerable young drinkers into the army.
The seemingly modern rebuild at the front tends to mask its age. The Earl of Lichfield Arms, owned by Marston’s brewery, is said to date from the 18th century. When it was built, Conduit Street was known as Butchers’ Row. The old name of the pub derives from the time in the 1830s when this pub on what was then known as Butchers’ Row was used by army sergeants to drum up recruits. Later in the 1830s, it was known as the Masons Arms and was run by Frances Middleton.
By the 1840s, the premises had been bought by the Anson family, Earls of Lichfield, and was renamed the ‘Earl of Lichfield Arms’. Frederick Marshall was running the pub in the 1861-1896, and George Burden was the licensee in 1906-1940. Burden was also a tailor, and in 1916 he was fined £2 for having a faulty weighing machine that belonged to Lichfield Corporation and for which he was the toll collector.
Like the Scales on Market Street in 1930s, the pub was threatened with closure in the 1956 when the licence was reviewed. But the Drum survived and when the barber shop next door was acquired in the 1970s, the pub expanded, so that it still has two different floor levels.
Since 1952, this has been a Grade II listed building. It dates from the late 18th century, although the projecting part of the front was rebuilt in late 20th century in replica.
The pub is built in brick with ashlar dressing, with a tile roof with brick stacks. This is a three-storey building, with a single-window range to the left and a single-window range projecting to the right in the rebuilt front. There are 12-pane sash windows with gauged brick lintels and six-pane sashes on the second floor.
The entrance is under the arcade, with a panelled door. The ground floor has a large two-light fixed window to the left of the entrance and a shop-type window to the left, with a richly consoled facia and three round-headed lights. Inside, there are chamfered beams and some exposed timber-framed cross walls.
When I wrote about ‘The Drum’ some years ago, Stephen Sanders offered ‘a contrary theory about the colloquial name.’ He told me: ‘I have been told, I think by the historian Howard Clayton, that the name came from the boy from the stone yard attached to the cathedral who was delegated to collect the stonemasons’ lunch from the pub. Because the masons would often give the lad insufficient money for their food, he was obliged to try to “Drum Up” the extra money from passers-by. This may not have the romantic appeal of the soldier-boy, either drumming up recruits or – and this is yet another explanation that I have heard advanced – recalling soldiers billeted in the town when the curfew time arrived.’
6, The Angel, Market Street:
At one time, the bar in the Hedgehog was festooned with quotes and words of advice from Samuel Johnson. But perhaps every pub in Lichfield would like to claim a link with the good doctor. The Angel on Market Street is one example of a pub that tried to do so.
The Angel Inn is a mid-18th century pub on Market Street, just a few steps away from the Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum on the corner of Market Street and Breadmarket Street, and close to both the Scales and the former Castle on Market Street.
Market Street is a busy pedestrianised street in the heart of Lichfield, and the Angel at No 4, at the west end of the street, close to the corner with Bird Street, is an interesting survivor of the small parlour pub, claiming a rich heritage. But all that was almost lost at least twice in the recent past.
A sign hanging outside the pub claims the Angel dates from 1706, which is three years before Samuel Johnson was born a few doors away on 18 September 1709.
However, the first reference to the Angel is from around 1750, and it was a thriving pub by 1800.
In the early 19th century, this was one of Lichfield’s celebrated coaching inns. In 1828, a coach ran from here to Birmingham at 8 a.m. each morning. At first, the coach was known as the ‘Coburg,’ but by 1834 it had been renamed the ‘Shepherd,’ after the landlord of the day, Joseph Shepherd.
In the 1850s, Edward Orgill was the landlord of the Angel. Later Charles Small ran the angel from 1885 to 1904.
There was a proposal in 1929 to shut down a large number of pubs in Lichfield, including the Angel. But the planners relented, and the Angel was saved from closure because it was ‘scrupulously clean’ and those involved in the report said they could not find ‘a better conducted house in the city.’
The name of the pub was changed in 1978, and it became ‘The Samuel.’ John Shaw feared the change would mean the loss of many of the original features.
However, it returned to the being called ‘The Angel’ at the end of 2014, when it re-opened and reclaimed its original name. It is now owned by the Joules Brewery. The cosy snugs and corners parlour pubs for which it was once famous have been carefully recreated, and the Angel is now home too to a range of interesting memorabilia and inviting real fires.
7, The Scales, Market Street:
The Scales at 24 Market Street is another of Lichfield’s ancient inns. There was a tavern or inn on this site in the 17th century, and it was well established by 1784 when the Freemasons established their earliest known lodge in Lichfield here. Lodge 224 (originally designated 220) on the register of the Antients Grand Lodge was formed at the Scales Inn on 10 March 1784 and was officially constituted on 1 April 1784. This was the seventh lodge to be constituted in the County of Staffordshire, since the formation of Grand Lodge in 1717.
This lodge ‘swapped sides’ and became a ‘Moderns Lodge’ that was constituted as Lodge of Unity on 24 July 1787 at the Three Crowns Inn around the corner in Breadmarket Street Lichfield. The last record of this lodge was of a celebration meeting with a parade to Lichfield Cathedral on 16 September 1797. The lodge had closed by 1811.
Meanwhile, in 1793, it was run by John Hill, and was run by members of the Hill family 1834, and in the early part of the 19th century it was known as the Swan and Scales.
The races continued in Lichfield until the racecourse was moved permanently to Whittington Heath with the opening of Whittington Barracks in 1895.
Neil Coley notes that from 1879 to 1905, the landlord of the Scales was Charles Smallwood, who also ran a tobacconists’ business, livery stables and a carriage and car hire company, which he ran from the stables in the pub yard. He died in June 1905 when he struck a match to light his cigar, startling his horse, who bolted – Smallwood’s trap overturned, he fractured his skull and died.
His son, Charles H Smallwood, took over the business, but ended his own life tragically at Torquay in 1923. Two years later, the pub was run by RC Cornwell, who offered bed and breakfast at 5 shillings a night.
The Scales almost closed in the 1930s, when magistrates suggested there were too many licensed premises in Market Street. But the threatened closer was averted when Woolworth opened across the street, brining more business into Market Street.
In the early 1970s, the pub still displayed a jockey in blue and yellow silks sitting on the weighing scales.
8, The Horse and Jockey, Sandford Street:
Like the Scales on Market Street, the Horse and Jockey on the north side of Sandford Street has a name that connects it with the Lichfield races, which were popular from 1702 until they ended in 1895.
Some years ago, its name was changed to Los Angeles Rock Café … but thankfully it has returned to its old name, and its old, well-loved atmosphere.
9, The Fountain, Beacon Street:
The Fountain, on the west side of Beacon Street, near Morrison’s, was rescued from threatened closure in recent years. It was rebuilt by the Lichfield City Brewery in 1916 in its mock Tudor style.
But this pub dates back to 1818, when it was first listed, and it recently acquired a fountain, just to justify the name – retrospectively.
10, The Feathers, Beacon Street:
The Feathers has been a popular pub for watching sports fixtures on big-screen television. Now that the major sporting events have been cancelled and the pubs are closed, what are the clientele of the Feathers ever going to do?
11, The Whippet Inn, Tamworth Street:
The poet Philip Larkin once had family members who lived at No 21 Tamworth Street, beside the former Regal Cinema. The house at No 21 is long gone, and the site now hosts the Whippet Inn, Lichfield’s first true ‘micropub.’
Within 12 months of opening, the Whippet Inn was named Pub of the Year for Staffordshire and overall Pub of the Year by the Lichfield, Sutton and Tamworth branch of CAMRA, and official ale tasters from several Midland towns and cities have converged on the Whippet Inn.
Deb Henderson and Paul Hudson opened the Whippet Inn in 2014, in an old dress shop on Tamworth Street. Before that, they had spent six months searching for the perfect premises in the centre of Lichfield. Their passion and obsession for real ale drove their desire to bring a wider selection of micro and small independently brewed ales to the Lichfield.
A micropub is usually a single room, former shop premises, as is the case with the Whippet Inn, with a focus on real ale, real cider and wine. They do not sell lager, keg beer or spirits. True micropubs hark back to the days of the ale house when conversation was king with no influence from gaming machines, TVs nor music.
Until these recent closures, the Whippet Inn had its own restricted opening hours, with seating for about 25 people, and a total capacity of 40 or so. No keg beer or kiddie alcopops are sold, or even spirits – just real ale, real cider and fruit wines, plus a few bottled beers, and food is simple.
The name of the Whippet Inn is a classic double entendre in the Carry On movies and is the name of the pub in Carry On At Your Convenience. No doubt, Philip Larkin – who once told his publisher ‘I’d like to think … that people in pubs would talk about my poems’ – would have appreciated the humour.
12, The Brewhouse, 1 Bird Street:
When I began contributing freelance features to the Lichfield Mercury and the Tamworth Herald around 1971, I was advised that I needed to open a new bank account. For some reason that I can no longer remember, the choice was between the Lichfield and Tamworth branches of the National Westminster Bank. When I went into the Lichfield branch, for another reason I can no longer recall, I was referred inexplicably not to another NatWest branch in Lichfield, at the corner of the Market Square and Dam Street, but to the Tamworth bank.
I have never found banks helpful or banking a pleasant task, but it was hardly a moral dilemma.
Nevertheless, each time I find myself at the former NatWest branch on the corner of Bird Street and the Friary in Lichfield I still remember what was, perhaps, my own banking version of Hobson’s Choice. This imposing building was the Lichfield branch of the National Provincial Bank, a retail bank that operated throughout England and Wales from 1833 until its merger with the National Westminster Bank in 1970.
The National Provincial Bank was founded in 1833 by Thomas Joplin (1790-1847), who had already founded the Provincial Bank of Ireland in 1824. A year after the National Provincial Bank was founded, a branch was established in Lichfield in 1834.
The bank expanded rapidly, mainly through the acquisition of smaller, provincial banks, and multiplied branches faster than any competitor. In 1838, it acquired the clients of the Rugeley, Tamworth and Lichfield Joint Stock Bank which closed its Lichfield branch that year.
By 1843, the Lichfield branch was already in Bird Street, at what later became the corner with The Friary, with William White as manager.
The late Nikolaus Pevsner signalled this building out for mention in his architectural survey of Staffordshire in 1974. He says it was probably built in the early 19th century.
The National Provincial Bank came to be one of the ‘Big Five’ as it expanded in the 19th and 20th centuries and took over a number of other smaller banks. It was based at Bishopsgate in London, at the junction with Threadneedle Street.
The National Provincial Bank was merged with the Westminster Bank in 1970 to former the National Westminster Bank. Following the merger, the Bird Street branch eventually closed in 1974 and business was transferred to premises in the Market Square, which originally opened in 1952 as a branch of the Westminster Bank.
In July 1995, Cotswold Archaeology carried out an Archaeological Evaluation of the land at 1 Bird Street, Lichfield. A trial trench and two test pits were excavated. During the evaluation, mediaeval deposits and a grave dated to the 13th to 14th centuries were identified.
The post-mediaeval remains identified consist of demolition debris disposal pits, demolition deposits, a possible drain, a possible culvert, and a brick built wall. The modern foundation and drain cuts truncated several of the post-medieval deposits.
This former long-standing bank is located next to the site of the Franciscan friary and the gatehouse into the Friary. The Friars had their own fresh water supply, which they made available to the people of Lichfield through the conduit at the gate of the Friary in Bird Street. From the 16th century, Lichfield’s water supply was managed by the Conduit Lands Trust.
The conversion of the former bank into a pub was too late for John Shaw’s guidebook, The Old Pubs of Lichfield (2001) and the subsequent edition in 2007. Around this time, I think, it became the Gatehouse, a pub that was part of the JD Wetherspoon chain.
The name was derived from the gatehouse of the former Friary, and it was listed as the Gatehouse by Neil Coley in his Lichfield Pubs (2016).
However, in May 2016, Wetherspoons announced a decision to dispose of 33 pubs in England, including the Gatehouse, about the time Neil Coley’s book was published.
The premises changed hands, and following a thorough renovation, the former bank premises at No 1 Bird Street reopened in 2017 as the Brewhouse and Kitchen.
The pub is part of a bigger chain, but brews its own, unique craft beers on-site in its own microbrewery. The menu seeks to match every dish to a style of beer, and the pub cheerfully announces: ‘We’re pleased to welcome well behaved children, dogs and adults at Brewhouse & Kitchen.’
Meanwhile, NatWest, as it was then known, became part of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group in 2000. The National Provincial Bank continued to exist as a dormant, non-trading company until it was voluntarily struck off the register and dissolved in 2016.
Although I have been in these premises when this was a bank, I have never been in here since it became a pub. But I am tempted. After all, no great joke ever opened with the line: ‘Three men walked into a bank …’ And whether you see the glass as half full or half empty, standing at the bar is always a more pleasant experience than standing in a queue at an ATM.
13, The Duke of York, Greenhill:
The Duke of York, on Greenhill, close to Saint Michael’s Church, was closed for a long time, but reopened. This was the principle pub when Lichfield’s Greenhill Bower was celebrated here.
I stayed here once – waking up to hear the news of the coup against Salvador Allende in 1973. I was sad to see it close, with the prospect of becoming just another shop or even dereliction.
But the grand old Duke of York was saved from closure, and now claims to be the oldest inn in Lichfield … although it can hardly beat the King’s Head for age. It probably dates from 1644, and takes its name from Charles I’s son, who was given the title of Duke of York at the age of 10 and later became king as James II. His dethroned father was Charles I, whose lost head probably gave its name to the King’s Head.
14, Paradise, Sandford Street:
I have never been in the Paradise Lounge on Sandford Street, and I have no idea of what goes on there. I have passed it by on my way to the Queen’s Head, and think myself too old for late-night bars.
But I like the name, and Lichfield is my own little snapshot of Paradise.
I could have included the Bowling Green and the Duke of Wellington too, which I first got to know when I was staying on Birmingham Road in my late teens in the early 1970s, and countless other places I have come to know in more recent years.
Indeed, as you now realise, at one time I could say had a nodding acquaintance with the Duke of Wellington, I knew the Prince of Wales well, and George IV too as I joined many local people and local bores in both places in Bore Street. I had my photograph taken by the Earl of Lichfield, and I was a guest of the Duke of York in Greenhill.
Hopefully, this crisis passes soon, and all these pubs will open their doors again.
John Shaw, The Old Pubs of Lichfield (Lichfield: George Lane Publishing, 2001/2007).
Neil Coley, Lichfield Pubs (Stroud: Amberley, 2016).
‘Lichfield: Economic history,’ in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14, Lichfield, ed MW Greenslade (London, 1990), pp 109-131. British History Online, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol14/pp109-131 [accessed 23 March 2020].
(Sir) Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Staffordshire (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974).