Friday, 29 October 2021

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
153, the Chapel of Dr Milley’s Hospital

Dr Milley’s Hospital on Beacon Street, Lichfield … refounded and endowed by Canon Thomas Milley almost 520 years ago in 1504; the chapel is immediately above the entrance (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Before the day begins, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme for this week is churches in Lichfield, where I spent part of the week before last in a retreat of sorts, following the daily cycle of prayer in Lichfield and visiting the chapel in Saint John’s Hospital and other churches.

In this series, I have already visited Lichfield Cathedral (15 March), Holy Cross Church (26 March), the chapel in Saint John’s Hospital (14 March), the Church of Saint Mary and Saint George, Comberford (11 April), Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Farewell (2 September) and the former Franciscan Friary in Lichfield (12 October).

This week’s theme of Lichfield churches, which I began with Saint Chad’s Church on Sunday, included Saint Mary’s Church on Monday, Saint Michael’s Church on Tuesday, and Christ Church, Leomansley, on Wednesday, and Wade Street Church yesterday. This theme continues this morning (29 October 2021) with the chapel of Dr Milley’s Hospital at No 7 Beacon Street.

Inside the chapel in Dr Milley’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I pass Dr Milley’s Hospital regular when I am walking along Beacon Street from the Hedgehog Vintage Inn to Lichfield Cathedral, and some years ago I was part of a small tour of Dr Milley’s organised by Kate Gomez and the local history group, Lichfield Discovered.

We were welcomed by the chair of the trustees, Mrs Sheelagh James, then Deputy Mayor of Lichfield, and were shown around by two other trustees, Mr Peter Parsons and Mr Ronald Monk.

Alongside the Cathedral and Saint John’s Hospital, Dr Milley’s Hospital is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Lichfield. The original almshouse was founded almost 600 years ago by the Bishop of Lichfield, William Heyworth, in 1424, and it was refounded and endowed by Canon Thomas Milley almost 520 years ago in 1504.

The pedimented tablet above the entrance says:

This hospital for fifteen women was founded by Thomas Milley, DD, Canon Residentiary of the Cathedral Church of Lichfield AD 1504.

A view of the front of the hospital, drawn in 1841, suggests a number of alterations were made in the 18th century. These included the facing of the exterior with plaster, the insertion of wood casement windows, and the addition of gabled dormers to the roof.

Stepping into the hospital is like stepping down in a bygone age, and I mean stepping down, for the ground floor of Dr Milley’s Hospital is now well below the street level on Beacon Street, due both to its original location in the town ditch, and to the raising of the street levels over the years, catering for the heavy traffic along the A51 which was once the main road from Chester to London, running through the heart of Lichfield.

The front range, facing onto Beacon Street, contains a central stone porch giving access to a wide entrance hall flanked by rooms for the matron and almswomen. It is possible the large beam in the entrance hall below the chapel dates back to the building of 1504, and I had to stoop my head several times to avoid a nasty bump.

The hospital building is a two-storey, red-brick building, with a stone plinth and stone dressings. Originally the building was L-shaped in plan: from the southern end of the front range, a long rear wing extended back along the southern boundary of the property.

It is generally believed in Lichfield that parts of Dr Milley’s Hospital date back to the 16th century and that the building survived the English Civil War in the mid-17th century.

However, a scientific report by MJ Worthington and DWH Miles of the English Heritage Centre for Archaeology in 2002 used dendrochronology or tree-ring dating techniques and they suggest that much of the hospital did not survive the civil war and that it was rebuilt just after 1652.

An examination of glass-making techniques has shown that some of the glass in windows in the upper storey survive from the late 17th and early 18th century.

The chapel is in the oldest part of the building, and is in a separate space on the first floor, above the porch and hallway and facing east.

The rear wing has a corridor on each floor, and these corridors originally gave access to residents’ rooms on the south side of the building. On the north side of the corridors is the staircase and also a two-storey addition, probably dating from the late 18th century, containing two rooms. At the bottom of the staircase, we were pointed to the covering over a well that provided fresh, clean water in the hospital until the first half of the 20th century.

The internal partitions are of heavy close-studded timbering and incorporate many of the original early 16th century doorways.

By the early 20th century, the hospital was in need of modernisation and repair, and a complete rebuilding was proposed, with plans to demolish the old building. However, the Charity Commissioners wanted a careful restoration instead, and their recommendations were carried out in 1906-1907. The alterations allowed for only eight resident women, but their accommodation was now more comfortable. New stone-mullioned windows were inserted at the front, and the external plaster was stripped away to reveal the earlier brickwork.

Each woman had one room for all her needs, but water had to be carried from the well at the end of the passage.

The building was designated a Grade II* Listed building in 1952, and it was not until 1967 that the hospital was provided with one bathroom and a communal laundry room.

Dr Milley’s Hospital was extensively refurbished in 1985-1987, with a major extension and the provision of a communal lounge. New kitchens were provided in 2013, the communal lounge and heating were renovated in 2014, and this year sees the updating of bathrooms in in the apartments.

Dr Milley’s Hospital now has 10 residents. Six of the women live in self-contained flats and the other four live in studio apartments. Each resident has her own kitchen and bathroom, and some women live in studio apartments.

After our tour of the hospital and gardens we were entertained to morning tea and coffee in the Dennis Birch Room, which serves as a community or common room, and in the gardens.

The chapel, in a separate space on the first floor, above the porch and hallway and facing east, is in the oldest part of the building (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 14: 1-6 (NRSVA):

1 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. 2 Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. 3 And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, ‘Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?’ 4 But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. 5 Then he said to them, ‘If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?’ 6 And they could not reply to this.’

The window ledge in the chapel in Dr Milley’s Hospital, looking out onto Beacon Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (29 October 2021) invites us to pray:

We pray for all those in whom we remember Christ the refugee; for those who administer national laws on migration; for those who exploit the vulnerable, and all whose hearts are hard towards their fellow human beings.

The pedimented tablet above the entrance and beneath the chapel window recalls Canon Thomas Milley of Lichfield Cathedral, who founded the hospital for 15 women in 1504 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Sunshine in the gardens at the rear of Dr Milley’s Hospital (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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