20 October 2021

In search of Lichfield’s
hidden Tudor heritage and
timber-framed houses

The Tudor of Lichfield or Lichfield House on Bore Street … a visible reminder of a rich heritage (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

The Tudor of Lichfield or Lichfield House on Bore Street, the black-and white timber framed buildings on Quonians Lane, and the many timber-framed buildings in Vicars’ Close are the most visible reminders of the rich heritage of Tudor architecture in Lichfield.

When it comes to architectural heritage, Lichfield may be better known for its cathedral and churches and for its Georgian buildings. But last week I only had to look at the backs of buildings on Market Street and Breadmarket Street to realise the large amount of 16th and 17th century architecture that probably survives in Lichfield.

The Tudor of Lichfield, or Lichfield House, is a Grade 2* listed black and white timber framed building, dating back to 1510 and the reign of Henry VIII.

Lichfield House is the oldest and longest serving coffee shop and restaurant in Lichfield and also sells luxury made chocolates, jams, marmalades, honey and biscuits.

Lichfield House, the picturesque black and white half-timbered residence was built when Henry VIII was king and still married to Catherine of Aragon ruled England, and before the little Cathedral town which was granted the status of City and County in 1553.

The house has been added to from time to time, but the main building is the original, including the two man reception rooms and the oak staircase that runs through the house.

During the Civil War, this was a prison for captured soldiers during the three sieges of Lichfield, some of whom left their signatures. In the concealed ‘Priests’ Hide’ on the top floor, two crosses have been scratched on the door. It is said an underground passage runs from the cellars of the house to the Cathedral – probably dug out by one side or the other during the Civil War.

Wilfred and Evelyn Burns-Mace and their son Jeffrey opened the Tudor Café in 1936. A restoration programme in 1975 secured the old Tudor building again. This restoration took many months and earned a European Heritage Award.

Nine new neighbouring shops, now known as Tudor Row, were built in 1980. Lichfield House remains a successful and charming restaurant run by the same family.

The timber-framed buildings on Quonians Lane date from the 16th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Another much-photographed Tudor corner of Lichfield is Quonians Lane, to the east of Dam Street. The lane is mentioned in the 1325 Book of Dean and Chapter Possessions, when it was said to lead to a well. This may have been a pilgrims’ path from the city to the Well of Saint Chad at Stowe.

The buildings on the left-hand side of Quonians Lane in my photographs date from the 16th century. The best-known building, now an antiques shop, still retains the sign of R Bridgeman and Sons, the stonemasons’ firm that had been in Lichfield since the 1860s that worked on the cathedral and many other churches.

Samuel Johnson went to school at Dame Oliver’s School on the corner of Dame Street and Quonians Lane.

No 45 and No 47 Stowe Street form a pair of Tudor timber-frame and brick houses (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Two houses on Stowe Street, No 45 and No 47, and the neighbouring Cruck House, stand out from the surrounding 20th century housing developments in an area south of Stowe Pool and immediately east of the heart of Lichfield’s city centre and main shopping streets.

These semi-detached houses were probably built in the late 16th or early 17th century, and have early 19th century alterations.

They form a pair of Tudor timber-frame and brick houses. The timber-frame and brick work on No 47 is covered in stucco work, but despite this alteration to the outside appearance, the houses are best described as one unit. They have a shared tile roof with brick stacks, are two storeys high and form a single four-window range.

The left half, known as Tudor Cottage, has a pretty flower garden in front. I believe that inside the houses the timber framing is exposed and there is a large fireplace.

Cruck House, Lichfield … a unique example of its type in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Nearby, Cruck House at 71 Stowe Street is a restored Grade II* timber-framed mediaeval cottage. It is an impressive sight on Stowe Street in the midst of modern residential and commercial buildings. Yet, despite first impressions, this is a surprisingly small building.

This jointed cruck and part-box-framed house fell into disrepair before it was rescued from demolition in 1971. It was discovered during the redevelopment of Stowe Street and was restored to its original state.

Many of the old buildings in Stowe Street were pulled down in the mid-1950s. During the demolition work, the Cruck House was revealed within the outer cladding of a building whose outer walls had obscured the framework supporting it. Whoever spotted the house during the demolition process and called a halt had saved a rare building dating back to the late 14th or early 15th century.

There were other examples of cruck-style buildings in Lichfield in the past. When an old pub was being demolished on the corner of Frog Lane and Saint John Street, cruck beams were visible in the party wall between the old pub and the building immediately to the north of it. It was swiftly demolished and removed, although not before the pieces were photographed before they were removed.

Tudor remains seen in the backs of houses facing onto Breadmarket Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Back on Bore Street, I walked into a laneway beside Barclay’s Bank and could see the timber-framed structures of the buildings on Breadmarket Street, probable evidence that these were built in the late Tudor period, and the Georgian façades on the street front may merely hide wonders and treasures inside.

Further west along the north side of Bore Street, a steep laneway leads into a private car park. But here too are the visible signs of a timber-framed Tudor house that may just be a sample of the many Tudor-era houses that survive behind the façades on the south side of Market Street.

I need to explore a little more of Tudor Lichfield when I am back again, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Parts of a Tudor house can be seen in a car park between Bore Street and Market Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
144, Quin Abbey, Co Clare

The Franciscan abbey at Quin, Co Clare, is one of the most intact mediaeval Franciscan friaries in Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The three-day annual clergy conference for priests of the Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe and the Diocese of Tuam, Killala and Achonry comes to an end today in Adare, Co Limerick.

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 these few weeks is churches in the Franciscan (and Capuchin) tradition. My photographs this morning (20 October 2021) are of the ruins of the Franciscan ruins at Quin Abbey, outside Ennis, Co Clare.

Quin Abbey occupies the site of the Anglo-Norman de Clare fortress built in 1278-1281 and destroyed in 1318 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Franciscan abbey at Quin, Co Clare, is about 14 km from Ennis, Co Clare. Despite its suppression and repeated attacks in the 16th and 17th centuries, substantial remains of the friary survive, making it one of the most intact mediaeval Franciscan friaries in Ireland.

Quin Abbey occupies the site of the Anglo-Norman de Clare fortress that was built in 1278-1281 and destroyed in 1318. An earlier monastery on the site was burned down in 1278.

Thomas de Clare (1245-1287), a powerful Anglo-Norman lord, began building a castle at Quin in 1278. At the time, de Clare was seeking to secure his position in the Kingdom of Thomond as the local O’Brien lords were distracted by internal feuding. One hypothesis says de Clare gave his name to Co Clare. Quin Castle was completed in 1281 when the Justiciar of Ireland, Robert of Ufford, marched into Thomond to curb de Clare’s regional dominance.

Richard de Clare (1281-1318) was defeated at the battle of Dysert O’Dea in Co Clare in 1318 by the O’Brien kings of Thomond and their allies, and the O’Briens regained control over Thomond.

The castle was a ruin by 1350, when it was rebuilt as a church by the MacNamara clan, using the south curtain wall of the old castle. Quin Abbey, properly a friary, was subsequently built between 1402 and 1433 by Sioda Cam MacNamara, for two Franciscan friars, named Purcell and Mooney.

The Franciscan chronicler Donatus Mooney records that friary was founded in 1402 by Síoda Cam MacNamara, lord of Clancullen, as his family burial place. The MacNamara tomb survives to this day.

Pope Eugene IV gave Síoda Cam MacNamara’s son, Maccon MacNamara, permission in 1433 to introduce Regular Observance at Quin, although this did not happen for another two centuries.

When the abbey was suppressed at the Reformation in 1541, it passed to Conor O’Brien, Earl of Thomond. After the dissolution, the friars continued to live in Quin under the protection of the Earls of Thomond.

When Sir John Perrot, Lord Deputy of Ireland, arrived in Quin during the Desmond rebellion in 1584, he found the Franciscans still living here. The friary was burnt during an attack, but the MacNamaras regained control of the site ca 1590, and once again set about repairing and restoring it.

Although the friars were forced to leave on a number of occasions in the 17th century, they continued to return to Quin, and the community was reconstituted as Observant Franciscans in 1612.

The building became a college ca 1640, according to local lore, and had up to 800 students. Oliver Cromwell arrived only 10 years later, when the friars were murdered and the friary was destroyed.

After the Caroline restoration (1660), members of the O’Brien family continued to make bequests to the friars of Quin. The building was once again restored in 1671, although the friary never regained its former status.

The friars were expelled again in 1760, but the last friar, Father John Hogan, continued to live here until he died in 1820. He was buried in the east cloister walk. But, by then, the buildings were ruined by neglect.

Although the abbey is mostly roofless, it is relatively well preserved. The foundations of the three corner towers and curtain wall of the castle built by Thomas de Clare can still be seen, surviving to varying degrees. There is an intact cloister, and many other surviving architectural features make the friary of significant historical value.

The mediaeval stone high altar remains in its original position, and to the right of this are the rare remains of an early 17th century stucco crucifixion, on the wall above a tomb. The intimate cloister, the chapter room, kitchen, refectory and dormitories stand almost as they did at the time of the dissolution. The fact that the domestic ranges were not bonded together suggests that they were built over a long period of time, rather than as one continuous building programme.

There is a visitor centre near the building, there is a permanent caretaker at the site, and the graveyard surrounding the friary is still in use. The deserted village associated with the friary is now marked by grassy mounds.

The friary was founded in 1402 by Síoda Cam MacNamara, lord of Clancullen, as his family burial place (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 12: 39-48 (NRSVA):

39 ‘But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’

41 Peter said, ‘Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?’ 42 And the Lord said, ‘Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? 43 Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. 44 Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. 45 But if that slave says to himself, “My master is delayed in coming”, and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, 46 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. 47 That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. 48 But one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.’

When the abbey was suppressed at the Reformation in 1541, it passed to Conor O’Brien, Earl of Thomond (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (20 October 2021) invites us to pray:

We pray for just transitions from the use of fossil fuels to renewable energy, minimising the economic impact of these changes.

The cloisters stand almost as they did at the dissolution (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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