12 March 2023

Tudor Café, a 500-year-old
landmark listed building in
Lichfield, is on the market

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

Patrick Comerford

The Tudor Café on Bore Street is one of the landmark buildings in the centre of Lichfield. In recent days, City Business Brokers have announced that this Grade II listed coffee shop is on the market.

The Tudor of Lichfield or Lichfield House on Bore Street is a visible reminder of the rich heritage of Tudor architecture in Lichfield, alongside the black-and white timber framed buildings on Quonian’s Lane, and the many timber-framed buildings in Vicars’ Close and the Cathedral Close.

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, biscuits and ice cream.

Lichfield House, was built as a picturesque black and white half-timbered residence when Henry VIII was king and still married to Catherine of Aragon, and before the 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.

When it comes to architectural heritage, Lichfield may be better known for its cathedral and churches and for its Georgian buildings. But I recently took time looking at the backs of buildings on Market Street and Breadmarket Street and realised the large amount of 16th and 17th century architecture that probably survives in Lichfield.

The timber-framed houses on Bore Street, Market Street, Quonian’s Lane, and in Vicars’ Close and in the Cathedral Close in Lichfield are hidden gems, often unnoticed by tourists, and sometimes even unknown to people who have lived in Lichfield for decades.

But Lichfield has about 50 other houses that still have part of their timber-framed structure. Generally, these are two-storey buildings or of two storey buildings with attics.

Many of the street fronts in the centre of Lichfield, such as those in Market Street, Bore Street, Lombard Street and Greenhill, are jettied at each floor, and the roof lines are of continuous gables with ridges at the same level as that of the main roof.

Most of the box-framed buildings probably date from the late 16th and early 17th century. The few houses with close studding, such as those in Vicars’ Close and 11 Lombard Street, or with cruck framing, such as 11 Greenhill, may be earlier than most of the box-framed buildings.

The fittings on the door at the Tudor Café (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Although Lichfield House is dated 1510, the year after Henry VIII succeeded as king, it probably dates from the late 16th century, with 18th century alterations and a 20th century connecting block.

It is a timber-framed building with a brick rear range and wing. The tile roofs have enriched cresting and brick stacks. It is a three-storey, three-window range with and three gables, and it is jettied at the first and second floors. There is a bracketed upper jetty and enriched finials and end pendants to the gables.

The entrance is to the left of the centre and has moulded posts to the jetty and a small-paned and fielded-panel half-glazed door. The passageway to Tudor Row is at the left end.

The ground floor has two canted oriels; the oriel on the left has a four-pane sash, while the oriel to the right has 1:4:1 fixed lights with leaded glazing above the transom. The window to the right of the entrance has plate glass and leaded glazing above the transom.

The first floor has three-light transomed windows with upper leaded glazing. The second floor has two-light casements with moulded frames. There is a large brick stack.

The timber-framing has close studding on the ground floor, herring-bone bracing on the first floor and curved cusped braces below the second floor windows and at the gables.

The rear of the house has brick platt bands and modillioned brick cornices, segmental-headed windows, some with pegged cross-casements.

The rear wing, attached by a 20th century block, has a brick cornice and varied casement windows.

Inside, the house has chamfered beams and joists. The ground floor has 17th century and early 18th century panelling, the open-well stair has turned balusters, square newels and a moulded handrail, and two lions to the landing. The rear wing has chamfered beams and joists.

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.

When the old glass houses were demolished, nine shops were built in 1980 as Tudor Row on the lines of the Shambles of York or the Lanes of Brighton. Later, the old coach house was developed into two further shops.

The Tudor of Lichfield at Lichfield House, 32 Bore Street – a ‘tea house with a history’ – is one of the places where I enjoy bringing new visitors to Lichfield.

Lichfield House remains a successful and charming restaurant, offering morning coffees, lunches and afternoon teas, along with a range of specialty dairy ice creams. The tea room has 65 covers, offering morning coffees, lunches and afternoon teas as well as Champagne Breakfasts. The retail counter offers a large range of luxury chocolates, jams, marmalades and biscuits as well as 18 flavours of ice cream.

The business is currently management-run, and City Business Brokers say there is great potential to increase profit if the business is owner-run. They say sales are up, costs are down and the café has an excellent chef, with full-time and part-time staff. The current opening hours are 9 am to 4:30 pm Monday to Thursday, 9 am to 5 pm Friday and Saturday, and 10 am to 4 pm on Sunday.

They say the ‘promising possibilities’ and potential include turning the premises into a fully licensed late-night Bistro or developing a small boutique hotel.

The current turnover is about £15,000 a month, the rent is about £2,000 a month, and a new lease is guaranteed following suitable references. The leasehold is being offered for £56,950, although they add ‘Deferred payments considered’ and they ‘will consider lower offer for quick sale.’

Lichfield House or the Tudor café on Bore Street … one of the timber framed buildings on Bore Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A journey through Lent 2023
with Samuel Johnson (19)

The monument to Hodge the Cat facing Samuel Johnson’s house in Gough Square, London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Third Sunday in Lent [12 March 2023], and later this morning I hope to attend the Parish Eucharist in Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton.

During Lent this year, I am taking time each morning to reflect on words from Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the Lichfield-born lexicographer and writer who compiled the first authoritative English-language dictionary.

Hodge was one of Dr Johnson’s cats, and is remembered in a whimsical passage in James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson (1799). In this passage, Johnson is claimed to have an affection for animals in general, or at least the ones that he kept:

I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat: for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters, lest the servants having that trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature. I am, unluckily, one of those who have an antipathy to a cat, so that I am uneasy when in the room with one; and I own, I frequently suffered a good deal from the presence of this same Hodge. I recollect him one day scrambling up Dr Johnson’s breast, apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend smiling and half-whistling, rubbed down his back, and pulled him by the tail; and when I observed he was a fine cat, saying, ‘Why yes, Sir, but I have had cats whom I liked better than this;’ and then as if perceiving Hodge to be out of countenance, adding, ‘but he is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed.’

This reminds me of the ludicrous account which he gave [the writer] Mr [Bennet] Langton, of the despicable state of a young Gentleman of good family. ‘Sir, when I heard of him last, he was running about town shooting cats.’ And then in a sort of kindly reverie, he bethought himself of his own favourite cat, and said, ‘But Hodge shan’t be shot; no, no, Hodge shall not be shot.’

Johnson was known to go out of his way to buy oysters to feed Hodge, even to the point of annoying his servants by pampering his pets.

After Hodge’s death, the poet Percival Stockdale wrote ‘An Elegy on the Death of Dr Johnson’s Favourite Cat’:

Who, by his master when caressed
Warmly his gratitude expressed;
And never failed his thanks to purr
Whene’er he stroked his sable fur.

Not much is known about Johnson’s other cats, except that in a letter written in 1738 he mentions a white kitten named Lily, describing her as ‘very well behaved.’

A bronze statue to Hodge by the sculptor Jon Bickley stands facing Dr Johnson’s house in Gough Square, off Fleet Street, London. It was unveiled in 1997 and shows Hodge sitting on top of Johnson’s Dictionary, alongside some empty oyster shells. The monument is inscribed with the words ‘a very fine cat indeed.’

Continued tomorrow

Yesterday’s reflection

Searching for Hodge the Cathedral Cat in the souvenir shop in Southwark Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)