27 April 2023

Bistro 19 at Lichfield Cathedral
stands on the site of older
houses in the Cathedral Close

Bistro 19 nestles beneath the spires of Lichfield Cathedral … the house was first built by Archdeacon George Strangeways in the early 16th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

The ‘Green Man’ on the invitations to the royal coronation next week has created some discussion and much ridiculous speculation in the ‘red top’ newspapers. But, if like me, you have no personal invitation, you can still see a ‘Green Man’ above the stables in the Cathedral Close in Lichfield, behind Bistro 19 on the south side of the cathedral.

Two of us had coffee in Bistro 19 earlier this week during our visit to Lichfield, and Richard Sewell, who has been managing the café for the past year, showed us around the building, and basement which dates back to the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries, if not earlier.

Bistro 19 sits beneath the three spires of Lichfield Cathedral, and the gardens overlook Minster Pool.

As we wandered around the house and the gardens, Richard Sewell asked me how much I knew about the history of the house, which is nestled beneath the three spires of Lichfield Cathedral and has an interesting view across Minster Pool.

Bistro 19 looks out onto Minster Pool below Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

It is always interesting to see inside historic houses in Lichfield, and the arched and vaulted basement of No 19 in the Cathedral Close with its steep steps, long dark corridors and passageways, and its old wooden doors, posts and beams, may be much older than the Georgian house above and its Caroline and Tudor predecessors.

This was once the house of archdeacons and diocesan registrars, the childhood home of Charles Darwin’s grandmother, and, for one short time, was also the bishop’s house. Later, it was the house of the diocesan registrars, and more recently was part of a visitors’ centre, before becoming a café.

The first known house on the site of No 19 was a brick house, built in the early 16th century by the Archdeacon of Coventry, George Strangeways. It was probably built on the site of an earlier house between the cathedral and Minster Pool.

George Strangeways was the Prebendary of Stotfold from 1485, and later served as Archdeacon of Coventry in the Diocese of Lichfield ca 1505-1509. As Archdeacon of Coventry, he presented the Book of Hours of René d’Anjou to King Henry VII.

Until then, the archdeacons did not have a house in the Cathedral Close. This house may have been the residence of the Archdeacons of Coventry in the Diocese of Lichfield in the late Tudor period.

Strangeway’s immediate successors, who may have lived in this house as archdeacons, included Ralph Colyngwood in 1509-1512, later Dean of Lichfield; John Blythe, who was archdeacon in 1512-1558; and Henry Comberford, who was also Precentor of Lichfield until he was deprived of his church offices in 1559 due to his Catholic sympathies.

No 19 was the home of Bishop John Hacket after the English Civil War and the Caroline restoration (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

After the English Civil War and the Caroline restoration, the Bishop’s Palace in Lichfield was still in ruins in the wake of the Civil War. When John Hacket (1592-1670) became Bishop of Lichfield at the end of 1661, he chose this house built by Archdeacon Strangeways as his new residence.

Hacket believed the bishop’s house was beyond repair, and he moved into No 19 in 1661. He spent £800 on restoring the house and adding to it. At the same time, he was engaged in the unenviable task of overseeing the restoration of Lichfield Cathedral.

When Hacket’s work on the house was completed in 1667, it included a dining room and a gallery and 34 or 35 other rooms, with a stable for 16 horses in the south-east corner of the garden.

Hacket apparently tried to secure the house as the bishop’s palace but after he died in 1670 it once more became a canonical house.

In the later 18th century, Charles Howard (1707-1771), a proctor in the consistory court of Lichfield, lived in the house. Howard, who was a school friend of Dr Samuel Johnson, improved the garden behind the house with a grotto of shells and fossils.

Charles Howard and his wife Penelope (née Foley) were the parents of Mary ‘Polly’ Howard who married Erasmus Darwin in Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield, in 1757. Polly died on 30 June 1770 and her funeral took place in Lichfield Cathedral. Her grandson was the naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1882).

This house was assigned to the diocesan registrar in 1797, when it had a central range with wings at either end. At the back, the ground floor, which extended beyond the Close bank, was supported by arches.

The house was demolished in 1799, and rebuilt by William Mott, a Lichfield lawyer who was the Deputy Diocesan Registrar, Registrar of the Dean and Chapter, and Chapter Clerk. However, Mott retained the vaulted and arched basement that provided sturdy foundations for the house he rebuilt.

Mott also fitted out Hacket’s stable as a muniment room. He bought Wall House near Lichfield and the manorial rights with it in 1813.

When William Mott died in 1826, he was buried in the cathedral churchyard and there is a monument to him in the cathedral. His son John Mott (1787-1869) rebuilt No 20 in the Cathedral Close. He was Sheriff of Lichfield in 1836 and Mayor of Lichfield in 1850. John Mott’s wife, Henrietta Oakeley (1787-1869), was a sister of Canon Frederick Oakeley, the Lichfield hymnwriter associated with the carol, ‘O come, all ye faithful.’

The vaulted and arched rooms and the long corridors of No 19 may predate the house built by Archdeacon George Strangeways in the early 16th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

A new stable was added on the north side of Mott’s muniment room, and part of it was converted into the chapter clerk’s office in 1925. The office was moved in 1975 to No 14 the Close. Most of the diocesan records were deposited in the Lichfield Joint Record Office between 1968 and 1984.

The house continued to be used by the diocesan registrar or his deputy until 1987. When MBS Exham retired as registrar, the house passed to Lichfield Diocesan Board of Finance, and was sold that year to the dean and chapter. The whole building was converted into the Lichfield Cathedral Visitors’ Study Centre, the first part in 1986 and the second part in 1989.

The present house is Georgian in style, two storeys high with a rear basement, and a double-depth plan. In recent years, it housed Chapters, the cathedral restaurant and coffee shop, which closed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Bistro 19 opened last year (29 May) and is run by Richard Sewell, and is a perfect place to stop in during a visit to Lichfield Cathedral.

• Bistro 19 is run independently, is set within the grounds of Lichfield Cathedral, and serves Breakfast, Brunch, Coffee with a bar, seven days a week, from 10 am until 4 pm.

The ‘Green Man’ on the walls of the former stables beside Bistro 19 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Morning prayers in Easter
with USPG: (19) 27 April 2023

The Church of Our Lady Sub Catena is the oldest church in Mala Strana, the Lesser Quarter in Prague (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

We are still in the season of Easter, and this is the Third Week of Easter. LToday, the Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship commemorates the poet Christina Rossetti, who died in 1894.

Later today, I hope to take part in a dat-long meeting of clergy in the Milton Keynes area. But, before this day gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for prayer and reflection. Following our visit to Prague earlier this month, I am reflecting each morning this week in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a church in Prague;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The baroque interior of the Church of Our Lady Sub Catena in Prague (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Church of Our Lady Sub Catena, Prague:

The Church of Our Lady Sub Catena is the oldest church in Mala Strana, the Lesser Quarter in Prague, and it has a certain quiet charm not found in some of the churches in Prague that attract tourists in larger numbers.

The name of the church is something of a mystery. One theory says it was named after an old statue of the Virgin Mary, another suggests that a chain was used either to seal the gate of the commandry, and the more popular explanation says it was named after a chain that was stretched across the Vltava River to prevent ships from passing through without paying a toll to the knights. Some say the chain stretched from this site in the Lesser Town all the way across the Vltava River, along the tower gate of the former Judith Bridge, to the Old Town.

The entrance to the church in Mala Strana leads to a quaint, enchanting courtyard, which in turn leads to the church with a grand Baroque interior.

The Church of Our Lady Sub Catena or the Church of Our Lady Under the Chain is a hewn-stone, mediaeval Romanesque basilica, founded in the 12th century by the Knights Hospitaller or Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, often known today as the Knights of Malta.

The Knights Hospitaller received land south of the bishop’s court, below the castle and near the former Judith Bridge in 1156-1159. They built their first church on the site built after 1158, and the three-aisle Romanesque basilica was completed in 1182.

After 1314, when the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem obtained funds by selling off the property of the suppressed Knights Templar, the Romanesque church was knocked down and work began on a grand Gothic three-aisle basilica, built probably by Peter Parler’s workshop.

Remnants of the older building have been preserved on the right-hand side of what is now the courtyard. From the original plans, only the choir and sacristy were built; the western prism tower was started but never completed.

The church was destroyed by fire in 1420 during the Hussite Wars, and was ruined yet again in 1503. It took on its present mixed Baroque-Gothic appearance with renovations in the 17th century, when the church was rebuilt in Baroque style.

Most work of the work in this phase was carried out by the Italian architect Carlo Lurago and stone mason Giovanni Battista Spinetti. The Gothic steeples were cut down to 32 meters high, a shadow of their former selves, and the appearance of the church has remained the same since.

A Baroque painting by Karel Škréta above the High Altar depicts the Madonna blessing the Knights of Malta at the Battle of Lepanto (ca 1651). Another painting by Škréta of the Beheading of Saint Barbara is at the south altar (1674). Most of the sculptures in the church are the work of Jan Petr Wenda.

The church belongs to the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta and is administered by the Grand Priory of Bohemia of the order of Malta as a monastery church.

The church is open for Mass on Sundays at 10:00 and on Tuesdays at 17:30. Outside those times, visitors can see the garden courtyard, and peer through the grille into the church.

A painting by Karel Škréta above the High A;tar depicts the Madonna blessing the Knights of Malta at the Battle of Lepanto (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

John 6: 44-51 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 44 ‘No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, “And they shall all be taught by God.” Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’

The quaint, enchanting courtyard and the entrance to the church in Mala Strana (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Praying for Peace.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by the Anglican Chaplain in Warsaw, Poland, the Revd David Brown, who reflected on peace in the light of the International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace last Monday.

The USPG Prayer invites us to pray this morning (27 April 2023, South Africa Freedom Day):

Let us pray for all who are oppressed. May the remembrance of South Africa’s first post-apartheid elections inspire us to work for the self-determination of every nation and person.


Almighty Father,
who in your great mercy gladdened the disciples
with the sight of the risen Lord:
give us such knowledge of his presence with us,
that we may be strengthened and sustained by his risen life
and serve you continually in righteousness and truth;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

Living God,
your Son made himself known to his disciples
in the breaking of bread:
open the eyes of our faith,
that we may see him in all his redeeming work;
who is alive and reigns, now and for ever.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The church took on its present mixed Baroque-Gothic appearance during renovations in the 17th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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

Inside the entrance porch to the courtyard and the church in Mala Strana (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)