25 June 2024

Dr Milley’s Hospital,
one of the oldest
charities in Lichfield,
celebrates 600 years

Dr Milley’s Hospital on Beacon Street, Lichfield … celebrating 600 years this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

One of my favourite buildings in Lichfield is Dr Milley’s Almshouse on Beacon Street. I stopped to look at again yesterday as I was visiting Lichfield Cathedral and later as I was walking from Lichfield Cathedral along Beacon Street to lunch at the Hedgehog on the corner of Stafford Road and Cross in Hand Lane.

Dr Milley’s Almshouse houses local women in need, and the charity is celebrating 600 years of its work. The almshouse was originally founded by William Heyworth, Bishop of Lichfield, in 1424, and its current home on Beacon Street was built in 1504, when it received an endowment from Canon Thomas Milley, a residentiary canon of Lichfield Cathedral.

The hospital originally provided accommodation for 15 single women and has since seen additional flats created in a more recent extension. It is currently home to ten residents who stay for varying lengths of time, with the charity aiming to provide a ‘safe, secure home for women with limited housing options’.

The 600th anniversary was celebrated last Wednesday (19 June) at the Roses Ceremony that takes place annually, when the Bishop of Lichfield is presented with ten red roses by the residents in lieu of rent. A special thanksgiving service is being held in Lichfield Cathedral later this week (Thursday 27 June 2024).

Dr Milley’s Almshouse is a charity overseen by trustees under a scheme approved by the Charity Commission. The current chair, Elaine Price, said: ‘This is always a special occasion for everyone involved, marking our strong links with the cathedral. It is even more special this year as it marks the 600th anniversary of the Almshouse.’

Remembering the founder of Dr Milley’s Hospital (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

I visited Dr Milley’s Hospital at No 7 Beacon Street, Lichfield, many years ago as part of a small tour organised by Kate Gomez and the local history group, Lichfield Discovered.

We were welcomed by the chair of the trustees, Mrs Sheelagh James, who was then also Deputy Mayor of Lichfield and later Mayor of Lichfield in 2016-2017. We were shown around in small groups by two other trustees, Peter Parsons and 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 600 years ago by the Bishop of Lichfield, William Heyworth, in 1424, and it was refounded and endowed by Canon Thomas Milley over 500 years ago in 1505.

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 was 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 during that visit 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.

Dendrochronology or tree-ring dating tests suggest that parts of the hospital were rebuilt around 1652 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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 the oldest part of Dr Milley’s Hospital (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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, there is a 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.

The original well beside the stairs is now covered over (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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.

Looking out from Dr Milley’s Hospital onto Beacon Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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.

The Dennis Birch Room serves as a community or common room, and there are beautiful gardens at the rear of Dr Milley’s Hospital.

The current trustees of Dr Milley’s Hospital are: Wendy Dee, Susan Gallagher, Donna Marie Greatorex, Roger Michael Hartley, Sheila Marjorie Linger, Mark Lupton, Elaine Price, Gail Ryan, Cynthia and Mary Tipper.

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

Daily prayer in Ordinary Time 2024:
47, Tuesday 25 June 2024

The icon of the Ascension in the new iconostasis in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

The week began with the Fourth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity IV, 23 June 2024), and yesterday was thr Feast of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist.

I was ordained deacon 24 years ago today on 25 June 2000, and priest 23 years ago yesterday, on the Feast of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist (24 June 2001). I marked those anniversaries yesterday at the mid-day Eucharist and Evening Prayer in Lichfield Cathedral and in a visit to the chapel in Saint John's Chapel, Lichfield.

I am back in Stony Stratford, and before today begins I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks, for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, today’s Gospel reading;

2, a reflection on the icons in the new iconostasis or icon stand in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford.

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary;

4, the Collects and Post-Communion prayer of the day.

The icon of the Ascension is to the left among the 12 feasts depicted in the upper tier of the new iconostasis in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024; click on images to view full screen)

Matthew 7: 6, 12-14 (NRSVUE):

[Jesus said:] 6 “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.
12 “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

13 “Enter through the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the road is easy[a] that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. 14 For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

Christ ascending … a detail in the icon of the Ascension in iconostasis or icon stand in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The Stony Stratford iconostasis 10: the Ascension (Η Ανάληψη του Ιησού):

Over the last few weeks, I have been watching the building and installation of the new iconostasis or icon screen in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford. In my prayer diary over these weeks, I am reflecting on this new iconostasis, and the theological meaning and liturgical significance of its icons and decorations.

The lower, first tier of a traditional iconostasis is sometimes called Sovereign. On the right side of the Beautiful Gates or Royal Doors facing forward is an icon of Christ, often as the Pantokrator, representing his second coming, and on the left is an icon of the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary), symbolising the incarnation. It is another way of saying all things take place between Christ’s first coming and his second coming.

The six icons on the lower, first tier of the iconostasis in Stony Stratford depict Christ to the right of the Beautiful Gates, as seen from the nave of the church, and the Theotokos or the Virgin Mary to the left. All six icons depict (from left to right): the Dormition, Saint Stylianos, the Theotokos, Christ Pantocrator, Saint John the Baptist and Saint Ambrosios.

Traditionally, the upper tier has an icon of the Mystical Supper in the centre, with icons of the Twelve Great Feasts on either side, in two groups of six: the Nativity of the Theotokos (8 September), the Exaltation of the Cross (14 September), the Presentation of the Theotokos (21 November), the Nativity of Christ (25 December), the Baptism of Christ (6 January), the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (2 February), the Annunciation (25 March), the Entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday), the Ascension, Pentecost, the Transfiguration (6 August) and the Dormition (15 August).

In Stony Stratford, these 12 icons in the top tier, on either side of the icon of the Mystical Supper, are (from left): the Ascension, the Nativity, the Baptism of Christ, the Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the Raising of Lazarus and the Crucifixion; and the Harrowing of Hell or the Resurrection, the Incredulity of Saint Thomas, Pentecost, the Transfiguration, the Presentation and the Annunciation.

The first icon in this top tier of 12 icons in Stony Stratford is the icon of the Ascension. The icon of the Ascension (Η Ανάληψη του Ιησού) is based on the accounts of the Ascension by Saint Luke in his Gospel (Luke 24: 36-53) and in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1: 1-12).

The icon shows Christ ascending with the angels, with his mother Mary and the Disciples standing below. Traditionally, the icon is divided into two parts, with heaven figuratively above and the earth below. The top is in order, the bottom, except for the Theotokos, is in confusion. The figures are set against the hilly and rocky landscape of the Mount of Olives, represented by the rocks and the stylised olive trees that appear to sway and point towards Christ.

This is a joyous icon with bright colours for the robes of the Apostles, the Mother of God and the Angels, and Christ himself surrounded by light. All this is suitable for the Feast of the Ascension, which is one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Church and a joyous celebration.

The concentric circles surrounding Christ are known in iconography as a mandorla. A mandorla portrays Christ’s glory, and in this icon it also signifies the highest heavens to which he is ascending.

Two angels are supporting the mandorla, and Christ is shown inside the mandorla, blessing those below with his right hand: ‘Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven’ (Luke: 24: 50-51). In his left hand he holds a scroll, a symbol of his teaching and of his divine word.

The focus of the lower part of the icon is on the Theotokos, who represents the Church waiting for Christ’s return. The entire group – the Theotokos and the disciples – also represents the Church. The disciples are waiting for the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and are shown in confusion.

The two angels in white clothes are saying to the disciples: ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’ (Acts 1: 11). The disciples then return to Jerusalem (Acts 1: 12).

The Theotokos is directly underneath Christ, in the centre of the foreground. She does not look up, but looks intently towards us. In contrast to the apostles who seem unsettled, she appears still and peaceful. Unlike them, she has a halo around her head, signifying that while the apostles waited for the Holy Spirit, she was been chosen by God and was already overshadowed by the Holy Spirit (see Luke 1: 35).

She stretches out her arms in prayer, signifying the prayers of the Church and inviting us to join her in those prayers. The two angels stand on either side of her are pointing up to Christ.

The apostles are arranged either side of the Theotokos – six on the right and six on the left, with the Apostle Paul on her left and Saint Peter on her right. Although the Ascension takes place before Saint Paul’s conversion, he is depicted for important theological reasons, and his presence signifies the completeness of the Church.

In Orthodox theology, the icon also looks to Christ’s second coming as he said he would return as he ascended. The icon does not show direction, for Christ’s love and teachings are still with the Church. Although the icon depicts the events in Saint Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, it is not meant to be an historical image, but a representation of the Church and an image of the Church waiting for the Second Coming.

This ahistoric depiction is not uncommon in icons: the icon of Pentecost also shows the Apostle Paul, and it too is an icon of the Church. The differences and similarities between the two festal icons – the feasts are separated by only 10 days – are deliberate.

One of the earliest surviving images of the Ascension, a full-page illustration in the sixth century Rabbula Gospels, is remarkably similar to later icons, with few variations. Icons from Saint Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai, for example, show little change between icons of the Ascension in the 6th century with those made almost 600 years later.

The Virgin Mary and the 12 Apostles in the icon of the Ascension in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Today’s Prayers (Tuesday 25 June 2024):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Anglican support and advocacy for exiled people in Northern France.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday with a programme update by Bradon Muilenburg, Anglican Refugee Support Lead in Northern France, the Diocese in Europe, the Diocese of Canterbury and USPG.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (Tuesday 25 June 2024) invites us to pray:

Comfort the families that have lost and will lose loved ones at the France/UK border. That those of us living in the lands of the comfortable would find ways to come alongside them in their grief.

The Collect:

O God, the protector of all who trust in you,
without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy:
increase and multiply upon us your mercy;
that with you as our ruler and guide
we may so pass through things temporal
that we lose not our hold on things eternal;
grant this, heavenly Father,
for our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

Eternal God,
comfort of the afflicted and healer of the broken,
you have fed us at the table of life and hope:
teach us the ways of gentleness and peace,
that all the world may acknowledge
the kingdom of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Additional Collect:

Gracious Father,
by the obedience of Jesus
you brought salvation to our wayward world:
draw us into harmony with your will,
that we may find all things restored in him,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.

The new iconostasis or icon stand installed in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford in recent weeks (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

An introduction to the Stony Stratford iconostasis (15 June 2024)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The Ascension depicted in a fresco in the ceiling in the Church of the Transfiguration in the village of Piskopianó in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition copyright © 2021, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.