Lichfield

Extract from Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of England, 1831.
Transcribed by Mel Lockie, © Copyright 2010
Lewis Topographical Dictionaries

LICHFIELD, a city and county (of itself), under the designation of the city and county of the city of Lichfield, though locally in the county of Stafford, 165 miles (S.E. by E.) from Stafford, and 118 (N.W. by N.) from London, containing 6075 inhabitants. This place, called by Bede Lichfield, and by Ingulphus and Henry of Huntingdon Lichfeld, both implying the field of the dead, is supposed to have derived its name from the traditionary martyrdom of more than one thousand Christians, who are said to have been massacred here in the reign of the Emperor Dioclesian: an allusion to this event appears in the heraldic bearings of the city; and a spot within its precincts, in which they are said to have been interred, still retains the appellation of the Christian field. During the Octarchy, it appears to have been distinguished by the Kings of Mercia, of whom Piada, son-in-law of Osweo, King of Northumbria, having been converted by the preaching of Cedd, a hermit, who had a cell near the site of St. Chad's church, is said to have erected the first Christian church here in honour of that recluse, who had been assiduous in his efforts to convert the Mercians to Christianity, and afterwards became their bishop.

In the reign of Offa, this see not only obtained the precedence of all the Mercian bishopricks, but, through the interest of Offa with Pope Adrian, was made the archiepiscopal see, and invested with the greater part of the jurisdiction of Canterbury; Eadulph was made Archbishop of Lichfield in 789, and had for his suffragans the Bishops of Worcester, Hereford, Leicester, Sidnacester, Elmham, and Dunwich; but, in 803, Leo succeeding to the pontificate, restored the primacy to Canterbury, and Eadulph, stripped of his supremacy, died in 812.

At the time of the Conquest, Lichfield, notwithstanding the distinction which it enjoyed under the Saxon kings, was but an inconsiderable place; and in 1075, when the council decreed that episcopal sees should no longer remain in obscure towns, Peter, Bishop of Licedfeld, transferred his see to Chester, where it continued till it was removed by his successor, Robert de Limsey, to Coventry, whence it was, in 1148, restored to Lichfield, by Roger de Clinton, who began the church and fortified the castle, of which latter there is not the slightest vestige. At what time, or by whom, the castle was originally built, has not been clearly ascertained; but it is, upon very good authority, asserted that Richard II., after his deposition from the throne, was detained here as a prisoner, on his route to the Tower of London.

During the parliamentary war, Lichfield embraced the royal cause, and Charles I., after the battle of Naseby, slept for one night in the cathedral close, which, in 1643, Sir Richard Dyot, with some of the principal gentlemen of the county, under the command of the Earl of Chesterfield, fortified against the parliamentarian forces by which the town was besieged, under Lord Brooke and Sir John Gell; the former of whom, having stationed himself in the porch of an adjoining house, was shot, by a member of the Dyott family, from the battlements of the cathedral: the attack being continued by Sir John Gell, the garrison surrendered on honourable terms, and the parliamentarians retired, leaving a body of troops to defend this post, who, in the following month, were repulsed by Prince Rupert, who marched hither after the reduction of Birmingham; the royalists retained possession of the town till its final surrender to the parliament. During these conflicts the cathedral suffered material injury; its rich sculptures were destroyed, it was converted into stables by the parliamentarian troops, and, in 1651, it was set on fire, and, by order of parliament, stripped of its lead, and left to neglect and decay.

The city is built in a pleasant and fertile vale, within two miles of the Roman station Etocetum, and about the same distance from Offlow Mount, another station at Swinfen. The houses in the principal streets are handsome and well built; the streets in general are well paved; and the town is lighted with oil, and amply supplied with water, and is characterised by a prevailing appearance of cleanliness and respectability. In the environs, which abound in varied scenery, are numerous handsome seats and elegant villas. A permanent library, established within the last twenty years, is liberally supported by subscription; a small theatre, in which Mrs. Siddons made her first appearance after her marriage, is opened during the races, and occasionally at other times; an amateur concert, called the Cecilian Society, has been established nearly a century.

The races take place in March and September; the former are principally supported by the members of the Anson Hunt, and at the latter a king's plate of one hundred guineas is run for on the first day; the course is on the road to Tamworth, about two miles from the city. Lichfield is not a place of much trade: there are an extensive carpet-factory, and a small manufactory for spinning cotton thread. The Birmingham canal passes within a quarter of a mile of the city, and within the distance of a mile and a half joins the Wyrley and Essington canal.

The market is on Friday: and the fairs are, January 10th, Shrove-Tuesday, and Ash-Wednesday, for cattle, sheep, bacon, and cheese, and the first Tuesday in November for geese and cheese; the market-house is a light and commodious building of stone, occupying the site of the ancient market-cross. The city received a charter of incorporation from Edward VI., which was confirmed and extended by Mary and Elizabeth, the former of whom erected it, with a district of sixteen miles in circuit, into a county of itself; in 1623, the charter was renewed by James I., and confirmed with additional privileges by Charles II.: the government is vested in two bailiffs and twenty-one brethren (one of whom is town clerk and coroner), a recorder, steward, and sheriff, assisted by a sword bearer, two Serjeants at mace, and subordinate officers.

The bailiffs are appointed on St. James' day; the senior bailiff is selected by the Bishop of the diocese, from two nominated by the corporation, who themselves appoint the junior bailiff: the recorder, steward, and town clerk, are appointed by the corporation, subject to the approval of the king; and by their charter, any of the citizens, not being one of the bailiffs or twenty-one brethren, is chosen sheriff by the corporation, who have power to fine him at their discretion for refusing to serve the office; two chief constables are chosen by a jury of burgage tenants, at their court leet, held on St. George's day, and several petty constables at the great portmote court, held on the 22nd of July.

The bailiffs, the late bailiffs, the recorder, and the steward, are justices of the peace within the city and county of the city, but their jurisdiction does not extend over the Close of the cathedral, which possesses exclusive privileges, and is under the sole jurisdiction of the Dean and Chapter. The freedom of the city is inherited only by the eldest sons of freemen, and acquired by purchase, or servitude in one of the trading companies, of which there are seven, viz., the Curriers, Smiths, Saddlers, Bakers, Dyers, Taylors, and Butchers. The corporation hold assizes for the city and county of the city, as occasion may require, for the trial of capital offenders, quarterly courts of session, and a petty session every week; they hold also a court of record weekly, for the recovery of debts to any amount above 40s.; and a sheriff's court is held every month, for the recovery of debts under that amount.

The guildhall is a neat edifice of stone, ornamented with a pediment in front, in the tympanum of which are the city arms; the hall is spacious, and well adapted to the purposes of the several courts, and behind it are apartments in which the public business of the corporation is transacted; underneath is the common gaol for the city, containing rooms and cells for the confinement of debtors and felons. The city first exercised the elective franchise in the 33rd of Edward I., and continued to make regular returns till the 27th of Edward III., from which period it ceased till the time of its incorporation by Edward VI., who restored that privilege, and since then it has returned two members to parliament: the right of election is vested in the bailiffs, magistrates, burgage tenants, freeholders to the amount of forty shillings per annum, and freemen enrolled and paying scot and lot, in all about eleven hundred; the sheriff is the returning officer.

An annual fete, called the Court of Array, takes place on Whit-Monday in the guildhall, whence it is immediately adjourned to an eminence called Greenhill, in the parish of St. Michael, where a temporary bower is erected for the occasion; it was formerly given by the corporation, but is continued by voluntary contributions. Upon this occasion, the city officers, attended by a large concourse of the inhabitants, with music and banners, after visiting the different wards of the city, adjourn to the guildhall, where they are treated with wine and refreshments; they then proceed to the market-place, where the town clerk delivers an oration, exhorting them to "perform their duty to the king and to their fellow citizens, and to pursue the paths of industry and virtue". This ceremony is supposed by some to have been instituted by King Osory, to commemorate a victory obtained by him over Penda; but others, with more probability, ascribe it to an act passed in the reign of Henry II., and confirmed in succeeding reigns, ordaining that the high constables in each town should frequently inspect the arms of the inhabitants within their franchise.

Lichfield, jointly with Coventry, is an episcopal see, and since the demolition of the abbey and conventual buildings at Coventry, has become the sole seat of the diocese; the jurisdiction of the see extends over the counties of Derby and Stafford, and a considerable part of the counties of Warwick and Salop. The ecclesiastical establishment consists of a bishop, dean, precentor, chancellor, treasurer, the four archdeacons of Coventry, Stafford, Salop, and Derby, twenty-seven prebendaries, five priest-vicars, seven lay-clerks, eight choristers, and other officers; at the dissolution the revenue was £795. 17. 6. The cathedral, which had been reduced during the parliamentary war to a state of extreme dilapidation, was restored, by Dr. Hacket, on his preferment to the united sees of Lichfield and Coventry, in 1661, to its original state of splendour and magnificence; various improvements have subsequently been made, and the choir has been greatly enlarged, under the superintendence of Mr. Wyatt, by the removal of the screen in front of the lady chapel, the expediency of which alteration is very questionable, with regard to its influence on the proportion of its several parts.

The prevailing character of the edifice is that of the early English, approaching very nearly to the decorated style of English architecture: the west front is magnificently rich, and the spires of the western towers, each one hundred and eighty-three feet in height, are in beautiful combination with the lofty central spire, which is two hundred and fifty-eight feet high: the east end is hexagonal, and the whole exterior is highly ornamented in various parts with statuary and sculpture of exquisite design and elaborate execution: the interior presents various styles, with several later insertions; the transepts display considerable portions in the Norman character, and the choir, which deviates from the line of the nave, is in the decorated style of English architecture; it is richly ornamented, and lighted with windows of beautiful tracery; the bishop's throne, and the prebendal stalls, are fine specimens of tabernacle-work; St. Mary's chapel, built by Bishop Langton, is an edifice of elegant design; it is lighted with nine lofty windows, of which, the three at the east end are more rich in their tracery, and are ornamented with stained glass brought by Sir Brooke Boothby from the dissolved abbey of Herckenrode, in the bishoprick of Leige; in the central window on one side is a painting of the Resurrection, by Eggington, from a design by Sir. Joshua Reynolds; in this chapel was the rich shrine of St. Chad, which was demolished at the dissolution.

The whole length of the cathedral, from west to east, is four hundred and eleven feet, and the breadth, along the transepts, one hundred and fifty-three feet. Among the monuments which escaped the ravages of the parliamentary troops are, those of Bishops Hacket, Langton, and Pattishul. There is a monument to Doctor Samuel Johnson; a bust of Garrick; a mutilated statue of Captain Stanley; and a monument of exquisite beauty by Chantrey, to the memory of the infant children of Mrs. Robinson: this monument, which is considered as a masterpiece of sculpture, is unrivalled for beauty of design, intensity of feeling, and force of expression. A passage from the north aisle leads to the chapter-house, a decagonal building of great beauty, of which the finely vaulted roof is supported on a clustered central column. Above it is the library, instituted by Dean Heywood, in which are the gospels of St. Chad, an Alcoran taken at the siege of Buda, and a folio edition of Chaucer, richly illuminated. The bishop's palace, on the northeast side of the Close, is a spacious edifice.

The city comprises the parishes of St. Mary, part of which is in the southern division of the hundred of Pirehill; St. Chad, part of which is in the northern division of the hundred of Offlow; and St. Michael, part of which is in the northern, and part in the southern, division of the hundred of Offlow; and the liberty of the Cathedral Close, which is extra-parochial; all in the peculiar jurisdiction of the Dean and Chapter of Lichfield.

The living of St. Mary's is a discharged vicarage, rated in the king's books at £10, and in the patronage of the Dean and Chapter of Lichfield; the church is a modern edifice, erected on the site of an ancient structure described by Leland as "right beautiful". The living of St. Chad's is a perpetual curacy, endowed with £200 private benefaction, £200 royal bounty, and £1200 parliamentary grant, and in the patronage of the Vicar of St. Mary's. The church, by far the oldest in Lichfield, was rebuilt, on the site of an ancient church erected by Bishop Headda, in honour of St. Chad, and near his hermitage.

The living of St. Michael's is also a perpetual curacy, endowed with £200 private benefaction, £400 royal bounty, and £1200 parliamentary grant, and in the patronage of the Vicar of St. Mary's; the church, a plain edifice in the later style of English architecture, is situated on an eminence called Green-hill; it contains a tablet, with an inscription by Dr. Johnson, to the memory of his parents; the church-yard comprises from six to seven acres, and is the principal cemetery of the city. There are places of worship for Independents, Wesleyan Methodists, and Kilhamites, and a Roman Catholic chapel.

The free grammar school appears, from a small endowment payable out of the Exchequer, to have been founded by Edward VI.: its annual income arises from the said grant from the Exchequer, a small sum paid out of the revenue of St. John's hospital, a contribution from the feoffees of the Conduit Lands, and a stipend paid by the corporation; the present master of St. John's hospital, the Rev. Mr. Chancellor Law, subscribes £75 annually towards the salary of the second master. The school-house was erected, in 1692, at the joint expense of the corporation and the feoffees of the Conduit Lands; there are only six free scholars on the foundation, each of whom receives an annuity of £1. 6. 8., granted by Dean Walker to six scholars of the former school, in St. John's hospital, now transferred to this school; the other scholars pay £2. 2. per quarter to the head master, who has also a house rent-free, and the privilege of taking boarders; and those who attend the lower school pay £1. 1. per quarter to the second master.

An English free school was founded, in 1677, by Mr. Thomas Minors, who endowed it with a messuage for the school-house, and rents amounting to about £30 per annum. Andrew Newton, Esq., in 1801, bequeathed in aid of this charity the reversion of the dividends on £3333. 6. 8. three per cent, consols., after the decease of the then legatee. Humphrey Torrick, Esq., in 1652, bequeathed a messuage, the rental of which, amounting to £9 per annum, is appropriated to the instruction of five poor boys; and in the parish of St. Michael's are donations of houses and land, producing £129 per annum, for the support of a schoolmaster and chaplain, and for other charitable uses; there are also a National and a British school for boys, supported by subscription.

St. John's hospital was founded, in the reign of Henry III., by one of the bishops of the diocese, and, in 1252, Radulph de Lacock, canon of Lichfield, endowed it with lands at Elmhurst and Stitchbrook, for the maintenance of a priest, and the support of the poor and infirm in this hospital, which was visited by the Bishops of Lichfield for many years, but fell into neglect and decay, from which it was retrieved by Bishop Smyth, who was translated to the see in the reign of Henry VII.: that prelate rebuilt the premises in 1495, and formed the statutes by which it is at present governed.

The establishment consists of a master, or warden, in priest's orders (appointed by the Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry), a schoolmaster, also in priest's orders, an usher, and chaplain (appointed by the warden), thirteen almsmen, (who have each three shillings and sixpence per week, with other advantages), and a matron; the revenue is about £350, of which, after paying the annual expenses, which amount on an average to about £200, the remainder is paid to the master: the premises comprise thirteen almshouses, apartments for the master and other officers, and a chapel: the school formerly attached to the hospital has been superseded by the free grammar school.

An hospital for women was originally founded, in 1424, by Bishop Hayworth, and endowed, in 1504, by Thomas Milley, one of the canons residentiary, with tenements and lands producing, together with subsequent benefactions, an income of about £370, for the maintenance of fifteen aged women, who receive each a weekly allowance of seven shillings and sixpence, including a benefaction by Mr. John Fecknam; the inmates are appointed by the trustees, and it is in contemplation to add a number of out-pensioners to the charity, the funds having accumulated, from the excess of the income above the annual expenditure. A dispensary, supported by subscription, was established in 1829

The Conduit Lands, producing an income of about £580, were devised to trustees, in 1546, by Henry Beane, master of the guild of St. Mary, for the repair of the conduits and water courses of the city. There are numerous donations and bequests, amounting to more than £1000 per annum, for distribution among the poor. Among the monastic establishments was a convent of Grey friars, founded in 1229, by Alexander, Bishop of Lichfield; it was burnt down in 1291 and being rebuilt, subsisted till the dissolution: the remains are now let on lease, and the rents appropriated to charitable uses. Several relics of antiquity are preserved in Mr. Green's museum, among which is the wooden lintel of a doorway, pierced by a ball which killed Lord Brooke, the parliamentary officer, during the siege of the cathedral.

There is a chalybeate spring; and some fine specimens of agate, in a state of decomposition, are found in the vicinity, where a fine sort of clay for pottery is also met with. Elias Ashmole, the antiquary, and founder of the Ashmolean museum at Oxford; Dr. George Smalridge, and Dr. Thomas Newton, both distinguished as theological writers; and the celebrated Dr. Samuel Johnson, were natives of this place; and among the residents were, Garrick, Dr. Darwin, author of "the Botanic Garden", and his ingenious biographer, Miss Seward.

BURNTWOOD, a chapelry in that part of the parish of ST-MICHAEL-LICHFIELD, which is in the southern division of the hundred of OFFLOW, county of STAFFORD, 3 miles (W. by S.) from Lichfield, containing, with Edgehill and Woodhouse, 675 inhabitants. The living is a perpetual curacy, in the peculiar jurisdiction of the Dean and Chapter of Lichfield, endowed with £400 private benefaction, and £2600 parliamentary grant, and in the patronage of the Perpetual Curate of St. Michael's.

CURBOROUGH, a township, joint with Elmhurst, in that part of the parish of ST-CHAD-LICHFIELD, which is in the northern division of the hundred of OFFLOW, county of STAFFORD, 2 miles (N.N.E.) from Lichfield, containing 250 inhabitants.

EDGE-HILL, a township, joint with Burntwood and Woodhouse, in that part of the parish of ST-MICHAEL, LICHFIELD, which is in the southern division of the hundred of OFFLOW, county of STAFFORD, 8 miles (W.S.W.) from Lichfield, containing 675 inhabitants.

ELMHURST, a township, joint with Curborough, in that part of the parish of ST-CHAD which is in the northern division of the hundred of OFFLOW, county of STAFFORD, 1 mile (N. by W.) from Lichfield, containing 250 inhabitants.

FISHERWICK, a township in that part of the parish of ST. MICHAEL, LICHFIELD, which is in the northern division of. the hundred of OFFLOW, county of STAFFORD, 3 miles (E.) from Lichfield, containing 91 inhabitants. The Birmingham and Fazeley canal crosses the south-west angle of the township.

FREEFORD, a hamlet in that part of the parish of ST-MICHAEL, LICHFIELD, which is in the northern division of the hundred of OFFLOW, county of STAFFORD, 2 miles (S.E.) from Lichfield, containing 14 inhabitants.

HASELOR, a township in that part of the parish of ST-MICHAEL-LICHFIELD, which is in the northern division of the hundred of OFFLOW, county of STAFFORD, 4 miles (N.) from Tamworth, containing 49 inhabitants. It is within the peculiar ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Dean of Lichfield. Here was anciently a chapel, which has fallen into ruins.

PIPE-HILL, a hamlet in that part of the parish of ST-MICHAEL-LICHFIELD, which is in the southern division of the hundred of OFFLOW, county of STAFFORD, 1 mile (S.W.) from Lichfield, containing 92 inhabitants.

STREETHAY, a hamlet in that part of the parish of ST-MICHAEL-LICHFIELD, which is in the northern division of the hundred of OFFLOW, county of STAFFORD, 2 miles (N.E. by E.) from Lichfield, containing 90 inhabitants.

WALL, a hamlet in that part of the parish of ST-MICHAEL-LICHFIELD, which is in the southern division of the hundred of OFFLOW, county of STAFFORD, 2 miles (S.S.W.) from Lichfield, containing 84 inhabitants.

WOODHOUSE, a township, joint with Burntwood and Edgehill, in that part of the parish of ST-MICHAEL-LICHFIELD, which is in the southern division of the hundred of OFFLOW, county of STAFFORD, 2 miles (W. by S.) from Lichfield. The population is returned with Burntwood.

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