First things first. It’s Lichfield. There’s no ‘T’ in it. That ones in Hampshire, I think. But this one’s in Staffordshire. If you’re not from round these parts you’ll know about the city (yes, it’s got a cathedral) probably from reading about the Staffordshire Hoard – the largest hoard of Saxon gold ever found. If you’re a history teacher and you want pupils to smirk at your attempts to sound ‘on message’ you may refer to it as Beowulf’s Bling. These were the days when Mercians were serious big-hitters on the UK and even European stage. And Tamworth, nearby, was the capital despite the much less important London also falling within Mercian territory. I mentioned this on Twitter once and Julian Cope’s (Teardrop Explodes and solo) wife Dorian explained Julian’s pride at growing up in the town and the guided tours he’d given her. We’ll look at a few facts and random observations as we tour Lichfield beginning with the cathedral.
This is St Chad’s chapel, a wonderful, peaceful place to pray within the cathedral building. St Chad is the man in these parts as you can see below.
After a glance at the cathedral I see part of it it’s closed and there are men doing work. They don’t have Radio One on and there are no copies of The Sun in the pews, but I’m relieved to see a foreman put his hands on his hips, appraise the 16th century masonry and suck air through his teeth at the lengthy nature and escalating cost of the job. There are also mugs of tea the colour of creosote steaming nearby.
This is the Tudor tearooms, just across the city centre. In this room it’s a little bit like Wolf Hall, except with 60W candle bulbs. They do nice cakes and sandwiches and those little boxes of chocolates you choose from glass shelves. They also do great sugar mice which aren’t easy to find and a wonder to behold for the Playstation generation.
At the back of the Tudor tearooms – where you can hide out – there’s a huge oven and a suit of armour below. As always (Tower of London too) I’m reminded I’d never fit into any suit of armour I’ve ever seen. I’d probably need a pack of butter to get into Henry VIII’s fighting clothes. Men really were very slight. If I was to be suited up for medieval battle it’d be a very brave, sturdy horse and they’d need to melt down railings, saucepans and bollards across the county just for the breast plate. It’d be like the Spitfire campaigns all over.
I’ve written elsewhere in this blog about the things the Shropshire men did to King David and his Welsh followers (it made the final scenes of Braveheart look gentle). Hard to imagine as elderly ladies with Westies sip their darjeeling and nibble scones in nearby coffee shops, but martyrs were being thrown in the fire in the market place right here.
The city’s cathedral can be seen for miles around (as obviously intended by its architect and masons) and is the only English medieval cathedral with three spires. There are carvings of kings from Saxon times onwards on the front of the cathedral. The Lionheart is there, as is Longshanks*. My Glaswegian father-in-law (RIP Jim) visited with us once and spotted Edward I’s stern gaze beaming down from the stonework. He stopped short of spitting, but growled and shook a fist, ‘That’s the bastard that killed oor weans.’ (Weans is Glasgow for young child). It caused a member of the visting WI group to drop her Thermos.
* Editor’s note – Longshanks was the one who threw Greg from Coronation Street out of the castle window in Braveheart. What would a soap actor know about military strategy and marching through the Lowlands in winter anyway?
I’ve posted a few more images to give an impression of the beauty of the cathedral. It appears elsewhere on this blog and details the stained glass and some of the characters buried here. I was asked to contribute a piece for a book called Bus Pass Britain (and its sequel) and wrote about Lichfield’s cathedral and most famous man too. I’m not referring to Michael Fabricant MP, of course, but Doctor Samuel Johnson.
If you’d like to read more about Lichfield and the locality I’d recommend the excellent Lichfield Lore blog.
Hipsters would kill for those curls and facial hair combo.