Friday, 14 November 2014


The Cathedral

We were on our way to a social function in Cheshire and decided to stop off on the way to see Lichfield, one of England's smaller cities. We started our walk, loosely based on the city's Heritage Trail in Bore St and were soon delighted by the wonderful Lichfield House, dating from 1510.

Further along the street past the imposing Georgian Donegal House and the Guildhall there is the delightful Five Gables.

Breadmarket St brings you past the redundant St Mary's church (GE Street, 1868), now the museum and tourist office, to Market Square, where a market was indeed in full swing. On the left hand corner stands the splendid house where Dr Johnson was born in 1709.

Also in the Market Square there is a rather nice statue of Boswell, Johnson's biographer, dating from 1908. The octagonal tower of the Corn Market (1849-50) looms behind it over the market stalls.

We now walked up Dam St towards the Cathedral. The Trail leaflet draws our attention to a plaque on Brooke House. Lichfield was loyal to the king in the English Civil War and the Royalist garrison was besieged in the walled Cathedral close nearby. Lord Brooke, leader of the Parliamentary forces was shot dead here by a sniper.

We then pass the lovely Minster Pool to get our first sight of the Cathedral. It is immediately apparent that it is very long, with central transepts and tower. There has been a cathedral here since 700 AD, but it has gone through many rebuildings and alterations. There were major restorations after the Civil War, when it was besieged three times, in the late 18th century and by George Gilbert Scott in the late 19th.

Inside the impressions are of height and unity of the nave, but the choir and lady chapel beyond it seem to be aligned very slightly to the left. I especially liked the Crossing Screen, designed by Scott and made by Francis Skidmore.

The Chapter House, tucked in behind the short north transept, is one of the oldest parts: a circular building with vaulting off a central column.

At the end of Cathedral Close we turned right into Beacon St to pass the wonderful Georgian pile where Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles, lived. 

A little further up the street is Dr Milley's Hospital, almshouse for poor women originally founded in 1504. Pevsner says that the present building dates from the 17th century.

We walked back along Beacon St, with Beacon Park to the right, along Bird St to reach the start of Bore St where we began our walk. Now we continued along St John's St to reach St John's Hospital, another ancient foundation. Pevsner says that it was probably founded in about 1140, but was refounded by Bishop Smyth in 1495. The dramatic brick chimneys date from then.

The chapel contains wonderful stained glass by John Piper, with the same intensity of colour that we saw at Coventry Cathedral when we visited there two years ago.

After this we retraced our steps and walked along The Friary to see the clock tower of 1863 (it is by Joseph Potter in a Norman style). It was moved here from Bore St when a new Friary road was constructed in 1927. It looks slightly lost, but was was still impressive in the late afternoon sunshine.

Conditions: bright and sunny.

Distance: two or three miles.

Based on: Lichfield Heritage Trail. Much useful information, but it is odd that it doesn't include the Cathedral or St John's hospital.

Rating: four and a half stars. A little gem.

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