A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14, Lichfield. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1990.
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THE 19TH CENTURY
Between 1801 and 1901 Lichfield's population rose from just under 5,000 to nearly 8,000. The overall growth is reflected in suburban expansion and in the increasing scale of local government, public services, and economic activity.
In 1817 Lichfield was described as
an open handsome city; the houses in general are well built, the streets regular and spacious, with an excellent pavement and convenient footways, and kept very clean. The principal inhabitants are gentry, mostly persons of small independent fortunes; the remainder consist of tradesmen and artificers. The general appearance of the city affords an idea of snugness, cleanliness, and elegance, and it is delightfully situated in a fertile spot, abounding with the most valuable productions of the agriculturalist. (fn. 1)
In the mid 1830s Lichfield was still much frequented by travellers between London and Liverpool and between Birmingham and the West Riding of Yorkshire, and there were five coaching inns. (fn. 2) Coaches ceased to run through the city in 1838 with the completion of the railway between London and Liverpool via Birmingham and Stafford. As a result the road north from Lichfield 'became like a by lane'. (fn. 3) When the railway came to Lichfield in 1847 with the opening of the Trent Valley Railway from Stafford to the Birmingham-London line at Rugby, the station was in Streethay, over a mile from the city centre. A station was provided in the centre in 1849 when the South Staffordshire Railway was opened from Walsall through Lichfield to the Midland Railway at Wychnor, in Tatenhill. Plans for a canal, mooted from 1759, were fulfilled in 1797 when the Wyrley and Essington Canal was opened through the south side of the city, and by 1817 there were at least six wharfs.
Rebuilding in the town centre in the course of the century included the guildhall (1848), St. Mary's church (1853 and 1870), and the theatre (1873), and restoration was carried out at St. Chad's church in the 1840s and 1880s and at St. Michael's in the 1840s and 1890s. New buildings included a corn exchange and savings bank in Conduit Street (1849), a public library and museum in Bird Street (1859), and a police station in Wade Street (1898). Restoration of the cathedral was carried out in stages, beginning in the 1840s, and its completion was celebrated with a Thanks-giving Festival in 1901. The bishop's palace in the Close was enlarged in the late 1860s when Bishop Selwyn decided to move back there from Eccleshall Castle.
The suburbs of Beacon Street, Stowe Street, Greenhill, St. John Street, and Sandford Street, established in the Middle Ages, expanded during the 19th century. All but Beacon Street were mainly areas of artisan housing built in terraces and courts. In the late 1860s good houses were much in demand; several houses recently built in the suburbs had been quickly let at high rents. (fn. 4) A number of large houses were built on the southern outskirts. A house at the junction of Tamworth Road and Quarryhills Lane, known as Lower Borrowcop Villa in the later 1840s, was called Freeford Villa in the 1850s. It was the home of Thomas Rowley, a physician, and was presumably on the site of Freeford Cottage, where he was living in 1834. He had renamed the house Quarry Lodge by 1861. (fn. 5) Berryhill House at the north end of London Road originated as Berryhill Cottage, built by 1841 and later enlarged. (fn. 6) Knowle Lodge at the north end of Knowle Lane had been built by 1861 when it was the home of J. P. Dyott, a solicitor; it may have been on the site of Knowle Lane Cottage, built by 1841. (fn. 7) Knowle Hurst to the south existed as Belle Colline by 1881. (fn. 8)
In Beacon Street Beacon Place was enlarged c. 1836, and in the course of the century the grounds attached to it were increased from 15 a. to nearly 100 a. (fn. 9) At the north end of Beacon Street there was a group of cottages by the 1830s around the junction with Wheel Lane (then called Grange Lane), and the area was known as New Town. (fn. 10) It included the Wheel inn, in existence by 1811. (fn. 11) By 1847 there were also houses along Stafford Road between Abnalls Lane and Cross in Hand Lane. (fn. 12)
The first of a number of cottages in Castle ditch running south-west from Greenhill were built in 1800. They were named Gresley Row after Sir Nigel Gresley, the Tory contestant in a byelection in 1799. (fn. 13) Trent Valley Road was built under an Act of 1832 as an extension of Church Street; it continued into Streethay, bypassing the less direct route along Burton Old Road, and from 1847 it was the link between the main line station and the city centre. (fn. 14) Paradise Row off its west end evidently existed by 1836; in 1841 it was a group of 10 cottages, with two houses to the west occupied by the owner of the row and a relative. (fn. 15) By 1847 there were two houses known as Mount Pleasant on the corresponding part of Trent Valley Road. (fn. 16) The union workhouse was opened to the east in 1840. (fn. 17) Some better-class houses were built along the road in the later 1870s. (fn. 18) In 1881 there were six households in Wissage and three in Wissage Lane. (fn. 19) In 1886 a drinking fountain and cattle trough surmounted by a lamp were erected by subscription at Greenhill as a memorial to J. J. Serjeantson, rector of St. Michael's 1868–86, in fulfilment of his long-cherished wish. (fn. 20) The fountain and trough survived in 1989, although no longer in use. In 1887 a plot of ground behind the memorial was planted and railed at the expense of Alderman R. P. Cooper. (fn. 21)
In Upper St. John Street a Roman Catholic chapel with a priest's house was opened in 1803. Rowley's Row, a terrace of 10 houses owned by Thomas Rowley, had been built to the south by 1841. (fn. 22) The area to the west was also developing. The southern end of Birmingham Road was so named by 1818. By then there was a lime works by the canal, with the Duke of Wellington inn south of the bridge, and the area round the works and a nearby timber yard was populous by the 1830s. (fn. 23) The pumping station to the east in Chesterfield Road dates from 1858. (fn. 24) The northern end of Birmingham Road, known variously as Schoolhouse Lane and St. John's Lane by the later 18th century, was called Birmingham Road by 1861. (fn. 25) A militia barracks was built there in 1854. (fn. 26) There were three houses in 1861, and over the next 20 years a number of large houses were built, some detached, some in terraces; the pair named Bonne Vue date from the late 1870s. In Chesterfield Road a terrace of six houses known as Deakin's Row and a terrace of four larger houses were also built in the late 1870s. (fn. 27) Dovehouse Fields east of Birmingham Road and north of the canal had three houses in 1851 and eight in 1861. The 30 houses making up Chappell's Terrace to the north-east had been built by 1881. (fn. 28) Shortbutts Lane linking Upper St. John Street and Birmingham Road existed in 1577; the first houses were built at the east end in the early 1890s. (fn. 29)
Leamonsley hamlet on the Walsall road evidently grew up after the opening of a fulling mill on Leamonsley brook on the city boundary in the early 1790s. In 1841 there were 13 households, including that of the tenant of the mill; in 1851 there were 27 households. (fn. 30) The Walsall road was realigned under an Act of 1832 with the new Queen Street and Walsall Road bypassing the route along Lower Sandford Street and what was later called Christchurch Lane. That lane takes its name from the church opened in 1847, and by then it had been continued south-west from the church to the new Walsall road, the old line from Lower Sandford Street having been turned into a drive for Beacon Place. (fn. 31) Houses were built along the new stretch of the Walsall road between the 1860s and 1880s. (fn. 32)
Christ Church also served the populous Lower Sandford Street, most of which became part of Christ Church parish created in 1848. New houses were built in the street in the early 19th century, (fn. 33) and the weaving shops of Sir Robert Peel's shortlived cotton manufactory there, closed by 1813, were turned into dwellings. (fn. 34) A gas works was opened in Queen Street in 1835. (fn. 35) Flower's Row off Sandford Street, consisting of 19 houses, existed by 1847, and several more terraces had been built by 1861. (fn. 36) By 1851 there was an Irish community in Sandford Street. (fn. 37)
Local government was expanded and reformed in the earlier 19th century. A body of improvement commissioners was established in 1806. It took over some of the functions of the Conduit Lands Trust, such as the provision of lighting, but the trustees continued to provide money for public services besides maintaining a water supply. A special commission was set up in 1815 to rebuild the bridge in Bird Street. In 1836 the corporation became an elected council with a mayor. (fn. 38)
Industrial development began with the expansion of cloth working when the fulling mill was built at Leamonsley in the early 1790s and Pones mill was converted into a woollen manufactory in 1809. Both were still in operation in the 1850s. Less successful was the cotton manufactory which was established in Lower Sandford Street by Sir Robert Peel in 1802. The long-established tanning industry had apparently disappeared by the 1840s. There was some expansion in metal working in the earlier 19th century, with works producing agricultural machinery and cutlery in Sandford Street. A foundry was opened in Wade Street in 1864 and another in Sandford Street in 1879; a third, belonging to the Walsall firm of Chamberlin & Hill, was opened at the north end of Beacon Street in 1890. The most striking industrial development was in brewing. Previously a trade practised by innkeepers who brewed their own ale, it was increasingly taken over by maltsters from the late 18th century. In the later 19th century they in turn were replaced by brewing companies. There were five breweries in the late 1870s, including one on the Streethay side of the city boundary.
The growth of manufacturing firms was allegedly hampered by the development of market gardening from the early 19th century, with its emphasis on seasonal labour. In the late 1840s there were c. 1,300 a. of market gardens in the city, nearly two fifths of its total acreage. The produce was sold in the towns of South Staffordshire and in Birmingham.
Lichfield's general markets declined in the course of the century, although from the 1850s there was a market hall on the ground floor of the corn exchange. Cattle markets became increasingly important, and from the late 1860s there were two smithfields. The fairs increased in number in the earlier part of the century, but they subsequently declined, leaving only the Ash Wednesday fair, which itself was little more than a pleasure fair by the later 1870s.
Lichfield retained military associations throughout the century. It had its own troop of yeomanry cavalry, which was raised in 1794 as part of a Staffordshire regiment by F. P. Eliot of Elmhurst, a keen supporter of the yeomanry movement. In 1900 it had 84 members. (fn. 39) It was in attendance when the marquess of Anglesey visited Lichfield in 1815 on his return from the Waterloo campaign, in 1839 at the visit of Adelaide, the queen dowager, and in 1843 at the visit of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. (fn. 40) A corps of infantry volunteers was formed in 1798. (fn. 41) It was evidently re-established in 1803 and had a strength of 476 in 1806. It was probably disbanded in 1813. (fn. 42) A corps of rifle volunteers was formed in 1860 and had a strength of 84 in 1900. (fn. 43)
In September 1820 the whole Staffordshire yeomanry regiment assembled at Lichfield for six days' training on Whittington heath. (fn. 44) It assembled there again at intervals until 1833 when the Lichfield yeomanry week became an annual event, normally in the autumn or summer. (fn. 45) By 1870 the headquarters of what in 1838 had become the Queen's Own Royal Regiment was at Yeomanry House in St. John Street, the former St. John's House which was still owned by the Levetts in 1847, though then unoccupied. (fn. 46) The Prince of Wales was entertained there in 1894 during the regiment's centenary celebrations. (fn. 47) The building was taken over by the girls' high school in 1896, the yeomanry headquarters having been moved to the Friary; it was demolished in 1925. (fn. 48)
In 1853 the 1st King's Own Staffordshire Militia assembled for 28 days' training on a field in the immediate vicinity of Lichfield. (fn. 49) A barracks was opened in Birmingham Road in 1854 as a stores for the militia. There was also accommodation for the permanent staff, which in 1861 consisted of a sergeant major and nine staff sergeants with their families. (fn. 50) Nathaniel Hawthorne, visiting Lichfield in 1855, noted the large number of young soldiers newly recruited into the King's Own who were lounging about and looking 'as if they had a little too much ale'. (fn. 51) Soon after the completion of the barracks at Whittington in 1880, the Lichfield barracks was closed. (fn. 52) It was sold in 1891 and converted into tenements known as Victoria Square. (fn. 53) The building was demolished in the late 1960s and bungalows were erected on the site. (fn. 54)
In 1817 Mary Bagot of Blithfield noted that Lichfield was 'unfrequented now except by its regular inhabitants, who form a considerable society, very different from what it was in Johnson's day'. (fn. 55) Another writer observed c. 1830 that it was evidently the 'quiet and retirement' of Lichfield which had for a long time attracted people of independent means as residents. (fn. 56) The disappearance of the coaching traffic in 1838 made it even quieter. In the earlier 1840s General William Dyott of Freeford found it a 'deserted city' full of 'melancholy gloom'. (fn. 57) Nathaniel Hawthorne noted in 1855 that 'the people have an old-fashioned way with them and stare at a stranger as if the railway had not yet quite accustomed them to visitors and novelty'. (fn. 58) In 1872 Henry James, for all his admiration of the cathedral, thought Lichfield 'stale without being really antique', (fn. 59) and a visitor in 1891 commented that 'there is an old-world look about this city, thoroughly English at every turn—staid, sober, and plodding'. (fn. 60)