A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14, Lichfield. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1990.
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THE PLACE NAME
The place name Lichfield occurs in a Life of St. Wilfrid (d. 709), written soon after the saint's death, and in the Ecclesiastical History of Bede (d. 731). The two surviving manuscripts of the Life date from the 11th century, but they preserve versions of the name that tally with those given in the earliest manuscripts of Bede, copied in the 730s and 740s. According to the Life Wilfrid, between 666 and 669, was given a site suitable for an episcopal see by Wulfhere, king of the Mercians. In 669 Wilfrid presented the locum donatum sibi Onlicitfelda (or Anliccitfelda) as a seat for Chad, and later in the Life there occurs a bishop de Licitfelda (or de Lyccitfelda). (fn. 1) The earliest manuscripts of Bede tell how Chad had his seat in loco qui vocatur Lyccidfelth (or Licidfelth) and refer to one of Chad's successors as the bishop Lyccitfeldensi. (fn. 2) The spelling Licetfeld is found in the 11th century (fn. 3) and, with the alternative Licitfeld, apparently survived until at least the early 12th century. (fn. 4)
The second element in the name is the Old English feld, generally taken to mean 'open country', either naturally treeless or cleared for agriculture. (fn. 5) The meaning of the first element has been much disputed. In the 1880s Henry Bradley suggested that Bede's Lyccid was an Anglicization of the early Welsh luitcoit (modern Welsh llwyd goed, 'grey wood') and that luitcoit itself had evolved from an earlier Celtic form Lētocēton, the native name of the Roman settlement at Wall, 2 miles south of Lichfield. The Latin name of the Roman settlement survived in the Antonine Itinerary of c. 300 as Etocetum and in the 7th-century Ravenna Cosmography (based on earlier material) as Lectocetum. Bradley proposed an amended Latin spelling Letocetum. He noted the Cair Luitcoit ('town of the grey wood') which Nennius had included in a catalogue of 28 British towns and Caer Lwydgoed where according to an early poem the Welsh of Powys fought a battle in the 7th century. (fn. 6)
Advances in phonology and etymology have modified and refined Bradley's theory. Lētocaiton has been proposed as a better rendering of the earliest Celtic form of the native name, and the spelling Caer Lwytgoed is now generally used for the site of the battle. (fn. 7) Linguistic evidence suggests that the native population at the time of the English settlement spoke Celtic and not Latin. (fn. 8) The feld in Lichfield may bear a more restricted sense than Bradley imagined: it has been argued that at the time of the English invasions feld meant 'common pasture', that the use of the word in an early English place name means that the land to which it refers was common pasture when the English arrived, and that feld became incorporated in a place name when the inhabitants of a new settlement began to put part of it under the plough. (fn. 9) It may therefore be significant that, according to the author of the Welsh poem, the booty captured by the Welsh at Caer Lwytgoed consisted of 1,500 cattle, 80 horses, and five bondsmen. (fn. 10) The list suggests a successful raid on a place known to control a large tract of pasture. A further trace of Celtic elements has been found in the local place name Leomansley, probably another Anglo-Celtic compound, with the Celtic lēmo, an elm, as part of its first element. (fn. 11)
The precise meaning of 'Lichfield' and its historical and topographical significance remain obscure. The simplest explanation is that at the time of English settlement the Celtic-speaking natives were using Luitcoit in its original sense, as a forest name. In that sense 'Lichfield' would be 'common pasture in (or beside) grey wood', 'grey' perhaps referring to varieties of tree prominent in the landscape. (fn. 12) The Lichfield area long remained wooded, and compound English place names in the area include references to alder, ash, and elm (Aldershawe, Ashmore Brook, Elmhurst). (fn. 13)
If the forest-name explanation is accepted the fact that Lichfield is 2 miles from Wall is irrelevant. If Luitcoit was still being used as a settlement name when the English arrived, however, 'Lichfield' could, on the analogy of Chesterfield (Derb.), (fn. 14) be feld near or belonging to Luitcoit. The identity of such a Luitcoit remains unknown. (fn. 15)
The period in which the name Lyccidfelth was coined, and hence the date of English settlement in the area, remains conjectural. The chronology of linguistic change in Primitive Welsh, upon which a phonetic dating of the Celtic element in Lyccidfelth depends, is uncertain. An early date, c. 600, for the coinage of the name by the English assumes that there had been widespread English settlement in the area for at least two generations before the 660s; presumably Wulfhere would not have offered, and Wilfrid would not have accepted, a cathedral site in an unnamed spot that was remote and inhabited chiefly by semi-independent Britons. A coinage of c. 600 is possible, historically and linguistically, (fn. 16) but some linguistic anomalies remain, and they are reduced if Lyccidfelth is regarded instead as a formation of a later date, in the 660s.
The way in which the Life describes the gift may help to elucidate the early development of the place name. The prefix on- (or an-) (fn. 17) attached to the name suggests that what the Life records is the king's gift of a place 'in Lichfield' and that 'Lichfield', like some other English place names, may have originated as an area name that was later restricted to the principal place in the area. (fn. 18) It that were so, Lyccidfelth would presumably be the late 7th-century form of an already existing area name, increasingly used to describe merely the cathedral itself and its immediate environs.
Past etymologies have fostered myth and confusion. Some explanations of the first element in 'Lichfield' were eccentric, (fn. 19) but two were widely canvassed and seriously considered. One suggested a derivation from the Old English līc (Middle English lich), 'a corpse', and the other from Old English words for 'stream' or 'bog' (laec, lece, lic). (fn. 20) Both were etymologically unsound because they were based on post-Conquest developments of the place name. Lichfield appears as 'Licefelle' and 'Lecefelle' in Domesday (fn. 21) and as 'Licefeld' in a document written in the late 1140s. (fn. 22) Variations on the last spelling are found at least until the end of the 12th century. (fn. 23) By the 1120s, however, the form 'Lichefield' had appeared. (fn. 24) That, with its variations 'Lichesfeld' and 'Licheffeld', was the spelling favoured by the king's clerks. (fn. 25) By the mid 13th century it had triumphed, and at that point the first known attempts to explain 'Lichfield' were made. The first element was taken to be 'lich' or 'liches' and the place name to mean 'the field of corpses', which needed an explanation. (fn. 26)
The view apparently held at Lichfield in the 13th century was that the corpses resulted from a battle. Far more influential was a conjecture made by Matthew Paris (d. 1259) of St. Albans abbey. According to him the name, campus cadaverum, commemorated the slaughter of 999 Christians, martyred under the emperor Diocletian, 284–305. He linked Lichfield, possibly for the first time, with the fabrications that were accumulating round the figure of St. Alban, the British protomartyr.
All that is known of the historical St. Alban is his name. Geoffrey of Monmouth invented a St. Amphibalus as Alban's supposed catechist, whose converts, according to a later 12thcentury Life of St. Alban, were massacred in Wales. Matthew Paris identified the place of the massacre as Lichfield. His identification was accepted by at least one 14th-century hagiographer at St. Albans, by John Lydgate in 1439, and by the Warwick antiquary John Rous (d. 1491). Rous's version was preserved by John Leland, and passed into the general currency of antiquarian writing. It seems that it was only then that it aroused any attention at Lichfield.
The story was not taken seriously in medieval Lichfield. There is no evidence of any cult of the martyrs; the story is not mentioned in the surviving cathedral chronicles or in Leland's account of his visit to the city c. 1540. In 1549, however, the newly formed city corporation chose to make the alleged massacre the design of its seal. For over a century the Lichfield martyrs featured regularly in the city's official art: on successive corporation seals, in paintings in St. Mary's church, and in a stone bas-relief carved for the guildhall. Attempts were made to use local toponyms to support the story. In the 1570s it was claimed that Boley and Spearhill, alluding to bows and spears, (fn. 27) preserved folk memories of the massacre, and in the 1680s land at Elmhurst known as Christianfield was regarded as its site. In 1651 the story of the martyrs, as told by local people, explained to the Quaker George Fox his vision of blood flowing through the streets of Lichfield.
Amphibalus had already been dismissed as a fabrication in 1639 by Archbishop Ussher, who remarked that only the people of Lichfield still believed the massacre story. The fictitious saint was the sole link between Lichfield and the story of a mass martyrdom of early Christians and Ussher's case against him was generally regarded as unanswerable. Nevertheless, some of those who favoured the lich derivation of the place name continued to explain it by stories of Christian martyrdom. The most elaborate version of the story came as late as 1819, following the discovery of human and other remains at Elmhurst a few years earlier. A variant, possibly based on a misinterpretation of the design of the 16th- and 17th-century corporation seals, claimed that the corpses of the place name were those of the army of three Christian kings, defeated at Lichfield by Diocletian. Various spots were suggested as the resting place of the Christian dead, Elmhurst, St. Michael's churchyard, Borrowcop Hill, and the site of the cathedral. The theory, repeated in the 19th century, that all place names containing the element lich marked the sites of battlefields revived the view apparently adopted at Lichfield in the 13th century.
The 'stream' or 'bog' derivation was canvassed from the later 17th century. It was pointed out that the suggested derivation was topographically sound, suiting the marshy nature of the city's site, was a rational explanation, and did away with Amphibalus. It found some support among Staffordshire historians, but is etymologically impossible.
In 1327 there were 108 people in Lichfield assessed for tax amounting to £8 2s. 6d. The number assessed was the highest in the county, but Stafford, with an assessed population of 77, had the higher assessment of £11. (fn. 28) Lichfield had 1,024 people assessed for poll tax in 1377. (fn. 29) In 1525 there were 391 people liable for tax, (fn. 30) while 286 appeared on a muster roll of 1539. (fn. 31) In 1563 there were stated to be 400 households in the city. (fn. 32) Over 1,100 people died during an outbreak of plague in 1593. (fn. 33)
The Protestation Returns of 1642 listed 706 men. Most were grouped by ward, with 89 in Beacon Street, 116 in Bird Street and Sandford Street, 75 in Saddler (otherwise Market) Street, 60 in Conduit Street and Dam Street, 62 in Bore Street, 46 in St. John Street, 28 in Wade Street, 62 in Tamworth Street, 71 in Stowe Street, and 61 in Greenhill. (fn. 34) During a further outbreak of plague in 1645–7 there were at least 801 deaths. (fn. 35) In 1664 there were 296 householders assessed for hearth tax, with a further 242 too poor to pay. (fn. 36) The figures do not include the inhabitants of the Close, where 35 people were assessed in 1666. (fn. 37) The detailed census made in 1695 by Gregory King (1648–1712), a native of Lichfield and a pioneer English statistician, recorded 2,833 people in the town and 205 in the Close. (fn. 38) The figures given by John Snape in 1781 were respectively 3,555 and 216. (fn. 39)
Between 1801 and 1901 Lichfield's population rose from 4,842 to 7,902. In the city centre, covered by St. Mary's parish, there was a decline at the end of the century; from 2,422 in 1801 and 2,382 in 1811, the population had risen to 2,832 by 1881 but had dropped to 2,281 by 1901. The population of the Close rose, with some fluctuation, from 200 in 1801 to 249 in 1901. That of the north part of the city, covered by St. Chad's parish, nearly doubled, from 1,183 in 1801 to 2,057 in 1901, though there was some fluctuation after 1851, with a peak of 2,205 in 1881. The biggest growth was in the south, in St. Michael's parish, where the population tripled from 1,037 to 3,308. (fn. 40) The decline in the north and centre after 1881 and a slowing then in the rate of growth in the south were largely the result of the closing of two foundries, a brewery, and a barracks. (fn. 41)
During the 20th century the population has more than tripled. It had reached 8,616 by 1911, and although dropping to 8,393 by 1921, it had risen to 8,507 by 1931. It was 10,619 in 1951, 14,087 in 1961, and 22,660 in 1971. In 1987 it was estimated as 28,310. (fn. 42)
BOUNDARIES AND GATES
The limits of the medieval town were marked by a ditch, presumably dug when the town was established in the mid 12th century: Bishop Clinton, 1129–48, is credited with having fortified the town by surrounding it with an embankment. A ditch was recorded in 1208 and probably earlier. (fn. 43) On the east of the town the ditch ran from Stowe Pool to the junction of Lombard Street and Stowe Street. (fn. 44) From that point it ran south across the end of Stowe Street, along what later became George Lane, across Tamworth Street, and then along the later Gresley Row south-west to St. John Street. It crossed that street at a point north of St. John's hospital and ran north-west to the present Friars Alley. (fn. 45) It then turned north to Trunkfield brook, following it downstream across Sandford Street and continuing north presumably in the form, once more, of a ditch. 'Gneybon' ditch was recorded in that area in the earlier 13th century, (fn. 46) and further north 'le Ellerendych' ran east to a point in Beacon Street where Dr. Milley's hospital was later built opposite the north-west corner of the Close. (fn. 47) Land on the north side of Upper Pool certainly lay within the town: a cross by the Beacon Street gate, described in 1360 as lately erected, marked 'the end of the town', (fn. 48) and the archdeacon of Chester's house on the corner of Beacon Street and Shaw Lane was described in 1448 as being outside the Close but in the town. (fn. 49) The Close itself formed the north-east part of the town, and the Close ditch on the north and east presumably served as the town boundary.
The line of the ditch between Tamworth Street and St. John Street became known as Castle ditch, probably taking its name from an Anglo-Saxon fortification on Borrowcop Hill to the south-east. (fn. 50) By the earlier 1340s the eastern part of Castle ditch was used as a lane. (fn. 51) In 1781 there were houses along the lane. (fn. 52) What remained of Castle ditch survived apparently until 1849. (fn. 53) The stretch of ditch north-east of Tamworth Street as far as Stowe Street had been converted into George Lane by the later 16th century. (fn. 54)
Gates were set up where roads crossed the ditch. Tamworth Street gate and Sandford Street gate were recorded c. 1200; (fn. 55) St. John Street gate in 1208, when it was called Culstubbe gate after the name of the nearby marsh; (fn. 56) Beacon Street gate in the mid 13th century; (fn. 57) and Stowe Street gate in the later 13th century. (fn. 58) Geoffrey de porta, who made a grant of land in the Beacon Street area in the mid 13th century, may have been a gatekeeper. (fn. 59) The gateways were probably of simple wooden construction, intended chiefly to control the entry into the town of goods liable to pay toll rather than for defence. No substantial structures are shown on Speed's 1610 plan of Lichfield, and stone gateways would have made defensive sense only if there was also a stone wall between them.
The ditch presumably marked the extent of the town when established in the mid 12th century, but a burgage outside the Sandford Street gate was recorded in a charter of Bishop Muschamp, 1198–1208, and there were burgages outside three other gates in the later 13th century. (fn. 60) The townspeople evidently had some rights in the agricultural land which surrounded the town and which in the early 14th century was known as the territory of Lichfield. (fn. 61) The jurisdiction of the town court, however, did not extend to that land, and in 1330 presentments relating to a settlement at Gaia beyond the Beacon Street gate were made at Longdon manor court. (fn. 62) The corporation established for the town in 1548 probably acquired legal rights to the surrounding land, but the line of the boundary at that date is uncertain: the charter of incorporation states merely that the limits of the city and its suburbs 'should extend as far as in times past they have been reputed and considered to extend'. Mary I's charter of 1553 repeated the formula.
The first known statement of the boundary which included the surrounding land is in a perambulation of the later 18th century. (fn. 63) Perambulations of townships adjoining the city made in 1597 (fn. 64) show that on the east and south Lichfield's boundary was much as it was in the 18th century but that on the north and west the area of the city was less extensive. An increase in area at the expense of Curborough and Elmhurst township on the north and of Pipehill township on the west probably resulted from a dispute with Lord Paget over the city's boundary, apparently settled in 1657. (fn. 65) In the 20th century small adjustments have been made to the eastern boundary. (fn. 66)
The streets listed below are those within the gates of the medieval town. Surviving streets are given under their modern names. Derivations are taken from English Place-Name Elements (E.P.N.S.) and Middle English Dictionary, ed. H. Kurath and S. M. Kuhn. (fn. 67)
Back Lane (1861); (fn. 68) Backcester Lane (1900). (fn. 69) Originally part of Wade Street, the street presumably derives its modern name from association with the adjacent Bakers Lane. Bakers Lane. Baxter Street (1295), Baxter Lane (1413); (fn. 70) Bakers Lane (1610); (fn. 71) Peas Porridge Lane (1698). (fn. 72) The original name is derived from Old English baecestre, a baker. The name Peas Porridge Lane was still used in 1812, (fn. 73) but Bakers Lane was preferred as an alternative in 1761 and was the name given on Snape's plan of 1766. (fn. 74)
Bacoune, Bacunne, Baucune Street (later 13th century); (fn. 75) Bacone Street (1307); (fn. 76) Beacon Street (1806). (fn. 77) The original name, still in use as Bacon Street in 1836, (fn. 78) is presumably derived from the word for pig meat. The early 19th-century change to Beacon Street is evidently a polite emendation.
Newebrugge Street (1368); (fn. 79) Brigge Street (1400); (fn. 80) Brugge Street (1411); (fn. 81) Byrd Street (1506); (fn. 82) Bryd Street (1518); (fn. 83) Bird Street (1669). (fn. 84) The earliest recorded name refers to a new bridge built c. 1312 at the west end of Minster Pool. (fn. 85) The bridge probably replaced an earlier one: a messuage in a street towards the bridge end was recorded in 1281. (fn. 86) The spelling Byrd (later Bird) may have been a family name. Bore Street. Bord Street (1331); (fn. 87) Bor Street (1414); (fn. 88) Bore Street (1506); (fn. 89) Boar Street (1707). (fn. 90) The spelling Bore Street was again favoured in 1800. (fn. 91) Presumably the name is derived from Middle English bord and refers to the boards used for the sale of goods in the market place.
Wommones Chepyng (1388); (fn. 92) Breadmarket Street otherwise Womens Cheaping (1689). (fn. 93) The earlier name means women's market, evidently a part of the market place where women sold goods. Womens Cheaping was the standard name in 1781, but since the early 19th century the name Breadmarket Street has been preferred. (fn. 94)
Kardones Lane (1367); (fn. 95) Cardons Lane (1498). (fn. 96) Named after the Cardon family which held land in the area in the late 13th century, (fn. 97) the lane ran west off Beacon Street on the north side of the later Angel Croft hotel. (fn. 98) It was known as Guard Lane in 1770. (fn. 99) As Cardons Lane once again, it was closed in 1805 when the land was granted by the corporation to Samuel Barker, a Lichfield banker who lived in the house which later became the hotel. (fn. 100)
Gutter Lane (1498); (fn. 101) Chapell Lane (early 16th century); (fn. 102) Gutter Lane otherwise Chappell Lane (1649). (fn. 103) The lane lay on the south side of St. Mary's church and was presumably created by the encroachment of buildings on the market place. In the early 19th century Gutter Lane ran between Chapel Lane and Bore Street. (fn. 104) The name Gutter Lane is evidently an alternative for le pendes or le pendis, names recorded in 1316–17 and 1414 as the boundary of land in the Chapel Lane area, (fn. 105) and 'the little lane called the Pentes' was recorded in 1476–7. (fn. 106) The word means the projecting eaves of a row of buildings.
Wroo Lane (1335); (fn. 107) Slurkockes Lane (1372); (fn. 108) Slorecokes Lane otherwise Wroo Lane (early 16th century); (fn. 109) Cokke Lane (1522); (fn. 110) Cocke Lane (1645); (fn. 111) Cock Alley (1882). (fn. 112) The lane probably existed in 1308 when Henry and Nicholas de le Wroo witnessed a Lichfield charter. (fn. 113) The lane ran east from Bird Street on the north side of the George hotel. Its original name is presumably derived from Middle English wro, meaning a corner and referring to the sharp angle in the lane as it turned towards Minster Pool. The alternative name is probably derived from a personal byname: Reynold Schirloc held land in the area in 1313. (fn. 114)
Cundu' Street (1365–6); (fn. 115) Cundyth Street (1386). (fn. 116) A conduit stood at the junction of Bore Street and Conduit Street in 1482. (fn. 117) In 1386 and 1407 Conduit Street stretched from Bore Street to the dam over Minster Pool. (fn. 118) Part of the southern stretch was then known also as Cook Row. In the late 18th century all of the street from Bore Street to the north side of the market place was known as Butcher Row, itself a later name of Cook Row, and the stretch further north was regarded as part of Dam Street. (fn. 119) The southern stretch was still known as Butcher Row in 1836, but the name had reverted to Conduit Street by 1851. (fn. 120)
Dom Street (1344); (fn. 124) Dam Street (1362). (fn. 125) The name is derived from a dam or causeway which gave access from the Close to the town at the east end of Minster Pool. (fn. 126) By the late 18th century the name was used for the whole of the street running north from the market place, part of which had formerly been known as Conduit Street.
Frogemerc Street (1297); (fn. 129) Frogemere Street (1315); (fn. 130) Frog Lane (1439); (fn. 131) Throgmorton Street otherwise Throgge Lane (1596); (fn. 132) Frogg Lane otherwise Froggmorton Lane (1664). (fn. 133) The earliest names incorporate the Middle English words for frog and for marsh or mere and suggest an area of waterlogged land.
Yolls Lane (1575); (fn. 134) Joles Lane (1599); (fn. 135) Joyles Lane (1610); (fn. 136) George Lane (1730). (fn. 137) The lane follows the line of the town ditch. Its earlier name is probably derived from the Christian name Joel or Juel; it was renamed presumably after George I or II. The earlier name persisted, as Joyles Lane, in the early 19th century. (fn. 138)
Lumbard otherwise Stowe Street (1633); (fn. 139) Lumber, Lumberd Street (later 1640s, 1650s); (fn. 140) Lombard Street (1707). (fn. 141) The street was formerly that part of Stowe Street which lay within the town gate. The present name is evidently derived by analogy from Lombard Street in London.
Robe Street (1336); (fn. 142) Saddler Street (1439); (fn. 143) Robe Street otherwise Saddler Street (1487); (fn. 144) Market Street (1766). (fn. 145) The word robe presumably refers to cloth working or selling, as saddler refers to leather working. See also Rope Street.
Quoniames Lane (1327); (fn. 146) Konyames Lane (1362); (fn. 147) Quonyans Lane (1654). (fn. 148) The name Quoniames is recorded in 1283 in Quoniames well (fn. 149) and is possibly derived from the Latin word quoniam.
So recorded in 1382–3; (fn. 150) last recorded in 1502. (fn. 151) The street lay off Bird Street (fn. 152) and was possibly a corruption of or an alternative name for Robe Street, or part of it: tithingmen for Rope Street presented at the manor court in 1414, but in the later 15th century their place was taken by tithingmen for Saddler Street (the later name of Robe Street). (fn. 153)
St. John Street.
Culstubbe Street (1297); (fn. 154) Seyntiones Street (1411); (fn. 155) St. John Street (1695). (fn. 156) The original name was taken from the nearby Culstubbe marsh (fn. 157) and was derived from Middle English words collen, to pull, and stubbe, a tree-stump. The later name refers to the hospital of St. John the Baptist established by the early 13th century. (fn. 158) In the early 18th century it was normal to distinguish the parts of the street on either side of the town gate as St. John Street within the bars and St. John Street without the bars. (fn. 159) The name Upper St. John Street for the latter was in use by the earlier 19th century. (fn. 160)
Sondford Street (1294); (fn. 161) Sandford Street (1405). (fn. 162) The street was named after a ford over Trunkfield (formerly Sandford) brook. The description Sandford Street beyond the water (ultra aquam) was in use by 1485 for the western continuation. (fn. 163)
So recorded in the later 13th century, (fn. 164) and a burgage in vico de Stowe was recorded in 1258. (fn. 165) The street leads to St. Chad's church at Stowe. It originally stretched on either side of the town gate, (fn. 166) but that part within the gate was known as Lombard Street in the earlier 17th century.
So recorded in 1311. (fn. 167) The street is part of the road to Tamworth.
So recorded in 1297. (fn. 168) The name is presumably derived from Old English waed, a ford, suggesting an area of waterlogged land.