A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14, Lichfield. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1990.
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Fifty or more surviving houses in the city, in addition to those in the Close, retain at least part of their timber-framed structure. (fn. 1) They are generally of two storeys or of two storeys with attics. Most of the street fronts in the central area, as in Market Street, Bore Street, Lombard Street, and Greenhill, are jettied at each floor, and the roof lines are of continuous gables with ridges at the same level as that of the main roof. The gables either rise from just above the jetty, as at nos. 11 and 13 Market Street, or rest upon a section of wall, as at no. 16 Market Street. Where the framing is exposed the gables are usually the area of most elaborate decoration, in square panels with shaped braces. Several houses have herring-bone studding to the first floor, such as Lichfield House (the Tudor Café) in Bore Street. (fn. 2) The survival of original framing to the ground floor is not common, but where it occurs it is undecorated. The few houses with close studding, such as those in Vicars' Close (fn. 3) and no. 11 Lombard Street, or with cruck framing, such as no. 11 Greenhill, may be earlier than most of the box-framed buildings, which are probably of the later 16th and earlier 17th century. A number of that period in Stowe Street were demolished in the 1960s. (fn. 4)
Despite its local availability there is no evidence for the widespread use of ashlar in domestic buildings. The fact that there were a few specific references to stone houses in the late Middle Ages and the 16th century is probably itself an indication that they were exceptional. A notable example was the house on the corner of Beacon Street and Shaw Lane occupied by the archdeacons of Chester. (fn. 5) The present distribution of timber-framed buildings suggests that timber remained the usual walling material until the late 17th century, when it was displaced by brick. As early as around the end of the 15th century brick was used for major work such as St. John's hospital, nos. 23 and 24 the Close, a house on the site of no. 19 the Close, and the clerestory of St. Chad's church at Stowe. In 1670 it was used for Minors's School. (fn. 6) Its general use for houses may have begun with the building in 1682 of the house for the headmaster of the grammar school, no. 45 St. John Street, now part of the offices of Lichfield District council. (fn. 7) Built of dark red brick, it is of two storeys with attics and has bracketed eaves and a hipped roof. The front is of four bays, and the plan is roughly square, with the stairs at the centre. The interior was rearranged in the 18th century; original fittings, mostly plank-built doors, survive only on the upper floors. The Deanery (1707) is also of brick, but, like the bishop's palace, a stone building of 1687, it belongs more to the country-house tradition than to town architecture.
The notable feature of Lichfield houses in the earlier 18th century is the occurrence of baroque elements in the decoration of the street façades. The most elaborate is that of Donegal House in Bore Street, which was built in 1730 for James Robinson, a mercer, probably to the design of Francis Smith of Warwick. (fn. 8) The front is of five bays and three storeys on a basement, and the ends are marked by pilasters which support a heavily moulded cornice. The central doorway has a segmental pediment on Tuscan columns and supports the cill and architrave of the central window on the first floor. The window has a triangular pediment which similarly runs into the architrave of the corresponding window on the second floor. That has a shaped head flanking a prominent keystone which runs into the cornice. The other windows are without architraves, but they have elaborately shaped stone heads with tabled keystones; those on the two upper floors also have aprons below the cills. Several original panelled rooms and an original staircase survive.
Elements of the Donegal House elevation occur on several other houses but nowhere else with such richness. Less elaborate shaped window heads are features of nos. 8–10 Bird Street, no. 17 Bird Street, and no. 15 Market Street. The use of stone architraves to emphasize the central bay can be seen at nos. 37–39 Lombard Street, no. 20 Beacon Street, and nos. 12–14 Conduit Street where the second-floor keystone rises into a heavily moulded cornice. Concurrently there was a plainer style which continued the late 17th-century tradition of plain fronts with dentil cornices below steeply pitched roofs, such as that at nos. 24–26 Bore Street.
After the mid 18th century the most fashionable element of Lichfield house fronts was the venetian window, which was either centrally placed over the entrance, as at no. 73 St. John Street, or used to light the principal rooms on the ground and first floors, as at no. 67 St. John Street (Davidson House) and Darwin House in Beacon Street. (fn. 9) The latter, dating from c. 1760, has two other features which were common in Lichfield at the time and may have continued for the rest of the century, namely a string course which continues the line of the first-floor cills and a shallow cornice supported on curved brackets. By the later 18th century roof pitches were generally low, as a result of the use of slate instead of tile, and even if not hidden by a parapet they are hardly visible from the street.
Sophisticated neo-classical decoration is not common in the city. It appears first at the George hotel in Bird Street, which has been described as one of the best late 18th-century hotel buildings in the country. (fn. 10) It has a front of three storeys and eleven bays. The five central bays are rusticated on the ground floor, where they incorporate the former carriage entrance, and they have pilasters extending up the second and third floors, marking the assembly room within.
The simplest of styles was used for most houses in the early 19th century. Cornices surviving from that period are shallow and moulded; there are no architraves to the windows, most of which do not have a keystone; the entrance is framed by a wooden doorcase which usually has a plain fanlight. Stuccoed brickwork, which was used at Westgate House in Beacon Street probably in the later 18th century, was occasionally used for architectural effect in the early 19th century. Examples are the former National Westminster Bank on the corner of Bird Street and the Friary and no. 28 St. John Street, now St. John's preparatory school, which also has a ground-floor colonnade along the street front. (fn. 11) Lichfield is unusual in having no regency terraces; even a designed pair of houses, such as nos. 48–50 Beacon Street, is uncommon. The Gothic Revival of the 19th century made little impact on the city's domestic architecture. There is a terrace of cottages with Gothic-style windows in Levetts Fields, built by the mid 1830s, and Minster Cottage in Minster Pool Walk is a small Gothic villa of the 1840s in painted stucco with ornamental bargeboards. (fn. 12) The multi-coloured brick style of the mid and later 19th century, which was used in the Corn Exchange of 1850, (fn. 13) was not adopted for houses in Lichfield.
In the four main streets of the town centre (Market Street, Bore Street, Wade Street, and Frog Lane) it is noticeable that there is no planned rear access to individual properties. Many still have service passages, usually at the side of the site and so leaving the maximum clear frontage for the house or shop. A few passages are wide enough for a cart, but most are sufficient only for a pedestrian.
The Roman Ryknild Street ran through the south-east part of the present city, where its line is preserved by modern roads. (fn. 14) The name was used in the mid 1270s and in 1442, but in the 14th and early 15th century the road was called Stony Street. (fn. 15) Before the boundary changes of 1934 and 1980 much of the city boundary followed the line of the road. North-east of Lichfield the line is followed by the Burton road which was of importance by the 12th century as part of the route between the south-west and the north-east of the country. It was used in 1175 and 1181 by Henry II and on many occasions by John and Henry III, all of them staying at Lichfield. (fn. 16) It is indeed probable that Ryknild Street continued to be important after the Romano-British period and therefore influenced the choice of Lichfield as the site for an episcopal seat in the later 7th century. (fn. 17) Further south it crossed Watling Street near Wall.
The medieval route from London to Chester and the north-west also ran through Lichfield, bringing Henry III there many times. (fn. 18) It approached the city from the south over Longbridge, mentioned in the 14th century and presumably then a causeway across marshy ground by Darnford brook. (fn. 19) In 1575 the city bailiffs paid for two days' work at Longbridge 'to cast down the way' in preparation for Elizabeth I's visit to Lichfield. (fn. 20) Its course from the city's southern boundary to the bridge was realigned c. 1700. During a law suit of the 1740s Richard Dyott of Freeford stated that originally the road ran across 'low and loamy land' to the west and was adequate so long as carriage was mainly by packhorse. With the increase of inland trade, 'particularly the pot trade from Burslem in Staffordshire and the manufactures between Manchester and London and other places', the road became 'cut and galled' by wheeled traffic. It had a further disadvantage in that it 'went with an elbow'. The adjoining Old field, which was used for grazing sheep, was higher ground, and 'people gradually left the old road and went directly over the higher ground … and by degrees made that the common road'. (fn. 21)
In the north of the city the road followed Beacon Street, described as the road to Stafford in the later 13th century, (fn. 22) and Cross in Hand Lane. It branched off to follow the lane running along the north-west boundary which was still known as Old London Road in 1835. The cross with the hand which stood at the fork by the 15th century was probably a direction post. (fn. 23) In 1770 the course of the road was straightened to avoid the hollow way in Cross in Hand Lane by means of a new line to the east, the present Stafford Road. (fn. 24)
In 1729 Lichfield became the hub of a system of turnpike roads. A trust was established that year to administer the Staffordshire section of the London-Chester road, the Lichfield-Burton road, the Lichfield-Birmingham road as far as Shenstone, and the Lichfield-Walsall road as far as Muckley Corner on Watling Street. (fn. 25) The road branching from the London-Chester road and continuing to High Bridges at Handsacre in Armitage was also included. Originally its route through the city followed Wheel Lane and Grange Lane, but under an Act of 1783 the route was changed to Stafford Road and Featherbed Lane on the north-western boundary. (fn. 26) The Lichfield-Tamworth road was turnpiked in 1770. (fn. 27) The sections of the turnpike roads through the city centre were exempted from the jurisdiction of the turnpike trustees, who in 1757 declared them to be 'the streets within the bar gates'. (fn. 28) The Lichfield Improvement Act of 1806 gave the improvement commissioners control of those streets and of the streets in the suburbs; in 1833 the suburbs were defined by the trustees as extending to the Wheel inn in Beacon Street on the north, the Roman Catholic chapel in St. John Street on the south, St. Michael's lich gates on the east, and the brook in Queen Street on the west. (fn. 29) The Lichfield part of the London-Chester road was disturnpiked in 1870, along with Featherbed Lane. The Shenstone road was disturnpiked in 1875, the Burton and Muckley Corner roads in 1879, and the Tamworth road in 1882. (fn. 30)
A tollhouse had been established by the early 1730s on the corner of Beacon Street and Wheel Lane with gates across each road. (fn. 31) People coming into the city from a short distance outside objected to having to pay tolls there, and in 1766 an attempt was made to replace the house and gates with two others on the city boundary. (fn. 32) The attempt was unsuccessful, but in 1782 the gates were removed and replaced by others further north outside the city. (fn. 33)
The bridge in Bird Street was at first too narrow for coaches, which had to go round by Bore Street, Lombard Street, Stowe Street, and Gaia Lane. The bridge was widened by the Conduit Lands trustees in the late 1760s so that coaches could use Bird Street. (fn. 34) It remained unsatisfactory, and the approach along Bird Street was still narrow. The 1806 Act empowered the improvement commissioners to rebuild the bridge. They lacked the funds to do so, and in 1815 another Act established a special commission to rebuild it. (fn. 35) Work began in 1816 to the design of Joseph Potter the elder and was finished in 1817. To raise the necessary money a tollgate was erected near the junction of Beacon Street and Gaia Lane; it was still in use in 1824. (fn. 36) In addition Bird Street was widened. (fn. 37)
Other road improvements were carried out under an Act of 1832. (fn. 38) On the Muckley Corner road Queen Street (so named by 1841) and its Walsall Road extension were built to bypass the curve along Lower Sandford Street and through Leomansley; one aim was to make access to the city easier for coal carts. (fn. 39) On the Burton road Trent Valley Road and its continuation into Streethay replaced the route along Burton Old Road and part of the former Ryknild Street. (fn. 40) Several relief roads have been built in the 20th century. (fn. 41)
Lichfield was a post town on the route between London and Ireland by the later 1570s. (fn. 42) It was on the route of coaches between London and Chester in the late 1650s. (fn. 43) James Rixam, who was junior bailiff in 1656–7, operated as a carrier between Lichfield and London in 1662, and in 1681 William Old ran a service to London and back every three weeks. (fn. 44) The main coaching inns were the Swan and the George, both in Bird Street. The Swan existed as an inn by 1362, although the present building dates from the late 18th century; the London coach called there by 1662. It was closed as an hotel in 1988. (fn. 45) The George existed by 1498, and it too is a late 18th-century building. (fn. 46)
In the earlier 1790s the three principal inns were the George, the Swan, and the Talbot on the corner of Bird Street and Bore Street. Converted from a private house between 1760 and 1772, the Talbot, unlike the other two, catered only 'for gentlemen on horseback'. The London-Chester and London-Liverpool mail coaches passed through in each direction every day. Another coach between London and Liverpool also passed through daily in each direction, while the Royal Chester coach from London called every other weekday and returned on the following days. There was a coach running from Birmingham to Sheffield and back six days a week, and another from Birmingham to Manchester and back three days a week. A waggon left for London from the Goat's Head in Breadmarket Street every Monday. (fn. 47)
In the mid 1830s Lichfield was still much frequented by travellers, both on the route between London and Liverpool (rather than Chester) and on that between Birmingham and the West Riding of Yorkshire. The coaching inns were the George, the Swan, the Talbot, the Old Crown in Bore Street, in existence by 1722, and the King's Head in Bird Street, known as such by 1694 but in existence as the Antelope by 1495 and later called the Bush. Carriers operated from the King's Head, the Goat's Head, the Turk's Head in Sandford Street, the Scales in Market Street, the Dolphin and the Woolpack, both in Bore Street, and the Coach and Horses and the Lord Nelson, both in St. John Street. (fn. 48)
The railways put at end to Lichfield's longdistance coaches, even before there was a railway through the city. The last such coach through Lichfield, the Chester mail, was discontinued in 1838. Instead coaches were introduced that year running to the railway station at Stafford and to the unfinished London-Birmingham line at Denbigh Hall near Bletchley (Bucks.). (fn. 49) In 1841 there were omnibuses to Birmingham, Rugeley, and Tamworth, and although in 1844 there were still coaches to Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Stafford, and Uttoxeter, by 1850 there were only omnibuses. One ran to Birmingham, and the others ran from the George and the Swan to Lichfield's two railway stations. (fn. 50) The Birmingham omnibus ceased running c. 1870, and by 1912 the George omnibus served City station and that from the Swan Trent Valley station. (fn. 51)
The first Lichfield motor bus, running to Whittington, was introduced in 1913 by Jones & Co., a firm of motor-car hirers in Bird Street. By 1916 there was a service to Tamworth from Market Square, and in the earlier 1920s motor buses ran from Lichfield to many parts of the county. (fn. 52) A service was introduced between Lichfield and Walsall in 1927 and one between Lichfield and Hanley in 1931. (fn. 53) The omnibus from the Swan ceased to operate in 1923, and that from the George evidently stopped running soon afterwards. (fn. 54) Buses were transferred from Market Square to a bus station in the Friary opened in 1952 as a temporary measure; the Walsall buses continued to use a terminus out side City station. (fn. 55) A permanent station was opened in the new stretch of Birmingham Road opposite the station c. 1964. (fn. 56)
In 1759 a canal was proposed from Minster Pool or Stowe Pool to the Trent at Weston (Derb.), but the scheme came to nothing. (fn. 57) In the 1760s and 1770s there were two other schemes, also unsuccessful, for canals via Lichfield linking Birmingham and the Black Country with the Trent and Mersey Canal, completed in 1777. (fn. 58) There was, however, a wharf on the Trent and Mersey at King's Bromley which served the city, and the opening of the canal greatly reduced the cost of carriage between Manchester and Lichfield. (fn. 59) The stretch of the Coventry Canal east of the city was completed in 1788, and by 1817 there was a wharf on the Burton road on the StreethayWhittington boundary. (fn. 60) The Wyrley and Essington Canal, opened from the Birmingham Canal near Wolverhampton to the Coventry Canal at Huddlesford in Whittington in 1797, ran through the south side of the city. By 1799 cheap coal was being sold at a wharf provided by the corporation. (fn. 61) In 1817 it was stated that an average of 606 boats a year were unloading 10,302 tons of goods at the six or more wharfs in the city; the two busiest were those on either side of London Road. (fn. 62) The Lichfield stretch of the canal was closed in 1954, but for many years previously it had been used only by maintenance boats. Part of it was filled in soon after its closure. (fn. 63)
The Trent Valley Railway from Stafford to the Birmingham-London line at Rugby was opened along the north-east boundary of the city in 1847, with a station and station master's house north of the Burton road on the Streethay side of the boundary. The railway's distance from the city centre seems to have been the result of geographical considerations rather than local opposition. (fn. 64) In 1849 the South Staffordshire Railway from Walsall to the Midland Railway at Wychnor, in Tatenhill, was opened through Lichfield. It had a station, City, east of St. John Street and another, Trent Valley Junction, near the point in Streethay where it crossed the Trent Valley Railway. (fn. 65) City station was rebuilt in 1884 when the line from Birmingham to Sutton Coldfield was extended to join the South Staffordshire line at Lichfield. (fn. 66) The bridge by which the railway crosses St. John Street dates from 1849. It was designed by Thomas Johnson of Lichfield to evoke a city gate, with battlements, heraldic decoration, and side towers containing multi-arched pedestrian ways. It was extensively altered when the track was widened for the line from Birmingham; the pedestrian ways were removed in 1969. (fn. 67)
The two stations in Streethay were replaced in 1871 by a single Trent Valley station where the lines cross. Low Level and High Level platforms served the Trent Valley and the South Staffordshire lines respectively. (fn. 68) The Trent Valley station of 1847 was retained as the station master's house; it was demolished in 1971. (fn. 69) The High Level was closed in 1965; its buildings had been burnt down some years before and had not been replaced. The Low Level buildings were demolished in 1969 and rebuilt on a modest scale. (fn. 70) The line to Walsall was closed for passengers in 1965 and for freight in 1984, although it continued to serve an oil depot at Brownhills. (fn. 71) In 1988 the Trent Valley High Level platforms were reopened for passengers and the service between Birmingham and Lichfield City was extended there. (fn. 72)