Sunday, 25 February 2018

November 17th 1883

Emma Wilcox, daughter of Mr J. Wilcox, himself well-known as a Lichfield gardener who tended the gardens of many, including Dr Holland, had married and now lived at Orton-on-the-Hill in Leicestershire. Having married her cousin, a tailor by trade, she had not changed her name and still saw the rest of her family quite often as they still lived in Lichfield.

Walking north towards her home from Atherstone, took her to the River Anker which was in flood, as it still does to this day despite steps being taken to rectify the problem. Here she met a boy of just seven years of age, his passage also blocked by the swollen Anker. Although already carrying an umbrella and a bag, she lifted the boy and strode out towards where she knew the bridge to be. We should remember these were times when clothing was largely woollen and much bulkier than today. Thus it was likely the weight of her long clothing which, having absorbed the water, caused her to trip. Together they were washed away downstream.

Later that day a passer-by driving a trap saw her hands above water. Emma was already dead and her hands frozen in that position at the moment of her death and held there by the branches against which her lifeless form was pinned. Looking around he later spotted the boy, now washed up on a bank.

Later the young boy told of how Emma Wilcox had saved his life and continued to support him above water even though he could no longer see her head. Emma Wilcox left behind a husband and six children, the youngest of which was just five months of age.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Blood, Blood and more Blood

The following story was reported in the Lichfield Mercury on Friday October 3rd 1817. It is a tale of quite appalling violence and grief.

On Friday 26th September 1817, a Mr Owen went to visit his married sister and her husband at their home. Admitted by their maidservant, he burst through into the kitchen where his sister and brother-in-law were enjoying their evening meal. Without saying a word he produced a large knife and launched a frenzied attack on Mr Jones. Before long he was suffering from great blood loss due to significant wounds to the head and neck.In trying to restrain Owen, Mrs Jones and the maidservant were also bleeding from wounds to their hands and arms.

With blood still dripping from down her arms, the servant ran into the street screaming for help. Passing by was a Mr Hopkins, a former sailor, and he rushed to her aid. Together they ran back into the house where they found Owen on top of Jones and continuing to slash at his brother-in-law, the victim now bleeding freely from several wounds and in particular a deep gash to the abdomen.

After a brief tussle Hopkins managed to get Owen Jones out of the room and into the street. Meanwhile inside Owen pulled a second knife and began to set about his own sister. He slashed across her forehead, plunged the blade between two ribs, and then pushed the blade into her open mouth ripped her face open to the ear and also split her tongue.

As the maid ran to her mistresses aid, Owen turned his attention to the servant, her name was Mary Berry. Fresh wounds were opened up across her arms and face. Despite severe blood loss the two women managed to get outside to the street, where neighbours took them in awaiting much-needed medical attention. Their recovery seemed unlikely.

By this time Owen had barricaded himself inside the house. Should anyone approach he threatened them with the same butchery as had befallen his sibling and other members of her household. By this time there were hundreds outside the property, including the police who were already planning to storm the building amassing a small army of volunteers. Armed with pokers, clothes-props, and assorted bludgeons - an array of unlikely weapons more often associated with a mob than a rescue party - they poured into the building through front and rear doors and windows, even using ladders to enter through upstairs windows in a co-ordinated and simultaneously assault.

Witnesses outside reported seeing Owen appear at an upstairs window, he whetting one knife against another. Knocked down by a man wielding a clothes-prop, he continued to fight back until, under the sheer weight of numbers, Owen was finally disarmed. Still he raged and struck out at his attackers despite the now severe injuries to his hands and arms.

With hands and feet tethered securely, Owen was carried from the building. A thorough search revealed the young Jones daughter still asleep in her room. She was dressed and taken to the home of a neighbour, while the injured were conveyed to the hospital of St Thomas.

In the aftermath questions were asked as to why this horror had happened. What had Owen got against Jones? What had made a man with an unblemished record and a reputation as a good husband and father initiate such a frenzied and bloody attack?

The story began some months earlier. Jones and his wife had sued for custody of both the Owen family's sons. Thinking, and likely correctly, they would have a better upbringing with their more affluent aunt and her husband, they tried to show the children were in an unstable home. After a bitter and unnecessary court hearing, it was ruled that Owen and his wife were quite capable of bringing up their sons even if they did not have the finances of the Jones household.

While the Owens were successful, the stress proved too much for Mrs Owen and she died a few weeks later. After the funeral, Owen had been taken to a friend's house where, after food and perhaps an unwise amount of drink, had gone to the home of his sister and brother-in-law in Gibraltar Row armed with two sizable knives. He never saw his two sons again.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Joyce Lewis

Joyce lived with her husband at Mancetter in 1557. Both attended church together - and there was the problem, for she was a Protestant while her husband insisted she join him at the Roman Catholic church. Not to be completely outdone she spent the entire service with her back to the altar in protest.

Word of this bizarre situation reached the ears of the Bishop of Lichfield and, as one would expect during the 16th century, he was not a happy bishop. He sent his envoy to visit the Joyce family, with a letter demanding Mr Joyce put his wife in her place. But the husband was not pleased by the bishop's interference and forced the envoy to eat the bishop's letter! He was promptly arrested but released soon after making his apologies.

Attention then turned to Mrs Lewis. She was found guilty of heresy and sentenced to death by burning. However the Sheriff of Lichfield refused to carry out the sentence and, rather than irritate the sheriff, it was decided they would put a hold on events until his term of office ended before the end of the year and his successor took over. The new sheriff had no trouble with the sentence.

Joyce Lewis died at nine on the morning of December 18th 1557.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Edward Wightman

In 1611 Mr Wightman petitioned none other than King James I of England. Edward, a Puritan speaker, was scathing in his criticism of the Church of England. He soon found himself imprisoned at Westminster.

March 9th 1612 saw him taken to the market place in Lichfield, where he was to be burned at the stake for his actions of the previous year. Shortly after the fire was lit Wightman cried out, appealling to his executioners for mercy and repenting for his earlier statements. While the executioners ignored his pleas, the crowd reacted swiftly and broke through to free him from his bonds and the flames, several being burned quite badly themselves. With order restored the officials forced Wightman to read out a statement, repenting for his sins whereupon his chains were removed and he returned to his prison cell.

Yet the bishop was not so easily convinced and he sent for Wightman and demanded he read the statement of repentance a second time. Wightman refused. On April 11th 1612 the bishop sent him back to the market place where he was once again tied to the stake and the fire lit. This time the cordon of officials had been strengthend and none of the watching crowd could intervene.

Edward Wightman would never know he was the last person to be burned at the stake in England for the crime of heresy.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Lichfield's Last Execution

June 1st 1810 is an inauspicious date in history. Indeed the whole year lacks any real major milestones - Napoleon was being Napoleon, Lord Byron went swimming, Chopin's mother went into labour with Frederick, Moose went extinct in the Caucasus, and in Ruthwell in Scotland the Rev Henry Duncan opened the world's first commercial savings bank.

Meanwhile in Lichfield an open cart leaves the Guildhall. From there the procession passes up Boar Street and St John's Street to Gallows Wharf with the Sheriff of Lichfield leading the procession. Here, by the canal bridge on London Road, John Never, William Wightman and James Jackson were, as the local paper termed it at the time, "allowed to say their piece before being despatched to eternity".

The men had earlier been convicted of uttering forged banknotes to a Mr Marshall, a draper in the city of Lichfield. These were the last three men to be executed in the city of Lichfield.

Of particular note is those last words spoken of. Someone, or someones, managed to make note of their last words and within days on sale courtesy of Mr Lomax's Printing Works. Based in Lichfield on the corner of Bird Street and Market Street, these words of wisdom were available for an old penny.

Note the canal was filled in years ago. However there are plans to reinstate this historic stretch of canal and work has already started as can be seen on their website.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Lichfield as a Place Name

Attracted by the sound of a train passing over the bridge just before entering the station at Lichfield City, I noticed the image on the shield on the side of the bridge and reminded of the story of how Lichfield got its name. As we will see, a very wrong story resulting in it still popularly being said to refer to the 'field of corpses'.

For years records suggested this place name described the 'grey battle field' and, when asked which battle, pointed to a 7th century conflict reported by one Caer Lwydgoed who stated the Welsh of Powys captured 1,500 cattle, 80 horses and five bondsmen in a raid. Now the problem here is the writer lived quite some time after the 7th century. Furthermore, he was Welsh and would never have written anything about it should the Welsh of Powys returned home beaten and empty handed - remember the victors write the histories.

During the Middle Ages the origin was said to be Middle English lic feld or 'the open land of corpses'. When questioned about where and when the corpses came into the story, recorders either pointed to the aforemention 7th century battle or to a report by Matthew Paris. It seems 999 Christians were slaughtered here on the order of the Roman Emperor Doicletian. Problem is Mr Paris of St Albans Abbey wrote his report in 1259, rather later than the events he was writing about. Putting this into perspective, Paris is writing almost 750 years ago and a long way back in history as you will surely agree. However he is describing an event which supposedly occurred more than twice that long ago, for Diocletian died in 305 and more than a thousand years earlier.

So how does the story continue to be told? Take a look at the shield depicted on the bridge. It is a depiction of this story of the death of 999 Christians and a copy of an image on the city's seal. In 1549, already 300 years after Mr Paris, the new city corporation adopted the image we see on the seal. More than a century later the corporation repeated the story of the murdered armies of three Christian kings. This was repeated yet again in the 19th century and seems will never go away.

The true origin of the name is 'the grey open land' and indeed has exactly the same origin as that of Letocetum, although today this name is associated with the nearby Roman remains found at Wall on Watling Street.

Further evidence of the nonsense of the Christian armies theory can be seen in the lack of an organised Christian faith in Britain at the time. While Christianity is rightly associated with the mission of Augustine in 597 AD, the Christian faith had had followers since the 1st century AD in the form of the Roman traders and artisans who came to our islands. Yet this was simply one of the untold Roman cults and not an overly popular one as it is monotheistic and frowned upon by the Romans meaning they had to worship in secret. Note also the Roman Empire was effectively Christian after Constantine converted in 313 - but still this is eight years after the latest possible date of the slaughter of three Christian armies.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

UK County Nicknames

After last time looking at the nicknames of the US states, as promised I redress the balance by looking at some of the welcome signs of the counties on the other side of the Atlantic. In alphabetical order and not a complete list starting with England.

Cheshire is Home of England's Finest Gardens

Durham is Land of the Prince Bishops.

Herefordshire, where apparently you can.

Kent is the Garden of England.

Lancashire is a place where everyone matters.

Leicestershire is the Heart of Rural England.

Northamptonshire where you can apparently let yourself grow.

Northumberland is England's Border Country

Nottinghamshire is Robin Hood County.

Stafforshire is the Creative County.

Warwickshire is Shakespeare's County.

And in Scotland

Aberdeenshire is, apparently, from mountain to sea the very best of Scotland.

Clackmannshire is more than you imagine, or say it seems.

Kinrossshire was Scotland's first fairtrade county.

Moray is malt whisky country.

And in Wales

Denbighshire makes one wonder whether if it is rife with disease as it proclaims "you'll never leave".

And in Northern Ireland

Antrim is proud to be Northern Ireland's first fairtrade borough.

Fermanagh welcomes you naturally.