1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lichfield

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LICHFIELD, a city, county of a city, and municipal borough in the Lichfield parliamentary division of Staffordshire, England, 118 m. N.W. from London. Pop. (1901) 7902. The London and North-Western railway has stations at Trent Valley Junction on the main line, and in the city on a branch westward. The town lies in a pleasant country, on a small stream draining eastward to the Trent, with low hills to the E. and S. The cathedral is small (the full internal length is only 370 ft., and the breadth of the nave 68 ft.), but beautiful in both situation and style. It stands near a picturesque sheet of water named Minster Pool. The present building dates from various periods in the 13th and early 14th centuries, but the various portions cannot be allocated to fixed years, as the old archives were destroyed during the Civil Wars of the 17th century. The earlier records of the church are equally doubtful. A Saxon church founded by St Chad, who was subsequently enshrined here, occupied the site from the close of the 7th century; of its Norman successor portions of the foundations have been excavated, but no record exists either of its date or of its builders. The fine exterior of the cathedral exhibits the feature, unique in England, of a lofty central and two lesser western spires, of which the central, 252 ft. high, is a restoration attributed to Sir Christopher Wren after its destruction during the Civil Wars. The west front is composed of three stages of ornate arcading, with niches containing statues, of which most are modern. Within, the south transept shows simple Early English work, the north transept and chapter house more ornate work of a later period in that style, the nave, with its geometrical ornament, marks the transition to the Decorated style, while the Lady chapel is a beautiful specimen of fully developed Decorated work with an apsidal east end. The west front probably falls in date between the nave and the Lady chapel. Among numerous monuments are—memorials to Samuel Johnson, a native of Lichfield, and to David Garrick, who spent his early life and was educated here; a monument to Major Hodson, who fell in the Indian mutiny, and whose father was canon of Lichfield; the tomb of Bishop Hacket, who restored the cathedral after the Civil Wars; and a remarkable effigy of Perpendicular date displaying Sir John Stanley stripped to the waist and awaiting chastisement. Here is also the “Sleeping Children,” a masterpiece by Chantrey (1817).

A picturesque bishop’s palace (1687) and a theological college (1857) are adjacent to the cathedral. The diocese covers the greater part of Staffordshire and about half the parishes in Shropshire, with small portions of Cheshire and Derbyshire. The church of St Chad is ancient though extensively restored; on its site St Chad is said to have occupied a hermit’s cell. The principal schools are those of King Edward and St Chad. There are many picturesque half-timbered and other old houses, among which is that in which Johnson was born, which stands in the market-place, and is the property of the corporation and opened to the public. There is also in the market place a statue to Johnson. A fair is held annually on Whit-Monday, accompanied by a pageant of ancient origin. Brewing is the principal industry, and in the neighbourhood are large market gardens. The city is governed by a mayor, 6 aldermen and 18 councillors. Area, 3475 acres.

There is a tradition that “Christianfield” near Lichfield was the site of the martyrdom of a thousand Christians during the persecutions of Maximian about 286, but there is no evidence in support of the tradition. At Wall, 3 m. from the present city, there was a Romano-British village called Letocetum (“grey wood”), from which the first half of the name Lichfield is derived. The first authentic notice of Lichfield (Lyecidfelth, Lychfeld, Litchfield) occurs in Bede’s history where it is mentioned as the place where St Chad fixed the episcopal see of the Mercians. After the foundation of the see by St Chad in 669, it was raised in 786 by Pope Adrian through the influence of Offa, King of Mercia, to the dignity of an archbishopric, but in 803 the primacy was restored to Canterbury. In 1075 the see of Lichfield was removed to Chester, and thence a few years later to Coventry, but it was restored in 1148. At the time of the Domesday Survey Lichfield was held by the bishop of Chester: it is not called a borough, and it was a small village, whence, on account of its insignificance, the see had been moved. The lordship and manor of the town were held by the bishop until the reign of Edward VI., when they were leased to the corporation. There is evidence that a castle existed here in the time of Bishop Roger Clinton (temp. Henry I.), and a footpath near the grammar-school retains the name of Castle-ditch. Richard II. gave a charter (1387) for the foundation of the gild of St Mary and St John the Baptist; this gild obtained the whole local government, which it exercised until its dissolution by Edward VI., who incorporated the town (1548), vesting the government in two bailiffs and twenty-four burgesses; further charters were given by Mary, James I. and Charles II. (1664), the last, incorporating it under the title of the “bailiffs and citizens of the city of Lichfield,” was the governing charter until 1835; under this charter the governing body consisted of two bailiffs and twenty-four brethren. Lichfield sent two members to the parliament of 1304 and to a few succeeding parliaments, but the representation did not become regular until 1552; in 1867 it lost one member, and in 1885 its representation was merged in that of the county. By the charter of James I. the market day was changed from Wednesday to Tuesday and Friday; the Tuesday market disappeared during the 19th century; the only existing fair is a small pleasure fair of ancient origin held on Ash-Wednesday; the annual fête on Whit-Monday claims to date from the time of Alfred. In the Civil Wars Lichfield was divided. The cathedral authorities with a certain following were for the king, but the townsfolk generally sided with the parliament, and this led to the fortification of the close in 1643. Lord Brooke, notorious for his hostility to the church, came against it, but was killed by a deflected bullet on St Chad’s day, an accident welcomed as a miracle by the Royalists. The close yielded and was retaken by Prince Rupert in this year; but on the breakdown of the king’s cause in 1646 it again surrendered. The cathedral suffered terrible damage in these years.

See Rev. T. Harwood, Hist. and Antiquities of Church and City of Lichfield (1806), Victoria County History, Stafford.