Steps, sisters, spires – and that Dictionary

While moored at Rugeley, Staffordshire…

The canal route into Rugeley from the north crosses the River Trent on a fine aqueduct and then takes a sharp left turn towards the town.  In the corner steep stone steps give access to the northern suburbs.      These are The Bloody Steps, steps forever associated with the brutal murder in 1839 of one Christina Collins, who was travelling by boat from Liverpool to join her husband in London. (See story here.)

Half a mile or so further along is a vaguely familiar sight; now that tree branches are still bare of leaves the view was clearer: two church towers, close together though one is sprouting foliage. An afternoon wander established the reason: the foliage sprouting tower belongs to the original St Augustine’s Church,     declared in the 1800s as in very poor condition and too small for the town’s fast expanding population. Parts of the church (nave, north aisle porch and vestry) were demolished;     just the tower, arcade, lady chapel and chancel are all that remain. Now it is known as The Old Chancel.

Just across the road is the “new” church built in 1822,     a fine example of a light and airy, galleried Georgian church.


A churchyard curiosity is the Tomb of the Two Sisters,      whose bodies were buried in linen shrouds in 1696, although a Parliamentary Act of 1679 required corpses to be buried in wool. A further curiosity is the skull and crossbones on the tomb, regarded as a reminder of mortality…

There was another Sisters story a day later in Lichfield Cathedral,  a very fine marble sculpture (1817) of one sister who had died of fire burns after collecting snowdrops for her tuberculosis-suffering sibling.

Lichfield? Where’s Lichfield then…?  Well it’s a 30 minute round-the-villages bus ride south east of Rugeley – and it has the only three spired cathedral in the UK. What a very beautiful building it is. (Apologies for rain splodged camera lens).

The West Front


Inside the cathedral a 2D alongside a 3D model gives an impression of Lichfield’s shape     – it’s the third cathedral on this site, this one dating from about the 1100s and constructed in Early English Gothic style, typified by high soaring arches supporting a vaulted ceiling.  

There have been modifications, of course, since then, the George Gilbert Scott designed metal Choir Screen being a stunning addition in 1863.   (See far better pictures here).

An even more recent installation is the thirteen year old (yes, only 13 years ago) platform for the altar in the nave     which, to allow a large flat surface for concerts and events, can be lowered to run flush with the rest of the floor. It was during the excavations for this stage-style equipment that ‘the Lichfield Angel’ was discovered, a sculpture dated back to the 8th century

There are other fascinating features to see: a stunning stained glass window depicting Bishop Hacket examining the plans to rebuild the central spire after its destruction during the Civil War.

There are sixteenth century Flemish stained glass windows in the Lady Chapel,    busts in the South Transept of local greats Doctor Samuel Johnson, man of letters, and David Garrick, actor,     then an Epstein bust in bronze in the vestibule outside the Chapter House.      Stunning Minton tiled flooring is to be found in the chancel.

Apart from its highly regarded cathedral what else does Lichfield offer? There is Minster Pool     and some delightful gardens. The city buildings exude a sense of character, there are quirky shops and free museums. Sitting facing his birthplace     is a statue of Doctor Johnson.  

And what a fascinating birthplace it is.      Here visitors can learn about Johnson’s family background, see personal artefacts,   discover who his contemporaries were        and understand the breadth of the great man’s achievements. Some will know of his two volume      Dictionary of the English Language (nine years in preparation, published in 1755). Out in the market square is another statue, one of James Boswell,     Johnson’s friend, travelling companion and biographer.

So, after a first visit it’s thumbs up to Lichfield: a return trip to be added to the To Do list – and, guess what, there’s a theatre here too      – named The Garrick,  of course…


Onwards now, towards Fradley, Fazeley and the Coventry Canal…

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2 Responses

  1. Pat Ponting says:

    My favourite city after Lincoln.Tamworth just being “down the A5” so to speak, Lichfield was regularly visited, especially since the two girls had music lessons there. To the left of the West front you can still see the cannon ball holes….legacy of the English Civil war!

  2. Sue Deveson says:

    Hi Pat,
    How interesting about the cannon ball holes, not that there would have been any chance of spotting them in the deluge! One volunteer arrived in the Chapter House announcing “It’s biblical out there, send for Noah and his ark…!”

    Sue /Boatwif

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