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Archive for September, 2010

The first adventure for Abe and Ernst is aptly going to be to do with windmills, Don Quijote´s giants in the landscape. Ernst and Abe are not going to have much luck in finding windmills around Tamworth, as there isn´t any. Tamworth being crisscrossed by rivers was ideally suited for watermills.  There were though at least a couple of windmills nearby in the not too distant past, with one more ‘maybe’ windmill.

Windmill Hill, Whittington

This is the ‘maybe’ windmill. In the fields between the village of Whittington and Hopwas  stands Windmill Hill, at the end of windmill lane( in the above present day ordnance map its marked in orange, notice the firing range nearby…

Abe and Ernst doing the research in the reference part of Tamworth library, there´s wasn´t much out there, basically there´s just the 1899-1903  ordnance map below with windmill hill marked. Thats about it that´s all there they have to go on. It´s a great location for a windmill but its not recorded in any map dating it as far back as 1815, so either  there was a windmill here before that or it was wishful thinking when it came to naming the hill.

I wonder if Whittington History Society know more about it?

Windmill hill is at one of the highest points in the area, and would have been seen for miles around like a smaller version of the present day Lichfield transmitter mast, if it did indeed exist.

The 1899-1903 ordnance map with Windmill Hill clearly marked, is the associated windmill lane some sort of remnant path? did it once lead to the windmill?

Abe and Ernst tried to check these questions and more out on the ground. The bad news is that there´s a firing range nearby used by the military and they were caught in the cross-fire. Will they survive? you´ll have to wait…………………….

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WHERE AM I?

Ok this blog with the past landscapes around Tamworth is perhaps surprisingly being done away from Tamworth, in a place that couldn´t really be more different, Valencia in Spain. I´ve been writing about the explorations done over this summer and musings since then. As I´m not currently inhabiting that landscape I can only write about those past experiences I can´t reflect on what I´m seeing, just memories.  So as Tamworths Timehikes is a sort of SIM world,a sort of virtual world, that I don´t actually inhabit I just enjoy exploring I´ve  arrived at a solution: The creation of an avatar or virtual character . This avatar is going to actively do the searching, finding out and maybe adventures along the way around Tamworth. effectively they are going to be inhabiting Tamworth. This means I´ll be able to have fun creating the drawings and stories and not just filing off posts.

Ok here’s the introductions the name of the character is  Abe and just so he doesn´t get lonely his sidekicks called Ernst.  I´ll see how this goes and I´ll probably be doing changes here and there, as this is unexplored territory.

I´ve sent them off by train and there they are below in the train, reviewing the Timehikes map and info  given to  them:

Forgot to give them tickets, so they´re hiding in the toilets until all is clear

The skyline of towers and castle means they´re  finally arriving at Tamworth train station,

First slightly static type adventure coming soon….

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Just a bit of explaining of the sub-heading ” landscape history voyeurism” before I get deeper into Wigginton park´s past.

All this as the title suggests has something of voyeurism about it. The obsession with uncovering the landscape, sneaking around has definitely got something of the perv about it. Even the action of  nosing around in places that are not commonly frequented, looking suspicious(make sure no mac is worn) or taking photos of apparent mundane objects has something voyeuristic about it. So maybe all those ´investigaters´ are just a bunch of voyeurs´!But I suppose    that you are  actually creating something which is positive at least for the person doing it, so onwards  to peek below the sensual curves of Wigginton Park.

The fact that the wigginton estate was created at the start of the 19th century and the fields were left to revert to grass means that it’s as if the area was covered in a green shroud,  preserving what´s underneath, and leaving suggestive shapes .Its unlike other areas that have been ploughed over and urbanised since the early 19th century. These suggestive shapes have led others to observe and think about what those shapes tell us. For example this letter from the herald pasted below.

Intrigued by a ‘lost palace’

Thursday, October 01, 2009, 14:20

WITH regards to the recent stories on Wigginton Park.

In the 70s when I played rugby at Tamworth, I used to see in the low sun of a winter’s afternoon some shapes in the grassed area opposite the entrance to the club.This intrigued me as I thought it looked like the remains of a ‘lost village’ or large building.I could find no map references, and nether could Birmingham University or the county archaeology department. My interest was heightened at this time because there was local discussion as to the whereabouts of Offa’s palace.

Now this site is unusually flat, and would have commanded a strategic position over the River Tame and the ford at Hopwas. Unfortunately the council built a BMX track over the site shortly after I raised my thoughts with them. However, with the advent of Internet access to satellite imagery you can just make out the patterns I saw back then. Perhaps with the interest in things Anglo Saxon, and the proposal to develop the site, an investigation may take place.

A. Smith

I think there’s a case for that medieval village Mr Smith mentions, as a key sign is there, possible evidence of a  medieval ridge and furrow system. Ridge and furrow is the name given to the regular humps and troughs that can sometimes be found on ancient fields and is the result of ploughing over a long period of time. This is usually a medieval practice although continued into early modern times. People owned these  different strips of land,which were continually ploughed.  this system was obliterated by Enclosure, of which modern fields and hedges are in a large part a result.

In the grassland of the park you can´t fail to notice the undulating landscape, especially in the lower areas of Wigginton Park.

It´s a perfect candidate for a preserved Medieval ridge and as mentioned above, the area is undisturbed post 1815  furrow system. Also the troughs and bumps are separated by more than 2 metres in line with characteristics for medieval ridge and farrow.

Above is an example from Nottinghamshire to compare

This above LIDAR image of Wigginton park  with ordnance map below it  shows the potential candidate, a ridge and furrow medieval field system, with at least 2 different fields.( the pit is the gravel pit mentioned in the previous post). Notice the way the rows  curve to the left towards  the end. Could this be a result of early middle ages practice of ploughing with large teams of oxen turning left along the headland, resulting in a twist to the left of each furrow. Anyway from other nearby  sites like Amington and Stanfold, where there are documented medieval RAF systems, the medieval village is never far away. So maybe Mr Smith,   was right all along.

The google image above  shown in previous post, with potential evidence of ridge and furrow systems(the arrows point to old remnant paths)

Finally going as deep as possible . From  looking at arch reports for area, there existed  an excavated roman site in the area,  probably a romano-briton farmstead or military post complete with a sandal some roman left behind, right next to Wigginton park, so it’s totally feasible to speculate that the area was farmed and inhabited in Roman times. It’s now underneath Lichfield Industrial estate together with those hapless agency workers.

This is updated information added after this post was published: Found out there´s a an initiative called friends of Wigginton park, started by a local school with a page on facebook, they´re going for green flag status, looking at the green flag awards I think there´s even potential for Green heritage site status.

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Continuing with the earlier post, Before Suburbia, I´m moved along the lost driveway onto Wigginton park, the great big park in the middle of the housing estates of Coton Green and Leyfields, Tamworth. It’s a great monument to the pleasure of grass. When I´ve visited Tamworth with a foreign acquaintance, I only take off their blindfold at a select group of places, including the castle grounds, library/ church and yes Wigginton park, its safe to say they are suitably impressed by the gently sloping park with it´s almost lurid greenery.

Well there´s the introduction, now in the words of the great George Clinton “let’s get deep, get real deep” For reasons of time and sanity,  I´m going to split this  into 2 posts, this one DEEP and the next one REAL DEEP, each  going deeper into Wigginton park´s  past. So here goes

DEEP

Wigginton park conforms approximately to the former Wigginton estate.The information on the estate below  is essentially a reworking of what´s on  Tamworth heritage trust site The Wigginton estate was created at the beginning of the 19th century by John Clarke and his wife Elizabeth. They let the area revert to grass and planted trees, designing the area as a pleasant park. They built a couple of lodges one at the end of Copes drive, now near the Leyfields shops and one called Waterloo  on the western side close to the railway tunnel entrance to Lichfield industrial estate. No evidence remains of them and looking at maps appear to have been demolished in the first part of the 20th century. What does remain is their main residence, nowadays called Wigginton lodge, home of Tamworth rugby club and pub! although never been in there. It´s an attractive white mansion, detailed technical information can be found on the english heritage site. John Clarke an eminent surgeon died in 1815. His brother Charles Clarke inherited it soon after. Like his brother Charles was a surgeon, specialising in children’s ailments. He went onto achieve great fame in the field and became personal physician of Queen Adelaide, wife of King William IV. After his death it was sold to the Hamel family. Its auction in 1852 appears in the Solicitors journal, published online. I´ve pasted it below, giving you an idea of life in Wigginton lodge at the time, I love the bit about 3 hours train journey away from London.

Apart from the mansion (above) , and the park itself there’s number of other reminders of the estate’s past.

Above is the 1889 ordnance map with some of the places mentioned in the post pointed out in orange

A lot of the trees would have been planted at the time of it´s creation and after. There´s a particularly leafless creepy example. which seems to be some tree version of the living dead. I´ve got no pictures of it, instead I´ve got one of the tree above that’s probably judging by its age a mute witness to the Waterloo lodge that once  stood next to it.


Above is an old gateway with detail on right, situated next to the original mansion.

The evidence of gravel pits is still there as they appear on the 1884-85 ordnance map. Interestingly the biggest gravel pit as are others in Hopwas are locally known as bombholes. The connotations are a lot more interesting than gravel pits and makes you think of a Lufwaffe pilot gone astray and bombing  Wigginton park, with one hell of a bomb by the looks of the hole. It’s another urban legend in the making, so make sure to tell the kids the´re called “bombholes”


Above, Theres no evidence of the paths that crisscross the estate on the  1901 ordnance map today. Putting the clock back on the google earth image to 2003 though, the genuinely elusive paths are revealed(pointed out with orange arrows)! probably after a dry summer.

There´s more, that I didn´t get a chance to check out over summer. For example on the 1884 ordnance map, an icehouse and saw pit are indicated, is there any evidence  left now?

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THE WOODHOUSE 1730-2010

This is a pretty apt subject for heritage weekend with a heavy dose of bitter irony. It´s official The Woodhouse, Hopwas  is being demolished. Photos of the fenced off area appeared on the Midlands heritage forum and my spot listing application  failed at the last hurdle with the ministry of culture. Many thanks for the support and information from people within heritage and others.

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This is first in a series of posts  looking at evidence of  BS(before suburbia) pasts  within the housing estate, focusing on Leyfields, Tamworth the estate I grew up in. Travelling along Comberford road in direction to Elford, you´ll come across a drive to the left called Copes drive, it’s an unkept road at the start, full of potholes, the result of some sort of impasse probably between owners and local authorities. It’s the road that I used to use to travel to school as the shortest way to school from Leyfields. Its turns out that this shortcut has  a long history. It’ s  a remnant path or elusive road(fascinating description on Geoff´s BLDG blog), an anomaly remaining from another time, stubbornly refusing to go away.  You can find these ´lost reminders of past built environments´throughout suburbia and I´ll post about other ones found.

This unassuming drive  goes back to at least the late 1700´s(its lost in the mists of time before that, to me anyway), it’s called Copes drive in reference to the owner of the land in the late 18th century Alexander Cope. Later on it was the main thoroughfare to the  Wigginton Lodge estate belonging to distinguished surgeons  the Clarkes.  After Leyfields housing estate was built in the1950´s/60´s it was begrudgingly incorporated into the housing  estate .

Ordnance survey first series, 1834 clearly showing Copes drives connecting Wiggington lodge with Burton Turnpike road(now Comberford road)

The hedge on one side at the start, and the recently sawn down tree at the start are reminders of its age. This part of the drive  with its pot holed surface , is an accidental nod to its ancient pre-tarmaced days.

1902 ordnance survey map, with the surviving Copes drive highlighted. Notice that it´s the first part of the entrance to Wigginton lodge

If you carry on down Copes drive, leave it and cross onto the green which heads to  the famed Leyfields Chippy and former hangout of the defunct Leyfields Barmy Army gang of local legend, you´ll notice a line of horse- chestnut trees. After braving the long grass perfect for hiding dog shit, the trees magically line up in two rows revealing the remnants of  the old tree-lined drive smack bang in the middle of the killing fields of Leyfields! I don´t know much about dating trees but I could imagine them being easily over a 100 years old. The fact that they are all horse-chestnut trees and all look around the same age, leads to think they were deliberately planted at the same time along the drive. Walking in the middle of the row you can see shallow holes where other chestnut trees once were. Theres no path between them now but the trees mark the spot and the walk to the shops will never be the same again.

the tree-lined remnant path.

extremely detailed 1902 ordnance map, with the  tree-lined drive highlighted.

google satellite image with evidence of tree-lined drive highlighted in orange.

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Just when I was trying to move on from the woodhouse, having done everything I could without  chaining myself to the place, news comes that the place is even more interesting and older than thought. This has reignited my indignation and campaign fervour and has sucked me back in(It seems to have this uncanny ability).  It all came about from receiving  a fascinating, informative email from Dianne Barr telling the real story about the place, taken from her phd thesis on C18 landscape gardens in Staffs. She´s the co-author of Historic gardens of Staffordshire together with Tim Mowls. Below is the copied and pasted details from the email:

The house  dates from 1730 and was built by one Zacchary Babbington, who lived locally. It was known as ‘Babbington’s Folly’ by the locals at the time. Presumably it was intended as a summerhouse/retreat, with a tall lookout tower, being situated in the highest part of Hopwas Wood., giving wonderful views over the countryside. The house was then let out with a three acre garden to a Benjamin Shipton, who was given permission to extend the land to make a new garden, build outhouses and stables.  By 1770 the property was leased as ‘lodge house, stable, dovecote, outbuildings, garden walks…the garden to be kept in good order and the trees skillfully pruned.’ ie it was in effect a little country house, with a hall, best parlour, little, parlour, best chamber, upstairs rooms plus kitchen, scullery, pantry, brewhouse, ale cellar, stables land dovecote. A long formal avenue led to the house. Babbington  died in 1745, the estate went to his 3 sisters, one of whom married John Levett of Lichfield, who bought out the other sisters. It then passed at sometime into the Fisherwick estate of Lord Donegal, where it is described in the sale particulars of 1808: ‘situated adjoining the turnpike road from Lichfield to Tamworth, on the Banks of the Tame,… with an excellent dwelling house, commanding the most picturesque views over the adjacent country to Tamworth and stabling for 6 horses and Servants’ Rooms over. etc. garden and orchard.’ Spyer’s lovely watercolour is in the William Salt Library- but I doubt if there is any connection with Capability Brown- in fact it’s more interesting than him and earlier! Probably the most intriguing thing about the woods is that the map in the 1808 sale indicates that the woods have been converted into a Switzer type woodland with curving rides and paths, several of which converge on ‘Sale Oak’.  So ancient paths along old contours, had been developed to follow the latest gardening theories of the 1730s when the house was built. I assume all this has long since gone. Unfortunately I never managed to get to the house as the owners had left by the time I wrote in the early 2000s and I never fancied walking in the woods by myself. I’ve always thought that the house and surrounds must have been important, but I’ve never managed to work our why Babbington built his folly simply to let it out, and why he took so much trouble to layout the woodland walks- there isn’t much documentary information about him. However that doesn’t make his most unusual house any less important, ruined though it may be.

So this place that there about to destroy turns out to have close to 300 years of history, to be a unique piece of architecture, regionally and nationally,potential great local landmark  and be directly connected to a long line of important local characters and they are about to destroy it-What the !!!????

Some of the famous owners of the woodhouse, on left we have the ´bling´ Marquess of Donegal, on the right ,John Levett, important figure in the area. I´ve got no pictures of  Zachary Babington, High sherriff of Staffordshire(you can imagine him with just his name) or Vera and George Bryan founders of Drayton Manor Theme Park

I´m going to get on a soapbox for a moment. I get the feeling that  this place is a victim of snobbery, from people who should be defending the place.   If this place was in a ´quaint village´ in the Cotswolds and not in a dark, unnerving, ´witches and weirdos´ woods it wouldn´t happen would it? Likewise it´s location in the woods making it a focus of the ´rif-raf´doesn´t appeal to some  people in the country does it? They don´t want the country bliss spoilt by the hordes of ´townies´ nosing around do they, so lets keep quiet and it will get swept away. I´m doing a lot of accusing here and I hope I´m wrong, so its only fair that people make their defence so please lets hear it.

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