Archive for August, 2010

Continuing with the theme of an earlier post, here are a few more stories of woe from Hopwas Woods spanning six  centuries.

From Dyott’s Diary, dated january 1834:

An atrocious poaching case occurred in Tom Levett’s wood at Hopwas Hays. His keepers were on the look-out, and at two o’clock in the night of Sunday they fell in with six men, three of them armed with guns. One of the keepers in pursuit of a poacher had a miraculous escape. The fellow, finding he was likely to be taken, turned round, levelled his gun and fired. The muzzle of the gun was so close to the keeper that his neck handkerchief was blackened by the powder, and his jacket near the collar singed. A slug was discovered in the jacket, and his shoulder, or rather collar-bone, grazed. The rascal made his escape. Three of the poachers were taken and brought before me, and committed for trial.

With the title portrait of the Rev. Thomas Levett and Favourite Dogs, Cock-shooting painted by the Romantic period painter James Ward in 1811. This is a depiction of  the owner of Hopwas Woods, protagonist of the two Dyott diary stories, and avid hunter. His residence was nearby Packington Hall, could the woods in the painting be Hopwas Woods?

From Dyotts diary, dated august, 1834:

A human skeleton was discovered in Hopwas Hays by some labourers getting stone near the bank of the canal. From appearance it was conjectured to have been in the ground twenty years. A report was in circulation that a man had been murdered near the spot about that time, and that the supposed murderer had died about a year ago, but nothing authentick could be traced. Tom Levett’s man came to ask my advice what was to be done, as his master was out of the county. Knowing that Tom Levett would be naturally anxious to have proper steps taken as to Coroner’s Inquest, etc., in consequence of the Hays being 1834 extra-parochial, I caused the circumstance and particulars to be communicated to the coroner, and to have his opinion as to an inquest. He decided that as there was no evidence to inquire into, he saw no necessity for holding an inquest. The mouldering remains were therefore conveyed to the bone-house in Tamworth Church, and there deposited.
There is a disused quarry on the woodland side next to the bank of the canal which is a good candidate for the quarry mentioned in the story above

This is a story taken from Simonsplaces findings in the Herald archives, it tells the story behind the name of Knox grave lane in Hopwas:
In the latter part of the 18th century a little known young Highwayman called Knox( his first name is not known) lived in Hopwas. He came from a farm labourers cottage from very poor parents. He would lie in wait in the country lanes for the solitary traveler returning home late at night from a local inn and hit him from behind with a heavy cudgel. One story is that he lived a hermit-like existence in a cave in Hopwas Woods.

One dark night he had robbed a traveler of pistol, powder and shot and two nights later he stepped out of the bushes to hold up a coach. When the coach halted and Knox demanded the mailbox, out came for Army Officers returning from leave. In his panic to escape Knox failed to fire the pistol and he was captured, tried and hanged within three days. His parents retrieved the body and are believed to have buried it in the lane close to their cottage.

Plea rolls for Staffordshire-18, Edward II(1284-1327) from British History Online

….Hugh de Attelbergh, who stated on their oath that on the Tuesday before the Feast of St. Peter ad Vincula, during the night, one Roger de Wetewode was passing near the Haye of Hope was, by a certain path leading to the vill of Hope was, and the said William le Lou stopped him in the vill of Hopewas, and wished to attach him because he had passed by night through the forest, and a dispute being thus raised between them one Roger son of Roger de Swynnerton came up suddenly and killed the said William son of William le Lou; and the said Roger de Wetewode aided and abetted the death of the said William, and they also said that the said Roger and Roger immediately fled, so that they knew nothing respecting the harbouring or reception of them by others, nor whether the said William was killed by the procurement of anybody, or whether his death had been previously arranged by anybody. The Sheriff was therefore commanded to arrest the said Roger and Roger, and produce them coram Rege at the Quindene of Easter. A postscript states that at the Quindene of Easter, 18 E. II., one Richard de Peshale appeared in Court before the King himself “coram Rege ipso,” and produced the King’s Letters Patent pardoning the said Roger son of Roger de Swynnerton for all felonies committed before the Feast of Christmas. Dated from Winchester, 2 May, 18 E. II. The said Roger son of Roger was therefore quit of the King’s suit. m. Rex, 1.

Taken from Staffordshire forest pleas-michaelmass, 55, Henry III (1207-1272) from British History Online

A presentment was made against Alured de Moloney, Hugh de Tymmor, James his brother, William de Mulveton, and John Salveyn, for entering the Haye of Hopewas, 53 H. III., with greyhounds, bows, and arrows, for the purpose of hunting  a stag . Hugh and James were committed to prison. James was afterwards released for a fine of 20s., for which John de Tresel and Henry de Morf are his sureties.

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There seems to be only two alternatives for the woodhouse(see previous post)  demolish it, leaving a pile of old bricks in a clearing or letting it rot and continuing to be an atmospheric ruin for exploration forums. In a different world there would be another alternative doing something with it! So below are a few ideas for a future for the Woodhouse. They all share parking problems, a very unique access route, 15 minute walk through dense forest and respect for surroundings and people. I don’t have the resources so I’ll just let the ideas float out to space to be caught by a budding entrepreneur in another place and time.

1) I’ll quickly wade past  the usual stuff, craft centre, centre for marriages, events, hotel (b &b or luxury), private housing.

2)tree house exhibition and shop:  the house surrounded by treehouses of all types in the surrounding land. A sort of treehouse exhibition, play area and sales area for tree houses. It’s a bit of a niche market but what better location than the atmospheric settings in the centre of england. Possible combination with tree house hotel.

taken from environmental Graffitis 5 incredible Treehouses

3) eco- hotel: some sort of luxury camping site. It’s all the range according to the media, its called ‘glamping’, I know. There’s all sorts of luxury camping experiences you could do in this place. Star gazing no light pollution nearby, woodcraft workshops, horse riding, woodland dishes, treasure hunting, tales for the kids, whatever Islington types want is possible here.

glamping it up

4) Related to this, is the restaurant in the midst of forest, imagine the unforgettable access route, atmosphere in woods, large open terrace, badger a la carte,  served by people dressed in woodland animal costumes, ok that’s enough

5) Scary house for weekend adventures,etc. No investment apart from conservation of buildings, just leave it as it is, and hey presto you’ve got one spooky place. potential side earner as  filming location.

6) This one is dedicated to Tarmac: how about a museum on quarries. We are going to have to use the imagination on this one. But could include the geological history of the land, history of quarrying and mining, starting point for  visits to historic quarries in areas(quarry of the cathedral of lichfield,)etc, quarry landscape art, organised quarry activities, abseiling, endurance tests(not sure what health and safety would say about this)

7) museum and workshop on woodlands and woodcraft. centre for the study and appreciation of woodlands, invited speakers Ray Mears, Yanomamo Indians.

8 ) My favourite, How about a space for Afro-funk explosive performances called the Mothership, complete with a light beam pointing skywards, dedicated to the improvement of funk in this little corner of the universe: just remember – you’ve got to wear your sunglasses, that’s the rule round here, so you can feel cool. Naked dancing witches are welcome. Special Considerations will be taken with the  wildlife and they will be duly instructed in the groove. Suffice to say I love this idea and is my secret agenda for wanting to save the woodhouse or should I say the mothership

Parliament relaxing in Hopwas woods

Any other ideas are welcome….

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Below are the two reasons  the woodhouse has been given a demolition order and my counterarguments:

1st reason:The buildings are a focus for vandalism and ‘goings on’ and are in a state of disrepair.

Speaking with former members of ‘friends of Hopwas Woods’ who know a lot more history about the site than me, they  have given me some interesting information about its history of vandalism and  abandonment, with Bob Geldoff and badgers included!

The source is reliable as the person is a  lifelong supporter of Hopwas Woods, I’ve received the news second hand and a lot of the information is cloudy and I take all responsibility for the information given but it does gives the general gist. The entrepeneur George Bryant sold the property to Tarmac at a date interdetermined date probably 80’s/90’s. It was then used by an employee of Tarmac for a time, after which time it was abandoned although still under the ownership of Tarmac. The buildings were brought to local attention by the report by a local person that badgers had entered and were in the  cellars of building. This reached the attention of Tamworth’s newspaper, The Tamworth Herald. After this brief media exposure the buildings were more known in the area and people entered the grounds(abandoned atmospheric buildings in atmospheric woods:it’s going to happen!) This came to a head when news reached local authorities that  a ´suspicious person´  was staying there, and there was a response by police.  Since then people from around the country have visited the site and it has appeared on some exploration forums. Apparently, this is crazy but I’m just reporting what I was told by a reliable source, Bob Geldoff, sorry Sir Bob Geldoff visited the site!!! I know crazy. Looking at the current state of the exterior buildings it has suffered from vandalism, ( hole put through back wall) and equally damaging  counter measures, bricking up of windows and doors. Apart from that the building survives surprisingly  well in its integrity(the interior state is unknown) and has not had any graffiti or major damage. The outbuildings present little interference.

Even if the buildings are a focus for ‘goings on’ this is not a reason to demolish buildings of potential  great historic and architectural interest. If you apply that same logic to say an abandoned Stonehenge. Does that mean we should demolish it if it had been abandoned for 20 years and had become a focus of ‘goings on'(pagan rituals, swinger parties, raves, the mind boggles!) Also and more important than my counter-argument is point 16 in English Heritage’s principles of selection for listed buildings ” the state of repair of a building is not a relevant is not a relevant consideration when deciding whether a building meets the test of special interest.” pretty conclusive I think

2nd reason: The buildings have been altered, there is a lot of modern brickwork and they are of not sufficient interest.

Although I’ve worked within archaeology abroad I’m no expert on 18th century architecture and brickwork in Staffordshire but I think I can make a sufficient case for it to be worthy of at least re-examining by the competent authorities. The sources available are sparse but based on what there is and local knowledge as well as my own analysis I can make a number of statements. As mentioned in previous post, the buildings were probably built on orders of the Marquess of Donegal around 1750 for use as a hunting lodge and retreat, being close to his Fisherwick estate. Local hearsay reports that there was a site here as far back as 1540, from the wife of the earl of Comberford, I cannot confirm any of this but its worth investigating. Also Fisherwick estate and buildings were designed by the infamous ‘Capability Brown’ As the woodhouse was commissioned by the Marquess of Donegal, did Capability Brown have a hand in its design? It’s pure conjecture but I think it’s more than worth investigating.

There is a watercolour of the woodhouse, called painting of Hopwas Hayes Lodge, done by J. Spyers in 1786. I’ve compared  the painting and a modern photo in the previous Woodhouse post and its undeniably very similar (I´ve included it again below). At least the integrity of the building set are still there. The two attached cottages, the two porches and unique tower structure are all still there, as well as side wall, with entrance(not in photos) It can be seen that the main roofing has been altered and there’s been tinkering with  the tower. I haven’t personally seen a building type quite like it and wonder if it conforms to a type of 18th century hunting lodge or is it unique?

There is not much available information on subsequent use of the Woodhouse, apart from what I have in my original post. The building was used throughout the 19th century as a gamekeepers lodge and was  remarkable enough  to be included in William Pitt’s topographical history of Staffordshire 1817 with the following description:´ Hopwas is a small hamlet situated at the bottom of a hill, the most remarkable object on which is a house on the summit, environed by a wood called Hopwas Hayes´ Thankyou William Pitt for putting the case for the Woodhouse so eloquently!

As mentioned the building was in the hands of George Bryant  from around the 1950’s. He apparently was responsible for some landscaping and may have been responsible for alterations to the property as there is brickwork present from the 1950’s.

Present state of buildings

There is aforementioned watercolouring showing the integrity of the original form of the present building but the question is how much is original? As said before I’m no expert but there is a presence of brickwork which I consider could perfectly be 18th century brickwork, the percentage is at least 50% The roof has been changed at what date I don’t know and the tower, at least the top part has been altered. Are any of the alterations reversible?

The best evidence are photos so I’ve provided a few photos below with arrows pointing out what I consider different types of brickwork. brick type 1 looks the best candidate for 18th century brickwork. The porches on the front of the building  appear to have slate roofing. Also there is number  of blocked 18th/19th century windows, but the window arches(sorry about terminology) are still there( altering of windows is very common in old buildings) It´s a rough guide and hopefully not too confusing but  I believe demonstrates that there is at least 50% possible 18th century brickwork(brick type 1) and is worthy of further investigation.

Front of building, with rough indication of different brick types

right hand side of front of building

southern side of building,

back of building, with detail on right

tower from the back


The interior is an unknown quantity and understand that there has been no inspection of the interior. Information from the reliable source from Friends of Hopwas apparently states that there is a well inside!(common in buildings before modern water supply), the survival of a double cellar,  fireplace and wooden cladding.I think anyone would agree that the interior warrants inspection.


There are a number of outbuildings 3-4 ranging in types and age. In front of the main woodhouse is a barn-like structure converted into a garage of undetermined age(probably pre-20th century) it has attached a sidebuilding with the evidence of an old laundry(see first posts comments)

Well there are my counterarguments, I hope I’ve put across the historical and architectural value of the place and a valid counter counter argument to the often used reason of abandonment and vandalism. What has to be concluded by the experts is the level of altering  to the exterior and INTERIOR of buildings and if it´s reversible. So I will be putting the case forward to the relevant authorities and english heritage. What I don’t think can be denied is that it’s worthy of further investigation before potentially making the tragic mistake of  demolishing it. I hope it’s not too late!

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I’m momentarily going to turn the blog into a campaign to save the 18th century historic Woodhouse, Hopwas. It’s historic significance can be seen in this earlier post. I’ve recently heard that the Woodhouse has had a demolition order go ahead, so it’s demolition could happen any day now! Here’s the post below :

Hello all ,I have just joined this forum as I was looking into the History of Wood House and came across you all.

This evening (Sunday 15 August 2010) my wife and I and our 2 border collie dogs went for a walk in Hopwas woods as we have done now for 30 years . When we got to the gate for Wood House we were suprised to see that the barbed wire that covers the gate (along with some very oily sticky black crud) had been cut on the right side giving  access to the drive to the house . What an amazing place it is . The building is in a sorry state now even the Opel Manta car has been burnt out by some scum chav shits. Such a shame that this very historical house and out buildings are to be demolished. Tarmac who own the building and land have been granted a demolition order by Lichfield District Council on 25/06/2010. The work has already started as the rhoderdendrons that used to encrouch onto the drive have been cut back using a brush cutter .This has happened very recently and I presume work will now progress at a swifter pace. So if you want to see this house in all its glory, I would do it very soon as I am sure when the demolition boys get in ,the access will definately be closed off forever.I just thought I would update you all regarding Wood House .I am sure we will become regulars on these forums now we have found them . I am just sorry that my first post should be so gloomy.

Regards  Snooper/ her indoors/ Finn& Pogue ( the woof woofs)

Midlandsheritage forum

I’ve confirmed this with Lichfield council and I’d like to make  a case to save if it’s not too late. I urge anyone reading this who cares about our shared heritage to make as much NOISE as possible about this. It’s a unique set of buildings, I don’t know how many 18th century gamekeepers lodges in their original settings exist in the UK but I’m guessing you can count them on one hand.

I will be putting the case forward for it’s defence, applying for listed status with english heritage, etc over the next few days so I will be putting updates and info on the blog over the coming days.

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Lichfield transmitter mast at its 305.2  metres standing on one of the highest points in the West midlands is an omnipresent landmark for miles around. Apparently it can be seen from Wolverhampton and from personal experience, it’s the landmark that announces your arrival in the vicinity  especially at night with its unflinching 6 red lights, so if you are passing through the area look out for it. I wonder where’ s the furthest point it can be seen from? It would be great to hear about any stories(with photos) of seeing it from the Welsh border at night, Staffordshire moor, or who knows where.

According to wikipedia it was built in 1961 to replace the original mast, there’s more links on the wikipedia page. It’s a TV transmitter mast and is part of the Lichfield Transmitter station, the mast is  a great functional structure of towering height. Taking a look around the internet  its got a good couple of links. One is a video of engineers working relatively close to the top of the mast  with the nearby quarry dizzingly far below. Aptly there’s a recent post on BrownhillsBob’s Brownhills Blog praising people who work at  heights, take a look.

The other link  is  a graph comparing the tower to world landmarks such as the Eiffel tower. I love the audacity of the graph and I thought it would be a great t-shirt so I´ve done a mock-up for the benefit of Tamworth or Lichfield souvenir shops.

Below is a photo of the looming ominous structure  from one of its  stay lines  accompanied by suitably threatening weather. Close up its got  something of   the tripods, the 80’s bbc series about it,albeit a little more anorexic. Also as you might see from the photo it´s  very difficult to grasp its size. I get this feeling of a lack of sense of scale with the mast from close or far away. Its location on a rural hillside means it has no immediate comparison( hence the t-shirt!) It’s the visibility of the mast from so far away which does it the real justice(apart from the t-shirt).

Its present in the background means that it’s a common victim for daydreaming. This captures a brief daydream about the tower being used by mexican voladores to jump down from. Would be a great sight but they would probably get tangled up in the staylines, anyway…..

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After watching the 2nd episode of the excellent  new BBC series The Normans, I´ve taken an opportunity to contribute a post about a norman monument in the area.  3 Miles east of Tamworth is the village of Seckington which has on the edges of the village a satisfingly complete early Norman motte and bailey earthwork. It’s a remnant of the heady days of Norman conquest and would have probably been built in  a largely hostile area with forced labour. It was surmounted by a wooden structure and was one of many throughout England, made to establish control over their new subjects. It was built by the earl of Mellant in the 11th century or his son Robert earl of Leicester.

A satisfying place

One of the most satisfying aspects  of the earthwork was that it was abandoned early on and so didn´t emerge as a masonry built castle like the nearby Tamworth castle, in a sense its a fossilised Norman early Motte and Bailey earthwork.

Another satisfying aspect is its excellent state of conservation, with its great conical shape, survival of the ditches and signs of ramp on SW slope.

Third satisfying point, its location, on the edge of an idyllic village surround by slightly undulating fields(possibly remains of medieval ridge and furrow fields) whereas directly behind it to the north is the busy Ashby road,which its cheekily obscured from. How many times have people  passed right next to it and never known about this wonderful earthwork.

fourthly is its size it’s quite small in a satisfying put in your pocket sort of way.

Finally the last satisfying point is it’s a great place to lie around and hang out with people or alone, weather permitting.

Put all that together and you have got a lot of satisfaction.

a view which encompasses the conical Motte and surrounding ditch. Theres a resource site for exploring your area  acompanying the BBC series The Normans called Hands on history

Seckington was the site of a royal murder. Ethalbald, king of Mercia was murdered here according to Bede by his bodyguards in 757 AD.

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In the previous post I mentioned brownness. For me its something that I perceive in the surrounding area around Tamworth. Other brownness towns are Measham, Moira, Burton upon Trent. The greenery is often talked about and applauded when talking about the english countryside, and its true that around here especially now greenery is everywhere. Brownness though is something deeper, it’s the light, its something you feel when you come back after being away for a long time. I can’t put my finger on it so I call it brownness. It’s the colour of its beers, bitters, ales, milds, its industrial past, the colour of the bricks, canals, factories, it’s the colour of its farms, buildings,even that most famous Tamworth export the  Tamworth pig is brown. Most of all its the colour of its earth, in winter you can really appreciate it, it’s that heavy clay soil that pervades everything, absorbs the surroundings sometime even  suffocating thought. Maybe its responsible for that characteristic down to earth nature  that is sometimes so refreshing after living away but at the same time constrictive and suffocating. Anyway there’s my case for brownness in words but when talking about colour I should really make my case through images so here goes:

Above is a Tamworth colour chart I’ve done, Its been created through photoshop and the colours samples all come from photos of Tamworth

Tamworth camouflage: I’ve reworked the soldiers camouflage with the Tamworth colour scheme, notice how well camouflaged he is on Tamworth´s Market street.

Tamworth pig, embassador of Tamworths brownness

Notice guy in centre in photo above, he knows what I´m talking about and you know what it works.

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Other night I was in Market Vaults in the centre of Tamworth, let me see I’ve lived in Southampton,Belgium,Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Barcelona,Santiago de Chile, Valencia, and whenever I’m back it’s there, the Vaults, unchanging and unimpressed with my travels. It first entered my life about 14 years ago, but it’s been around for a few hundred years since the 17th century. The Tamworth heritage pubs initiative tell it’s story better than I can so here’s the link below>


The noble  art of linecleaning in the Market Vaults, a new discovery>

It would be fascinating to do an ethnographical description of a ‘boozer’  like the Vaults, describing the space, and the interactions of the participants within the space. My curiosity piqued I’ve had a brief look on the internet for ethnographical studies of pubs and pub culture, I haven’t found much but would have to look more probably.There’s this published online on googlebooks called Constructive drinking:Perspectives on drink from Anthropology

Anyway here are some brief observation notes of the Market Vaults.

-unchanging decor, a recent attempt to carry out changes was a notable failure with clients, its unchanging nature is valued

separation of bar, upper and lower areas with the bar open to both areas, with a separating wall. Rarely entered the lower area, slight perception of more veteran area.

-seating arrangements, 4  tables with 4-5 to table in upper area, private spaces but very near other tables/ lower area, more open seating arrangements.

-entrance through passageway, then left to enter the pub. double barriers to the outside world

– sense of brownness (common Tamworth feature)

I think it would be a fun and revealing venture to do a ethnographical description of somewhere like the Market Vaults, maybe the Tamworth heritage pubs initiative could take it on board, anyway the idea’s there for the taking.

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I´ve got my suspicions that´s there is a piece of 120+ year old living history at the end of the close where I’m residing in the form of a hedge,  I believe it’s a remnant of a boundary of a field.

here´s my case:

1888 ordnance map of area with hedge highlighted in red

1834 ordnance map- in red location of present day hedge

Although I’ve highlighted the hedge area in the 1834 map there is no field boundary. It either didn’t exist or it wasn’t recorded which is pretty likely considering that it’s 1:50,000 scale and many fields aren’t registered.

The area of hedge studied has been highlighted  in the satellite image above from google, it’s around 50 metres long.

The hedge with at least 3 different types of hedge species identified. According to Hooper´s hypthesis, the age of a hedge can be suggested by the number of woody species in a 30 yard of hedge stretch multiplied by a 110 years. This is all I know about the method and apparently its just a guide and I imagine it depends on a lot of factors. I´m not counting any weeds or species like blackberries. There might possibly be more than one woodland species in the hedge but I´m going to need help with identification…….

The above cutting is from the Solicitors´ journal & reporter, volume 6, 1862. It’s the sale of the Wigginton Lodge estate and the above is a description of the fields around the close and hedge(The Burton and Tamworth turnpike road is the latter-day Comberford road) My father can confirm the bit about ” most productive land.”

hedges: an animal collective

I wonder if there´s any animal life in the hedge, I´m thinking about anything from microscopic life to bird life who´s ancesters started living out in the hedge when it was first made, it´s an interesting thought.

it’s an edible hedge

Heres a contemporary resident of the area around the hedge. The commentary is my father mentioning the fact that they used to eat hedgehogs in the village back in the day, anyone interested in recipes please post.

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