A view from St. Michael’s church in Lichfield in 1840

Recently, whilst searching for some lost material in the choir vestry at St. Michael’s, I came across a framed version of the picture shown above, which is one that I have not seen before.  It shows a view from the north side off the church looking out over the city in 1840. In some ways it is very familiar, with the cathedral in the background, and in the middle distance, towards the left of centre, we can see St Mary’s, but without its spire that wasn’t added until the rebuilding of the 1850s and 1860s. In front of St. Mary’s, we can see the back of houses that were on Greenhill, and housing in the area that we know as Deanscroft but was more usually referred to at that time as Dean’s Croft. Indeed parts of this were still owned by the Chapter of the Cathedral in the 1840s. The Greenhill / Church St / Dean’s Croft area was quite densely populated at that time. Now that area is largely taken by the old school buildings (built in stages in the second half of the nineteenth century). The position of the cathedral and the houses enables the position of the artist to be determined fairly accurately – see the map below.

The solid red circle shows the approximate position of the artist, the open red circle the position of the Emery tomb, and the red ellipse the position of the Harrison tombs.

But it is in the foreground that we see the major changes when comparing this picture with what we see now, with many more graves and monuments visible than is now the case. But here all is not all that it seems. Firstly, it is puzzling that the avenue of trees that leads from the church door to the north gate is not shown. This was planted as an avenue of elms in the 1750s and should have been visible. Perhaps they obscured the view, and the artist, as was his or her prerogative, thought it best to omit them. Secondly it is difficult to reconcile the grave locations in the picture with those currently visible. A photograph that shows roughly the same view is shown below. Whilst many of the headstones were laid flat in the re-ordering of the churchyard in the 1960s, the chest tombs were generally left in position, and these have usually survived to the present day.

The current view, showing the Emery tomb to the left and the Harrison tombs to the right

What remains in today’s view is the large Emery chest tomb to the left, and the rather dilapidated row of chest tombs to the right. The details of the graves in the picture from 1840 are a little different in the photographs with different grave styles and only three graves in the row to the right, again suggesting the use of “artistic license” in the drawing. Some of the grave details are reminiscent of those on other chest tombs in the graveyard, so the artist might have been trying to capture a range of details not completely in the field of view. The ground level also appears to have changed, with a build up of the ground around the base of the tombs so that they appear lower than they did originally. This is due to many decades of grass growth and mowing, leading to a steady increase in height of the ground surface.

Returning to the graves themselves, the inscription on the Emery tomb was recorded in the 1980s as follows, although much of this is no longer readable.

Sacred to the memory of WILLIAM EMERY died December 9th 1767 aged .9 years. And of MARY his wife who died… Also of ELIZABETH and ANN daughters of WILLIAM and MARY EMERY. ELIZABETH died January 27th 1773 aged 16. ANN died…… WILLIAM who died March 12th l…„and ANN EMERY his wife died July 8th 1825 aged 66. Also JOHN son of RICHARD and ANN EMERY died January 18th 1853 aged 46. And of RICHARD EMERY who died February 23rd 1826 aged 72 also ANNE wife of above died December 17th 1863 aged 82.

Those to the right are largely of the Harrison family. Again in the 1980s the inscriptions were transcribed as follows.

Rev. JOHN HARRISON son of THOS. and FRANS. HARRISON died January 22nd 1793 aged 39. THOMAS HARRISON son of THOS. qnd FRANS. HARRISON died December 31st 1807 aged 48

Here lieth the body of ANN the wife of SAMUEL HARRISON who departed this life  Jany 1st 1785 aged 48. Also near this place lies the body of JESSE DEE (brother to the said ANN HARRISON) who died June 1st 1785 aged 39

To the memory of SAMUEL HARRISON who died April 2nd 1798 aged 62.

In memory of Sarah Harrison who departed this life July 28th 1835 aged 72 years

These tombs have seen better days as can be seen from the close up picture below.

The Harrison tombs

Of course, what is also missing from the modern photograph is the sheep – the nineteenth century version of the council grass mowing machine – and the rather elegantly dressed family who are walking down the path from church. The husband and wife are very clear, but their two young children less so. In the original picture there is a similarly dressed gentleman sitting on a chest tomb that is no longer identifiable, apparently studying his laptop, although this is probably not the correct interpretation!

One thought on “A view from St. Michael’s church in Lichfield in 1840

  1. Interesting article Chris. I do believe the artist removed the Avenue of trees as you say for artistic purposes as the earliest photograph post 1864, shows them quite established.


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