Seventy Years Ago - The Remembrance Garden

Have you ever wondered how Lichfield came to have the benefit of the pleasant walk alongside Minster Pool between Bird Street and Dam Street?

The local history books record that what was once "The Middle Pool", separating the Cathedral from the City, was cleared out in 1772 and a new path, then known as "The New Walk", was created alongside the pool with a gate at each end. Long before this the outflowing water from the pool was used by the Castle Mill (later known as the Union Mill) on Dam Street and also by a nearby tannery - although the latter was sometimes the subject of complaints.

When South Staffordshire Waterworks Co. took over the Minster Pool in 1854 and enlarged Stowe Pool, public access initially remained restricted, essentially confined to the simple footpaths which ran alongside each pool. However, as part of the works, the company was asked to create a path along the top of the new Stowe Pool embankment; presumably the circular path which we still enjoy today. Curiously, the City Council records show that, although the company was willing in 1906 to provide four seats alongside Stowe Pool, they rejected an earlier offer by the Lichfield Tradesmen's Association to provide seats beside Minster Pool.

A significant change came in 1969 when, having plentiful supplies of clean water elsewhere, the company surrendered their lease and transferred the ownership of both Minster and Stowe Pools to the City of Lichfield. The modern plaque on the wall in Reeve Lane records this historic event.

Following the first World War a public appeal had raised the funds needed to create the war memorial and gardens in Bird Street, on the north bank of Minster Pool. A similar appeal was launched in 1951 to create a suitable memorial to those citizens who had lost their lives in the second World War. At this time the gardens of private properties on the south side of Minster Pool, the proposed site of the memorial, came very close to the pool. The City Council asked if the owners of these gardens, at the rear of properties in Market Street, would donate 10 yards of their land to create a new Garden of Remembrance alongside the pool; this would then be landscaped with the funds raised by the appeal.

Negotiations (and fundraising) continued for several years but finally, by July 1952, formal "deeds of donation" had been signed by all of the property owners and a contract to create the new public garden was awarded to the well known local builders, J.R. Deacon & Co. As part of these agreements the City Council was required to build a substantial brick wall on the new property boundary and to provide a gate into the new public garden from each Market Street property. Did anyone suspect that within twenty years these gates would be redundant when the private gardens were buried beneath the new Market Street car park?

Arrangements were also made at this time to transfer the ownership of the old School of Art building from Staffordshire County Council to Lichfield City Council, prior to its demolition when the new site that had been chosen in Cherry Orchard was ready. Although Minster Cottage had earlier been offered for sale, this attractive, early 19th century, house was excluded from the plans and is now Grade II listed.

The Remembrance Garden was dedicated by Bishop A.S. Reeve on 5th October 1955 and the Mayor, C'llr J.G. Gill, then unveiled the commemorative stone plaque that had been mounted on the wall.

One feature of the former gardens that we can still see today are two fine Yew trees. These trees were once in the private gardens belonging to residents of Market Street, on the land that was donated to the City to create the Remembrance Garden. It is unusual to find mature Yew trees in private gardens and, based on their size, it is likely that they were planted at least 170 years ago. Indeed, it is possible that these trees, which are an important feature of the garden today, may pre-date the creation of "The New Walk" over two hundred years ago.

Peter Cousins
May 2020

The Yew trees beside Minster Pool in 2020

Photo - William Henwood, 2020