Lichfield is a cathedral city and civil parish in Staffordshire, England. One of eight civil parishes with city status in England, Lichfield is situated roughly 16 mi (26 km) north of Birmingham. At the time of the 2011 Census the population was estimated at 32,219 and the wider Lichfield District at 100,700.
Notable for its three-spired medieval cathedral, Lichfield was the birthplace of Samuel Johnson, the writer of the first authoritative Dictionary of the English Language. The city's recorded history began when Chad of Mercia arrived to establish his Bishopric in 669 CE and the settlement grew as the ecclesiastical centre of Mercia. In 2009, the Staffordshire Hoard, the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork, was found 5.9 km (3.7 mi) southwest of Lichfield.
The development of the city was consolidated in the 12th century under Roger de Clinton who fortified the Cathedral Close and also laid out the town with the ladder-shaped street pattern that survives to this day. Lichfield's heyday was in the 18th century when it developed into a thriving coaching city. This was a period of great intellectual activity, the city being the home of many famous people including Samuel Johnson, David Garrick, Erasmus Darwin and Anna Seward, and prompted Johnson's remark that Lichfield was "a city of philosophers".
Today, the city still retains its old importance as an ecclesiastical centre, and its industrial and commercial development has been limited. The centre of the city retains an unspoilt charm with over 230 listed buildings in its historic streets, fine Georgian architecture and old cultural traditions. People from Lichfield are known as Lichfeldians.
Prehistory and antiquity
The earliest evidence of settlement has been the discovery of Mesolithic flints on the high ground of the cemetery at St Michael on Greenhill, which may indicate an early flint industry. Traces of Neolithic settlement have been discovered on the south side of the sandstone ridge occupied by Lichfield Cathedral.
Just over 2 miles (3.5 km) southwest of Lichfield, near the point where Icknield Street crosses Watling Street was the site of Etocetum (the Brittonic *Lētocaiton, "Greywood"). Established in AD 50 as a Roman military fortress, it had become a civilian settlement (vicus) with a bath house and a mansio by the 2nd century. Letocetum fell into decline by the 4th century and the Romans had left by the 5th century. There have been scattered Romano-British finds in Lichfield and it is possible that a burial discovered beneath the cathedral in 1751 was Romano-British. There is no evidence of what happened to Letocetum after the Romans left; however Lichfield may have emerged as the inhabitants of Letocetum relocated during its decline. A Cair Luit Coyd ("Fort Greywood") listed by Nennius among the 28 cities of Britain in his Historia Brittonum, although these were largely historic remembrances of early Sub-Roman Britain.
The early history of Lichfield is obscure. The first authentic record of Lichfield occurs in Bede's history, where it is called Licidfelth and mentioned as the place where St Chad fixed the episcopal see of the Mercians in 669. The first Christian king of Mercia, Wulfhere, donated land at Lichfield for St Chad to build a monastery. It was because of this that the ecclesiastical centre of Mercia became settled as the Diocese of Lichfield, which was approximately northwest of the seat of the Mercian kings at Tamworth.
The first cathedral was built on the present site in 700 when Bishop Hædde built a new church to house the bones of St Chad, which had become the centre of a sacred shrine to many pilgrims when he died in 672. The burial in the cathedral of the kings of Mercia, Wulfhere in 674 and Ceolred in 716, further increased the city's prestige. In 786 King Offa made the city an archbishopric with authority over all the bishops from the Humber to the River Thames; his appointee was Archbishop Hygeberht. After King Offa's death in 796, Lichfield's power waned; in 803 the primacy was restored to Canterbury by Pope Leo III after only 16 years.
The Historia Brittonum lists the city as one of the 28 cities of Britain around AD 833.
During the 9th century, Mercia was devastated by Danish Vikings. Lichfield itself was unwalled and the cathedral was despoiled, so Bishop Peter moved the see to the fortified and wealthier Chester in 1075. His successor, Robert de Limesey, transferred it to Coventry but it was eventually restored to Lichfield in 1148. Work began on the present Gothic cathedral in 1195. At the time of the Domesday Book survey, Lichfield was held by the bishop of Chester, where the see of the bishopric had been moved 10 years earlier; Lichfield was listed as a small village. The lord of the manor was the bishop of Chester until the reign of Edward VI. Bishop Roger de Clinton was responsible for transforming the scattered settlements to the south of Minster Pool into the ladder-plan streets existing today. Market Street, Wade Street, Bore Street and Frog Lane linked Dam Street, Conduit Street and Bakers Lane on one side with Bird Street and St John Street on the other. Bishop de Clinton also fortified the cathedral close and enclosed the town with a bank and ditch, and gates were set up where roads into the town crossed the ditch. In 1291 Lichfield was severely damaged by a fire which destroyed most of the town; however the Cathedral and Close survived unscathed.
In 1387 Richard II gave a charter for the foundation of the gild of St Mary and St John the Baptist; this gild functioned as the local government, until its dissolution by Edward VI, who incorporated the town in 1548.
The policies of Henry VIII had a dramatic effect on Lichfield. The Reformation brought the disappearance of pilgrim traffic following the destruction of St Chad's shrine in 1538 which was a major loss to the city's economic prosperity. That year too the Franciscan Friary was dissolved, the site becoming a private estate. Further economic decline followed the outbreak of plague in 1593, which resulted in the death of over a third of the entire population.
Three people were burned at the stake for heresy under Mary I. The last public burning at the stake in England took place in Lichfield, when Edward Wightman from Burton upon Trent was executed by burning in the Market Place on 11 April 1612 for his activities promoting himself as the divine Paraclete and Saviour of the world.
Lichfield started to develop a lively coaching trade as a stop-off on the busy route between London and Chester from the 1650s onwards, making it Staffordshire's most prosperous town. In the 18th century, and reaching its peak in the period from 1800—1840, the city thrived as a busy coaching city on the main routes from London to the north-west and Birmingham to the north-east. It also became a centre of great intellectual activity, being the home of many famous people including Samuel Johnson, David Garrick, Erasmus Darwin and Anna Seward; this prompted Johnson's remark that Lichfield was "a city of philosophers". In the 1720s Daniel Defoe described Lichfield as 'a fine, neat, well-built, and indifferent large city', the principal town in the region after Chester. During the late 18th and early 19th century much of the medieval city was rebuilt with the red brick Georgian style buildings we see today. Also during this time the city underwent vast improvements with underground sewerage systems, paved streets and gas powered street lighting. An infantry regiment of the British Army was formed at Lichfield in 1705 by Col. Luke Lillingstone in the King's Head pub in Bird Street. In 1751 it became the 38th Regiment of Foot and in 1783 the 1st Staffordshire Regiment; after reorganisation in 1881 it became the 1st battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment.
Late Modern and contemporary
The arrival of the Industrial Revolution and the railways in 1837 signalled the end of Lichfield's position as an important staging post for coaching traffic. Whilst the industrial development at nearby Birmingham exploded, along with its population, Lichfield remained largely unchanged in character.
The first council houses were built in the Dimbles area of the city in the 1930s. The outbreak of World War II brought over 2,000 evacuees from industrialised areas. However, due to the lack of heavy industry in the city, Lichfield escaped lightly, although there were air raids in 1940 and 1941 and 3 Lichfeldians were killed. Just outside the city Wellington Bombers flew out of Fradley Aerodrome which was known as RAF Lichfield. After the war the council built many new houses in the 1960s including some high-rise flats, while the late '70s and early '80s brought a large housing estate at Boley Park in the south-east of the city. The city's population tripled between 1951 and the late 1980s.
The city has continued expanding to the west. The Darwin Park housing estate has been under development for a number of years and has swelled the city's population by approximately 3,000. Plans have been approved for Friarsgate, a new £100 million shopping and leisure complex opposite Lichfield City Station. The police station, bus station, Ford garage and multi-storey car park will be demolished to make way for 22,000m2 of retail space and 2,000m2 of leisure facilities, consisting of a flagship department store, six-screen cinema, hotel, 37 individual shops and 56 flats.
Lichfield was a city and a county, in and of itself, until 1889. To conduct as thorough genealogical research as possible in this city, note that it possessed all of the following parishes:
And the chapel of Hammerwich (1724)
For an excellent 1848 historical summary on Lichfield, see Samuel Lewis' Topographical Dictionary of England.
There are 21 articles on Lichfield in Volume 14 of The Victoria County History of Staffordshire (published 1990) as provided by the website British History Online. The list below contains a few examples. These articles discuss history, not the current state of affairs.
Staffordshire Research Tips
Reminder: Staffordshire today covers a much smaller area than formerly. The West Midlands now governs the southeastern corner of pre-1974 Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent, although ceremonially still part of Staffordshire, is a unitary authority covering a large well-populated part of the north of the county.