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The History of Lichfield

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Lichfield is thought to derive its name from the ancient Celtic place name of ‘the grey wood’, or ‘Luitcoed’. Other theories abound but proof, however, is harder to find. It is known without doubt that there was a Saxon settlement on the site of modern day Lichfield.
There have also been finds indicating human activity much earlier than Saxon times, including a scatter of tools dating from middle Stone Age times. The mention of Lichfield four times in the Saxon Chronicle, as Licet-felda, including two in the early eighth Century put the town firmly on the map before the arrival of the Normans in 1066. There’s a more tangible proof of the town’s flourishing status in the
pre-Conquest years in the shape of the cathedral. The origin of this magnificent building is bound up with the first Christian King of Mercia, King Wulfhere, who donated land to Chad at Lichfield for a monastery. Bishop Hedda built a church at Lichfield to house the bones of St Chad, who died in 672, this evolved dramatically to become the present Cathedral . By AD 833 the Historia Britonium has Lichfield listed as one of the then just 28 cities in Britain.

The Vikings swept through the kingdom of Mercia and the unprotected town of Lichfield and its cathedral were both sacked. The church came back to the declining Lichfield in the Middle Ages when Bishop Clinton
laid down the ladder street plan that is still a familiar part of modern Lichfield. The Bishop also installed defences around the city in the form of a ditch and a bank and built some fortification near the cathedral, mindful perhaps that such things would always come in handy in troubled times. While the fortifications may have protected
Lichfield from without, they did nothing to protect the city from the fire which ravaged it in 1291. The city, which would have been made largely of timber, was almost completely destroyed. However, the cathedral and the cathedral close remained unscathed, helped no doubt by their stone construction.

The ecclesiastical economy that had for so long encouraged growth in Lichfield vanished suddenly in the Reformation of the 16th Century and the city went into steep decline. The city was hit by the plague in 1593 which wiped out a third of the population and accelerated the economic decay. The city has the dubious honour of hosting the last ever burning at the stake for heresy to take place in the British
Isles. Edward Wightman from Burton upon Trent was the unfortunate victim of the barbaric punishment. The burning took place in Market Place on 11 April 1612 after Wightman refused to denounce his Baptist beliefs.

During the Civil War of the 17th Century the cathedral was often at the centre of action and suffered as a result. Bishop Hacket restored the severely building at the end of the Commonwealth period with financial help from King Charles II . Coaching saw a revival of the city’s fortunes during the 18th Century. But when the Industrial Revolution swept over Britain it seemed to pass Lichfield by, even though it transformed nearby Birmingham beyond recognition. The city remained largely unchanged until council houses were built in the
Dimbles area in the 1930s. The city survived World War II relatively unscathed despite the nearby Wellington Bomber base at Fradley Aerodrome known as RAF Lichfield. The city got off lightly as it had no heavy industry for the enemy bombers to target. After the war further housing developments saw the population of Lichfield treble between 1951 and the late 1980s. The expansion continues to this day with further major retail and housing developments already planned for the future.

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