What’s the big idea?

This is a city for thinking and reflection; a place where words are, and have always been, important; and where locals take great pride in the unique heritage of the place.

What makes it different though is its history as an ecclesiastical centre, coupled with the breakthrough thinkers that have come from such a small city, and what is quite probably the country’s leading monument to Remembrance. Add to this a couple of attractions on the doorstep where you can absolutely lose yourself (time for the old subconscious to work), and you get a place that is great for getting your thoughts straight.

In fact, there aren’t many places so dedicated to the art of thinking, which gives it a lovely unhurried feeling of calm, serenity and peacefulness.

A place for contemplation

Just outside this small city, literally in the heart of the country, is the National Memorial Arboretum. Here, amidst 150 acres and 50,000 maturing trees, are 160 memorials paying tribute to those who have died while on duty or as a result of terrorism since World War II. The centrepiece, the huge Armed Forces Memorial, is mightily impressive and the whole place is simply uplifting, and helps you feel an immense pride in the country.

Nearby in Cannock Chase, an area of outstanding natural beauty, is the home of German and Commonwealth war memorials. It’s another wonderful place for remembering and helping you to be mindful of your place in history.
 
Or, for a slightly more surreal experience, head a little bit further west to Burntwood to experience the officially smallest park in Britain (a bench and three trees named Faith, Hope and Charity!)

Now lose yourself

Contrast the serenity of those places with the excitement of Drayton Manor: 15-acre zoo, home of Thomas Land and the UK’s scariest ride Apocalypse (according to Channel 5’s The Gadget Show). It was recently voted the best children’s attraction for the second year running (there’s also a new Ben 10 ride coming this year).

And also in the area is Conkers, with indoor and outdoor experiences around nature: climbing, treetop walks and discovery zones. Or, for a slightly left-field experience, why not try Llama-trekking in the National Forest at nearby Barton-under-Needwood?

A city of wit and wisdom

For such a relatively small city, Lichfield punches way above its weight in the literary stakes. For this was the home of England’s greatest man of letters, one Dr Samuel Johnson: the great critic of English literature who wrote the Dictionary of the English Language. And then, in the 18th century, there was David Garrick, a student of Johnson’s and a famous actor whose unique ‘realistic acting’ performances were unheard of in their day, and helped bring Shakespeare to a wider audience.

Consider also that Charles Darwin’s grandfather Erasmus Darwin lived here. He was a great thinker and philosopher and wrote Zoomania, an early work which informed Charles’ views on evolution. Erasmus was also an early member of the Lunar Society, where the great and good of the late 18th century changed the course of modern society.
 
Also of note is Anna Seward, a romantic poet known as the ‘Swan of Lichfield’. And if all this makes you feel like finding your voice, that’s fine, as Lichfield is also home to the  second Speakers’ Corner in the UK (the first being just outside Hyde Park in London).

The essence

Quiet contemplation

How it can make you feel:

Lichfield is a place to visit for a break. It’s easy to amble around the city, stopping at numerous places to reflect, or head out to Lichfield district and lose yourself in some absorbing places.
As such it’s perfect for thinkers, and creative types – especially wordsmiths.

History

Religious legend has it that 1,000 Christian martyrs were massacred in Lichfield around AD300, but no evidence exists to

Religious legend has it that 1,000 Christian martyrs were massacred in Lichfield around AD 300, but no evidence exists to support this tale. What is known however is that three miles to the south of the present city, in Wall, a village was built which is likely the precursor to the modern city (it’s open to visitors today; why not go and have a look?).
 
The name Lichfield comes from ‘field of grey wood’, which likely refers to the varieties of local trees such as ash and elm.
 
In Anglo-Saxon times Lichfield, although small, was an important place in the Mercian Kingdom. It was here that the first Christian king, Wulfhere, donated the land for St Chad to build a monastery, which became a cathedral in AD 700, just a few miles away from where the King’s Seat was at Tamworth. Around this time Lichfield would have been a popular place for pilgrimage, as it holds the bones of St Chad, as well as those of Mercian kings such as Wulfhere and King Ceolred.
 
Then, in one of Lichfield’s finer hours, King Offa raised Lichfield to an archbishopric in AD 786, effectively making it the head of all bishops from the Thames to the Humber (it was only to last for 16 years before it was restored to Canterbury).
 
The 9th century saw the town devastated by the Vikings as the place had no walls to protect it: the cathedral was ruined, and moved shortly afterwards to Chester, then to Coventry, before eventually being restored to the town in the 12th century when work started on the new Gothic cathedral that we can see today. It was also at this time that the street plan was laid out in the ladder format present to this day, and the close around the cathedral strengthened by the then head of the cathedral Bishop Clinton.
 
In the 16th century, Henry VIII’s Reformation programme dealt Lichfield an economic blow: the destruction of St Chad’s shrine put an end to any pilgrims visiting, and the destruction of the 300-year old Franciscan Friary was the last straw. And in 1612, the last man to be hanged for heresy in the country was done so in Lichfield.
 
During the English Civil War in 1643 the town was divided, the Royalists sided with the cathedral followers, and most of the townsfolk sided with the Parliamentarians. During one famous local battle, the leader of the Parliamentarian forces, while leading an attack on the cathedral, was killed by a stray bullet fired from the spire on St Chad’s Day, which was taken as a miracle by the Royalist forces.

During the 17th and 18th centuries Lichfield thrived as a busy coaching town being as it was on the main route between Chester and London. It was also at this time home to the aforementioned Johnson, Garrick, Darwin et al: no wonder Dr Johnson called the place ‘city of philosophers’, which has stuck to this day (the motto on Lichfield's coat of arms quotes Samuel Johnson's tribute to his native city in his Dictionary, Salve, magna parensor ‘Hail great parent’).

 By now it was Staffordshire’s most prosperous town, but the Industrial Revolution seemed to pass Lichfield by, as other towns such as Birmingham boomed, and the railways pretty much killed off any coaching business. And so the character of Lichfield changed little over time. It remained however a popular city to live in, with the population tripling between the 1950s and 1980s.
And, in more recent times, July 2009 to be exact, the focus of the world centred upon the discovery of the largest archaeological Anglo-Saxon find ever, the Staffordshire Hoard, in the Lichfield district.

How to experience

Lichfield is a very central location and as such pretty easy to get to. Off the M42 at Tamworth, M6 toll motorway or the A38. Once there, it’s easy to navigate on foot.

Lichfield is a very central location and as such pretty easy to get to. Off the M42 at Tamworth, M6 toll motorway or the A38. Once there, it’s easy to navigate on foot.

It’s probably best to start at the new Three Spires Shopping Centre. From here you can locate the tourist information centre in the Garrick Theatre if needed (this is a cracking regional theatre, attracting over 100,000 people each year, so pick up an events brochure while you’re here). Head from there down Tudor Row and you’ll find yourself on Bore Street; there are some lovely Tudor buildings down this street. Look out for Lichfield House, used as a prison during the Civil War, and the Guildhall – the stained glass window here was originally in the cathedral.

In the Market Square you’ll find two places worth popping into: Lichfield Heritage Centre brings the 2,000-year story of this proud city to life with trails, photographs and the unique Staffordshire Millennium Embroideries, while on the corner is the museum dedicated to the city’s most famous son, the Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum.

You will likely have already clocked the three spires of the cathedral in the background (it’s the only mediaeval cathedral in Britain with three spires – they represent the Trinity and are sometimes known as the ‘ladies of the vale’). Work your way along Dam Street (this is where the fateful shot was fired during the Civil War – look for the plaque), past the Minster Pool and you’re there. As you approach you’ll find a Cathedral Visitor Study Centre on the left, but it’s worth walking right round to see the full effect of the West Front: very impressive.

Inside the cathedral be sure to look out for the shrine of St Chad, the focus for pilgrimages some 1,300 years ago; the recently discovered Lichfield Angel, an early mediaeval sculpture; and the Skidmore pulpit and quire screen, both rare surviving examples of Victorian decorative art.

This summer the cathedral is exhibiting the Staffordshire Hoard: well worth a visit.
Once out of the cathedral, down the pretty street opposite, you’ll find Erasmus Darwin House, a Grade-I listed building and museum dedicated to his life and achievements (for a further place of reflection sit down, close your eyes and take a deep breath in the herb garden at the rear: ahhh), then turn left and you’re heading back into the city, with Minster Pool on your left (just before the pool is a Garden of Remembrance, very peaceful, on your left and Beacon Park on your right).

Strolling back into the centre you’ll see the King’s Head pub – where in 1705 an infantry regiment was formed which was later to become the famous Staffordshire Regiment. You’re now back in the main part of the city with its selection of stores and some great places to eat.
Finally, make sure you head out north of the city and spend some time at the National Memorial Arboretum.

When to visit

City pics

Lichfield
Sheffield
Norwich
Ely
Chester
Lancaster
Worcester
Coventry