Lichfield began as a Saxon village. The name Lichfield may be a corruption of Letocetum meaning grey wood. Or it may a corruption of Lece feld meaning a small stream (lece) by the open land (feld).
In the year 669 the Bishop of Mercia (roughly the Midlands of England) chose to make his seat at Lichfield. After his death the Bishop was canonised (declared a saint) and his remains were kept in Lichfield. Many pilgrims came to see them. (In those days many people went on long journeys called pilgrimages to visit things like the shrines of saints). However in 1075 the reigning bishop moved his seat to Chester.
LICHFIELD IN THE MIDDLE AGES
The Bishops of Chester owned the village of Lichfield. Bishop Clinton (1129-48) decided to create a new town there. The bishop laid out some new streets. On one side of the town was a street where John Street and Bird Street now stand. On the other side was a street where Dam Street, Conduit Street and Bakers Lane are today. Linking the two were Frog Lane, Wade Street, Bore Street and Market Street.
Lichfield did not have stone walls but it did have a ditch and an earth embankment probably with a wooden stockade on top. By the 13th century little 'suburbs' had grown up outside the ditch.
In 1291 Lichfield was severely damaged by a fire, which destroyed many buildings. Fire was a constant threat in the Middle Ages because most buildings were of wood with thatched roofs. On the other hand if they did burn they could easily be replaced.
Lichfield prospered. It had a mint and in 1228 the bishop moved back from Chester. By 1208 there was a 'hospital' outside the town opposite the end of St John Street.
From about 1237 there were Franciscan friars on the site of the street called The Friary. (Friars were like monks but instead of withdrawing from the world they went out to preach).
The population of Lichfield at that time is not known for certain but it was probably about 1,500. That may seem tiny but towns were very small in those days.
Lichfield had a weekly market. By the late 13th century it also had a fair. In the Middle Ages a fair was like a market but it was held only once a year for a period of several days. Buyers and sellers came from all over the West Midlands to attend a Lichfield fair. By the early 14th century there were 4 fairs in Lichfield.
In the Middle Ages the main industry in Lichfield was making woollen cloth. There was also a leather industry in Lichfield. There were tanners and also men who worked in finished leather such as saddlers and cappers (leather cap makers). In the early 15th century a Guildhall was built in Bore Street. In 1424 Milleys Hospital was built in Beacon Street.
LICHFIELD IN THE 16th AND 17th CENTURIES
In 1538 Henry VIII closed the friary. He also destroyed St Chad's shrine. That was a serious blow to Lichfield as it meant there were no more pilgrims visiting the town and spending their money.
However in 1548 Lichfield was incorporated, that is it was given a corporation and a mayor. In 1553 Queen Mary made Lichfield a county separate from the rest of Staffordshire.
Mary tried to undo the religious changes made by the previous monarchs. In her reign 3 heretics were burned in Lichfield. The last heretic burned in England was executed in Lichfield in 1612.
Like other towns in the 16th and 17th centuries Lichfield suffered outbreaks of the plague. A severe outbreak occurred in 1593.
In 1642 came civil war between king and parliament. A royalist army occupied Lichfield in December 1643. However in March a parliamentary army entered the town and the royalists were forced to withdraw into the cathedral close. Behind its walls and gates they held out for several days. The royalists surrendered but they were allowed to escape. In April another royalist army arrived the parliamentarians retreated into the cathedral close. After a siege lasting 2 weeks they surrendered but were allowed to escape. Lichfield was now in royalist hands.
However by 1646 the king was losing the war. In March the parliamentary army again entered Lichfield and the royalist defenders were left holding the cathedral close. This time they held out for 4 months and surrendered only in July 1646. During the siege parliamentary artillery severely damaged the cathedral. Furthermore Lichfield suffered a severe outbreak of plague but the town soon recovered.
Work on restoring the cathedral began in 1662 and was completed in 1669. A new Bishop's Palace was built in 1687.
In the late 17th century brick buildings replaced wooden ones in Lichfield and thatched roofs replaced tiled ones. In 1690 thatched roofs were banned altogether because of the risk of fire.
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