Laurence Rowe Scooting Down Dam Street

Laurence Rowe Scooting Down Dam Street

Woe Unto the Bloody City


Lichfield is, as far as 50 cities is concerned, my point of origin. It’s not a whopper, more a tiddler, as cities go, but to me it is perfectly formed and personally important. I love the place; the drama groups, the second-hand bookshops and bird-splattered statues, the parks and pubs, the churches and chippies, the taxi rank and the cathedral. I’m especially fond of the Garrick theatre, even though I loved the crumbling shipwreck it replaced more than a decade ago. That building had the rather Stalinist title of the Civic Hall and with its time-warp 1970s bar and ornamental fishponds it was a monument to another age, an age when supermarkets and multinationals didn’t yet own the high-street. Back in the good old days you shopped in family owned shops that specialised in things like cheese or meat and the apron-wearing tradespeople knew you by name, said "good morning" and tipped their hats when you left the premises. There’s a facebook page that advertises photos of Lichfield through the ages, and one travels from sepia to black and white, through glorious Technicolor via Polaroid’s and Canon's up to and surely beyond phone cameras and ipads.

Lovely Lichfield, sleepy and grey, well-heeled and flower bedded, discretely behaving itself. The Big City Knobs and Toffs may scoff at Dear Old Lich. It is for instance somewhere to drive, through according to Clarkson, somewhere where nothing happens…twice. I do like old Jezza, but think him well placed in rehab hell for his less then complementary comments about my city. 

After the delights of Edinburgh and my many weeks of walking in the Highlands of Scotland, Lichfield is a great place to come back to, a place for zoning on foot. I invariably head for the Market Square where apparently Christian followers of the Apocryphal Saint Amphibalus were massacred in their hundreds. Some suggest they were buried in mass graves in St Michael’s graveyard on Greenhill, some that they weren’t buried at all but left to rot in the gutters, food for rats and crows and worms.

“Woe, woe unto the bloody city of Lichfield,” a voice from the past cries and who am I to ignore it..

The Market square is empty now but earlier it was full of stalls and yapping hawkers with barrels of wasp-troubled fruit to sell, or barrels of olives to shift or a variety of oddly shaped hats looking for new homes.

I said the square was empty but that is not quite true. The shades of the Great Doctor Johnson and his Scottish biographer Boswell linger in stone. Johnson, like Rodin’s thinker, gazes down on the world deep in thought. The great lexicographer gave birth to the modern dictionary and much else besides. Like Wilde his epigrammatic wit is remembered and quoted whenever he arises as a subject in conversation.

“A man who tires of London tires of life.” Most people know that one. I try a substitution. “A man who tires of Lichfield…” It doesn’t quite ring true and I break off laughing, then head off down Breadmarket street, cutting through Tudor Row and out onto Wade Street. I look around and begin to plan.

The point of my Nine Points Walks is that they will prioritise what is special, important and interesting about the 50 cities of England. Any list is only a starting point, not a final definition, a dictionary entry or points of law. I want the walks to be exposed to a rainbow of chaos. It’s as much a philosophy as a past time, just as Intimate theatre, is a concept without a company. A list of sorts begins to form. Johnson’s Birthplace, Market Square and St Mary’s are an obvious starting point. Not exactly a singularity…more a trinity of possibilities. Okay, what next. Although I’m moving in the opposite direction my mind takes me down Dam Street past the site of Redshaws, bookshop, long gone and long mourned, past Dame Olivers and Lovett’s to Speakers Corner and Minster Pool. I’ll call this Location 2. A cut through takes me to Stowe fields and thence to Location 3, Stowe pool, the walk around the pool’s edge delivering me to St Chad’s Church. Another Character I’ve played on stage. A long trawl down Netherstowe takes me to Eastern Avenue, Location 4 which I trawl in its entirety, slepping all the way up to the Friary. Down Stafford road to the crossroads and barrelling along Beacon Street I arrive at location 5, Garrick’s Birthplace. David Garrick, great actor, in whose house I was at King Edwards whose portrait hangs in the George Hotel, for many years a hangout for Intimate theatre. Location 6 is Darwin House, where Erasmus Charles’ Grandfather lived and practiced medicine and no doubt entertained members of the Lunar Society with high brow discussions on every topic under the sun.  Further down Beacon Street one turns a corner onto Cathedral Close where looms the Gothic masterpiece that is the cathedral and our seventh location. Around the close we retrace our steps back onto Beacon and follow it down onto Bird Street where one finds the George Hotel, Location 8. Walking still further on Bird Street gives onto Upper St John’s street. A walk down Frog lane brings me to where I now stand outside the Garrick, my ninth and final location, the perfect place to while away the evening.

However I will no linger here but head out onto the Birmingham road, up Levett’s Fields and over the railway bridge to Cherry Orchard where the blossoms still fall every spring and the street is full of schoolkids. Walking faster I pass my old school King Eddies and find myself walking down Woodfields Drive to visit an old and dear friend Brian Todd, a fellow theatrical and bon viveur. There we will talk late and laugh into the night about the State of the Nation, politically, dramatically, historically and weariness drives me home to slumberland.

Lichfield Mysteries 2009

Burial from Lichfield Mysteries 2009. Directed by Stuart Goodwin. Music by Paul Leishman. edited by Jo Hodgkiss-Wilson.


A few day’s pass and I’m anxious to try out my concept, to give it the acid test if you will. For that I need company. I need a travelling companion, someone to play Boswell to my Johnson. There is only one candidate, Ex Rock Star, Genius film editor, Click-thru guru Alan Rowe, one of the best people on the planet as far as I’m concerned. It’s Sunday morning and I’m just back from Edinburgh, my mind is racing and my feet are anxious to keep on walking, my motormouth to keep on talking.

The day looms, neigh, it towers over me, casting long Gothic shadows of possibilities. I text Al. Are you about? Silence. FB. Are you about? Louder and more urgent.  I get the all clear. Go over. The family are already up and about. There is Deborah, Alan’s jewellery making hostess with the mostest wife, adored and adorable; Zephan, Al’s 7 going on 17 year old son, a James Dean wannabe and Little Laurie/Lorry, a chunky bulldozer and speed demon who is the most mischievous little imp you will ever meet.  Zeph is going out to a party. He is uncharacteristically shy when I arrive so I sit down and sip tea waiting for him to come to me. He circles, chats and then goes out, picked up by a friend’s parent to be taken to a party in Sutton Coldfield, where my humble self was born. I want to say Jimmy Choos but its not, its Jimmy Spices.

With Zipper gone I go over my plan in my mind, rehearsing and revising the route I plan to take. Al and I chat, then Debs and I chat. Lorry is watching Gummy bears and keeps on calling for Al to put another episode on, which he does even though I suspect its torture.  I get chatting about 50 cities and outline the idea for the Lichfield walk. It’ll be best with the family so Lorry is dressed and his scooter fetched. We start off in mild weather, strolling in a dandified fashion beneath aluminium skies. Rain threatens but it’s a damp fart of a threat. I’ve just come back from Scotland where the Big Winds live and feel not one jot of anxiety.

I wear my walking gear, wiffy though it is, and feel fine, happy to have gone away and happy to be back. Lorry is a constant delight and after initial shyness demands to be photographed. This bodes well and in Lynn Avenue he stands on a tree stump, still for a while but not for long. He is kinetic and dynamic and vocal, a whirlwind of energy. Pure joy in human form. I call him Blondie but his hair is straw yellow, if a little sun kissed. I suggest that peroxide might work and Debs laughs, not sure if I am serious or not. Of course I am. The tree is a rotten stump like my teeth. It’s old I say on account of its rings. How do you know a  tree is old Lorry asks. Trees have rings, people have wrinkles. Look. This tree has many rings. But he’s already gone. Down Lynn Avenue away from the house, onto Stafford Road.

In the Garden Debs and I discussed a tentative route and nine points of possible interest in and around the city. I made my list a few weeks ago, whilst hers is made up on the spot. A quick comparison and I find our lists gel. Perfectamundo. Walking out stuff happens. We walk down to the Morrison’s roundabout and Al spots a disheveled guy, a stumblebum, heading towards the store. He IDs him as a boozehound and say he’s off to score some hooch. The discussion segues into beards and why drinkers wear them, seeking anonymity Al suggests so that they can slink off to drink unmolested. A mutual friend's name comes up and we move off. Outside the Fountain pub I ask the Rowe Family to cross the road and pose. Boozers will soon be extinct. We are living through the age of the Gastro pub after all. I snip snap away with my phone half arty, half indifferent.

Debs as hoped is on top form pointing out salient features and as we pass a house she states the wom-girl who likes there is from Orkney from whence I have just returned. Connections. Further up the road we passed a monkey-puzzle tree. I stopped a woman and asked her what the tree is. She didn’t know so I told her. We get to the entrance of a road called Nether Beacon and as I’ve never been down there suggest a diversion. As we stroll by we admire the houses. They all look to be past the half million quid mark and if I’m ever troubled with money I’d move there. Quiet and large and elegant they are.

It might be nice to do an Envy Tour. Walk aspirational bourgeois folk around houses they would like but will never be able to afford. Al says no one can afford to move and that they are not holding their prices. Austerity bites. The age of austerity is devouring us all. One house has large black gates from which even Lorry could not escape. I get he and Debs to pose there. Then off he scoots, a regular roller coaster ride.

The road hooks round into a passageway. A cross-section of the Leasowe is seen where I sing with Auntie Jean and chums round the Joanna and we’re suddenly walking beneath trees. Lorry is too scared to power down the slope on his scooter so we stare and spy between evil looking railings. Et in arcadia ego. And in paradise I am. The I being death. Emerging onto Gaia lane we peer over a wall at the cathedral to a world of privilege and exclusion.     

Baz the chef’s son goes to the Cathedral School on a scholarship which he gained because of his fiddlecraft, Al tells me. I howl at this. Baz, his dad, is a staunch Thatcherite, bluer than Roy Chubby Brown, a cigar chomping bossman, bwana, grafter, slave master and a hoot to boot. Politically we’re poles apart but I’m fond of him regardless. He was in my patrol at scouts and he has a zest for life I find appealing. 

On Gaia lane Debs and I scrutinize a mock Tudor building and deride it endlessly and mercilessly. A hangover from the eighties it looks tawdry and cheap albeit well situated. I hear John Betjeman sigh as I write this. The greenery swells and blackbirds skewer snails. We trot on, a happy family and honorary uncle. Down the windings to emerge at the bottom of Stowe fields, which like Strawberry fields are forever. The grass is lank and wet, in need of a good haircut. We slope off towards the cathedral, the intended finale to our nine point odyssey and hang a left onto Dam Street.    

I force Debs and Al to kiss to lend the walk a romantic coda and snap Lorry as he scoots over the Bridge of the damned. Much hilarity as Debs curates the real, as opposed to mock Tudor buildings and we both swoon at an authentic Tudor window, painted white and replete with carvings.  We survey plaques and dates and window shop with an avaricious eye. Being with Debs I see the world anew. Usually I tend to focus on the trees and ignore the architecture but not today.

Debs being a valuer, art hound and expert on antiques we dip into R Bridgeman and Sons and peruse the contents with excitement. It’s Dickens’s Old Curiosity shop and no mistake. Kitsch corn on the cob vases with cracked mauve, lurid interiors.  I swoon, falling in love again. There is much to relish, sheet music for Finian’s Rainbow which I first saw in 1975 in Brownhills, an old typewriter, prints of Lichfield and bric-a-brac too numerous to mention. Deborah is in her element and I buy a jade shoe horn with a  long handle for a tenner. This then become my pointing stick. With some reluctance Debs and I move on. At the bottom of Dam street I have a saucy conversation with a limping Italianate woman on crutches. She comments on my shoe horn and intimates she might enjoy a little light spanking. I concur but not with her.

At the Market Square we pause, Al and I he to be snapped beneath the austere gaze of Boswell and I beneath a pensive Johnson, looking for all the world like a more portly version of Rodin’s Thinker, only seated and with more clothes on. Greig’s for lunch, yum yums and pasties which we eat beside Minster pool watching the carp in the dark waters chomping bread the ducks have missed.

The threat of rain materializes and Al dashes off to fetch the car. Deborah pops to the loo and Lorry and I shelter beneath a giant oak in Beacon Park. Lorry throws twigs at me and we admire the blooms and gushing lions. Debs rejoins us and we chat about the statue of W.E John, doomed captain of the Titanic, sunk on her maiden voyage. Stoke rejected the statue but Lichfield didn’t. Johns is a world class loser but why not. I suggest that we should have statues of assassins like Chapman and Oswald, after all they shape the world as much as the politicos.

Then the car arrives and we make a dash through the rain to the gate by the Old Library. One last statue of Erasmus Darwin which Debs IDs and we’re off passing Darwin House, the Cathedral and Garrick’s birthplace. Beacon street gives way to Stafford Road and we turn into Lyn Avenue, ending where we began. I cycle home in the driving rain, happy and sated, even though rain stopped play.

Later, when I ring to thank Al he says, "well that was Part 1 and heaven knows I’m not averse to Part 2." (Brief Pause) "In theory." Those last two words are very Al. The City to which I will always return, if only in my thoughts, is a point of origins, where my story begins and possibly will end. I schooled here and I fooled here and I have many friends here but none so dear as the Rowes.



14.07.2016 21:28

PS I think the statue referred to may be Capt. Smith?? WE Johns was the guy who wrote the Biggles books.Maybe he has a statue too.


14.07.2016 21:20

I enjoyed your article. I was born in Lichfield and lived in Lyn Avenue for the first 7 years of my life. I recall several of the names and places you referred to, in fact it made me quite nostalgic!

Stuart Goodwin

27.09.2016 17:20

Peter, thank you for your feedback. Just back from Scotland and logging on after a few months away. The City is very much in a state of transition at the moment. Lots of new buidlings.

Dumb Dyott

24.01.2016 11:20

Lichfield! - can stand the place!

Latest comments

14.10 | 16:13

I know. I see that it's all over but concealed. Not part of a cities authorised biography or daily propaganda.

14.10 | 16:09

Ah thia latter letter reminds me of a man Iknew in Lichfield - now departed totally - he too was being hounded and oppressed and taken to court for nothing. See it isn't just Leeds!!

14.09 | 02:52

A joy to read Stu. Not only an expert tour guide (I have walked the Scottish Highlands with you twice) but a masterful storyteller who merges time and place into a kaleidoscope of imagery & metaphor.

13.09 | 17:29

Its so lovely to hear from you Mike and Jan. Your offer is very kind as are your memories of the trip we shared.

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