The important historic city of Lichfield is dominated by its magnificent three-spire cathedral. Although many of its surviving buildings date to the medieval period, the original settlement developed during the 1st century when the Romans built a fort at Letocetum (known as Wall).
Lichfield Medieval Town Centre © Travel About Britain
Once the Romans left this area of the country became part of the Saxon kingdom of Mercia. Following the death of St Chad, in 672AD, the town was reborn as an ecclesiastical centre and major pilgrimage site, when its famous cathedral became second only in importance to Canterbury. In 2006, excavations under the nave uncovered remains of the original Saxon Church and the 'Lichfield Angel', believed to be part of the original shrine, built in 700 by Bishop Hedda. This and other relics can be viewed within the cathedral, along with the beautifully illuminated St. Chad Gospels.
The cathedral is isolated from the town within a close of ecclesiastical buildings, dominated by a Deanery and a 17th-century Bishop's Palace. The compact network of surrounding streets still follow the medieval plan, devised by Norman night Bishop Roger de Clinton. Lichfield has been granted six royal charters over the centuries, the earliest given by Richard II in 1387.
The heart of the city is its Market Square where the buildings are predominantly Georgian mixed in with a number of very fine timber-framed structures. Other splendid buildings include the 16th-c. Lichfield House and the Georgian Donegal House in Bore Street. The George Inn, in Bird Street, has an outstanding Regency ballroom.
The King Edward VI School (1849) replaced a previous Grammar School. Former pupils included Elias Ashmole, Robert James and the actor David Garrick. Other celebrated men of the 18th-c. include the essayist Joseph Addison and the famous lexicographer Samuel Johnson, whose birthday (18th September 1709), is commemorated annually in the city. Johnson's statue sits on a pedestal in the Market Place facing his house, which contains a fascinating museum of his life and work.
Further along Breadmarket Street is the birthplace of the antiquary and herald Elias Ashmole, benefactor to Oxford's Ashmolian Museum. Also in Beacon Street is the house where Dr Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles Darwin, lived.
St John's Hospital without the Barrs (in St. John Street) was provided by Bishop William Smith in 1495. Its eight prominent chimneys are unique features of the almshouse, which was originally the Hospital of St John Baptist; built to provide a rest for travellers who had arrived after the city gates (or barrs) had been closed for the night. The Hospital Chapel has been in continuous use since 1135.
Other ancient buildings include the friary and friary gardens, with links to the Grey Friars of 1229. During the 12th-c. a castle is believed to have existed in the south part of the town, although there are no remains visible today. King Richard II was famously held prisoner at Lichfield Castle and escaped at night by jumping into the castle moat, only to be later recaptured and carried to his death.
To discover the full history of Lichfield visit the former St. Mary's Church, now a heritage centre.
The city has plenty of green open spaces with several large parks and gardens. Two small artificial lakes close to the city centre, Minster Pool and the Stowe Pool, provide excellent walks.
Lichfield is a city of festivals where there's always something going on from the Shrovetide Fair in February to the Lichfield Heritage Weekend in autumn.
To the southwest of Lichfield, at Wall, extensive Roman remains can be seen, including baths and posting stations. The city is also within easy reach of the high peaks of the Staffordshire Moorlands, the National Forest and Cannock Chase.
No visit is complete without a tour of the city's stunning cathedral. The current red sandstone building (1195 to 1325), is the only English cathedral to retain its grouping of three spires; nicknamed the Ladies of the Vale.
Over 100 statues cover the magnificent west front, representing figures from the Old Testament, the Holy Family, the Apostles, saints, bishops and 24 kings of England. Much of this carving dates from the 19th-c, however. Inside is a famous sculpture by Chantrey, known as the Sleeping Children, a memorial to children of the cathedral cleric who perished in a fire in 1812.
The beautiful Lady Chapel was added in the 14th century and its glass sourced from a Belgian convent, in 1801. The St Chad Gospels are the cathedral's most treasured possessions. Written in Latin, they date from around 730AD.
Location: The Close, Lichfield WS13 7LD
Tel: 01543 306100
A multi-use centre for arts, heritage and culture. Located on the second floor of St Mary's Church, in the market square. Exhibits cover local history and temporary exhibitions of local artists.
Opening times: see website for details
Location: Market St, Lichfield WS13 6LG
Tel: 01543 256611
Built for Samuel's father Michael Johnson, on the corner of Market Square in 1709, where he lived and ran his bookselling business. The room in which Samuel was born contains a collection of personal memorabilia and the books, including the Dictionary that was Johnson's greatest achievement. Johnson is also commemorated by a memorial in the cathedral, and a statue opposite his birthplace.
Opening times: daily from 10:30am to 4:30pm - Admission Charge
Location: Breadmarket St, Lichfield WS13 6LG
Tel: 01543 264972
Now a Scheduled Ancient Monument, the remains of the town's ancient Franciscan Friary are preserved in a small park towards the south of the city. St Francis of Assisi founded the friary in 1209. Parts of the north wall and nave are still visible in once corner of the garden. Stone slabs set in the grass show where the rest of the walls would have stood.
Opening times: any reasonable time - Free Entry
Location: Friary Road, Lichfield.