- The territory of the diocese
- The parishes and structure of the diocese
- Peculiar jurisdictions within the diocese
- Extra-diocesan peculiars of the Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry
- Treatment and coverage of the diocese of Lichfield in the CCED
The origins of the diocese known at various times as ‘Coventry and Lichfield’ and ‘Lichfield and Coventry’ were ancient. It first came into being as the see of the Mercian kingdom, and in its early existence its boundaries fluctuated considerably. Indeed, whereas some other dioceses have neatly defined boundaries mirroring those of the secular geography of the counties, Lichfield and Coventry has over the centuries more of the untidy character of a vast puddle splashed over central England, its edges advancing and receding according to the vagaries of politics and planning. In the 1880s William Beresford remarked that Lichfield was ‘the Mother diocese from which, at different times, no less than eleven dioceses have been thrown off, namely, — Hereford, Worcester, Lincoln, Ely, Peterborough, Chester, Manchester, Liverpool, Gloucester and parts of Oxford and St Alban’s’ (Beresford, n.d., 1); this before the creation of Southwell in 1884, later followed by further subdivisions.
In 653 Peada, sub-king of the Middle Angles, was baptised by Bishop Finan of Lindisfarne on his marriage to the daughter of Oswiu, king of Northumbria. Following the death of the pagan king Penda of Mercia in 655, Oswiu assumed overlordship of Mercia, and in 656 shortly before Peada was murdered, an Irishman, Diuma, was constituted first bishop of Mercia, his see stretching from the Humber to the Wye and nearing London to the south, although for many years political instability afflicted the region. A key turning-point came in 669, when King Wulfhere secured Ceadda (St Chad) to assume the office of bishop (669-72), and it was Ceadda who chose Lichfield as his see city. Under Bishop Seaxwulf (c.676-92) the see was divided with the creation of bishoprics at Leicester, Hereford, Worcester, Stowe and possibly Dorchester. The kingdom of Mercia itself rose to new heights of power under Offa (757-96), and this was reflected in the constitution of Lichfield as an archiepiscopal see, although this did not endure, in 803 King Cenwulf bringing this phase to an end.
By the later Anglo-Saxon period the territorial composition of the diocese had assumed the broad shape it was to retain until the reign of King Henry VIII. The diocese embraced the whole of the counties of Cheshire, Staffordshire and Derbyshire, as well as significant parts of Shropshire, Warwickshire and Lancashire. The location of the see city, however, remained less certain for much of the medieval period. In 1075 the Norman appointee to the see, Peter, transferred the bishopric to Chester, as part of a more general policy that bishoprics should be held in large towns. From this date onwards ‘Chester’ was frequently included in the title of the see up until the county was separated. However, his successor, Robert de Lymesey, in 1095 acquired the farm of the revenues of the Benedictine abbey of Coventry on the death of an abbot, and seven years later under a papal licence transferred the see to the abbey church, of which the bishop became abbot. The abbey itself was held with its barony by grant from the crown, renewed on each succession to the episcopal throne.
The see now remained at Coventry for roughly a century, but the right of electing the bishop did not go uncontested. Under King Stephen, Walter Durdant was elected bishop by the monks of Coventry without the participation of the canons of either Lichfield or Chester, who carried an unsuccessful appeal against the election to Rome. When Durdant arrived at Lichfield in 1149, the gates of the close were shut in his face. In contrast Richard Peche was elected bishop in 1161 by the unanimous consent of both chapters; yet his successor, Gerard Puella (1183-4), was once again the choice of Coventry alone and was not welcome at Lichfield. The elections of 1199 and 1215 were similarly contentious, the latter creating a stalemate which led to a compromise candidate being appointed; in 1224 the pope resolved a dispute by appointing his own nominee, Alexander Stavensby. Now at last a resolution was found: it was agreed that elections should henceforth be made alternately by the two chapters. On occasion difficulties still arose, but not on the scale of the earlier disputes. From 1228 until the Reformation, the see was now generally known as the bishopric of ‘Coventry and Lichfield’.
The Reformation saw extensive changes to the diocese. There were plans in 1538 for additional sees for Shrewsbury, Derby and Nottingham, Stafford, but these came to nought (although under an act passed in 1534 a titular suffragan bishop of Shrewsbury was established in 1537). Orders for the suppression of Coventry priory came in 1537 with dissolution following in 1539, and thenceforth the secular Lichfield chapter held an undisputed right to elect the bishop and the pre-eminence of that city in the diocese was confirmed, although the usage ‘Coventry and Lichfield’ was not definitively superseded by ‘Lichfield and Coventry’ until the Restoration, and some official papers continued the older nomenclature until the 1750s (Horn 2003: vii). Most significant of all, in 1541 a new diocese of Chester was formed, and the new see assumed command of the archdeaconry of Chester, taking with it all the territory of the diocese of Lichfield and Coventry in the counties of Cheshire and Lancashire.
And thus the territory of the diocese remained until the end of the period covered by the CCE. The bishops of the diocese had in the medieval period lived in a magnificent palace built in Lichfield under bishop Walter de Langton (1296-1321), while holding amongst other residences the manor of Eccleshall in Staffordshire. At the Reformation, however, the palace fell into disuse and Eccleshall became the main residence of the bishop, where the castle proved its value when Bishop Robert Wright held it with a royalist garrison during the Civil Wars, dying in the course of the siege that ensued. When John Hacket succeeded as bishop in 1661, with the episcopal palace in Lichfield ‘much ruinated’ (Kettle & Johnson 2001: 177) and Eccleshall untenable, he took up residence in one of the prebendal houses. A new palace in Lichfield was finally completed in 1687, although the story of its construction was a complicated one involving Bishop Thomas Wood (1671-92) whose dereliction of duty resulted in his suspension from office in 1684. Meanwhile Bishop Lloyd (1692-9), built a new episcopal palace at Eccleshall, and this became the chief residence of the eighteenth-century bishops, under whose auspices it underwent considerable improvement. In the later 1870s, however, Bishop Selwyn sold off Eccleshall and made the Lichfield palace his primary residence.
Shortly after the end of the period covered by the CCED, the diocese once more underwent significant change. An order in council of 22 December 1836 severed the archdeaconry of Coventry from the diocese and transferred it to the diocese of Worcester. From this point on the bishop was known as the bishop of Lichfield alone. Then in 1846 the deanery of Bridgnorth was transferred to the diocese of Hereford. In 1884, the archdeaconry of Derby became part of the newly created bishopric of Southwell; in 1905 further territory was lost to the new diocese of Birmingham, while there was an exchange of parishes with Hereford and Upper Arley was lost to Worcester; in 1920 a number of parishes in northern Shropshire were transferred with Penley (Flint) to St Asaph, and in 1993 a further deanery (Hinley) was transferred to Worcester. In short, the see of Lichfield has come a long way from its eight-century archiepiscopal aspirations.
In 1711 Ecton adjudged the see worth £559 7s. 3½d. By 1835 its value had risen to some £3,660 net, placing it in the middle of the national league table.
In the 1830s the diocese covered some 3,344 square miles with a population of some 984,000. It was thus sixth largest in terms of area and fourth in terms of population, although still more than half a million short in terms of inhabitants in comparison with York, Chester or London.
At the very outset of our period, however, in territorial terms it was even bigger. The boundaries of the diocese as they stood in 1540 have nowhere been better described than in the Guide to the contents of the Lichfield Record Office published in 1999 by the Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Archive Service:
“The diocese was one of the largest in medieval England … it was divided into five archdeaconries roughly coinciding with the constituent counties or parts of counties: Chester (covering Cheshire and South Lancashire), Coventry, Derby, Salop and Stafford. If minor deviations from civil boundaries are ignored, its limits can be described as follows: from the mouth of the River Ribble in Lancashire, along the river to its Yorkshire border, then the boundary between Yorkshire and successively Lancashire, Cheshire and Derbyshire, and southwards along the Derbyshire-Nottinghamshire border For the whole of this distance, it marched with the diocese and province of York.
It then followed the eastern and southern limits of Derbyshire and the eastern side of Staffordshire and Warwickshire as far as Ratley in south Warwickshire, bordering throughout the diocese of Lincoln. The boundary then moved north-westwards through Warwickshire: Leamington, Kenilworth, and Solihull were in the diocese, but Warwick was in the diocese of Worcester, whose limits seem to preserve the 7th-century boundary between the partly Saxon Hwicce and the Anglian Mercians. Of the modern Birmingham, the parishes of Birmingham itself, Aston and Edgbaston, together with Harborne and Handsworth, which were in Staffordshire until 1891 and 1911 respectively, were in Lichfield diocese, while Yardley, Kings Norton and Northfield were in the county and diocese of Worcester.
The boundary followed the general direction of the Staffordshire-Worcestershire border, although Clent and Broom, a detached island of Staffordshire, were in Worcester diocese, as were Rowley Regis, which was part of the parish of Clent, and Amblecote, which was part of Old Swinford (Worcs.). The boundary with the Hereford diocese roughly followed the course of the River Severn through Shropshire, although including a group of parishes in mod-Shropshire, approximately comprising the hundred of Condover, south of the river. The original boundary between the dioceses of Hereford and Lichfield may well have commemorated the 7th-century borders of the Mercians and the Magonsaete
The boundary included the former detached part of Flintshire, comprising the parishes of Hanmer, Overton, Bangor Iscoed, which was partly in Denbighshire, and Worthenbury and Penley chapelry, and continued northwards up the western boundary of Chester diocese, taking in the Denbighshire parishes of Holt and the Flint parishes of Hawarden.” (Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Archive Service, 1999: 5-6)
This huge jurisdiction was cut down to size with the creation of the diocese of Chester in 1541. Although much of the boundary remained unaltered, it was dramatically drawn in to the north-west. To Chester went all parishes in the counties of South Lancashire and Cheshire, Denbighshire and Flintshire, save for the chapelry of Penley, which formed part of the Shropshire parish of Ellesmere. From Great Ness on the Severn to the north, the boundary now cut north via Ruyton XI Towns, West Felton, Hordley and Ellesmere to meet the Flint border where it followed the county boundary of Shropshire (Salop) until it met Staffordshire.
Such a vast jurisdiction inevitably contained a variety of contrasting environments. Detailed description of the territory which for all but the first years of the period covered by the CCEd constituted part of the diocese of Chester will be found in the latter’s diocesan pages, but contained the Cheshire plain with peripheral uplands, while in Lancashire too there was a combination of Pennine upland and coastal plain.
The Shropshire parishes of the diocese lay in the north of the county, where the hills of the south were largely absent save for isolated outcrops. In the north Shropshire plain the soils were light and sandy, and by the early nineteenth century there was a diverse crop regime, with the meadows bordering the Severn especially fertile. In those parts of the county near the major Staffordshire conurbations dairying was a major occupation. East of Shrewsbury the Coalbrookdale coalfield lay near parishes such as Wellington, Lilleshall, and Shifnal. This was showing signs of exhaustion by the end of the period of the CCEd, but had already underpinned significant industrial and mining development. The Severn, which for a considerable distance formed the diocesan boundary, was at the start of the period navigable from Shrewsbury, the most significant settlement in the county with a population of more than 4,000 and an important school. When Defoe visited it, he found it a ‘beautiful, large, pleasant, populous and rich town; full of gentry and yet full of trade too’ (he mentioned the manufacture of broadcloth and flannel), ‘a town of mirth and gallantry’, as well as the site of a major market frequented by many welsh-speakers.
Staffordshire alone offered a wide range of environments. The north of the county, adjoining Cheshire and Derbyshire, at the start of the period was largely moorland; the remainder of the county was flatter, much heavily wooded. In the centre was an area devoted to the cultivation of grasses and cereals, with pasture and corn predominating in the south. Even in the early period covered by the CCEd mineral extraction was of considerable significance in the county, with shallow coal and iron deposits being recovered and charcoal from local woods being employed for local smelting. The county was nevertheless characterised by relative poverty in the Tudor and Stuart periods. Lichfield’s economy had been damaged by destruction of the shrine of St Chad at the reformation, and like Stafford was not an especially large town. When Defoe visited the latter a hundred years later, he grumbled that ‘we thought to have found something more worth going so much out of the way in it’, but he liked Lichfield, ‘a place of good conversation and good company above all the towns in this county’, or indeed Warwickshire or Derbyshire! By 1835 the county was undergoing an upheaval (by the end of the nineteenth century a commentator could write that ‘The subterranean treasures of Staffordshire have so stimulated manufacture that the county has now the largest average population in Great Britain after Middlesex and Lancashire, and is particularly famous for its potteries and ironworks.’) The potteries were developing in the north-west of the county, giving rise to considerable urban growth in former villages such as Newcastle-under-Lyme, Stoke, Longton, Burslem, and Hanley. In the south of the county, soon to be known as the Black Country on account of the smoke generated by its manufactures, ironworking was driving growth in towns such as Walsall, Wednesbury, and Bilston. Metalworking was important in the southern region more generally, in towns such as Wolverhampton, West Bromwich and Willenhall. At Soho, near Smethwick, stood the steam-engine works founded by Boulton, and Birmingham lay over the border in Warwickshire.
The Warwickshire portion of the diocese contained not just Birmingham, with its flourishing metal trades, but also the city of Coventry, which at the start of the period already had a population of some 6,000 with many small industries and crafts (when Leland visited Birmingham, in contrast, it was effectively a single-street village). Coventry not only had its ecclesiastical establishment, but manufactures of cloth and ribbons. By the end of the period there was significant urbanization in the north-west of the county around Birmingham, but much remained agricultural. Most of the soils were fertile, covering a gently undulating landscape supporting mixed farming or dairying, and in the early years of the period the northern part of the county lived up to its title of the Forest of Arden, supporting woodland with extensive common rights.
Finally, there was Derbyshire. Here, as in Staffordshire, the county afforded striking contrasts. In the north lay the uplands of the Peak district, where the Pennines first hint of the grandeur to the north; further south there were lowland areas around Derby and Chesterfield. Around 1600 the county was heavily wooded save for the Peak district, with the agricultural activity of the county concentrated in arable production in the south and west; there was also a significant mining industry based on the lead ores found in the Peak; coal and iron were also both extracted, and by the nineteenth century had surpassed lead in importance. Buxton already had a reputation as a spa resort. Derby itself (a ‘fine, beautiful and pleasant town’, thought Defoe, who also described it as a ‘town of gentry, rather than trade’) remained the chief town of the county throughout the period covered by the database. Wirksworth was an important market town, as was Chesterfield. Textiles were important to the county’s economy, one famous early manufactory being that established by Richard Arkwright at Cromford.
As already indicated, at the outset of the period covered by the CCED, the diocese had five archdeaconries, cut to four in 1541 with the creation of the diocese of Chester. The archdeacon of Derby’s jurisdiction covered most of the synonymous county, although there were significant areas under peculiar jurisdictions, especially in the north-west of the county. The archdeacon of Salop had responsibility for most of the parishes within the county of Shropshire, with the only extensive area of peculiar jurisdiction occurring in the southernmost part of this territory. In Staffordshire, it was a similar story. Here the archdeacon of Stafford had authority over most of the parishes in the county, but there were many more peculiars interrupting his jurisdiction than in Shropshire, especially in the southern part of the county (see the account of peculiars below). The archdeacon of Coventry, in contrast, had only a few parishes outside his control in that part of the diocese within the county of Warwickshire, which provided the limits of his authority. For the period in which it lay within the diocese, the archdeaconry of Chester contained all the Cheshire parishes and all those within the southern part of Lancashire that fell under Lichfield’s authority.
The parishes of the diocese varied enormously in size and shape. Predictably the upland areas of Derbyshire and Staffordshire had particularly large parishes, while Warwickshire had much smaller parishes, as did lowland Staffordshire and Derbyshire. In Shropshire, compact parishes along the Severn and in the vicinity of Shrewsbury contrasted with larger jurisdictions in the mosses of the north.
When the Ecclesiastical Commissioners offered their returns relating to the diocese of Lichfield and Coventry in 1835, based on a survey covering the years 1829-31, they reported as follows. The 610 benefices they considered (five had failed to make returns) had an average gross and net income below the national average: £278 gross (national average £303) and £260 net (£285), although well above the lowest figures returned for England (£181 and £175 in Carlisle). They recorded 307 curates with an average annual stipend of £81, precisely the national average.
The patronage of these livings in 1831 was as follows: 53 were in the gift of the crown; 18 were in episcopal hands; 10 were controlled by ecclesiastical corporations aggregate, and no less than 122 by single dignitaries or incumbents; only 6 were the property of universities or hospitals, and 391 were in the hands of private patrons.
The bishop of Lichfield and Coventry himself presented or nominated to only fifteen livings in his considerable diocese: in Derbyshire Duffield; in Shropshire Prees; in Staffordshire Chorlton in Eccleshall, Colwich, Eccleshall itself, Gnosall, Hanbury, Longdon, High Offley and Penn; and in Warwickshire Birmingham Christ Church and St Philip, Bishop’s Itchington, Dunchurch and Tachbrook. He could also appoint to the livings of Abthorpe, Long Buckby, Pixley and Towcester in the diocese of Peterborough; Belgrave in the diocese of Lincoln; and Coppenhall, Tarvin and Wybunbury in the diocese of Chester.
Peculiar jurisdiction was extensive and complex within the diocese. The interrelation of the peculiars was itself intricate, the records often overlapping or duplicating, implying somewhat adhoc approaches to the organization of administration at times, and making it difficult always to be confident as to the status of individual parishes. The account offered here is thus of a tentative and provisional nature, drawing on that offered by the Guide to the contents of the Lichfield Record Office published in 1999 by the Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Archive Service, although it is hoped that in the future a degree more certainty can be achieved.
The Dean of Lichfield Cathedral’s peculiar jurisdiction encompassed the Staffordshire parishes of Adbaston; Brewood; Hammerwich; Haselour; Lichfield St Mary, St Michael and St Chad; Stafford St Chad (also found in the records of the peculiar of the prebend of Prees); Statfold; Streethay; Wall; and Whittington.
The Dean and Chapter of Lichfield Cathedral’s peculiar jurisdiction was more extensive. They exercised authority over the Derbyshire parishes of Ashford; Bakewell; Baslow; Beeley; Buxton; Chapel-en-le-Frith; Chelmorton; Fairfield; Hope; Kniveton; Longston; Monyash; Peak Forest; Sheldon; Taddington; Tideswell; and Wormhill. In Staffordshire they held Cannock, Farewell, Harborne; the Lichfield close itself; Rugeley; and Smethwick. In Warwickshire there were Arley and Edgbaston.
There were also a whole series of individual prebendal peculiars, as follows: peculiar jurisdiction of the prebend of Alrewas – the Staffordshire parishes of Alrewas, Blithbury, Edingale, Fradley, Hints (also sometimes found in the records of the peculiar of the prebend of Handsacre and Armitage), King’s Bromley, Mavesyn Ridware, Pipe Ridware, Packington, Swinfen, and Weeford; peculiar jurisdiction of the prebend of Bishop’s Itchington – the Warwickshire parishes of Chadshunt, Gaydon, and Bishop’s Itchington; peculiar jurisdiction of the prebend of Bishop’s Tachbrook (encompassing only the Warwickshire parish of that name); peculiar jurisdiction of the prebend of Colwich – the Staffordshire parishes of Colwich, Colton, Fradswell, Great Haywood, and Shugborough; peculiar jurisdiction of the prebend of Eccleshall – the Staffordshire parishes of Broughton, Chapel Chorlton, Charnes, Cotes Heath, Croxton, Eccleshall, Fair Oak, Slindon, Sugnall, Walton and Wetwood; peculiar jurisdiction of the prebend of Freeford; peculiar jurisdiction of the prebend of Handsacre and Armitage – covering the Staffordshire parishes of Armitage, Brownhills, Handsacre, Hints (also sometimes found in the records of the peculiar of the prebend of Alrewas), Norton Canes, Ogley Hay, and Great Wyrley; peculiar jurisdiction of the prebend of Longdon – covering the Staffordshire parishes of Longdon and Bloxwich; peculiar jurisdiction of the prebend of High Offley and Flixton covering the Staffordshire parishes of that name; peculiar jurisdiction of the prebend of Press (or Pipa Minor) covering parishes in both Shropshire – Calverhall, Prees, Whixall and Willaston – and Staffordshire – Darlaston, Stafford St Chad (also found in the records of the dean’s peculiar), and Tipton; peculiar jurisdiction of the prebend of Sawley covering the Derbyshire parishes of Breaston, Long Eaton, Risley, Sawley, and Wilne; peculiar jurisdiction of the prebend of Ufton Decani (covering the Warwickshire parish); peculiar jurisdiction of the prebend of Weeford (covering the Staffordshire parish); and the peculiar jurisdiction of the prebend of Whittington and Baswich – embracing Acton Trussell, Bednall, Baswich, and Whittington in Staffordshire.
A number of manors also exercised peculiar jurisdiction: Dale Abbey in Derbyshire; Buildwas, Colemere, Ellesmere, Hampton and Lineal, Longdon upon Tern, Ruyton in the XI Towns and Wombridge in Shropshire; Burton upon Trent (including Branston, Horninglow, Shobnall, Stretton, Wetmore, and Yoxall as well as the Derbyshire territory of Winshill; Gnosall, Marchington, Pattington, Sedgley, Tyrley in Staffordshire; Baddesley Clinton, Barston, Knowle and Temple Balsall, Merevale, and Packwood in Warwickshire.
A distinctive feature of the diocese was the series of royal peculiars associated with royal free chapels. First there was the peculiar associated with the collegiate Church of St Peter’s, Wolverhampton. This included the ancient parish of Wolverhampton and its daughter churches at Bilston, Pelsall and Wednesfield, as well as later chapelries evolving into parishes at Willenhall, and St John’s, St George’s and St Paul’s Wolverhampton. Beyond this, however, sources and secondary sources tell a confusing story. According to Humphrey Smith’s Phillimore Atlas the peculiar also included the parishes of Bushbury and Shareshill (in the former case a view shared by the Lichfield Record Office guide to the records). According to our sources, however, Bushbury’s records suggest that it fell under normal episcopal jurisdiction, while the Shareshill’s records were associated with the royal peculiar of Penkridge with the exception of an appointment of a perpetual curate in 1761, when was indeed recorded in the Wolverhampton peculiar subscription book (these views shared by Youngs, 1991). It is also notable that all the records of licensing of assistant curates for the peculiar in its last years are found in the episcopal records of bound licences.
A second peculiar associated with a royal free chapel was that of Penkridge, also in Staffordshire. This according to Humphrey Smith embraced the parish of Penkridge itself and the parishes of Coppenhall (separated in 1744), Dunston (separated 1824), and Stretton (1722), but our own sources agree with the Lichfield Record Office guide and Youngs (1991) in adding in Shareshill (separated in 1551), despite the fact that one record pertaining to this parish at least is founding the Wolverhampton subscription book. St Michael Penkridge had been founded as a royal free chapel most probably by King Eadred (946-55), although its status was not uninterrupted until the reign of King Stephen. King John in 1215 gave the advowson of the deanery to the Archbishop of Dublin, and the two posts were held together from 1259 to the Reformation. At that time the College consisted of the dean and seven prebendaries, two resident canons without prebends, an official principal, six vicars, a high deacon, a subdeacon, and a sacrist. The College was dissolved in 1548 under the Act of 1547, but although the estates were alienated and the officers abolished, its peculiar jurisdiction survived until 1858. Archbishops of Dublin claimed the right of visitation in the late seventeenth century: VCH records that ‘soon after his consecration in 1661 Archbishop Margetson carried out a visitation, while Archbishop Marsh (1694-1703), in response to a request from Bishop Lloyd of Lichfield and Coventry (1692-9), granted him a process to visit Penkridge in the name of the archbishop’, although the latter attempt to assert authority proved abortive. It also notes that ‘By 1737 Sir Edward Littleton, as patron of Penkridge, was appointing the incumbent of Penkridge as official of the peculiar jurisdiction, a practice which evidently continued until the jurisdiction was abolished in 1858.’
Close by lay the peculiar of the royal free chapel of Tettenhall. This embraced the parishes Tettenhall itself and (once separated in 1756) Codsall in Staffordshire. Here the first mention of a dean came in 1176, and he held office over five canons, who by the early sixteenth century were joined by six stipendiary priests. The college of priests was dissolved in 1548, and among the rights of the deanery bought by Sir Walter Wrottesley was the spiritual jurisdiction, with the family continuing to exercise it until the extirpation of peculiars.
The bishop had no extra-diocesan peculiars.
The diocese of Lichfield (after the separation of Chester) has been divided into four CCE regions, each sharing its outer boundaries with one of the four archdeaconries (Derby, Stafford, Salop and Coventry), but embracing the peculiars within its territory.