The Bank Holiday afternoon also proved the perfect time to investigate Sir John Floyer: a curious local physician – forerunner of Erasmus Darwin – who was an early researcher into asthma and a keen advocate of cold bathing.
Born in 1649 to Richard and Elizabeth Floyer of Hints Hall, Staffordshire, he moved to Lichfield in 1675 and practiced medicine there for over 50 years; he believed in the careful observation of his patients and was quick to recognise the importance of measuring the pulse in diagnosis. He published The Physician’s Pulse Watch, in two volumes in 1707 and 1710, and even had a watch adapted especially for medical use (he wrote: 'I caused a Pulse-Watch to be made which runs 60 seconds, and I placed it in a Box to be more easily carried, and by this I now feel pulses’). When James II visited Lichfield in 1686, Floyer was a member of the welcome party, which gives some idea of his status.
We knew that Floyer believed in hydrotherapy (another important work of his was An Enquiry into the Right Use and Abuses of the Hot, Cold and Temperate Baths in England, 1697, which he dedicated to the Duke of Devonshire), and that he supervised immersion baptism at Lichfield Cathedral. We had also read tantalising references to St Chad's cold bath at Unett's Well at Abnalls, near Lichfield, which Floyer himself had built between 1700 and 1703 (see below for a pic close to the area).
Apparently there were two baths – one for women and one for men – separated by a wall with changing rooms attached. Later, when Erasmus Darwin settled in Lichfield, he developed a botanic garden at Maple Hayes, a mile west of his house on Beacon Street, which turned out to be the same spot as Floyer’s baths; Darwin even incorporated the baths into his garden.
Anna Seward described the botanic garden as: 'a little, wild, umbrageous valley, one mile from Lichfield, amongst the only rocks which neighbour that city so nearly. It was irriguous from various springs, and swampy from their plenitude. A mossy fountain, of the purest and coldest water imaginable, had, near a century back, induced the inhabitants of Lichfield to build a cold bath in the bosom of the vale. That, till the doctor [Darwin] took it into his possession, was the only mark of human industry, which could be found in the tangled and sequestered scene’.
We knew that parts of the baths still existed – no doubt thanks to the restoration job that the Victorians did on them - though they were still on private land. We wanted to get as close as possible, without actually trespassing, but it proved to be a frustrating mission.
Using our trusty map, we managed to get pretty close, but on finding a set of houses backing onto fields, we stopped to ask one of the residents if they knew if we could get a glimpse of the archeological site from the public road, but she explained that due to a deer-rustling episode at Maple Hayes School a few weeks before, large deer fences (see above) had been erected, so it was doubtful that we would see anything.
We rambled back the way we had come, onto Pipe Green, a very ancient piece of land, bequeathed 'to the poor widows of Bacon [i.e., Beacon] Street', which is now a nature reserve (see below). It's still managed by the people of Lichfield - any householder who has lived on Beacon Street for five years or more or any person born on Beacon Street and who has owned a house there for three years can join the Pipe Green Trust, whose objectives are to: 'maintain and repair the boundaries hereof, to preserve, plant, replant, grow and cultivate plants, trees and other growing things, to promote and encourage the growth and development of wildlife'.
It was a shame that Floyer's baths had escaped us, but we did enjoy the gorgeous view of the cathedral spires!
Time seems to have run away from me last week, but - finally - here are some pictures of our Bank Holiday Monday jaunt up the spire of St Mary's, and the views of Lichfield from above - and very impressive they were too. I'll also be posting something shortly about our afternoon walk in search of Dr Floyer's cold baths, at Abnalls, near Lichfield, so don't go away!
I live in the English cathedral city of Lichfield, which, despite having a population of fewer than 5,000 during the Georgian period, was home to many important artists and intellectuals including Samuel Johnson, David Garrick and Erasmus Darwin. I generally blog about the short 18th century (1715-1789), feisty Georgian ladies and Lichfield's 18th-century heritage. If you have any comments, feel free to email me at woffington [at] gmail [dot] com.
Virtually forgotten today, Margaret Woffington (also known as Peg or Peggy) would rise from humble origins to become one of Georgian London’s most famous actresses, sharing the stage with the likes of David Garrick and excelling in so-called ‘breeches roles’. Born around the year 1720 in Dublin, her childhood years were marred by the death of her father, which plunged her family into poverty. Having reputedly sold watercress barefoot in the streets of the Irish capital, she was soon talent-spotted by a tumbler known as Violante, who staged populist entertainments in booths around the city. Violante had a troupe of child actors called the Liliputians, and before long Woffington was making her debut as Polly Peachum in their version of The Beggar’s Opera. Moving to London, she gained plaudits for both her outstanding beauty and her talent – particularly in comedy – appearing at both Covent Garden and Drury Lane. Known for her quick wit and no-nonsense attitude, she had high-profile affairs with Garrick, Lord Darnley and Charles Hanbury Williams; she was also a generous benefactor, supporting her elderly mother and may even have endowed some almshouses in Teddington, where she had settled at the height of her success. She died, unmarried, in 1760, having suffered a long wasting illness, and is buried in Teddington's parish church of St Mary’s.
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