The Lichfield Market Square has today got a generally smooth surface but for many years the square was covered with a sea of ancient cobble stones. When they were removed there was not a huge outcry but people who remember them being there do still have fond memories of walking across the cobbles…admittedly not quite Coronation Street…but perhaps more like Market Street…
In August 1960 a proposed change to the layout of the Market Square was debated in the Lichfield Mercury. The proposed new layout was shown, with the majority of the cobbles removed and replaced with pink and white paving slabs. Cobbles would remain around the trees and the statues of Samuel Johnson and James Boswell. At the time cars were permitted to park all over the square, other than on market days, and this was to be allowed after the refurbishment on market days, with the car parking spaces denoted by yellow paving slabs. The revised layout was a proposal by the City Council and they invited comments from the public about the removal of the cobbles as they said they wanted feedback, either positive or negative. The Mercury said that they knew the changes would be controversial, with many voting for, and many against, the proposal.
In September 1960 the members of Lichfield’s Women’s Institute discussed the thorny issue at their monthly meeting and decided that the new colourful slabs would be an improvement on the battered old cobbles and agreed to write to the Clerk of the City Council outlining their support.
However, despite the support of the WI, the work to remove the cobbles and install the new slabs was not completed until September 1963, some three years later. When the cobbles had been removed and the new slabs installed the Mercury reported that, despite concerns that it had been controversial, the general consensus from the market stall holders was that the changes had made a big improvement, as it was now much easier to setup and walk round their stalls. Members of the public were also generally happy with the changes and the only work that needed to be completed was to put in the spacing studs for the allocated car parking spaces. At that time council workmen were busy tidying up the areas where the cobbles had been taken out and there were also proposals to clean the Johnson and Boswell statues, which presumably had become dirty and dusty during the paving work. In addition it was proposed to replace the wooden market stalls with metal ones as the old stalls were looking very tired and worn. It was suggested that the stall covers should be replaced with a variety of bright, colourful new ones. At the end of the council meeting they also discussed the creation of the Bird Street car park, replacing the existing long gardens of the properties of Market Street down to Minster Pool, with a large car park. As we know there is currently a proposal to reverse that layout, completed in the mid-1960s, back to a recreation and mixed-use area – although that too is a controversial proposal today!
The remaining perimeter cobbles were removed completely in recent times and the surface of the whole square has been completely replaced over the years. Car parking is no longer permitted on the square on market days, the stalls have also been replaced with several updates to the metal stands and the stall covers are now universally green and white. Talking to several long-standing stall holders this week they say that they were pleased overall that the cobbles were removed as, although they were very decorative and historic, they were trip hazards and made it difficult to move round their stalls safely. Joan Johnson, from the ‘You’re Probably From Lichfield If…’ Facebook page, also told me that it was very difficult to walk across the market square cobbles wearing ladies’ stiletto heels…although I of course would not know about that!
In the Mercury report on the cobbles’ replacement from August 1963, they stated that several members of the public had enquired about what was going to happen to the old cobble stones including several who would like to have some as a ‘keepsake’. Mr D. Lawrance, the City Engineer, told the Mercury that they wanted to use some of the cobbles in the ‘new’ shopping precinct at Bakers Lane (now the Three Spires Shopping Centre) as an ornamental feature, and also use some in other areas of the city. He also stated that Lichfield Cathedral had inquired about having a batch of cobbles to place around the cathedral. In total nearly 50,000 cobbles had been removed from the market square and, at the time of the newspaper article, the Mercury was unaware of anyone who had received any. So…what did happen to them…the Bakers Lane shopping precinct has been completely renovated since then and there is no ornamental feature of that type now, if there ever was one. If not there, then where did they end up – in a gigantic skip, or as road fill, or in a hole in the ground? Perhaps there are many garden walls around Lichfield that have the old market square cobbles sunk within them…or used as ornamental back door stops…who knows…or perhaps the council had another use for them and the offer to reallocate them all was just a load of old cobbles…
Source: The British Newspaper Archive
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