Beneath the Surface at Blithfield

By Kate Gomez

Blithfield Reservoir was opened by the Queen Mother in October 1953. Work had commenced in 1947 after being delayed by the Second World War and in the six years it took to complete, almost 500 people were employed in its construction.  Around one third of the labour force came from a unit of the Polish Re-Settlement Corp who were based at a nearby camp. Others lived on-site and each day buses would arrive with labourers from Rugeley, Lichfield and the Potteries.

The reservoir was created by damming the River Blithe and forcing the water into the adjacent valley, flooding around 790 acres of farmland.  Trees, walls and other structures were submerged including Kitty Fisher’s Bridge which, according to local folklore, takes its name from a local woman who met with a tragic end. During periods of drought, such as the summer of 1976 when the reservoir was only 37% full, the water level is sometimes low enough to reveal surviving tree stumps and stonework, including the foundations of Blithfield Mill.
The South Staffordshire Waterworks Company, as it was previously known, purchased the majority of the land for the reservoir from the Bagot family, along with their ancestral home Blithfield Hall which had fallen into disrepair. The hall, dating back to the 14th century, was later bought back by the 6th Baron, Caryl Bagot, who renovated it along with his wife Nancy. In 1961, Lady Bagot was able to buy the freehold from the family trust, to ensure that she could continue to restore Blithfield, even after her husband had died, something she continued to do until her own death in February 2014. The hall and the Bagot family have a long standing connection with the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance and each year, it is performed on the lawn in front of the house.

Alongside the hall is the church of St Leonard which was originally constructed in the 13th century and contains the tombs and monuments of several members of the Bagot family. Outside, in a niche on the south wall of the church, is an effigy of a priest. Although well worn by the elements, there are still traces of paint which once decorated the tomb, along with some interesting graffiti carved into the stonework. The churchyard also has the remains of a medieval cross, with a Victorian shaft and head sitting on top of the original steps and socket stone. Somewhere in the vicinity of the hall and church, there was once a medieval village too, believed to have been deserted by the 1500s. There are no above ground remains, but just as at the reservoir, traces of the past may lie hidden beneath the surface.
Sources:
www.lichfieldcivicsociety.org.uk/reports/9506_Reservoir_Visit.htm
www.south-staffs-water.co.uk/media/2070/the-history-of-blithfield-reservoir.pdf
www.crsbi.ac.uk
www.heritagegateway.org.uk

3 thoughts on “Beneath the Surface at Blithfield

    1. Thank you Patrick, yes that is true, I am sure I have seen some poscrads and images of them, will take a look now. Jono at Citylife.

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