The earliest origins of Lichfield are obscure. In the first century
a Roman fort called Letocetum was built two miles south of the present
city at the strategic crossing of the major Roman roads of Ryknild Street
and Watling Street (now the village of Wall). After the Romans left in
the 5th century, a Celtic settlement may have continued in the area. Then
in 669, according to the Venerable Bede, Chad moved his bishopric to a
place called 'Licidfelth'.
The first church probably stood on the site
of the present cathedral, and the settlement quickly grew as the ecclesiastical
centre of the Kingdom of Mercia. The development of the city was consolidated
in the 12th century under Bishop Clinton who fortified the Close, and also
laid out the town with the ladder-shaped street pattern that survives to
this day. There was perhaps a degree of self interest in enlarging the
township for the income from its rents was payable to the Bishop.
In 1387 ordinances were granted by Richard 11 to the Guild of St
Mary and St John the Baptist and about this time a guildhall was established
on the present site in Bore Street. Although the Bishop retained much authority
over the City, the Guild became increasingly involved in its secular government
and it was out of this Guild that the first corporation was incorporated
by the charter of Edward VI in 1548.
Lichfield become a county in its own right, separate from
the rest of Staffordshire, by Queen Mary's charter in 1553. This charter
also created the office of Sheriff of Lichfield which continues to this
day. In July 1575 Elizabeth I visited the City, and the brethren of the
Guild, in anticipation of her visit, repaired the roads, market cross and
Guildhall, and paid one William Holcroft five shillings "for keeping
Mad Richard when her Majesty was here".
A city of philosophers
Work on rebuilding the cathedral and close began in earnest with
the appointment of Bishop Hacket in 1662 and the city moved into the 18th
century as a centre of genteel society considered by Defoe to be the best
town in the area for "good conversation and good company". Although
there was little industry, the city prospered both from the wealth of the
clergy and gentry in the Close, and as a thriving coaching city on the
main route to the northwest and Ireland. This was a period of great intellectual
activity, the city being the home of many famous people including Samuel
Johnson, David Garrick, Erasmus Darwin and Anna Seward, and prompted Johnson's
remark that Lichfield was "a city of philosophers".
The population increased steadily throughout the 19th
century, but the coming of the railway age meant that the city lost much
of the vitality it had enjoyed as a busy coaching centre. Municipal affairs
flourished however, with many works of improvement to the street lighting
and water supply. The old Corporation was reformed into an elected council
in 1836, with a Mayor as its civic head, and the Guildhall, which had fallen
into disrepair, was substantially rebuilt in 1846.
The City has grown rapidly in modern times with the population increasing from 10,000 in 1951 to over 30,000 in 2011, but the changes prompted by the new housing and incoming families have brought vitality and prosperity to the city.
Although only a few miles of green belt separate the city from Birmingham, Lichfield has retains its separate identity, together with a strong sense of pride in its local community. Lichfield is particularly fortunate in the large areas of pools and parkland which bring a wedge of countryside to the very heart of the city, and which have recently been restored and improved through a £3 million Heritage Lottery Fund project. There is a wealth of local groups, sports clubs, and societies, and a wide range of social and recreational activities.
Visitors to the City find plenty to interest them in the historic streets, buildings and old traditions. A visitor to the Cathedral, Johnson Birthplace Museum or Heritage Exhibition, can be assured of a genuine welcome and personal attention far removed from the "conveyor belt" tourist attractions that have been created elsewhere.
There is a fast and frequent train service to Birmingham and the M6(Toll) motorway skirts the southern boundary of the city, once more placing Lichfield on the main route between London and the north west.
In the changes that lie ahead the City Council will strive to maintain the unique character and unspoilt charm of the city, and ensure that its historic identity is not lost. The City of Lichfield is justly proud of its traditions and its active and caring community. It is a fine city in which to live, and a fascinating place to visit. This is fittingly embodied in the Council's motto on its coat of arms, which quotes Samuel Johnson's tribute to his native city in his Dictionary, "Salve, magna parens" - "Hail great Mother".