The picturesque city of Lichfield could win a prize for the most traditional calendar customs and ceremonies a number of which I have detailed in this blog. One of these is an annual celebration of their most famous son, the poet, essayist, lexicographer and all around scholar Dr. Samuel Johnson. The man who gave the world the first real dictionary A Dictionary of the English Language.
Born in 1709 it too nearly 200 years for the city to formally recognise him however when in 1903 the Lichfield City Council first started their September birthday celebrations. A society was founded in 1910 the year after the bi-century of the author’s birth which was remembered with a big celebration.
The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar and familiar things new.
In 1909 it was reported in Lichfield Mercury that;
“From Wednesday , Sept . 15 , to Sunday , Sept . 19 , 1909 , Lichfield gave itself up with great enthusiasm and éclat to the celebration of the two – hundredth anniversary of the birth of its most illustrious citizen , Dr . Samuel Johnson .
For months before the preparations had been going on , and they culminated in great and brilliant gatherings which will without doubt be historic in the annals of the ancient and loyal City”.
The order of the day has not changed much over the years:
“12 “ Noon . – Great gathering of citizens in the Market – square , when the Children of the schools of the City will assemble to take part in the celebra tion .
Tableaux illustrative of the genius of Dr . Johnson will be placed in prominent positions in the Market square , representing “ Literature , “ “ Poetry , ‘ ‘ and the “ Drama . “
Address by the Sheriff .
Presentation of silver and bronze medals to the scholars of the respective schools in the City . The medals will be awarded for proficiency in the English language , English history and biography , general knowledge , and good conduct .
Two hymns of Joseph Addison , the famous essayist , son of Lancelot Addison , Dean of Lichfield , and one of the eminent scholars of Lichfield Grammar School , will be sung on the occasion .
4 p . m . to 6 p . m . – Reception by the Mayor and Mayoress in the Guildhall . ”
7 30 p . m . – The Anniversary Johnson Supper , at the George Hotel . Speaker , Mr . W . Pett Ridge .
A man may be so much of everything that he is nothing of anything.
However, despite the big celebration for the 220th anniversary the Mayor of Lichfield stated that:
“‘He was a great a man, and he was still a great man today: but there were so many who knew so little about the greatness of their fellow citizen.”
And it goes on to state that not many people knew of him. However, one cannot say that now as the town on Saturday morning was buzzing with people in the town perhaps encouraged by the free birthday cake available in the Birthplace museum. As noted in the 300th anniversary the events were:
“On Friday September 18, Dr Johnson’s birthday, there will be a spectacular light and sound show in the Market Place, with live performances suitable for all the family.
The celebrations continue on Saturday with a ceremony in Market Square with live music, followed by cake at the Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum. A special book fair will also take place at Wade Street Church Hall on Saturday in honour of Dr Johnson’s love of books.”
When I arrived the Mayor and various other dignitaries and a group of local children assembled around the statue of Johnson on his plinth where a metal step ladder was also placed.
The assembled group of children begun to sing and the Mayor and guest of honour came forward to a podium and drew the audience to the importance of the great man and came forward with a wreath which was placed on the moment. Then the city celebrated with some local bands and of course…some Morris dancers.