Monday, 30 January 2012

Moat in the landscape

Unexpected features in the landscape often have an explanation – they’re not always just lumps caused by land shifting over time (as I once thought).

This platform in the land near Hilderstone turns out to be the remains of the foundations of a medieval manor house. The steep dip is due to the moat that was constructed around it.

It’s amazing to me that such an ancient formation in the land has survived so long – and it puts a different aspect on the landscape when one is walking past it.

Sunday, 29 January 2012


The discount store ‘Poundland’ recently opened in Stoke-on-Trent’s main shopping centre in Hanley. As you can see, it dominates the central square of this shopping area.

The fact is that Hanley’s retail area is the biggest and most viable in the whole of the county of Staffordshire, so Poundland’s amazing prominence here is a sign of the times I suppose.  Tough times indeed!

Friday, 27 January 2012

Bottle oven 'hatches'

Stoke’s few remaining bottle ovens are now very valued, though hundreds were pulled down in the sixties. They are all Grade 2-listed now, I think.

And it looks like this one has decided to revenge itself on the new-build movement by growing, or even popping, out of a new block of flats! Sort of like a chick hatching out of an egg, I thought.

In fact, this housing association here in Hanley has built two blocks of flats around this bottle oven, and even enclosed it in its own protective atrium.You can't see properly because of the shadow on the glass, but if the light were right, you could see the whole shape of the oven through the glass.
One of the residents kindly allowed me into the block, and showed the structure to me up close. It’s beautifully preserved.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

It's Spring! I think.

Daffodils! The first of the year for me, though I've already seen snowdrops, and there are primroses a-plenty this year too.

If daffodils are the first sign of Spring, then this winter, by my reckoning, must have been one of the shortest I've known. I estimate it lasted just six weeks.

But never under-estimate Winter. It could come back to bite us!

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Underwear as overwear

I guess I am fashion-challenged.
The latest puzzle for me is women wearing what once was underwear as ‘daywear’.

Woollen tights, that formerly were worn under a skirt or, at the least, covered partly by a long-ish jumper, can now be worn with no covering at all.

(You might argue that this 'underwear becoming overwear' started with the tee-shirt, which was once only for wear under a shirt. It's now, as we all know, perfectly acceptable at pretty much anytime!)

Anyway, I suppose I'll get used to it.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Lambs out!

The lambing season has been under way for quite a few days now, and the first lambs are already out in the fields.
Luckily for the little ones, the weather has now turned much milder.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Waterlogged field

We’ve had lots of rain, as well as the high winds; and in low-lying areas, the roads are flooded and the fields waterlogged.
Fortunately, it’s been a constant drizzle, and not the flash downpours that cause the really severest flooding incidents.

The rain doesn’t look like stopping though.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Wind on the water

The wind has got up to speeds of 40mph in the past few days, so it’s been pretty blowy – uprooting trees and barging at loose fences.

At this spot, known as the Broad Water, this section of the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal (at Tixall) is so wide it looks more like a river than a canal. Nevertheless, its surface should be as calm as a canal's usually is.

However, you can see here how much the blustery wind was whipping up waves on it today.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Blackburn House - tax haven

Blackburn House is a sight to send terror into an ordinary man’s heart. This is the home of the regional tax office, and its waiting rooms are full of very uncomfortable visitors.

I was reminded of its presence, partly because it’s the highest building in Hanley town-centre, and also because the Inland Revenue keep sending me letters rather forcibly alerting me to the fact that my returns are due on the 31st of this month.

I must finish those returns… sometime... soon!

Friday, 20 January 2012

Monument to PM

Pitt Monument at Sandon Hall

This great column, the Pitt Monument, towers over the public path that goes around the Sandon Hall Estate in mid-Staffordshire. It’s a tribute to the great British prime minister of the early nineteenth century.

It’s rather amazing: it’s hidden in a forest, and obscured by tree-tops mostly, so you’re on it almost as soon as you see it

Link: Walk around Sandon Estate

Thursday, 19 January 2012


‘Regeneration’ (which, a cynic might say, is a modern form of slum clearance) is rabid in Stoke-on-Trent. Over the past few years, there have been great swathes of nineteenth-century homes and factories knocked down in a quest for a better and customised future.

Of course, a lot that is good goes too. Old people have to leave properties they’ve lived in much of their lives, and a unique industrial landscape is disappearing - though (to be honest), it wasn’t much-loved.

One thing that will be missed, as part of this familiar environment, is – the porch tiles. Terraced homes in the Potteries have some really interesting decorative tiles, which no doubt will be smashed to pieces as the bulldozers move in.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Bartley Gorman funeral

Bartley Gorman, the most famous bare-knuckle boxer of this era, and ‘King of The Gyspies’, died on 18 January 2002, exactly ten years ago. This photo was taken at his funeral, when mourners turned up in traditional carriages.

He was a bit of a local hero in Staffordshire, not just to travellers, but to many in his adopted home of Rocester. He’s even mentioned with honour on the Millennium Panel in nearby Uttoxeter Town.

Another local lad, the film director Shane Meadows, was going to make a film of Bartley’s life, but it never came off.

Link: Bartley Gorman

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Picture House, Stafford

The ‘Picture House’ pub in Stafford is a lovely example of a chain doing a surprisingly thoughtful job in taking an old building and refurbishing it sensitively.
This Art-Deco building was, until fairly recently, the town’s cinema, but the new owners have kept a lot of the features – including the period glass signage out the front - which is in this photo.

The inside, ie what was the huge old auditorium, whose floor is on an incline down to the bar below (where the screen would have been), is a cinema-goer’s delight - being full of old cinema posters and silver photos of stars of old Hollywood.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Alice In Wonderland

The New Vic Theatre’s Christmas-play Alice In Wonderland has been playing to packed houses, even at the evening sessions; and its season isn’t over yet. 

I assumed, when I saw the bar was packed with adults as the evening started, that all the kids had already gone in. But, nope – the auditorium was 90% adults too. It sems the kids prefer the daily matinees, which are also nearly sell-outs.

I guess the interest from adults is down to the clever illusions in the production. It’s all, er, obvious how the trickery is done, but somehow one believes in it, because the director really gets the actors to believe in it too, and it's kinda like mass-hypnosis…
Personally though, I must say I thought the performance was all a bit fast and furious. However, I guess if I was nine years old, I’d have loved it a lot more. Which is the point, after all!

Alice In Wonderland plays at the New Vic (near Newcastle-under-Lyme) until the 21st.

Link: Alice In Wonderland review

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Frosty tree

Brrrr! It was frosty this morning - all the car and streets covered in a sparkly layer.
But the sun came out, and thawed the frost to patches.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Life-size train-set

Statfold Barn miniature railway

The Statfold Barn Railway was completely new to me when I saw it for the first time walking a path out in the middle of nowhere – so, quite a surprise!
It’s owned by an enthusiast, who runs his collections of trains there, but it’s not open to the public except for three days a year - and one has to book a ticket months in advance..

According to Wikipedia, it’s one-and-a-half miles long.  Quite a train-set.

Link: The Statfold Barn Railway

Friday, 13 January 2012

Half man / half-lion

Stafford holds many mysteries for the curious observer like me (and they can’t be solved by Google, neither). This frieze on a building in the town-centre in the town is destined to be (I suspect) forever a puzzle. 
What does this half-man/half-lion figure represent? There’s no particular clue on the building itself.
Are there any local social historians out there who might decipher this riddle?

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Birthplace of the famous?

The Parks Country Inn near Uttoxeter is a rather nice place to eat, for those who can afford it.
I was told once that it was the birthplace of one of the Bamfords, the family that owns JCB (the world-famous firm that makes earth-moving equipment, based in Uttoxeter) – but I can’t find confirmation of that on the internet. Yet.

I was just reminded of this ongoing puzzle by the news recently that JCB has opened a Story Of JCB exhibition at its factory in Rocester. Sadly, the exhibition is not, generally, open to the public.

Link: The Story Of JCB opens

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Radio Mary

Radio Mary are a really excellent band – you’ll find them gigging in pubs around East Staffordshire.
Kevin Hand is the inspirational song-writer, and the musicians backing him really know how to make his songs work. 

And it’s not surprising Kevin’s original songs are so good (and so perceptive): in the late 1980s and the 1990s, he was the guy behind Yeah Jazz, one of the great folk-indie outfits that 'never quite made it'.

(PS - sorry to the others in the band, whom I couldn't squeeze into the pic. Pub was too crowded...!)

Link:  Radio Mary / Yeah Jazz 

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Saint Chad portrait

St Chad is the most important saint associated with Staffordshire. Basing himself here at Lichfield, it is reputed that he converted the Anglo-Saxon Midlands to Christianity.

But, he originally came from the north-east of England… and it was there that I found this modern portrait of him.
I rather like its strange, disjointed panels, and primitive approach. I guess the artist (whose name I couldn’t find out) was trying to evoke a stained-glass piece.

It was part of an exhibition in the so-called ‘art-church’, St Edmund’s Chapel in Gateshead. This small town-centre church is used by artists to display their work, though it does have services of course.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Tamworth flowers

Tamworth is a prettier town than most people think – well, around the old town anyway. I really like the fact that the council maintains the flower-beds around the castle, even now, as you can see, in deep mid-winter. It's amazing to see such a colourful display in January.

Trouble is, there was some really ugly new-build put up alongside the heritage parts of the town. St Editha’s Square is a good example of the mess you get when you mix, without thinking, some very ugly new shops alongside venerable heritage.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

A most mysterious place

Lud’s Church – in the ‘Dark’ Peak District - is a very odd place.  It’s a natural rock chasm, about one hundred yards in length and fifty feet in depth.  Two people can just about walk abreast along it, and, as you can guess with such a narrow and deep cleft, little direct sunlight ever penetrates, so its sides are covered in moss.

There are all sorts of legends about it, including the fact that it might be the main setting for the medieval poem Gawain And The Green Knight, but, for me, it’s just the being there that is so impressive.

Mind you, if you do go there, I’d wait until it dries out. The constant rain of the last fortnight has turned its bottom into a quagmire.

Links: Gawain Poem / A Walk to Lud's Church and back

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Mucky Duck

Ah, the Mucky Duck…!  Many a pleasant hour has been spent in here by members of the drinking classes in Leek.
Yes, I know the official name is the Black Swan, but Leekites would just look puzzled if asked where it was, and know it only as the 'Mucky Duck'.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Dr Johnson broods

The literary genius, Dr Samuel Johnson, broods over his home-town of Lichfield. His statue is right in the centre of the market-place next to the parish church, so it really is integral to the town.

It’s a bit unfair to make him look so gloomy. Yes, he did have really bad bouts of depression, but it came and went, and a lot of the time, he was full of energy, and a booming vitality.

And, as we know – he was full of clever and witty sayings.  One of his I like it because it relates to what I and other bloggers in the 'City Daily Photo' family are doing:
The world is not yet exhausted: let me see something to-morrow which I never saw before.

Link: Selected sayings of Dr Johnson

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Fallen tree - whipped away!

The high winds last night and today have brought down a number of trees. 
However, I was amazed to see how quickly the council’s emergency services responded. A few hours after this tree had collapsed, blocking this country lane in Saverley Green, it had been shifted, cut-up ... and the remnants removed!
In the day, the lane would have been blocked for the whole day, if not longer.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Gravestone warning

The verses one can see on old, rural gravestones are generally amateur efforts – from the mason himself, sometimes – but, even though they don’t count as ‘great poetry’, they can get you with their simple, but profound lines.

This stone for an 18 year-old, in Brewood churchyard, reads:
Time was I stood and viewed the dead,
And look’d at them as thou do’est me;
In time, thou' l lie as low as I;
And others stand and look at thee.

Hmm.  Made me think.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Study-areas shrinking

Libraries – to me – are valuable places.  Not only are they places for me to get hold of books (and even CDs) I can’t afford to buy, but they are places I associate with my youth. In my parents’ crowded house, the only place I could go to study for school-homework in peace was the local library.

Yet, most libraries that I know of in Staffordshire (fearful of being shut I guess), have reduced their ‘quiet areas’ - and some have no study sites at all.  The spaces have been turned over to story-telling areas or computer-zones. And, even where there are study areas, they tend to be squeezed into some cold, small rooms that usually double as something else.

So – thank Goodness for Hanley library.  This study-table, in its reference section, is one of half-a-dozen in the section.
Mind you, the best study-area in the county must be at Tamworth Library. The whole of the top floor is given over to study there - and there's even a coffee machine!

What I don’t understand is: what do youngsters do now when they want peace in which to study? Do all kids have their own bedrooms now?  Maybe they do… 

Monday, 2 January 2012

Walking together

‘Walking Together’ is the name of this terrific and startling sculpture in Abbots Bromley Church.  It’s huge, as you can see, and is quite a surprise, because one doesn’t really see it at first. It hangs over the main-door and one passes right under it and into the body of the church before even thinking to turn round to see it.

I guess it’s quite a good symbol for thinking about the twelve months ahead.  2012 is going to be rather a tough year, and, for many, a bit of companionship during it will definitely be helpful.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

New Year's Day Bridge Jump

Mappleton New Year’s Day Bridge-Jumper

The Mappleton New Year’s Day Bridge-Jump & Raft-Race is not exactly a centuries-old tradition – it was only dreamed up just under thirty years ago, after a drunken session by some local lads in the pub…  But, it’s turned into one of the area’s big Eccentric Events, and this year’s activities were as daft as ever!

Two Santas make their way
to the finish line
The competitors sail a raft a few hundred yards downstream on the River Dove to Okeover Bridge, run up on to the bridge itself, leap down into the water, swim to the bank, and then sprint across the field to the local pub, the Okeover Arms. Fastest team there wins.
All fairly straightforward – apart from a river now surging with the recent rains, a thirty-foot drop into very cold water, and a run across the muddiest field ever. Just what you need after a NYEve party the night before!
But the British like a bit of daftness, and there were the maximum entries possible this year.

It’s a lovely, very local event with most of the population of the surrounding villages turning up to cheer on the various Santas, spacemen, super-heroes etc, who are all in costume to add to the festive nature.

All passed very safely, thank Goodness; though it’s possible that this year’s event may be the last, as the present organisers say they can no longer commit to all the work and preparations needed. Which would be a shame.

Incidentally, this is a sort of cross-border activity - most of the race is in Staffordshire, but crosses into Derbyshire for the finish. None of the promotion mentioned that it's a race across two counties, but I'm sure some wit will mention it one day.

Link: Mappleton Bridge-Jump