Saturday, 31 March 2012

Pretzels or Stafford Knots?

I was talking about the Stafford Knot yesterday - and remembered I'd seen these pretzels when in Poland.
As soon as I saw them, I suddenly realised what they resemble. Yes, of course - they look like the symbol of this county, the Stafford Knot!
The Poles seemed a little nonplussed when I told them this though...

Friday, 30 March 2012

Stafford Knot - railway style

The ‘Stafford Knot’ is the symbol of Staffordshire - as I like to point out in this blog quite frequently!  The symbol is at least 500 years old (though some argue its origins go back a thousand years). Everywhere round here that a reference to the county comes up in a graphic form, you’re likely to see the Knot.

These old gates mark the entrance to a railway property in Stoke, which would have been owned by the North Staffordshire Railway Company up to the company's demise in the last century. The NSR used the Knot as a proud statement of its origins.

Link: Stafford Knot

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Mad March sunshine

The Biddulph town garden was just one of the places to bask in the present unseasonable sunshine. It certainly seems crazy to have a run of days with temperatures in the mid-twenties in, er, March!
It doesn't feel like England at all - we should be miserable and buffeted by sharp winds at this time of year...
Mad March indeed.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Totmonslow speed sign

They say that everythign returns to Nature in the end - and this speed-limit sign at Totmonslow certainly sems to be going that way. The ivy has virtually completely covered it, and, I suspect, if it were not for some local good-citizen, would by now have concealed the whole thing...

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Sky TV - banned!

You have to admire the Spittal Brook Inn, which is just outside Stafford town centre. This pub takes no prisoners when it comes to anything like, er, modern customer expectations - such as giant screens and onion rings on a stick. No, no.
The sign here alerts the kind of visitors who need such fripperies that they can turn right round again and walk back into the town centre.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Resales markets grow

The current hard times mean that lots of little ‘resales’ markets have sprung up, in which folks can sell off some of their excess goods and make a little cash. Of course the buyers don’t have much cash either, so prices are very low.
‘Porthill Resales’ has its market in an abandoned pottery factory in Longport.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Less battery, more hen

Is it these chickens’ best-ever year? This year is the first year in which old-style battery-hen farms have been outlawed (in the EU at least) – and it really was about time.
My one visit to a battery-hen factory (for that’s what it was) was – to my mind – horrific. The huge warehouse was smotheringly hot and foetid with odours. A red-light illuminated the factory 24 hours a day.
I felt it would be impossible to condone such a trade, so I started only eating free-range chicken after that experience.

The new system (of more space per hen etc) is clearly better. Now, it seems I can go back to eating supermarket chicken with good conscience. Or not?

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Telephone box - in hedge

They almost look as though they have been stuffed into the hedge: these two symbols of British authority seem to have been treated a little disrespectfully!
However, I guess Saverley Green village decided that both the telephone box and the post box looked cosier like this.  At least, I suppose so…

Friday, 23 March 2012

The ghost of St Editha

Baron Robert Marmion looks frightened to death – as well he might. This tableau (in Tamworth Castle’s ‘Haunted Room’) shows him in 1139 after a particularly threatening dream in which Saint Editha appeared to him.
Eh?  Yes, it seems Saint Editha was no wuss, because, despite having been dead some 300 years, she was apparently furious with Baron Robert for having expelled the nuns from a convent she had founded at nearby Polesworth.

In fact, it wasn’t enough for the saintly lady for just to threaten him, as – from out of the dream-world she inhabited -, she also struck him with her staff, which caused his head to bleed. And ache mightily it seems. What a lady!

Baron Robert – as you’d expect – rushed off to find the homeless nuns and made sure they were restored to their previous home in Polesworth.

The confusion to my mind – is that St Editha is now identified with the famous Black Lady ghost which haunts the castle. Surely saints don’t come back? I thought it was only unhappy souls? 
Ah well: no one expects the supernatural to make sense.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Welcome back to red cross

Joules is a famous name in brewing in this part of the world, but its distinctive red cross symbol did disappear for a while when the original owners felt the cold wind of recession in the second half of the last century.
But the Joules name was recently revived - and its distinctive-tasting ale was back. The company now has a number of pubs under its name, including The Royal Oak in Eccleshall.

Joules has a rather interesting boast... that it sells "not a single pint" outside its north Midlands heartland. I guess it likes to stick to its localness.

Link: Royal Oak - a Joules Pub

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Memorial to a slaughter

War memorials very often take the form of a statue of a ‘Tommy Atkins’ soldier from the First World war, just like this one in the centre of Biddulph (in north Staffordshire). 

The slaughter of the 1914-18 conflict is highlighted by the fact that double the amount of names are recorded for the First World War on this monument as for the Second.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Adopt a gargoyle!

Adopt-A-Gargoyle? Yes, that’s exactly what you can do at Lichfield Cathedral. 

This rather original fund-raising wheeze has apparently been very successful, as the organisers have extended the scheme until the end of the month as young people rush to get their names associated with one.
The sub-text is that it’s about educating schools about the decoration of the historic church – but let’s face it, we all love a gargoyle.

The one in the photo is my favourite in Staffordshire. He’s not on Lichfield Cathedral sadly, he’s at Blymhill Church. Still, I’d adopt him if I were given the chance.

Link: Adopt-A-Gargoyle

Monday, 19 March 2012

Metal tree ... stunning sculpture

This metal tree is quite dazzling I think. It’s sited on the edge of an open space known as Hanley Central Forest Park. The park is actually the greened-over, reclaimed site of an old colliery pit.

The sculpture is called Tree Stories. At the ends of its branches are little symbols of the industries of Stoke-on-Trent, including pickaxes (for mining) and so on.

Of course, not everybody likes it as much as I do.
Even when it won an award, people were still unsure about it, and there’s even a Facebook group called Stoke Against Sculpture in Hanley Forest Park! Can’t please everybody...

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Greatest of Gothic Revival

Augustus Welby Pugin was, by any standards, a great architect and designer. In just twenty years of professional life (he died aged just 39), he built over a hundred churches in early nineteenth century Britain.
He led the so-called ‘Gothic Revival’ - and his greatest work is St Giles RC Church at Cheadle, aka ‘Pugin’s Gem', which is here in Staffordshire.

Which is why Cheadle is furiously commemorating the 200th anniversary of the man’s birth – even though he wasn’t born here, didn’t live here, and didn’t die here!
(To be fair he did contribute to, or create, a number of other great buildings round the town, including parts of Alton Towers).
For the rest of 2012, there will be loads of events, and Pugin’s Gem itself will be open more often than not to visitors. I would visit if I were you; it’s a knock-out church with an overwhelming eye-wateringly ornate interior.

Links: Pugin Anniversary Events in North Staffordshire  /  St Giles Catholic Church (Pugin's Gem)  /  A Look Round Pugin's Gem (BBC)

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Oakamoor weir

Here, on the River Churnet at Oakamoor, there’s this weir – and nothing shows more how violent the high winds were a month ago than this photo.
This huge tree was on the river bank then, but was simply blown down, then floated downstream, and is now stuck between the weir and one of the Oakamoor Bridge arches.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Titanic comes to Burslem

More Titanic material! Yes, this depiction of the great ship going down to its grave in 1912 is included in a mural celebrating the town of Burslem.
But what has Burslem to do with the Titanic, you might ask…

Erm. It’s a bit complicated. The captain of the ship came from a neighbouring town, and the founders of a micro-brewery decided it would be funny to name themselves after the ill-fated ship. Seems a bit risky to me – but what do I know, as that that brewery is now probably the biggest independent in Staffordshire.

And the Titanic Brewery is based in Burslem – which is why the ship is featured in this mural. So… (phew!) now you know!

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Vicious but beautiful

These razor-sharp ‘vanes’, as they’re called, are strangely beautiful running along the top of this wall.
I suppose if you’re going to have such vicious intruder-deterrents, they might as well look good.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Daffodils all over

The daffodils are at last shooting up in numbers - after a couple of false starts.  It helps if they have some shelter, and face south – as here at All Saints Church at Colton.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Titanic's Capt Smith - bad guy?

Captain Edward J Smith, the man in charge of RMS Titanic when it crashed into an iceberg in 1912, calls forth wildly different reactions in Stoke-on-Trent.

The man was born in the city; and at first the city bathed in the reflected glory of this ‘British hero’ who went down with his ship. But when the press started to lead the way with accusations of Smith’s incompetence, well, the city rather changed its mind.

Which is why this statue of Captain Smith is in Lichfield. With all the bad press, Stoke-on-Trent turned down the offer to host it, so the sculptor took it to Lichfield, thirty miles away - even though Lichfield has no claim on Smith at all! It remains to this day as an attraction slap bang in the centre of Lichfield's Beacon Park.

This year is the anniversary of the sinking (which happened on April 12th 1912) - and, once again, even now, the city is unsure how it feels about Smith.
Although there is to be a Captain Smith Memorial Day next month in the city centre, it will however also include a debate - in which speakers will discuss Smith’s responsibility (or not) for the deaths of the 1500 people who drowned back then.
Poor old Smith.

Link: Titanic Anniversary Events in Stoke-on-Trent

Monday, 12 March 2012

Wedgwood Museum's fate

The fate of the Wedgwood Museum at Barlaston should be known soon. Apparently the government now has the full text of the legal ruling that says the museum's collection should be sold off to pay for a huge pension-fund shortfall that the Wedgwood pottery company is having to deal with. And so that means the government now has to make a decision about just what to do.

The collection is priceless of course – it includes some of the original Josiah Wedgwood artefacts as well as thousands of pieces of historic ceramics.

North Staffordshire thinks of itself as being the centre of the world for pottery, and the direct heir of the great craft industry inspired by Josiah (in photo) – so many local people are furious at the suggestion it could be broken up and sold off.

See: Wedgwood Museum fate in balance (Reuters)

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Chancel Primary knot

The Stafford Knot logo is pretty much everywhere in Staffordshire, and why not, as the logo of the county?
It's very often built into any heraldic symbols of any 'official' body. This is the plaque on the side of Chancel Primary School (which has now taken over the building occupied by the old grammar school in the 1930s) in Rugeley. It's right in the centre of the shield.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

England's oddest pub?

The Yew Tree Inn is almost in the middle of nowhere, standing on its own in the Staffordshire moorlands.
It's hard to work out where its trade comes from, as, even though this seventeenth-century pub is a huge attraction, it's miles from any town, and, frankly, makes no concessions to anything new-fangled (like family rooms, or hot food, or anything 'modern' like that).

So why is it an atraction? Because it's so weird. It's like an olde curiosity shop inside - with old pianolas, ancient & ill-assorted furniture, tiny snug rooms, Jacobean settles, an eccentric landlord (Alan East) and antiques on the walls (including Queen Victoria's knickers).
It regularly makes the Top Ten Oddest Pubs in England poll.

It makes the trip out to Cauldon (near Cauldon Lowe on the A52), even on a foreboding winter's day, quite special.

Link: Yew Tree Inn

Friday, 9 March 2012

Picture House

A while ago I posted a photo of the frontage of The Picture House pub in Stafford, and I was asked if I’d put up some more pictures of it.

The Wetherspoons chain, which owns the pub, has sensitively developed the building, which, yes, was once the town’s cinema, The Picture House. It first started showing movies just under a hundred years ago.

Now, both exterior and interior are reminders of the building’s silver-screen past. 

Even the soft lighting looks to me as though it's based on the old fixtures and fittings.

The shape of the large auditorium has been retained, and even the wood-panelled box office has kept its place.
On the walls are photos of the greats of Hollywood’s past – Greta Garbo, Gene Kelly, Clark Gable, and Tracey & Hepburn.

It’s a good place to spend a little time here with a pint (or a coffee) just reminiscing about those old days of the cinema…

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Staffordshire's greatest woman?

International Women’s Day - Ethelflaeda comes to mind. I guess, if you had to nominate Staffordshire’s greatest woman leader, you’d have to think of Ethelflaeda, who was the Anglo-Saxon queen of the kingdom of Mercia (whose core was here in Staffordshire) over 1100 years ago.

She was King Alfred’s warrior daughter, built the original Tamworth Castle, and was conqueror of both the Danes and the Welsh.
She only died after having made it possible for her young nephew Athelstan (seen here with his aunt in this statue outside the castle), who was brought up at her court, to acclaim himself King of All Britain. 

The story is that she also was the originator of the very idea of a Staffordshire.

Celebrations for International Women’s Day (which is today, March 8th) are an annual feature of life at the local university, Keele.
Link: Keele University - Women's Day Celebrations

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Potteries Museum in need

Museums everywhere feel threatened, and the one in Stoke-on-Trent is no different

The City Museum (aka The Potteries Museum) is now asking for donations of £3 from visitors in order to keep entry free. The fear is – clearly – that, when the new financial year arrives in April, that the City Council may withdraw some of its subsidy. the way, the owl icon that you can see in the display, and which has been adopted by the museum, is a reference to one of its most famous exhibits, a rare late 17th century Staffordshire slipware owl jug.

Link: Potteries Museum

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Shining stone

This unusual art-work – in the Black Brook, near Shenstone – usually can only be seen under the surface of the stream, shimmering there on the bed like an apparition under the ripples, and, yes, that was the artist’s intention. It is called ‘Shining Stone’, and is made of stainless steel.
Sculptor Jo Naden, who made it back in 2002, wanted it to fit in with this part of the surrounding Lammas Land countryside, which has a history back to Celtic times. So I guess she wanted it to appear a bit mystical.

However, the level of the stream has fallen, due to the general lack of rainwater, and now the piece stands exposed, looking rather forlorn.  (This lack of rain has been going on for some time, and all rivers, on average, are falling).

Incidentally, the piece was stolen in 2010, so, after it was recovered, it was re-installed in the brook with a secure fixing on it.

Shenstone, the name of the nearby town, itself means beautiful or shining stone.

Link: Jo Naden's Shining Stone

Monday, 5 March 2012

Clay in the hole

I found this marl pit in a field while on a walk. Red marl is a layer of clayey soil beneath the surface clay, and it’s easy to get at in north Staffordshire, which is full of the stuff. It’s traditionally good for fertiliser, and for red-clay pots.
Someone here decided it was too accessible to waste.

Across the rest of the area, there are 'marl holes' big enough to play a football game in, but they soon fill with rainwater. In the old days, kids used to swim in such marlpits, but most are filled in now.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Cheadle in colour glass

This beautiful window reminds me that stained-glass work is not confined to the designers of many years ago. This lovely modern glass in Cheadle St Giles Cof E is a perfect riposte.

Its subject is the town of Cheadle itself. It must be unique in that it is a piece of church glass that shows, er, the other church in town as well! (In the top right-hand corner, you can just see a spire over the cottages – that’s the RC church in the town).

Both churches in Cheadle are named after St Giles, who is the patron saint of the town; and the hart/hind (or deer) in the bottom left corner refers to that.    (St Giles was a hermit, whose peace was disturbed when the King of The Goths went hunting after a hind. When the king chased the hind into St Giles' cave, he found the saint had been hit by the arrow intended for the animal. Strangely. in this window, it's the hind which has been shot by the arrow.)

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Crook house

Penkridge looks from the main road that passes through it as though it's just another dormitory town. In fact it has a long and quite staggering history.

Crook Cottage (now renamed the Old Cottage) is another surprising sight, that just pops up as one turns a corner in this historic town. It was a town lock-up in the 1780s. 'Crook' is Australian slang for 'out of sorts', so it seems an apt name for this rather warped structure!

There are plenty of publications written about the town, including An Historic Trail, sponsored by the local civic society. Worth buying, and taking the walk I think.
Link: History of Penkridge

Friday, 2 March 2012

Skull & crossbones flag

The pirates' flag flies proudly over this canal boat as it sails through Tixall along the Trent & Mersey canal.

Pirates are quite colourful these days, but seem law-abiding at least. Well, in Staffordshire anyway...

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Pylons as giants

I like electricity plylons. I know that might seem odd in someone like me, who walks the countryide so much, but these giant structures in the landscape give it a surreal edge that appeals to me. A bit like Don Quixote's windmills, that he saw in his mind's eye as ogres.

Of course, I wouldn't be happy about them too much in natural beauty spots (such as The Highlands), and I wouldn't want to live under one, but, yes, I do have a soft spot for them. Their webbed arangement strikes me as high design.

This photo is part of City Daily Photo's theme day for March - which is on the subject of electricity.
Click here to view thumbnails for all participants.