Monday, 30 April 2012

Robin Hood gets married

Did Robin Hood marry under this ancient yew tree, at St Cuthbert’s Churchyard in Doveridge? That’s what they say – or rather what an old English ballad says… It’s a charming song, and the words seen be seen in full here.

This old yew is easily 1000 years old, and may be more. It’s so old, it’s now supported by poles and chains, as you can see in the photo – but it keeps going, and has a girth at least six feet in diameter. The villagers look after it.

In the ballad, Robin marries a lady called Clorinda (‘Maid Marion’ was a later story-teller’s invention), and the village is called Dubbridge, not Doveridge, and, er, Robin may never have existed (but – never let the truth get in the way of a good story…!)

She sounds like a nice girl:
"The queen of the shepherds was she,
And her gown was of velvet as green as the grass,
And her buskin did reach to her knee."

Link: Robin Hood & Staffordshire

PS: Doveridge is officially in Derbyshire, but only by a few yards, and who's counting? 

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Arts & Crafts style in Leek

The façade of the Nat West Bank in Leek never interested me that much – but a book by George Noszlopy & Fiona Waterhouse drew my attention to it. Their book ‘Public Sculpture of Staffordshire & Black Country’ attempts to describe and give the history of nearly every significant piece of public art in the county. It’s a pretty impressive book, if you like that sort of thing, which, clearly, I do.

Anyway, apparently, the façade is a good example of Arts & Crafts-style architecture in the 1880s.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Staffordshire yarn bombing

This strange manifestation is an example of guerrilla knitting, aka ‘yarn-bombing’. Certain anonymous people knit these coloured 'granny-squares', and then – under cover of night – attach them to street furniture, from phone-boxes to street signs. Or to telegraph poles, as in this instance.

Quite why they do it is a mystery.

The small village of Cresswell has recently had a spate of these up its length and breadth.. Does the village have a secret yarn-archist in its midst? Or was it the action of a passing activist? We may never know.
There is an underground group called the Stoke Guerilla Shoopers, but Cesswell is well outside Stoke-on-Trent.

Link: Yarn Bombing

Friday, 27 April 2012

Lamb in the rain

It’s been rain, rain, rain for the last few days. 
The weather since the beginning of the year has been quite daft – alternating hot summer-like weather, freezing cold and mist… and now rain!  All this in the midst of a semi-official drought here in Staffordshire. As I say – daft weather patterns.

What this poor new lamb thinks of it all I can’t say.
I saw this little chap today, pressing himself up against this telegraph pole. It didn’t move.  I have no idea why it was doing this.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Steller's naked alphabet

I have no idea what Margaret Thatcher thought of this artwork when she unveiled it back in the 1970s. I should think the Iron Lady might well have been slightly shocked, especially as she’d have been told that this pair of naked lovelies is supposed (somehow) to “…outline the art of writing and the development of the phonetic alphabet”. At least that’s what the artist, Fritz Steller, said at the time.

The sculpture now adorns the rear entrance to Tamworth library, though was hidden behind a couple of screens when I visited last.

Of course, Mrs T was at one time the Minister of Education, so maybe I malign her. Maybe she did like it.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Burton Town Hall Gothic

Burton Town Hall is pure late neo-Gothic. Wandering around its insides is like being in some Middle Ages castle complete with bosses and stone arches and wide, echoey stairwells. Bit crazy really.

Of course, it’s all mocked up: the Victorians just loved a bit of medievalism, no matter how fake. (It was built in 1894).
But – I like it. It’s a bit of escapism.

Link: Burton Town Hall history

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Elephant in bishop's wood

An elephant? In a Staffordshire wood?  Clearly the artist-carver who created this little surprise was quite happy with the concept.
Maybe it's not even an elephant. After all, it is missing its tusks and trunk... Not sure what it is!

But it pops up as quite a surprise to the person strolling through the wood!  At first, you rub your eyes, thinking it’s simply another piece of strangely shaped wood, and then you realise it’s deliberate. But there is no sign to indicate why it’s there…
As you walk on through the wood, there are even more of these wood-sculptures, which just sit there in the cover of the trees.

Monday, 23 April 2012

George and dragon

Images of Saint George (and his dragon) are pretty much everywhere, so it was not hard to find a depiction of him to put up on the photo-blog on this, St George’s Day. I like this one a lot though.
I came across it on a building in the midst of a ‘clearance area’, where all the old rows of homes have been pulled down to make way for, er, regeneration. Only the regeneration doesn’t seem to have started yet.

The building (now home to offices owned by Alliance) used to be a Parker’s Ales pub, and the old pub's mosaic over the door is quite fine.
I like that they kept the mosaic at least.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

When vampires walk

I’ve been reading ‘Dracula’ by Bram Stoker, where it’s noted that April 22  (the eve of  St George’s Day) is the most lively night of the year for vampires. This, I did not know – but it seems Bram had it right. See: Beware St George’s Eve!  

Staffordshire is not blessed (if that’s the right word, er-hem) with vampires, so I chose this little chap – a gargoyle off St Anne’s Church at Brown Edge – to mark the occasion, even though he does more resemble a werewolf (!). He’s pretty scary.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Tranny with attitude

There are zillions of drag shows, all doing roughly the same thing – big dresses, big hair, risqué jokes, outrageous actions, tributes to the devastated divas (from Judy Garland and Doris Day to Amy Whitehouse and Whitney Houston) and over-the-top renditions of ‘I Will Survive’ and ‘I Am What I Am’. It’s a formula. And it’s barely changed in forty years. But...

This evening I was walking through Fenton (an abandoned industrial town if there ever was one), and I heard the disco noise coming from a pub. Drawn in, I entered the Sparkle Lee show.
Sparkle does exactly the same as any other drag show, but somehow… the act was imbued with a kind of reality and pathos that made it special.

S/he (a “tranny with attitude”) knew everybody in the function room – by name. Because … unbelievably… s/he lives in the next street.
This was the first night that this version of the show had been put on - and it looked like everybody in the street (young and old, man and woman) had turned out to see their favourite son’s debut. It was kinda like … Coronation Street meets La Cage Aux Folles!!

Yes, there was ‘I Am What I Am’, of course - but who would put ‘Working Man’ into their show, except a boy who lives slap-bang here, in dirty old Stoke-on-Trent? 
(For those that don’t know, the lyrics of this song go: “And the coal dust lies heavy / on your lungs / It's a working man I am. / And I've been down underground” – and all this, sung in a big Shirley Bassey dress!). I expect you don’t often get that song in a Las Vegas-style show. It was a tear-jerker moment, believe me.

Sparkle will now go on a string of dates to venues around Wales and the North of England, but who knows if s/he will be able to repeat the emotion of that show?  After all, the first show before a home crowd is always special – for performer and audience alike.

But, s/he’s already booked for the Xmas Eve 2012 show back in Fenton; and … I think I’d want to be there.

Link: Sparkle Lee

Friday, 20 April 2012

Sinai Park 'swimming pool'

Yes – a swimming pool! As we think ahead to Summer, one’s thoughts turn to an outdoors swim, but the greeny waters of this pit are perhaps not so inviting.
However, three hundred years ago, this pit, which has brick steps leading down into it, was the very latest in outdoor bathing.
This ‘bathing-pool’ sits in the gardens of Sinai Park House, the Jacobean mansion just outside Burton. The house and grounds are slowly being restored.

Link:  Sinai Park House

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Moorlands mermaid

The Blake Mere Mermaid, in stained glass

The Blake Mere Mermaid, depicted in this terrific leaded window, is a famous character-of-legend in the moorlands around Leek.
She hides out deep in a large pool high in the rocky ridge above Leek. However, sadly, she’s not someone you would want to meet on a dark night: as she drags young men down to their deaths if they are careless when passing her lair on their way home.
A famous pub nearby commemorates her.

Actually, this piece of glass is in an old house, that is now the home of the leading solicitors Fearns Marriott, in the centre of Leek. The total collection of images in the window represents various aspects of the topography of the Moorlands.
I took the photo from outside, in the street, which is why the lighting is a little askew.

Erm...I do like the way that the artist-designer has modestly hidden her bare breasts under a line of lead. (Very discreet indeed!)

Link: The Legend of the Mermaid of Black Mere

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Roman Wall

The village of Wall (near Lichfield) is very old settlement – it dates back to Roman times, and you can see here in this photo the remains of the 3rd century town (then called Letocetum), which are preserved to this day by English Heritage.

Though there is a fence around the site, there is open entry through the gate and one can just come and go freely. It’s kinda nice just to sit among the ruins whenever you feel like it.

Link: Wall Remains

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Golden public path

The farmer here at Little Sugnall has been ingenious I think. The public footpath runs right across his field, and he clearly has been thinking about the easiest way to get ramblers across the field without them trampling his crops.

So, what he has done is sprayed the path with some sort of herbicide (It think), which not only clearly marks the path - but provides a splash of golden colour too!

Monday, 16 April 2012

Hiding rainbow

The weather has been even more unpredictable than ever these last few weeks. The warming sunny days have been broken up by grey gusts of showers, and even (last week) hail! However, the rain showers aren't enough (I'm told) to even nearly make up for the previous lengthy dry months.

The showers occasionally produce a cloudy rainbow, which is always something special, even though this one hid itself behind an electricity pylon.

It makes a nice, odd photo though.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Titanic gallery

It’s Titanic Day today. Yes, it’s 100 years since the sinking of the great ship which hit an iceberg.

As I’ve noted in this photo-blog before, north Staffordshire people have an interest in the event because the unfortunate skipper of the ship, Captain Edward Smith, was born in Stoke-on-Trent.

One place that will no doubt be commemorating this day in style is The White Star pub in Stoke town.
The White Star (the name of the shipping line that the Titanic belonged to) is run by Titanic Brewery, which is itself based in the city. The pictures in this photo are part of the White Star pub’s 'Titanic gallery'.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

False Alarm under the trees

False Alarm were just one of the bands playing at today’s ‘Bottle Neck Blitz’ at Longton Park. Like all the other bands that played this afternoon, they used the park’s bandstand as their stage.
Georgie Brennan, the singer, is just sixteen.

Bottle Neck Blitz is a free festival of local rock bands that takes place twice a year at Longton Park. The next one is on September 23.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Most tasteless author

Karl Shaw is one of north Staffordshire’s most famous authors – in a kind of very underground way… He collates weird and, er, unregarded facts from history (“Five People Who Died During Sex’ is one of his lists books) and sticks them together.

However, in other books he also goes off on totally crazed flights of imagination and completely invents strange surreal untruths - and then his stuff really is off the spectrum.

Most interestingly, he seems to keep himself anonymous. Do you know: I even wonder if his real name is Karl Shaw. Hmm.
And I actually even believe that another, similar, writer from North Staffordshire, one Teddy Salad (who wrote A Poseur's Guide to the Potteries & District) could actually be Karl Shaw.

It’s all very mysterious.  Certainly I won’t be selling these copies of his works until I know more… If you know anything - please leave a comment!

Link: Karl Shaw publications

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Dove bridge

The Dove Bridge near Doveridge runs, unsurprisingly enough, over the River Dove.

It’s a beautiful-looking structure, but isn’t used now really, which – with luck – will preserve it. Two of the arches date back 700 years apparently.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Lichfield burning

The last person in Britain to be burned at the stake for heresy was Edward Wightman. The reason I mention this gruesome fact is that it took place in the cathedral city of Lichfield, right here in Staffordshire, exactly 400 years ago to the day – on April 11, 1612.

I’m not sure that this is an occasion we want to remember, but the Lichfield Council has decided that we shall – like it or not – so there are commemoration events today.

Link: Lichfield Civic Events Diary

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Llama? alpaca?

I know that alpacas and llamas have been bred as livestock in this country for quite a little while now – but it’s still a surprise to turn a corner and suddenly find a few of them staring at you. They still look pretty unusual to me.
These beautiful creatures can be found in Ellastone.

Still not sure which is a llama and which an alpaca though.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Beautiful Ilam

Ilam estate

The Ilam estate is completely idyllic, isn't it?
Because it's all owned by The National Trust it's beautifully maintained, and in this instance, is free to access - even the garden in the forefront of this photo, which is part of Ilam Hall (now a local youth hostel).
The estate church is a gem - it's St Bertram's, and goes back to Saxon times. Pilgrims come to the saint's tomb to pray.

Great walks too!

Links: Ilam Estate / St Bertram

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Burslem Pantocrator

This extraordinary mural showing ‘Christ Pantocrator’ looks at first sight like it could be a mosaic some 1000 years old, and from a Byzantine church.
In fact, it was painted in the 1930s by a young woman who had family here in Staffordshire at the time.

It is amazing to walk into St Joseph’s Church in Burslem (which has a pretty ugly exterior to tell the truth) – and suddenly see this huge dome over the altar holding this image in its bowl.
Moira Forsyth had a famous painter father (Gordon Forsyth), but she went on to become pretty special herself.

A good image for Easter Day!

Link: More on Moira Forsyth / Christ Pantocrator images

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Come thee in to The Anchor

The Anchor Hotel in Teanford has this catchy poem inscribed on its side, designed to encourage the thirsty passer-by to take a comfort break.  It starts, as you can see “Come thee in and sit thee down…”

The inn itself dates back to 1757, but I should think the poem is much much later, even thought it’s written in dialect.

The highways authority must have approved of the sentiments in the poem I think. Otherwise, why would they have put up a sign here saying ‘give way’? (ho ho!!!)

Friday, 6 April 2012

Good Friday flowers

I was walking past Eccleshall Church today and I saw the Easter flower-arrangers were already in. I was surprised to see them on Good Friday (the day of Christ’s death) – a very sombre day in the Christian calendar.

However, one lady told me that they had been allowed to put up the Easter flowers on strict condition that they did it after three o’clock. This is important – as 3pm is the supposed hour of Christ’s death on the cross on Good Friday.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Dunkirk's gas

This gas base reminded me of that incredibly irritating screen-saver which consisted of a series of coloured pipes growing and growing into a twisted complexity that eventually destroyed itself. It was hypnotic and maddening.

For some reason this isolated spot outside Audley village is called Dunkirk, so this unit is known as the Dunkirk Gas Plant.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Tribute to a brave man

The Colin Grazier Hotel is a puzzle to most visitors to Tamworth. Who was he, they ask, and they assume he was a local businessman or politician.
In fact he was an ordinary sailor who died in action in World War Two, when he showed amazing courage in entering a sinking German U-Boat, to find and retrieve some codebooks that were known to be in it. Sadly he died returning yet again into the U-Boat. Those codebooks helped the Allies later to intercept and interpret German signals.

For some odd reason – probably the British obsession with secrecy – the story didn’t emerge for many years, when Grazier was finally, posthumously, awarded The George Cross.

To me, it’s admirable that this pub company decided to name their pub after him – even though it must have known that few visitors (and probably very few young people) would even know who he was.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Saved from the bogs

Tracks can stay very boggy, even in the Spring, especially if they are near streams or in poorly-draining areas..

Country-walkers like myself would sink in these nasty bogs if it weren't for the Ramblers Association, which builds ramps like one on the Teddesley Park Estate, to ensure footpaths remain walkable.
Kudos to them!

Link: Ramblers Association

Monday, 2 April 2012

Supporting walls

Walls that need this sort of support are clearly ones to walk well clear of. The odd thing was that they looked so solid.

As I've mentioned before, a poem I'm really fond of is the one by Robert Frost 'Mending Wall'. It seems relevant. In it are these lines:
"Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down!"

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Weetmans Bridge

Weetmans Bridge, which crosses the Trent at Little Haywood, is so called because, when it was built in 1888, it was paid for by public subscription – and a man called Joseph Weetman was the largest donor.

It hasn’t changed much in the last hundred years, and its surface is still cobbled. 

This photo is part of the monthly 'Theme Day Photo' run by City Daily Photo; the theme this month is cobblestones.   Click here to view thumbnails for all participants.