Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Crumbling mausoleum

The old mausoleum housing the remains of the Parker-Jervis family is so completely overgrown and hidden that it's virtually impossible to get a photo of it.
It's sunk into a pit at the back of St Saviour's Church in Aston-by-Stone village, and even climbing down into the pit, to try to gain access to its door, is pretty difficult now (as you can see!).

Even though it's a listed building, now a 150 years old, it is showing signs of collapse too.

The whole churchyard at St Saviour's is littered with the graves of members of the Parker-Jervis line, which owned the adjacent Aston Hall too.

Link: Parker-Jervis Family Vault

This post has been featured on Taphophile Tragics (the cemetery-enthusiasts' website) 

Monday, 30 July 2012

Great mosque shows hubris

The City Central Mosque in Hanley is a fairly special building. As you can see, it has a huge great green dome, and, as it stands near the top of a hill, it can be seen from afar. It is one of the biggest places of worship in the whole of north Staffordshire. The Sunni Muslims who run it had hoped for great things from it.
However, especially in this month of Ramadan - a time for reflection -, this grand edifice is a warning as much as a triumph.

The fact is that, after five years of building, it is still not finished. Yes, there was a very unpleasant arson attack on it by a pair of racists, which did hold up work, but that was eighteen months ago; and it's now a puzzle as to why work seems to have been at a standstill for so long.

It seems like the Muslim community has just run out of money - despite having got the land for a peppercorn rent of just £1 a year. Admittedly we are in the midst of one of the worst economic recessions for a century, but, yes, something has gone wrong.
In the bid to make something huge and grandiose, pride has, in this instance, led to a considerable fall.

The Stoke-on-Trent Muslim Welfare and Community Association, which has responsibility for the project, say that the work will get back on track eventually, which it better be because already (see picture, left) the basic fabric is showing signs of disrepair, decay, and simple lack of maintenance. 

I, for one, really do hope that it is finished sometime. This district of Hanley needs a boost, and a finished, shiny new mosque would give it that boost.
But it's hard to know when completion will happen.

I am reminded by all this of Shelley's poem 'Ozymandias'

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Staffordshire name slips away

The Staffordshire Building Society folded sometime ago - and I was only reminded of its existence when I came across this old photo of one of its Tamworth branches, which I had in one of the (very) deep folders on my computer.
Accordign to Wikipedia, The Staffordshire merged with The Portman in 2003, and The Portman in turn merged with nationwide in 2006.

I thought I'd mention this as it looks like the final form of the Staffordshire Regiment is now to be merged completely out of existence too under new government proposals.

Nationally-represented organisations with the name Staffordshire in them seem to be slipping away.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Skeleton in the window

The skeleton grins fiendishly out of this window at the walker who passes by this house in the village of Tong.

I had a theory that the owners were so fed up of people looking in the window (Tong is a very pretty village, and attracts tourists) that they placed the skeleton there to frighten them from doing it.
...but it draws attention to the window too, of course. So, that theory is not as solid as it might be.

Anyway, a resident told me it was doctors who live in this house - and maybe that explains the skeleton, which may be a sort of medical tool. Maybe.

Friday, 27 July 2012

A little bit of China

The so-called 'Pagoda Fountain' at Alton Towers is well away from the rollercoasters that the park is better known for.
Older folk (or people just tired of the hustle & bustle) can just take a left turn at Nemesis (which is a really terrifying ride), and find themselves in the tranquillity of the old landscaped gardens, which were created in the 1820s/30s.

The pagoda dates from the 1830s. To be honest, it is not so much authentic Chinese as a fantasy of China, but I like it.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

The grave of, er, Little Nell...

But… Little Nell is a fictional character, from Charles Dickens’ novel 'The Old Curiosity Shop’ – I hear you cry – so how can there be a grave for her?!!   And you are quite right.

In the nineteenth century, an unscrupulous verger at Tong Church set up a rough grave with a few stones, and showed it, for a fee, to gullible tourists saying that this really was the little heroine’s last resting place.  The verger even faked a burial registry!
(Dickens had apparently revealed by this point that Tong had been the original for the village in which Nell dies in the book).

Of course, this deceit couldn’t go on, so the church authorities stepped in to stop it.
But the villagers wanted to keep the legend going, so the authorities didn’t actually ban the idea, they just insisted the word ‘reputed’ be put in…  
A very English compromise.

This post has been featured on Taphophile Tragics (the cemetery-enthusiasts' website) 

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Art Deco faces bulldozer

This fabulous Art-Deco decorative piece on the front of The Bird In Hand pub in Oakhill tells a sad story. The pub closed down a while ago, and doesn’t look like re-opening.

To hear of yet another pub closing is not new, but people forget that some pubs really do have some remarkable assets in terms of popular art.
The rest of the pub’s fa├žade is pretty dull; but I hope this section will be saved.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Kids' ceramic project

‘Firing Up’, a ceramic project for schools

I was thinking about yesterday’s post – the one about the marvellous porcelain statuette made in the Potteries – and realised that not only are a lot of pottery skills like that being lost, but that nobody is teaching them any more.

It might come as a shock (it did to me) to realise that pottery is no longer a degree course at Staffordshire University. It has been subsumed into something called ‘3D Design’. Trouble is: few students want to learn pottery skills.

So shocked were some people by this that they started ‘Firing Up’, a ceramic project for schools, which is supported jointly by Staffordshire University’s Design Department and the Crafts Council.
This is some of the kids’ work.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Potteries Venus

The Staffordshire ‘Potteries’didn’t just produce cups and saucers. This beautiful piece, in Parian porcelain, was produced at the Ridgways factory (John Ridgway, Bates & Company – to be exact) in Hanley in 1858. It was based on the statue 'Venus & Cupid' by the famous sculptor John Gibson.

It’s astonishing to me that such a fine piece could be fired from clay.

You’ll find this piece in the Industrial Gallery of Birmingham Museum. I guess the Museum sees it as a factory item, not a work of art in its own right. Hmm.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Bored teenagers

Are there bored teenagers all over the world?

This pair were unimpressed by all the activity around them at this village festival. Out of picture is a rock band trying very hard to put on a show for everyone.  These two were definitely not interested...

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Rockin in Milwich

The Milwich Village Rock Festival was - as you'd expect - a low-profile affair, but surprisingly enjoyable with a fantastic quality in the acts.

I had to get this photo of The Taskers, a college-rock outfit with some intricate rhythms, because in the last one I took of them, I missed off Jack.  Some of their fans complained to me that it shouldn't be that hard to take a photo of band that only has two members.  I guess they have a point...

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Menace of the birds

The Alfred Hitchcock film of The Birds was a brilliantly scary affair.

Whenever I see birds gathering on a roof, I'm reminded of it.  Good old Hitchcock.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Popular nude

This statue of a young lady bathing - in the classical style - may be a copy of a famous statue.  I wish I knew.
It's certainly popular enough: versions of it crop in hundreds of suburban gardens, and are on sale at dozens of locations, including DIY stores.

The wonder is: why? 
Under most circumstances a depiction of a loosely-clad young woman ('under a male gaze' as the art critics would say) wouldn't usually go down well in a domestic situation.
I know it's usually placed near a water-feature - as the one in this photo was - so there is a tie-in of sorts, but it's still a bit of a puzzle.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Rats in the rubbish

Refuse is strewn over this alleyway. I thought it must be because a restaurant is here; but it's not, this is a residential area.
It also appears that birds (probably crows), or perhaps even rats, have broken into the bags; and then some human vandal has probably added to the upset.

I think I know why it's happened.   The refuse collectors refuse to pick up this mess, because the bags are broken; and the householders refuse to re-bag the rubbish (because THEY think the refuse collectors should just shovel it up). 

So - there is a stand-off.     Very depressing.

Monday, 16 July 2012

In the stocks at Middleton

Middleton Hall, near Tamworth, is one of those attractions that kids get dragged to for "educational reasons". I find the hall fascinating as it has architecture from a number of different periods, as well as the Robert Peel Museum, but the poor kids must hate it.
The one thing the kids can do is insist their parents take a turn in the stocks - which, they must think, is probably what their parents deserve...

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Tiny rock festivals rock

The smallest rock festivals are the best (IMHO).
For example, the 'Night Of The Dog' festival in the tiny village of Tean only attracts five hundred peple or so, but the young (mostly local) bands play there with real enthusiasm in front of their own fans - and neighbours!
This photo, from last year's festival, is one of my favourites, as it expresses the feeling of a local rock fest pretty well. The young lad clearly finds the noise from the stage a little cacophonous...

NOD is not on this year, but the next best is the Milwich Village Rock Festival, which takes place next weekend. Don't miss it.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Lichfield Festival goes stripey

Lichfield Festival is the major cultural festival in Staffordshire, taking place every year in July. Orchestras, authors, theatre troupes – they all turn up during the twelve days that the festival is on.

This year, the theme across the city was ‘coloured stripes’. I have no idea why. However, outside the cathedral, this open-air installation – created by local school-children – took up the theme.

Tomorrow is the last day of the festival.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Fruit in the sun

The sun has come out so rarely this summer, it's like a special day when it happens.
Somehow the appearance of water-melons and honeydew melons in the market seemed to confirm this view.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Holy Grail... is in Stafford

The Shepherd’s Monument, in the grounds of Shugborough Hall (near Stafford), is one of the main attractions for the hundreds of tourists who go there, especially at this time of year. You might wonder why - because the carving is not that good.

The fact is: it’s very peculiar. The carving is an exact mirror image of a famous painting (by Poussin), in which shepherds appear to examine a tomb. Why the mirroring? No one knows, as the people of the time – it was made in 1748 – aren’t saying.

Then – this sounds crazy – a story grew up (probably fabricated of course) that the carving is a clue as to the site of a putative nearby resting-place of The Holy Grail (the ancient chalice that once contained the blood of Christ and which, the legend goes, ended up in Britain). The tomb in the carving suggests this idea, it is said.

Anyway, the last peculiarity is that there is an unexplained line of ten Roman letters carved into the plinth. You and I might think that it’s just a private inscription of abbreviations put there by the lord of the time; but lots of people have got very excited over it and insist it’s a secret code. In fact, a whole cyberspace buzz has grown up around it.
Hmm, again.

Anyway, if you want to know more, even Staffordshire County Council hasn’t been able to resist the ‘mystery’ and has a whole page devoted to it on the council's website.
See: Staffordshire & the Holy Grail / Shepherd’s Monument (BBC)

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The criminal Ladies In Linen

This curious tomb at Rugeley – in the graveyard of the old, ruined church of St Augustine – is known as 'The Ladies In Linen'. It shows two sisters side by side in their burial shrouds, which are knotted at both ends.

I can’t say I’ve ever come across a tomb like it before.
Looking up the story, it seems that the law at the time (17th century) insisted that people be buried in shrouds made of wool.  Yet these shrouds are depicted as being clearly of linen.
So, not only did these two indomitable ladies defy the law – but they made sure everyone knew they had! They must have been quite formidable...

Link: St Augustine, Rugeley / This post has been featured on Taphophile Tragics the cemetery-enthusiasts' website

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Estate village nurses its past

Maer village in west Staffordshire was what's known as an 'estate village' - in other words, the whole place owed its living to the local lord-of-the-manor. You might be a smallholder renting land & house from the manor, or a below-stairs servant - either way, you all deferred to the family living at Maer Hall (which is a vast establishment, and still there).

That sort of arrangement more or less collapsed in this country after the Second World War, but, curiously, at Maer, the feeling of being an estate-village lives on somehow.
For example, in the village hall, a previous member of the local gentry looks down, in this painting, on the activities of the present villagers.

Having the painting still hanging there at all seems vaguely old-fashioned to me, especially in the way it symbolises a much less democratic time.
But maybe Maer people are nostalgic for those times...  Possibly.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Remembering accident victims

The Roadpeace memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum is unique.
This is because the Arboretum (near Alrewas) was designed as a place to remember people - from soldiers to police officers - who've died in service. Yet the Roadpeace memorial, which lies quite far from the Arboretum's centre admittedly, remembers those who've died in accidents on this country's roads.

You'll often see the dove symbol (I think it's a dove) placed at sites where fatal traffic accidents have occurred.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Murder most foul

This grisly painting hangs in the function room of the famous, historic Leopard Pub in Burslem. But it's an odd painting, you'd think, to be displayed in a place of relaxation...

But the Leopard is not just your usual pub, being redolent of lots of history (and ghosts). What's more, I'm told that this painting is by none other than Arthur Berry, the famous North Staffordshire poet, writer and 'primitivist' artist.

And... it is a depiction of what was supposedly a true event in the building. This young lady had her throat slashed in a back room of the pub some hundred or more years ago.
It's all rather too gory for me, and I tend to sit (whilst with my pint) with my back to it...

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Go compare... away

The 'Go Compare' TV ads, which feature an operatic tenor, are possibly the most irritating and over-repeated adverts in any of the media. So I have some sympathy with the graffiti-guerilla who defaced this billboard poster (note the crook around the tenor's neck about to haul him off-screen...).

In fact, I burst out laughing when I saw it in Shelton.
One shouldn't laugh really, as this defacement is hardly a legal act - but ... it is SUCH an irritating ad!

STOP PRESS: Thanks to Andrew Woodvine (see his comment below), who alerted me to the fact that, er, I'd been had.  Yes, this 'graffiti' is all part of a clever advertising spoof by Go Compare themselves. Well, it certainly fooled me!

Friday, 6 July 2012

Rain rain rain

Staffordshire got flooded today; and there were estimates that today saw what would usually be considered a month's worth of rain!
Thus there was no play on these tennis courts, as there hasn't been for every other day for the last six weeks.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Ramblers' retreat

At last! A reasonably sunny day, or one that anyway is 'puthery' - which is the word used around here to describe this soft, humid, warm but cloudy weather.

One terrific place to walk on such a day is Dimmingsdale: along the River Churnet then up into the hills. A pleasant surprise on the walk is coming upon this building - which is in the middle of the forest, standing alone and all by itself. Called the 'Ramblers Retreat Cafe' it serves a lovely apple pie...

However, today seems like it's a one-off. Tomorrow's forecast is 'deluge of rain'. Seriously - that's what it says.

Link: Ramblers Retreat

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Hundreds turn out to historic churches

The Staffordshire Historic Churches Trust is an organisation I respect and admire a great deal, but even I was surprised at the hundreds of people who turned out for its most recent 'church tour'.
On these tours, supporters and friends will follow a pre-araanged route to visit some of the county's finest churches, at each of which there will be talks (and even tea & biscuits...).

The first stop on the tour was at Statfold, a small and ancient family chapel usually closed to the general public. The place was full to capacity for the talk.

The final stop on this four-church tour was at St Peter's in Elford, a very large church. And it had to be - because by this time the members of the tour had swelled to something like 200 people...
It just shows (I hope) the desire in the county to preserve our most amazing churches.

Link:  Staffordshire Historic Churches Trust (And it's very cheap to join the SCHT!)

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

The widow's walk in Eccleshall

Imagine the sad putative widow - looking out to sea from this lofty perch, trying to see if her loved one will return, against the odds, safely from his ocean voyage.
At least, that's the romantic story of why these railed structures at the tops of houses are called 'widows' walks'.

However, in Eccleshall - where you'll find this example - you're about as far from the sea as you can be in England!
In fact, these structures are just rather elaborate architectural flourishes, with a rather down-to-earth secondary function - of allowing access to the chimney...

Ah well, it's still a lovely idea.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Secret judges survey villages

Small and large villages in Staffordshire are holding their collective breath, knowing that secret judging of them is going on. The judges of the Best Kept Village competition have already been making their invisible way round the county for a month - but there's another four weeks of judging to go...

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Bottle oven chimneys

As a Staffordshire site, it was inevitable that a picture of bottle-ovens would be my contribution to the City Daily Photo's Theme Day on 'Chimneys'. (Click here to view thumbnails for all participants).

Bottle ovens are almost a symbol of north Staffordshire, the centre of the pottery industry. They are the old, nineteenth-century kilns in which pottery ware was fired, usually with coal as the fuel.
There were literally hundreds of them in the city of Stoke on Trent, all belching black smoke. The atmosphere in the area must have been horribly thick, and fairly unhealthy.

Now, thankfully, modern kilns are electric and the air is clear; and these kilns that you see here are simply hstoric sites, preserved for heritage.

The best place to view bottle ovens now is at the Gladstone Pottery Museum, a converted old pottery works in Longton.