Tuesday, 30 December 2014

A year of forced remembrance

Rugeley military grave

It has, of necessity, been a year tinged with sadness.  There has been so much written, said and done in connection with the 100th anniversary of the First World War that one can't do anything but be reminded continually of the miserable fact that hundreds of thousands of men - and women - died in seemingly stupid circumstances.

For many communities, it has been hard to be forced to remember the loss of life of ancestors who often died terribly young.
For families, it has been even worse. Here in Rugeley, another military grave remembers not just one young person (who died of his wounds after the war), but a young woman as well, who also died in service (in the Second World War).  Families just have had to bear it.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Wonderful (if sentimental) tomb-sculpture

Tomb-sculpture by Francis Chantrey at Ilam

The week between Christmas and New Year is when many of us take a 'brisk walk' in the countryside.  Out in the Peak District Ilam (a National Trust site) is a favourite choice.
The whole area is of course beautiful and also contains some lovely sights.  The little estate church is nearly always open - and worth going into for many reasons, not least the wonderful (if sentimental) tomb-sculpture by Francis Chantrey - which shows a dying man with his children...

Friday, 26 December 2014

Naive nativity

Nativity scene shop-window display

I am not convinced that this shop in Blythe Bridge has actually seized the essence of the Nativity with its shop-window display. 
An over-sized doll in a cardboard carton, with no parents nearby, and soft-toy animals standing in for The Shepherds (at least, I suppose that's why they are trying to represent) doesn't appear to me to really sum up the message.

And yet, there is something charming in its naivety, which makes it much more interesting than hundred 'accurate' Nativity scenes.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

United in Silent Night

One of Staffordshire's nicest Christmas stories is associated with this church - St John The Baptist at Great Haywood. 
The church is the local Catholic one to Shugborough, which is where there was a hospital in the Second World War caring for German prisoners of war.

A quirky, but wonderful, tradition at the church remembers how those prisoners would attend the church's Christmas service, because, even now, the singing of the first verse of the carol Silent Night ('Stille Nacht') is always sung in German - in memory of those lost men who fought anyone from a different nation, but who still thought there was only one Church.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Toffee knot

Keystone over the original entrance to the Horlestone confectionery factory in Longton

Toffee - believe it or not - is a Stoke-on-Trent delicacy.  Edward Walker began making his own version in a backroom sometime in the early 1900s... and suddenly 'Walkers Nonsuch Toffee' was a runaway success.

This keystone sits over the original entrance to the Horlestone confectionery factory in Longton. 
The factory, just yards from Edward's first shop, was taken over by Walkers in the 1940s as the firm expanded exponentially - and it is still there to this day.

Note the proud Stafford Knot.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Winter solstice, all at low ebb

Tree in winter

It's the winter solstice tomorrow - the shortest day of the year. All is at its most grey and bare, and light at its lowest ebb.

But, if there is a blank sky, the very bare nature of things has its own intricate power.  I read a writer who used the word 'scoring' to describe the way these lacy patterns stand out so finely against a winter sky; and it is an accurate phrase in this context, I think.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Eyeless mannequins

Eyeless mannequins

Spooky stories are part of the Christmas spirit, but sometimes even Christmas shopping can be spooky.  For example, why Marks & Spencer think it is a good idea to have these eyeless mannequins lining their fashion sections bewilders me.
I don't know about how children react to them, but these supra-normal creatures sure gave me bad dreams...

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Panther in Staffordshire

Fireplace at Chillington Hall

The grandiose stone fireplace in the main saloon room at the stately home of Chillington Hall reflects an outstanding story from the owning family's past.

Five hundred years ago, one of the Giffards of old managed to fire an arrow, over a huge distance, killing a panther (believe it!) that was about to attack a woman and child.  Such accuracy and self-belief become an ambition for later generations, so much so that a panther is now the family's heraldic symbol.

You don't see a lot of panthers in Staffordshire, so this is worth seeking out.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Leaded lights nostalgia

Leaded lights at the Middleport Pottery

'Leaded lights', such as in this example, always give me a strange nostalgic feel for the past.
Once upon a time, any establishment with any claim to respectability (a hotel-pub, an office or a shop even) had these kind of windows, in order to echo their own sense of importance about themselves.

This photo was taken at the Middleport Pottery, much of which has been preserved, in a strange stopped-time sort of way.

Friday, 12 December 2014

The best fish & chips you can get

Mothertown Fish & Chips, Burslem

Fish & Chip shops don't usually appear in the form of an eighteenth century building (that was once a bank).  This one in Burslem is also probably unique in having a Wedgwood-style ceiling inside.

Of course, the question is: are the chips as classy as the classy surroundings?  Indeed yes! 'Mothertown Fish & Chips' was even lauded by The Times newspaper as one of the Top Thirty F&C Shops in the whole of the UK in 2014...  Pretty good....

All in all, it's definitely worth trying a bag-full - you can even get gluten-free versions (who would have thought?!)

Wednesday, 10 December 2014


Animal skulls

We were walking by the River Dane, the river that separates Staffordshire from its northern neighbour of Cheshire, near a place called Gig Hall.  It is in quite an abandoned part of the country. 
By the bank was a rough-hewn set of shelves on which were these animal skulls.
Were they just found objects?  A collection drying in the sun? Some evidence of esoteric research? A warning?
No idea.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Last in the county for livestock

Leek Cattle Market

The Leek Cattle Market, which takes place every Tuesday, is the last livestock auction venue left in the whole of Staffordshire. 
It seems strange that such a rural county should have only the one market - but that tells you something about farming I suppose.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Hot wet marshes in 2014

Doxey Marshes

Well, it is now virtually a certainty that 2014 will be Britain's hottest, and possibly wettest year since records began 350 years ago.  
The summer, without being outstandingly hot, was consistent and long, so I guess that's what it's about.

Doxey Marshes on the outskirts of Stafford (see pic) were completely impassable a lot of the year...

And, it's only going to get warmer in years to come.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Wedgwood in Mumbai

Display case of Wedgwood objects at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) Museum in Mumbai, India

Talking of Josiah Wedgwood, it's really extraordinary that, in virtually just one generation, he turned a small pottery concern in an insignificant North Staffordshire town into a worldwide business. 
It was the beginning of the age of the entrepreneur, but even so...

Nowadays, Wedgwood is a name revered all over the globe.  Even in the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) Museum in Mumbai, India, Wedgwood objects get a display case all to themselves....

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Wedgwood statue is a lie

Statue of Josiah Wedgwood

This is Stoke-on-Trent's most famous statue - it is the potter Josiah Wedgwood, on a plinth outside Stoke Railway Station.
But... bearing in mind that December 3rd is the International Day of The Disabled... it is an impossible depiction, as Wedgwood should be really shown with just one leg.

Wedgwood is holding a copy of the Portland Vase (a piece of ancient Roman work), but he actually was not allowed to borrow the vase from its owner until 1786 - before reproducing his famous replica of it in 1790 (when he was 60).
But... the fact is that, many years earlier, in 1768, Wedgwood had had to have his right leg amputated.  So, the statue is a lie.

Of course, the statue was erected long after Wedgwood died in 1795, but the sculptor may well have known of Wedgwood's amputation anyway... and simply ignored it. 
The tendency to want our heroes to appear 'perfect' often overcomes a desire for truth. Sadly.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Knitting is spreading

Knitting exhibition

The craze for knitting goes on.  Staffordshire seems to like it; one village in the county claims to be the most knitted-over in the country. Hmm.
And at the Burslem School of Art, knitting has recently taken over the exhibition area.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Puzzling vandalism

Broken lock on gates to the churchyard in Cannock

Now and again one comes across an instance of mindless vandalism that is so stupid it's startling.  (Fortunately, I don't see much mindless vandalism in my wanderings. Thank goodness).

However, this was odd.  The lock on the 200 year old iron gates to the churchyard at St Luke's in Cannock has been smashed off by someone - who would have had to bring along a sledgehammer with them...
And, erm, there's a permanently-open entry right next to the gates!
Working that one out has flummoxed me.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Watching the gravestone

This graveyard angel is different to most in that, instead of standing above the grave, it is attached to and looking at the gravestone itself. 
It's worn, but it still has a strange, morbid fascination to it.
You'll find it at Great Haywood.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Not so secret society

Memorial tablets to freemasons in Stoke Minster Church

The idea of freemasonry is still vaguely controversial... are freemasons a secret society of eccentrics or simply an example of a successful networking group?  A recent BBC article opened up the discussion again.

I know that Freemasonry started to get very respectable and widespread in the early part of the last century, but even so I was surprised to see the virtual whole of the west wall of Stoke Minster Church covered in memorial tablets to freemasons.  
I need to read up on the subject I guess.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Tribute to pottery industry

Roundel on The Lancaster Building in Newcastle under Lyme

The Lancaster Building in Newcastle under Lyme, was built, in the late 1930s, right in the middle of the town, as an expression of local pride and to indicate the town's modernism.  It's a fine and functional building.
It pays homage to the town's past with a series of roundels on its sides - this one indicates the small, but important, element that pottery played in the industrial life of the borough.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

It's not what it seems

Local maps simply indicate that this building in fields near Creswell is an 'abandoned chapel'.  To my untrained eye, it looked like an old brick barn which had collapsed.  It just seems to be sleeping, somehow.

In fact, it is the remains of an ancient, twelfth-century chapel.  But there is no sign to indicate such; it is just standing on its own, away from any passing contact.  Its history seems largely lost.
I find that lack of recognition very odd.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Knot in a twist

Iron girder in Cheadle Indoor Market

This rather handsome iron girder holds up the roof of the Cheadle Indoor Market - the manufacturer is Silvester & Hopkins, a firm which specialised in iron winding machinery for the area's coal-mines.

As a nod to the locality, S&H placed a Stafford Knot in their maker's mark.
Trouble is: they have the knot upside down.   (Yes, I know: only I would care about this!!)

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Abandoned chimney

Chimney of the old pumping station at Gailey Pools reservoir

Chilly old autumn has definitely set in and all is damp & miserable - though it doesn't feel cold enough to be called Winter yet.
This is the (now-disused) chimney of the old pumping station at Gailey Pools reservoir. It stands all alone, fenced off and overgrown with ivy, in its abandoned isolation on the less visited side of the water.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Cafe with built-on gravestones

Lichfield Cathedral tea-shop car-park

Hmm. The little tea-shop adjacent to Lichfield Cathedral is very pleasant in many ways... but the wall in its car-park is (oddly) lined with grave-stones...
As you can see in this photo, whoever made the arrangement even decided that there wasn't enough room on the left end for one more gravestone, so s/he seems to have sliced the last one down the middle, thus making only a half of it left!
Very strange.  But no-one in the cafe seemed to know what it was all about.  (Maybe the car-park is built over a small graveyard).

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Solar panel runs ditch

Solar panel

Solar panels seem to be popping up everywhere as a form of cheap(er) energy, especially for small projects. It all seems a bit hopeful, bearing in mind that the weather has been so grey and rainy over the last week; but I'm told they do earn their keep.
This one is perched on top of a brick shed which encloses what I think is a small sluice controlling the flow of water through a small ditch. (I think...)   
Seems a rather clever way to me of powering a low-energy need.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Occupy! ... to save war memorial

War Memorial inside the old Fenton Town Hall

Heritage issues can, and do, cause emotions to get to boiling point - much to some people's surprise.

The case of the War Memorial inside the old Fenton Town Hall is just such a case.  For over a year, local feelings have seethed.  The town-hall building (in which the memorial is installed) has been sold off by the government to a business; but local people are unhappy that 'their' war memorial - which cannot be moved for fear it would break up - will be cut off from them, away inside a private building.

Anyway, it all came to a head this Remembrance weekend - and thirty local residents have 'occupied' the site, and are holding out against the police even now.
What will happen next?

See: Protesters inside Fenton hall (BBC News) / Protesters claim Magna Carta rights (Staffs Live News) / Save Our Memorial group (Facebook) / Fenton Memorial Human Chain (YouTube)

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Memorial without dignity

Memorial Garden at Rudyard Lake

It's Remembrance Sunday tomorrow; a solemn day in this 100th anniversary year of the start of World War One.

There has been some criticism though that people are going out this year creating all sorts of 'unsustainable' memorials, and should think more about how these memorials will maintain their dignity in years to come.
The Memorial Garden at Rudyard Lake is a case in point.  It's simply a nasty mess, and should be dismantled as soon as possible, as it carries little or no dignity.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Lady hiding from the cold

Statue at Sandon Hall

Poor girl !  I guess she's modestly covering up - but I wouldn't be surprised if she's shivering too.  Yes, winter has kicked in: there was a heavy frost this morning.
I'm told this is a copy of the nineteenth century Venus Italica statue, by the sculptor Canova.  Another copy can be seen in Sydney too (see Comments, below).
Seen in the gardens at Sandon Hall.

This post was featured on the International City Daily Photo portal

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Power to the people

The Hollybush Pub at Seighford

The last post was about the fate of rural villages, most of which are seeing their local services diminish, dwindle and disappear.
But n Seighford, they were not having any of that!  When their local pub, The Hollybush, couldn't find a buyer or a tenant, the villagers stepped in and set up their own pub company to run it.  Under this new management system, the pub has been running successfully for almost two years now.
People power indeed! 

Sunday, 2 November 2014

The smallest 'shop' in Staffordshire

Vending machine outside the Raddle Inn

As small rural communities dwindle, facilities - including village shops - disappear.
Hollington is a good example of this tendency, as there are possibly only a couple of dozen scattered homes now left in the vicinity and very little else except sheep.  But, they do still have a pub, The Raddle Inn
Outside the Raddle is a vending machine, selling bread, milk, bacon, chocolate bars.

Friday, 31 October 2014

It doesn't frighten me...

Lichfield Cathedral 'grotesque'

There's a very fine line, when it comes to monsters, between terrifying and plain silly.
This dragon figure on the east end of Lichfield Cathedral is a case in point.  Because some of the very old 'grotesques', as they're called, had crumbled away, the cathedral authorities decided to replace them a couple of years ago - but in a  "21st Century style".
However, frankly, this figure doesn't look so much like an ancient guardian, warding off evil spirits, as a character from a child's computer game.
In my humble opinion.

This post was featured on the My Town Shoot Out Photo Blog for its Halloween theme

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Walk at Hanging Rock

Hanging Stone, Sraffordshire

It may be nearly November, but the weather is still very mild - even if the sky is permanently light-gray.  Walking is easy in such weather: you just have to be careful not to wear too many layers or you are soon stripping off...

I followed the Roaches walk from the Walking Englishman website to Hanging Stone (in pic) which is an easy landmark to pick out.  From a distance it has an Easter Island effect, but it's basically a gritstone rock outcrop.

This post was featured on the City Daily Portal Landmarks theme

Monday, 27 October 2014

Secret sixties garden revealed

Stonehill Quarry House Garden

Some fascinating places are opened up to the public for the National Open Garden Days.  One of the last of the events for the NGS in Staffordshire for this year took place on Sunday when Stonehill Quarry House Garden welcomed visitors.

The house and surrounding wood are set in the hollow of an old rocky quarry, which has now been encouraged to return to Nature - shrubs, ferns, flowering trees have been planted in profusion.

The house, a nice example of modernistic late-60s architecture, echoes the wide and jagged angles of the old quarry.

This post was featured on the MyTown Shoot-Out Photo Blog

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Nothing matters

Artwork by Emily Campbell in Hanley Park

The small island in the centre of Hanley Park boating lake has a low perimeter wall around it, carrying words.  You have to walk around the lake shore to read them all of course, so it makes for a thoughtful ten-minute stroll. 
Depending on the time of year, the foliage forces limited views of phrases, which then stand out on their own, with resonance. For example, the whole sentence here is actually:  "There are sounds all around, but nothing matters except the sound of your voice".  
The concept was created by artist Emily Campbell.

The artwork has inspired a song by a North Staffordshire musician, Matt Churchill - 'Brushed steel words in Hanley Park'


Thursday, 23 October 2014

Deceptive bus station

Hanley bus station

Like all bus stations, the main feeling on entering the main bus-hub in Stoke on Trent is of encountering an atmosphere of lost hope.
From outside though, it looks rather futuristic - and almost inviting.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Seighford angel flies

Churchyard angel at Seighford

This grave angel appears about to fly; it really is a fine piece of stonework. Yet, however fine, it is sited unregarded in an isolated country churchyard at Seighford.
She stands over the last resting-place of the exotically-named Edwin von Schmidt-Secharau, who died in 1903.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Sainted bee


The urge to leave graffiti seems to be a strong one - even if the subject matter appears to be incomprehensible, like this one (...a sainted bee?) found in woods near Silverdale.
Sometimes, graffiti seems to me almost like a coded message, only meant for the few who might understand it.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Staffordshire against slavery

Erasmus Darwin statue

It's Anti-Slavery Day tomorrow -and Staffordshire has a proud record in the campaign to oppose slavery at the end of the eighteenth century.  Erasmus Darwin (whose statue this is, in Beacon Park in Lichfield) was one of the local thinkers who were bitterly opposed to the slave trade, and was also one of those who took part in the campaign to boycott sugar from the West Indies in 1792.  (Strange to think that boycotts were used even back then...).

By the way, you'll notice in the statue's left hand three shells - because his motto was E Conchis Omnia (Everything From Shells).  He was one of the first people to consider evolution scientifically, and his motto reflected his thinking on that matter.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Wonder viaduct

Penkridge Railway Viaduct

I don’t care what anyone says: bridges are amazing things.    The Penkridge Railway Viaduct over the River Penk looks dull (I admit) from a distance - but it is a work of art in fact.
Thomas Brassey was the contractor; and it opened for business in 1837.  (This work was the making of Brassey – from then on he became the great railway builder of the century.  His biography says that by 1847 he had built one out of every three rail miles in Britain...)

One of the wonders of Staffordshire!

Monday, 13 October 2014

Walking on pigeons

'Pigeons' public art in Cheadle

When you walk along Cheadle's pavements, you walk on pigeons.  It was hard to find out why exactly, but after some enquiries, it seems that one of Cheadle’s main claims to fame is that it was once home to the national racing-pigeon champion Palm Brook Lad (the fastest RPRA sprint champion ever, apparently, though I couldn’t find actual confirmation of that). 
The town felt it must celebrate one of its sporting heroes.

The artist was Ian Naylor.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Being watched in the woods

CCTV camera surveillance sign

Apparently Britain's population is one of the most 'watched' in Europe, with more CCTV cameras in surveillance on us than in other countries of the continent.

However, it still seemed odd to see this sign ... in a wood!!  Maybe the land-owner doesn't like people picking bluebells (?)

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Elvis Presley ... in Staffordshire

Head-quarters of the Official Elvis Presley Fan Club of Great Britain

What's this?  The head-quarters of the Official Elvis Presley Fan Club of Great Britain?  Down a side-street in a small market town in North Staffordshire?

I was completely bowled over to come across this small office/record shop (it only sells Elvis stuff of course, many limited items, and Elvis DVDs, books, memorabilia etc). Manager Vicky Molloy was very welcoming - and has even set up a (vinyl) record player so that people can bring in their favourite Elvis discs and sit about, on the sofa provided, talking about them.
Vicky, who now manages the fan club, lives nearby; and thought an Elvis shop would be a nice idea... She is there most times, at Cross Street in Cheadle.

This post was featured on the Friday Shoot-out Photo Blog

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Pre-loved stately home

Ingestre Hall

Ingestre Hall is a lovely old Jacobean mansion, now taken over and used for education courses and such.

A spate of such lovely stately homes came on to the market following the Second World War; and, often, as in the case of Ingestre, the local county council would step in to buy the house - to save the property by re-using it. 
I don't think any council today, even citing good heritage reasons, would feel it could justify the expense of any similar conservation project.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

The Spode who got the girl

Josiah Spode III monument in Stoke Minster

Josiah Spode was one of the great potters of the eighteenth century, who, alongside men like Wedgwood, made the Potteries famous. 
Yet, this grand and rather overwhelming monument in Stoke Minster is for his grandson - Josiah Spode III (who is largely unremarked in the history books).  In fact, as far as I can see JS III only ran the business for two years.

Still, to have a grieving maiden weep over your death for nearly two centuries is some sort of achievement I suppose...

Friday, 3 October 2014

Grooving with arrows at Alrewas

Wall of Alrewas Church

Erosion?  No. In fact this grooving into the wall of Alrewas Church is another example of a habit of medievel times - that of sharpening your arrow-heads using the friable stone of a church building.  
Men were required by law to practise their archery skills regularly, and would meet by the church to do it.  So why not use the church wall as a form of whet-stone at the same time?!

There's another example at Checkley.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Thor's Cave is 87th

Crag with Thor's Cave

According to Trip Advisor, Thor's Cave is ranked a very poor 87th of all the 150 attractions in Staffordshire.
Though that sounds daft, in fact the assessment is about right - the cave, albeit of great pre-history significance, is just a rather slimy-slippery large hole in the side of the crag (the one in this photo) and doesn't ... IMHO ... have much of a 'feel'.

It's much better to choose one of the local fantastic walks, and see it from a distance!

Monday, 29 September 2014

Pump it up

White Pump Cottage, Oulton

In Oulton village, the person restoring this cottage came up with an interesting solution to the problem of what to do with an old but historic item lying around the property.      As the cottage is known locally anyway as White Pump Cottage, s/he just stuck the old pump up on the front wall of the cottage.
A very neat solution I think.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Simply a megalith for virgins

'Webb Stone' in Bradley

A simple stone, all on its own, decorating the entrance to a household drive...?  So it appears.
But the truth is never as simple as it looks. Around this ordinary-looking boulder weaves a web of legend.

This mysterious 'Webb Stone' in Bradley has many legends associated with it, mostly to do with virgins and livestock (aren't they all??).  It is even said to spin round occasionally - giving it its other title of The Wanderer -, though no one has lived to report a sighting of such.
Its 'proper' history indicates that it may (or may not) have come from a local, ancient stone-circle, now dispersed, or perhaps was a Saxon boundary stone. There are certainly other similar stones (all glacial boulders) to be seen elsewhere in this village.

Rather incongruously, it sits forlornly by the side of the road, unlabelled. Though... unmoved.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Castle... at Blithfield

Blithfield Hall

Blithfield Hall
is often described as one of the "oldest castles in England" though it's clearly been restored and built upon many times.  The turreted towers do contribute to the castle description.

It is one of the stops on the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, when the dancers travel from site to site during the course of one day.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Dunghill of the past

'Dunghill Plantation', near Newborough

The land we live on has been inhabited for centuries -- yes, not a very profound statement, but we human beings live in the present, and "the past is a different country" as someone said, so it's sometimes an odd shock to think that the land was not always as we see it, even if we should know that already.

This seemingly pristine copse near Newborough is actually known on the map as 'Dunghill Plantation'. Clearly it must have had a past totally different to its present...