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.