Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Late in the last days

Sunset at Flash village

It's no wonder you get big skies over Flash - for here we are at the top of Staffordshire, and (they say) in the highest inhabited village in England. Midway on the road from Leek to Buxton, it clings on to its existence, far from other towns.

I love the drive from Leek to Buxton, the gateway to the Peak District. It is a rollercoaster of peaks and troughs, yet with some of the longest, emptiest and most stirring vistas of open moorland too.
And it is at its most thoughtful best when the light is falling.

And so the end of the year goes.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Ten years - and looking good

Statue of RJ Mitchell

This statue of the airplane designer RJ Mitchell has now completed ten years in situ (it was erected in 1995, the 100th anniversary of Mitchell's birth) in central Hanley - and it has worn well. 
From this angle he appears to be smiling ... though the original intention was that he look "studious".
I'm also happy to report that someone seems to be taking very good care that pigeons don't tarnish the figure's dapper haircut for any length of time.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Late on Xmas Day

Grave of the "late" Ralph Ratcliffe

It seems strangely redundant to inform us all that the person in this Cheadle churchyard grave is, umm, the "late" Ralph Ratcliffe.  I'd have thought that was fairly obvious ... by his being actually buried in the grave!

Poor old Ralph had the misfortune to die on Christmas Day.  I wonder if he got a chance to open his presents?

And so - Merry Christmas one and all...!   (which is not exactly the quote from Christmas Carol)

Monday, 21 December 2015

Where the saint stopped

Scalpcliffe Hill

And so we enter Christmas week... 
It's been wet and blowy, though with incredibly mild temperatures.  Nature has gone green again; and it has felt like Spring, not winter.

Scalpcliffe Hill can be seen from the Burton side of the River Trent, and marks the vision of St Modwen, the patron saint of the town.  She arrived in the seventh century, and built two churches - one at the foot of Scalpcliffe, on the site of what is now St Peter's Church.
What was in the vision that caused her to halt in her journeys for a while (she was a great traveller) at this spot, we are not told.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Grecian urns in unlikely places

Old Waterworks at Hatton

I've never understood the Victorians' passion for putting Greek urns everywhere.  I appreciate they developed a love for classical antiquity; but they couldn't stop themselves reproducing urns as garden features, vases and even architectural features - as here at the Old Waterworks at Hatton.

Seen with a 21st Century eye (ie mine), it looks kinda obsessive.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Sitting on money

Sneyd Hall (rear view)

It's plain amazing to think that the Sneyd family had to do very very little to 'earn' this huge hall.  The land they owned just had acres and acres of coal underneath it - and they made a handsome living from the rights.  They even built a racecourse (no longer there) at the end of one of their drives!

The last Sneyd died in the fifties I think, and by then this hall had already become part of what was to be Keele University.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Armadillo out of the ground

The Lidice 'Unearthed' Monument in Haney

The Lidice 'Unearthed' Monument in Haney has already been dubbed (affectionately one hopes) the 'Armadillo' by locals. 
According to the artist, "...the shape looks like it's coming out of the ground - which shows its mining connections.", but, well, what do artists know?

The monument remembers the reaction to a massacre which took place in World War Two in Lidice in Czechoslovakia.  Colliers in Stoke on Trent were horrified by what had happened in a fellow mining town; and raised huge amounts of money to help rebuild it after 1945.
The campaign to remember Lidice has gone on ever since; this monument was completed in 2013.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Big enough for a horse

Gailey Top Lock double-tunnel

Gailey Top Lock has a full two-tunnel structure near it, with the pedestrian tunnel as big as the canal tunnel - which is fairly rare.
The pedestrian tunnel (we are on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal here) can actually easily accommodate any horse drawing a boat; yet often the horse was walked over the bridge and back down to the path because the tunnel for pedestrians would be too small for it.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Blymhill's vomiting lion

Blymhill Church's 'vomiting-lion' gargoyle

This little monster is part of the reason that Blymhill Church in south Staffordshire is one of Simon Jenkins' '1000 Best Churches in England'. The vomiting-lion, as he is affectionately called, is basically a gargoyle but quite an attraction, espcially when it's raining heavily and he is 'spewing'.

The strange thing is that, in old Greek, both 'vomiting' and 'preaching' can be translated with the same word. Was the maker who named the lion having a sly dig at clerics whose sermons went on and on and on...?
Quite possibly.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Flaxman looks down

John Flaxman statue at The Victoria and Albert Museum in London

It's a bit of a surprise to see John Flaxman up there on the exterior walls of The Victoria and Albert Museum in London.  He isn't exactly the best of all sculptors; and some of his stuff is a little 'obvious' even for the Neo-Classical period (IMHO).
However the V&A celebrates craftspeople too, so he may be being remembered for the spark he brought to the Wedgwood Pottery enterprise (here in Staffordshire) during the decade from 1775 when he was employed by the company.
For a long while, there was even a gallery in Stoke named after him - at the university.  But it seems to have been wound down - almost to the point of disappearance.

Strangely, Flaxman didn't do much of his own carving, but, if you've got lots of assistants, as he did, why should you?

Monday, 30 November 2015

A view from the top

Toposcope on Barlaston Downs

This toposcope (panoramic viewpoint) is atop a stone pillar (erected for the Millennium) which is atop a triangulation point which is atop the highest hill on Barlaston Downs which is itself atop the east bank of the valley.  So it’s quite high up.
Being high up makes it a magnet for runners, orienteering enthusiasts and serious ramblers, who see it as a bit of a challenge.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Malbank mound

Site of a former moated house

A simple mound in the ground?  Not to the expert eye of my walking compnaion.  This, he said, is clearly the site of an old moated house from medieval times.

Being a bit of a sceptic, I had to check when we got back.  He was right: the house, near Hilderstone, was probably part of the possessions of the Malbanks, a family who acquired a lot of land in England thanks to their loyalty to William The Conqueror in supporting his wars against the Anglo-Saxons (and Welsh).

I shall take mounds more seriously in future.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Bicycle of good intentions

Bicycle under leaves in bike-shed

What story does this picture tell us?  
Does it tell us that the weather has been windy?  Perhaps.

My own interpretation is that this is a story of good intentions.  I think the owner of this bike was planning to use it to cycle in and out of work ever day, but actually, as an exercise project, it was never really going to work. (Remember those gym memberships that become an utter waste of money?)
And so the cycle is slowly being buried, over time, under whatever detritus eddies into this corner of the bike-shed.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

All that is left of what-was

William Edwards gravestone in Longden Green

As one wanders along a wooded path in Longdon Green, suddenly one sees, up upon the bank, this gravestone: "William Edwards died 1775, Clerk of this Chapel for 19 Years".  Nothing else.
Apparently the chapel was pulled down years ago, and so all that is left of what-was is this gravestone... and it looks like (to me) somebody is regularly clearing it of ivy.  I wonder who.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Matching the mismatching

Mismatching crockery

Catching up with fads can be a puzzle.  At the trendy Spout Cafe in Leek we sat at shabby chic tables, and were served tea in mismatching crockery.  It was explained to me by my companion that this was not a careless mistake, but is the very latest way to present accessories in avant-garde eating-out venues.

I'm told it's something to do with: retro / vintage / [ place your own word here... ]. 

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Medieval practices - coming back

Wellington Street Almshouses, Burton

It's amazing to think that there are over thirty almshouses still going in Burton.  Dating back to medieval times, these charitable institutions still provide small homes for the elderly & bereft. 
And, believe it or not, almshouses are still being built by these charities even today; clearly there is a need for this medieval practice...
The Consolidated Almshouses Charity manages this particular, rather lovely one (built in the nineteenth century) in Wellington Street.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

'Main Street' streams along

Main road through Butterton village

Believe it or not, this flooded cobble-stones path is actually the main road through Butterton village!  And the recent rains have turned the puddles into a proper shin-high ford.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Peace undermined

Statue of Peace on war memorial in Burton.

With Armistice Day this week, one looks to war memorials.   This statue of Peace (with dove in hand) stands on one side of the war memorial in Burton. 
As is usual - but extremely odd to modern eyes - this female classical figure seems to be wearing a tight body-stocking under her voluminous cloak and helmet.  One wonders what the point of that is...

Her message of peace is also rather undermined by a huge figure of Victory which stands on the top of the plinth, towering well above her (see a photo of the whole memorial by clicking here).
Oh well.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Factory makes Biennial

British Ceramic Biennial 2015

The British Ceramic Biennial comes to an end on Sunday - the exhibition, which highlights contemporary work in the ceramics world, has been taking place over the last few weeks.

Frankly, I wasn't that impressed this year; everything seemed a bit flat, and the exhibits and ideas were a little underwhelming.   But, once again, it was the venue that saved the day - the now empty and decayed Spode factory in Stoke, which housed the show, is fascinating in itself.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Last of the season

Sugnall Walled Kitchen Garden

It's been very misty/foggy recently, and there has been a dull pall over everything.  At the Sugnall Walled Kitchen Garden, everything looked fairly grim - but then, it is after all, the end of the growing year. 
We found half a dozen apples still left on some of the trees, and three pears.  They tasted pretty good though.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Tunnel for Halloween

Swainsley Tunnel on the Manifold Way path

Question for Halloween: why are tunnels so spooky?  There are some Freudian answers to this I suppose, but it gets complicated.

My favourite 'ghost' scene' from a movie occurs in Kurosawa's Dreams, which is surely one of the most imaginative films of all time.   In the scene, some soldiers - in strict march formation, their boots clacking loudly, unseen by the main character - emerge from the darkness of a tunnel.  The twist is that the soldiers are ghosts, but they don't actually know it.   That premise is scary enough, but the tunnel (as Kurosawa knew) is the key element.

Swainsley Tunnel, should you care to walk it (!), is on the Manifold Way path.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Sam Johnson is a favourite

Portrait of Samuel Johnson which hangs in County Buildings in Stafford

There are a quite few figures that vie for the title of 'Staffordshire's favourite son', but Doctor Samuel Johnson is up there. 
Of course, virtually nobody in Staffordshire actually reads much of what he wrote any more - though, at Christmas, yes, one can buy little volumes that contain his collected witticisms.
Curiously, he had a lot of strange bodily afflictions in his life, including an incurable facial tic, and what we would now call Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. 

Anyway, he now has pride of place (a statue in the square!) in Lichfield and in Uttoxeter; and, as you can see,  his portrait has been chosen to hang in the grand 'Judge's Room' in County Buildings in Stafford.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

The gulls of St Modwen

Gulls on St Modwen Church in Burton

Gulls regularly line the roof of St Modwen Church in Burton.  They seem to find it a good look-out for the adjacent River Trent.

Burton is of course hundreds of miles from the sea, but the Trent is navigable all the way up to the East Coast (yes, this surprised me too)... so maybe these gulls floated down from the North Sea.  Hmm.  Perhaps.

Incidentally, St Modwen's parish district now consists of ... basically ... the small island in the middle of the Trent river. Now that is weird.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Sweet Ingestre

Ingestre Pippin apple

Apple Day is traditionally around October 21st, but people seem relaxed about celebrating it when they like. 
At this Apple Day event, pride of place went to the Ingestre Pippin variety, which is named after the Ingestre estate in mid Staffordshire.  It tasted sweet...

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Family feud in stone

Curious carving in Brewood

This most curious carving can be found on a house opposite the parish church in Brewood. The face (could it be a mask?) has its tongue sticking out...   There is no explanation.

However, a passer-by told me that the story behind it is that, some many years ago, a lady so disliked her own sister - who lived in a house on the same street - that she had the carving specially made as a permanent signal to her unfortunate sibling.  The sticking-out tongue pointed in the latter's direction, apparently.
Somehow this sums up an aspect of Staffordshire people - quite happy to tell it how it is (even to the point of rudeness), yet co-existing happily in the same street!

I can find no information about this on the web.  So I'm happy to believe the story I heard!

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Cock-up in Leek

Municipal bench in Leek

You actually couldn't make this story up...

In Leek, there are lots of brightly-coloured benches - all exhibiting a number of symbols of the town.  The confusion is: what's the cockerel doing there?  Although very prominent on these municipal benches, the rooster isn't thought to be a bird that is anything to do with the Staffordshire Moorlands.

The local paper was so perturbed by this anomaly that it set a reporter on the case, who reported back saying that it was... umm ... all a mistake!  The bird should be a moorhen. 
The original mistake, made in 1956, has never been corrected.
See : Leek's Heraldry ... mistake

Monday, 12 October 2015

Industry's toxicity is not new

Ecton Hill toxic tip

Environmental degradation caused by industry is not new.  The patch of grey in the centre of this photograph - looking rather like a man's bald-spot - is a 'toxic tip', where the hillside is bare of vegetation.  It has been devastated for 100 years.

The patch lies just below the tiny adit (i.e. entrance to underground workings) of the old 'Dutchman's Mine', on Ecton Hill, where copper was mined up to the end of the nineteenth century.  Basically, as the spill came up from the deep mine, the miners chucked what they didn't want out of the entrance, where it then just accumulated on the slope.  The toxic minerals poisoned the surrounding few acres - as you can see.

I gathered these facts from a fabulous book of walks called 'In The Footsteps of Our Ancestors - Heritage Walks' by John Barnett, which is a terrific guide to the hidden history of the White Peak area. Definitely recommended.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Punishment central to village

A set of 'stocks' in Warslow

A set of 'stocks' sits in the centre of Warslow village.  It's thought that these probably date to the nineteenth century, but no one knows for sure.
Stocks were a gentler form of punishment than pillory or ... gulp ... gibbet, and were more meant as a medium of public humiliation. 

But I wonder why the good folk of Warslow like to use a form of punishment as a centre-piece for their village?  Perhaps they hope the stocks will act as a silent deterrent to any baddies.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Getting the blues in Leek

Pete Latham

The annual Leek Blues Festival took place over the weekend, and very fine it was too, with dozens of acts appearing in local pubs and venues, the vast majority of them free to get in.
The weather held fine too - and Pete Latham, no mean blues slide-guitar man himself - took over busking duties on the Sunday morning... as you can see.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Garden golf course

Garden putting green

There is something very practical about this householder's use of a small front garden.  He or she has installed a putting green!
Very practical.  No need to drive to the golf course; fresh-air and exercise on tap (albeit, ummm, limited amount of walking); and minimal maintenance (artificial grass, you see).
I'm strangely impressed by the thinking...

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Goddess in Hednesford

Hednesford Technical Institute pediment sculpture

You come across this pediment sculpture, high up on a block of flats, if you walk along Anglesey Street in Hednesford. There is no real indication what the scene is meant to depict (and no plaque) so it's a bit of mystery.
However, Nozlopy's guide to Sculpture in Staffordshire says she is probably the Goddess of Science trying to teach what she knows to two poor boys (you know they are poor because they are barefoot).
It turns out that this building was once the Hednesford Technical Institute (built 1912).

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Crystal no longer shines bright

Crystal Ballroom in Newcastle under Lyme, year 2015

How the mighty are fallen.  This sad-looking, decaying pile is the once honey-pot of North Staffordshire, the Crystal Ballroom (aka Tiffany's aka Zanzibar etc etc).  It was the big dance and disco venue between the 1970s and 2000s for this region.
It was never 'cool' - one went to the small clubs for any real atmosphere -, but it was incredibly popular.  Saturday night queues were so long they are the stuff of legend - sometimes stretching down into Newcastle town itself.
Now it's just an empty hulk.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Ivy fits tree like glove

Ivy growth on tree

It looks like a giant glove has been placed on this beech, but in fact it's a dense growth of ivy - which was probably strangling the tree.  
However, it appears that someone has now neatly sheared off all the lower stems of the ivy, and now - in theory - the ivy should just wither, thus letting the tree recover.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Grotesquely frightening

'Grotesque' pillar-stop in Bradeley Church.

This is one of the 'grotesques' that you will find acting as a pillar-stop in the Lady Chapel at Bradeley Church.
Its job is to scare off evil spirits.  It sure frightens me.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Lobby in Croatia

Sign for Lobby in Croatia

In Croatia, I was oddly fascinated to see this sign, which (apparently) pointed the way to a restaurant where I could get a bowl of lobby.  Staffordshire Lobby is a left-overs stew, a little like the Liverpudlian scouse dish.  I wondered if an ex-pat was pushing the idea.

Of course, no lobby was forthcoming. 
The owner of the restaurant explained that 'Lobby' was just the restaurant's name.  However - this is the puzzling bit - he could not remember why this name (a meaningless and very odd one for Croatia) had been chosen...

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

St Bertram's healing well

St Bertram's Well, Ilam

On the Ilam Estate, which, because it's owned by The National Trust, is open to the public for free, one finds this ancient stone well, not far from the estate church.
This 'well' is more of a large bath than the sort of place one might simply draw water.

St Bertram (aka Bertelin) is the local saint, and his tomb is in the church, so the water in this well has supposed healing qualities, and pilgrims would dip themselves in the freezing pool therein.  If it didn't kill, it might have cured...
Nowadays, there is a small iron fence to act as a deterrent to bathers, but I daresay some do climb in.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Goat-style helmet

Helmet in Blithfield Church

Following on from my last post, about the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, I thought I'd publish this photo.

All around Abbots Bromley you'll see the figure of a goat.  This is because the local lords of the manor, the Bagot Family, has overseen the development of a special breed of goat (now called the Bagot Goat) for over 600 years (true!).  
The family, which lives at nearby Blithfeld Hall, adopted the symbol of the goat as part of their coat-of-arms and crest in medieval times.

Apparently, the helmet in this photo (taken in Blithfield Church) actually belonged to the 14th century holder of the estate.  Well, maybe. 
It looks rather sinister to me - but perhaps that's the point...

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Horns in waiting

Horns used in the Abotts Bromley Horn Dance

The mysterious and ancient Abbots Bromley Horn Dance takes place this year (2015) on Monday 7 September.  I have been a little disenchanted in the past with the sight (of men skipping about in costume wearing antlers on their heads) - but the village does take the whole thing very seriously.

So does the local church, where the antlers & hobby-heads are kept in pride of place permanently waiting for their annual outing. They look rather slyly grim to me.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Sewage in blue

Brancote-Tixall Sewage Works

It's not often that one is drawn to a sewage plant, but, in the early hour after dawn - tinged with blue, the Brancote-Tixall Sewage Works had a stillness all its own.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Thomas comes steaming down

Thomas The Tank Engine on the Churnet Valley Railway

The 'high' season for the Churnet Valley Railway is coming to an end, so they are pulling the stops out with all sorts of extra attractions to pull in visitors.

I was enjoying a pint at The Black Lion, which lies by the railway line in a quiet part of the valley, and had strolled out for some fresh air ... only to see Thomas The Tank Engine suddenly steaming down upon me.  Mildly terrifying.
It meant I had to have another drink.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Dominated by beer

Coors site in Burton

If ever a town was dominated by one industry, it's Burton by beer.  And if ever a town's beer industry was dominated by one brewer, it's Coors.

The American firm originally came to Burton to take over all of the Bass Beer firm's works - but, oddly, another firm actually walked off with the 'Bass' name.  So poor old Coors had to change all the branding in the town.  As you can see.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Ecton's Folly

'The Folly' in Ecton

This extraordinary house is known locally as 'The Folly' - being built in the 1930s by the rather eccentric Arthur Ratcliffe, who was MP for Leek at the time.  It has elements of a fantasy castle.
Its copper spire has become green with verdigris after being exposed to the air for so long.

You'll find it up an isolated track in Ecton where the few other homes were used by the old mining company for its officials.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Relaxed lemur monkeys

Lemurs at Peak Wildlife Park

People don't seem to like the term 'zoo' much anymore, so the former Blackbrook Zoological Park, near Leek, has recently thoughtfully re-invented itself as the Peak Wildlife Park ... but basically it's a small zoo.

The interesting thing about it is that one can go into quite a few f the enclosures, and be quite close to the animals.  I wasn't sure how I felt about this, but the animals (like the lemur family in the photo) seemed relatively at ease with human presence.
If you don't mind zoos, in fact it's a good way for a family to pass a few hours.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Bizarre building

Smithfield-One building

This very dramatic-looking building seems to be in the local paper constantly (for the wrong reasons).  Smithfield-One was started last year as the planned base for Stoke-on-Trent City Council, which is spending £55 million on this and the surrounding 'business district' in Hanley. However, plans have now changed and the new Central Library will be installed there, as will 'other stuff'.

So... the library's gain, I suppose.

The multi-coloured design on the cladding is said to be inspired by the work of the famous 1930s 'Bizarre'-style pottery-designer, Clarice Cliff, who was a local girl. I'm not sure she'd recognise the attribution, but I guess we all are entitled to our own interpretations.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Pleasant for pheasant, for now


The 'Glorious Twelfth' (of August) is a bad date for red grouse, as this is the day that the season for hunting them opens.
I didn't know this but: the season for hunting pheasant doesn't open until October.  So this pheasant here is having a peaceful summer.  Unlike the grouse.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Izaak Walton - up with the saints

Izaak Walton statue on the outside of Lichfield Cathedral

Happy birthday Izaak Walton! Izaak is pretty much the doyen of Staffordshire's greatest writers, though Arnold Bennett runs him a close second.  For some reason, a good number of pubs in the county are named after Izaak.
Of course, it's doubtful if anyone reads his works much any more, four hundred years later - even his famous 'Compleat Angler' but - would he have ever expected that anyway?

He has the unique (I think) honour of being the only writer to have his statue in the pantheon on the exterior of a cathedral - though I'd love to know if I'm wrong.
In this picture, he takes his place in a niche on the outside of Lichfield Cathedral along with saints and angels and demons (and occasional king and bishop) - beat that, Arnold Bennett!

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Good luck wedding charm

'The Bride's Hand' at Longdon Church

You'll find this odd, rather amateurish carving in the porch of St James Church at Longdon - it is of a hand, with a heart at its centre.
The church guide says it is called 'The Bride's Hand', as brides used to touch it on their way in to the church as a way of bringing good fortune to the marriage.  Some still do.

I can find nothing else about it, as for example... how old is it?  Why does it show a left hand, when it is on the right-hand side of the porch door? If that is a heart in the centre, why is it upside-down? 
I suspect, however, that it was just a bit of fun when it was carved - and is nothing more than that.
Well, I think so...

Monday, 3 August 2015

Blonde wheat

Wheat field

It's one of those things... we always think of wheat as golden-brown.  In fact, it is honey-blonde.  Well, it is at this point in the growing-season anyway.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Dilapidation proves order

Dilapidated footbridge near the River Anker

As someone who walks a lot I often silently thank all those farmers and organisations who keep up the county's pathways - particularly in maintaining footbridges and stiles.
The county council's Environment Department is ultimately responsible for securing footpaths, but, under-resourced as they are, they now get official help from local Ramblers' groups.

Footpaths are pretty well looked after locally (in my humble opinion) - so I was quite surprised to see this dilapidated footbridge (over a ditch) near the River Anker.  Paradoxically, this exception to the rule is a reminder about how much in order most of the network of paths is.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Sheltering garden

Sandon Hall gardens

The weather has suddenly switched.  No longer is it an  unexpectedly glorious summer; instead it has gone all rainy-squally and autumnal.
One wants to go out no further than to a hidden garden... an ornamental one, like this at Sandon Hall, with its picturesque 'temples' to act as shelters, is a good bet.