Saturday, 18 June 2016

Fine art borders

Art-work, part of the Foundation Year exhibits, at the Staffordshire University Fine Art Show 2016

For all the talk about migration, not one of us would want to be out there on the migrant road, existing in squalid, horrible conditions.and fleeing from them too.  Behind all the rights & wrongs, and all the arguments, it's no place that any of us want to be.
This installation art-work, part of the Foundation Year exhibits at the Staffordshire University Fine Art Show really brought this home, I thought.  
What a horror to have to be in a world where no-one wants you.  Pity The Poor Immigrant, as Bob Dylan said.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Fine art rabbits

Staffordshire University Fine Art Show 2016

The Staffordshire University Fine Art Show for its final-year students should be a glorious romp of creativity; and fizzing with original ideas.  You're only young once!
But for the past few years, it has been rather dull and uninspired in my opinion. Some stuff looks very professional, yes - but flat - while the rest is just take-it-or-leave-it.
The university has also hidden the exhibtion away, off the main site, as though somehow this work doesn't fit with the smart design courses in the rest of the institution.

The work of Lisa Nash (above) did seem striking though. She is trying to grasp just how and why animals have become so central in our imaginations.
The figure is holding a new-born/foetus rabbit.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Queen's birthday in wool

Queen's birthday in Cheadle

As is well known to confused foreigners, the Queen has two birthdays, one her actual birth-date and the other an official day of celebration. 
The official birthday fell on a rainy June 11th this year - and is her 90th.

The town of Cheadle decided to eschew the usual (and rather tired) idea of having photos of the Queen and Union Jacks everywhere.  Instead they chose to fill the town with newly-knitted red-white-and-blue items - mostly long scarf-like strands, but also eccentric bollard coverings and others...   Apparently this concept is called yarn-bombing.

In the picture you can see the knitted bits and bobs festooning the town's famous & ancient market cross.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Grey Ilam

Ilam Hall

Definition of English summer: the greenest countryside under the greyest skies. 
The gloomy grey stone of these Staffordshire countryside buildings is typical; and, to be fair to the architects of same, one can hardly have buildings decked out in rainbow colours when we are usually under such louring skies.

These are the grounds of Ilam Hall in the Staffordshire Peak District.

Is this Sam Johnson I see?

Doctor Samuel Johnson mosaic

Lichfield Festival is upon us soon (starts July 1st), and no doubt there will be lots of references to the city's most famous son, Doctor Samuel Johnson.

The city is so proud of the famous eighteenth-century "scribbler" that this rather startling mosaic (erected 1976) can be seen on one street-corner as a sort of tribute to him.
However, it would be interesting to know how many passers-by could correctly identify it as a depiction of Sam. He's not as famous as he was.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Lobby in Bulgaria

Lobby Bar, in Veliko Tarnovo in Bulgaria

I know this is a little daft obsession of mine but -- I like to look for 'signs' of Staffordshire even when I have to leave the county.
This bar in Veliko Tarnovo in Bulgaria is known as the 'Lobby Bar'... and lobby is the great dish of workign-class Staffordshire.

OK... a bit tenuous, I know - but it pleases me.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Threatening land-owner

Threatening notice on public footpath

This is the sort of thing that really gets my goat.  A selfish land-owner (near Ashley) has put up a threatening notice on a public footpath warning walkers not to use the path.

Of course I understand that land-owners don't always want strangers on their land, but the fact is that these are established common routes - by law - and the owner must have bought the land (or inherited it) knowing that a right of way existed across it.  So they need to learn to live with the fact and adapt.
Secondly, ramblers and farmers have one common aim - to protect the countryside. What farmers don't grasp is that, by being aggressive to walkers, they are making enemies where they should be making friends.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Hidden factory

JCB Earthmovers factory at Uttoxeter

I can't help admiring the way that the JCB Earthmovers factory at Uttoxeter is so beautifully concealed. It is deliberate of course: a great desire to disturb the visual environmental as little as possible is the motivation.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Deceptive country scene

River Tean at Spath

Glorious weather as summer gets under way.  Enough sun to ensure warmth, and (of course, this is England!) cool enough to be outdoors a lot.

This stretch of the River Tean (which is no more than ever this wide, and which, curiously, never leaves Staffordshire) at Spath suggests the forgotten English countryside of yore.  However, behind the treeline, and about half-a-mile away, a huge industrial estate is taking shape.
Most deceptive.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Artist's playground

Playground at Hanley Park

The playground at Hanley Park is as attractive as you can get... but I always think the lay-out is a about more than just banging in a lot of brightly coloured circles.
There seems to be an artist's mind behind the design, especially from this angle.  I know it's a bit off the mark, but it reminds me of the paintings of Sonia Delauney.

Interestingly, the park is now open 24 hours a day.   In the old days, the 'parkie' would close the gates at dusk.  I suppose there is no money to pay park-keepers now.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Here lieth George

Gravestone in Rushton churchyard

The earliest 'modern' gravestones erected to the memories of individuals date back to around the sixteenth century - but few of them survive.  Though this gravestone, from Rushton churchyard, is much later (1738), it has the same shape as ones of 200 years earlier.
The quote starts "Here lieth y' body ... George" and then goes on to mention his parents (probably). We can only guess what words are missing , as the fascia is crumbling off.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Junction that is not a junction

Junction Inn, Norbury

It's turned warm now, and sitting on the Junction Inn terrace watching the canalside activities around is a good way to relax...
The surrounding waterside is called 'Norbury Junction' but in fact it's no longer a junction: the adjoining Newport Canal is now derelict. 
Still, there are shops and maintenance yards, and it is in the countryside, so families still turn up in numbers.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Knot on the water

North Staffs Rowing Club member

Yay... I spotted another Stafford Knot on the weekend, which I can now add to my Knot Collection.

This young lady was rowing for the North Staffs Rowing Club in the annual Shrewsbury Regatta - she and her team-mates reached the final too...

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Walking without fear

Ecton Hill

Now that Easter is been and gone, all walkers can go out on the hills without fear of extreme wet or cold.
These walkers are on Ecton Hill.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Lichfield mysteries

Lichfield Mystery Plays 2016

Aren't regional 'mstery plays' a great thing?
Traditionally, and deliberately, the actors are recruited from the local populace, so their performances are raw and uneven.  The old-English text of the plays is anachronistic and strange.  The whole idea is to be flexible and even to ad-lib...  The old Bible stories are not as familiar as the might be to a modern audience.
But, somehow, it all works. It's all charming.

It was Lichfield's turn this weekend to stage their cycle of such plays. 
The scene above shows Eve talking with The Serpent; the scene below is Mary learning that she is to be a mother.

Lichfield Mystery Plays 2016

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Staffordshire Day today!

Josiah Wedgwood statue at the Victoria & Albert Museum

It's Staffordshire Day today!
It is 1000 years since the first recorded mention of the term Staffordshire, written as 'as Staeffordscir'  in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (for 1016) - so this is a millennium anniversary. 
And why May 1st?  I wondered that; but it turns out that May 1st was the date of the founding of the
Wedgwood pottery company, which is based in Staffordshire, and, arguably, the county's most historically famous name.
Staffordshire Day logo
Why the powers that be wanted to tie Staffordshire Day into the pottery industry, I don't know, but even the Oxford Companion to British History states quite categorically that "Staffordshire is one of the counties most affected by the industrial revolution" so, there you go.
It's all a bit artificial, but it's fun.

Old Josiah Wedgwood himself might have be surprised at seeing his work made quite so central to the whole county's identity, but then again, there are probably more famous images of him than any other Staffordshire figure.     (Barring Saint Chad of course - and Sir Stanley Matthews...)       The one in the picture above is on the side of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London - although the most famous statue of him is in Stoke.

Strangely enough, I celebrate 1000 posts on this photo-blog myself this month.  Bit of a coincidence...

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Rugeley Roman mystery

Roman soldier statue

No one actually seems to know what this Roman soldier is doing here, on the facade over some shops in Rugeley.  The sculptor is unknown; and the material it is made out of is fibreglass.  Rugeley has no more Roman history significance than any other market town in England.
Most puzzling.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

As old as it gets in Alstonefield

may be a remote village, away in the hills of the Peak District, but it also has some of the oldest monuments in the county.  The ancient church and churchyard, which is over 1000 years old, is fairly littered with Saxon stone fragments.
Even the base of this Saxon carving that you see here is probably Saxon (with its characteristic knotwork) itself, being most likely a former wayside cross.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Dudley & Dowell 'collectable'

'Dudley & Dowell Ltd /Cradley Heath /Staffs' - so proudly reads this metal drain cover, which I saw near Norbury Junction.
It's the sort of thing one never notices - but the distinctive smell of sitting & stagnant water emanating from it, erm... alerted me to its presence.

Of course the town of Cradley Heath was 'moved' from Staffordshire into West Midlands County in a local government reorganisation nearly forty years ago, so it shows you how old this drain is - and how long these metal creations last!
In days gone by, the Black Country, of which Cradley Heath was part, really did have a reputation for iron work, so the address would have carried something of that reputation to the casual passer-by.

Believe it or not, old manhole covers by Dudley & Dowell are collectors' items.
Don't know about drain covers though. Hmm.

This post was featured on the City Daily Photo Monthly Theme Day.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Making a monument to himself

Wedgwood Monument, near Audley

There was a certain arrogance to some of the rich squires of old.
John Wedgwood’s will specifically wanted a huge monument to be erected to himself after his death: "I desire my body to be interred within my estate at Bignall End in a vaulted tombe at the summit of a certain field called Old Hill…..and my executors to cause an obelisk or monument to be erected."
Sure enough, his executors built this monument, in 1845.

What's more, the present sight is only a quarter of its original size - after a lot of it fell down a few years ago.
I wonder if any of us would, nowadays, want to seen as so openly self-important.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Heritage dilemma

Stained-glass lancet at 'Old Chancel' in Rugeley

On the outskirts of Rugeley town centre stands the 'Old Chancel' as it is now known. This medieval (12th Century) building forms part of the ruins of the former parish church of the town.  Whilst not exactly derelict, the site is isolated and subject to occasional petty vandalism.
The chancel, which is as big as a squash court only, is permanently closed to access.

What is amazing to think is that its lancet window (in my photo) consists of some rare fourteenth-century stained glass "of a beautiful hue" according to Landor's history. It is protected by a mesh, yes, but....
It's said that we are heritage-crazy in this country (in fact, a bit too fond of the past), but I find it quite bizarre that this glass has not been lifted and transferred to a museum - before it is broken by some kid who is determined to do damage...

Monday, 11 April 2016

Greens return

Mayfield landscape

Shades of green are seeping back into the landscape after the black lines of winter; and we have had a bit of sun too (though it hasn't been a reliable feature!).

This is a view looking down from the ridge over Mayfield.

Friday, 8 April 2016

In at The Knot? Or not?

Knot Inn pub sign

Two more 'Stafford Knot' appearances for my collection!  The Stafford Knot is the symbol of the county, and I like to collect the different interpretations that artists give to the rebus.
In this instance, the knot is the right way up - unlike the example in my last post.

It vaguely amuses me to wonder how the staff at the Knot Inn answer the phone. They surely don't pick it up and say "K/Not in...", do they?

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Heart is 'knot' in it

Stafford College sign

Stafford College is trying to combine two symbols here - a heart and a Stafford knot - in order to make its slogan "The Heart of Staford" work.

The trouble is that the Stafford Knot is not in this shape: its two loose ends in fact should emerge at the top, not the bottom of the design (there is good reason for this - see the legend of the knot).
Has the college deliberately decided to ignore the legend?

Saturday, 2 April 2016

No CDs thanks, we're vinyl

Shop-front to Those Old Records, in Rugeley

Is this the most colourful shop-front in the region? Probably.

Those Old Records, a shop dealing exclusively with vinyl, has an outstanding psychedelic-music section.  Which you might guess from the decoration!        But all eras are well represented - from 1950s jazz to coloured-vinyl punk.

You'll find the shop in Rugeley's Brewery Shopping Arcade, a sort of indoor market.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Green man welcomes Spring

'Green Man' carving at Longdon Church

This 'Green Man' carving at Longdon Church looks out from a Norman column - which makes him 1000 years old, almost.  The church is remarkable, not just for this figure but a number of sights, and is worth a visit.

Incidentally, that is not a huge handlebar moustache that he sports (though it looks like that!) - it is vegetation, growing ivy-like, from his mouth.  He is a symbol of Spring and re-growth.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Walkers dust their boots off

Tea Room at Wetton Mill

It's Easter! ... and the start of the getting-out-and-about season.  Walkers have dusted off their boots, extracted the winter mothballs from their jackets, and are heading off into the Great Outdoors once again.

The Tea Room at Wetton Mill opened for the 2016 season last week.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Open space for all creatures

St Augustine's Field in Rugeley

St Augustine's Field
was donated to the people of Rugeley some thirty years ago as an open-space.  It is now used by the rugby club as well as by dog-walkers - which means the players have the unpleasant task of cleaning the pitch of excreta before each match.

It's not a very prepossesing site, being enclosed by a fence on all four sides and having Rugeley Power Station as its view.  But, at least the principle is right.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Staffordshire getting a flag

The flag of Staffordshire County

To see the flag of Staffordshire flying anywhere is pretty rare, but then there is some confusion about what the flag is.  The flag in this photo is actually the flag of Staffordshire County Council.  
I saw this example in Tunstall, outside the Brittain Adams company offices. (Brittain Adams is a long standing local firm).

With Staffordshire Day coming up soon, there is a proposal to adopt this flag as the proper one for the county.  However, one action group is lobbying hard for a version of the flag that omits the heraldic lion altogether. If you live in Staffordshire, you can vote online for which version you prefer. Voting ends this Sunday.

A separate flag design, based more profoundly on the Stafford Knot than this one, has not yet matured I believe.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

The end for Offa

Northernmost point of Offa's Dyke

As Offa was a Staffordshire man (as well as a king), I think I'm justified in using this scene, albeit that it is in Wales. 
This is the point at the northern end of Offa's Dyke - an earthwork ditch & rampart created (probably) to keep out the marauding Welsh in the eighth century. Much of it can still be seen, thanks to conservationists; and one can walk a prescribed long-distance path along what remains.

King Offa, though controlling most of middle England, kept his main court at Tamworth, which is in Staffordshire.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

'Unseen' trough stirs thoughts

This stone trough on a road near Biddulph Grange goes largely 'unseen'. By that I mean that many people will pass it, and think nothing of it.
But one of the great things about having a camera with you is that because you are actively looking for photos, you will 'see' things and be drawn to them.

Then the questions come in.   For example: how old?, why was it put there?, who cares for it?, what identity does it have?, is it significant to somebody? what role does it have now? And so on... Interest is stirred.
And so a whole world of imagination and/or stories can open up before one.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Penny-bank colours

Pennybank House in Leek

This rather striking coloured panel can be found on Pennybank House in Leek.  The name recalls the Leek Co-operative Society, which used to have a base in this building. (Children were once encouraged to save a penny a week by the Co-op).
Pennybank House is not on the normal tourist trail, so not many people see this work, which is a shame.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Miserable cemetery

Stafford Cemetery

By contrast to Stoke-on-Trent's main municipal cemetery (see previous post), Stafford's is a fairly miserable affair. It feels abandoned and only cursorily cared-for; while its cafe (in pic) resembles a public-toilet block.
You'd have to be dead before you'd want to come here.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Cemetery as park

Carmountside Cemetery

If Stoke on Trent does one thing well, it's its huge municipal cemetery.  The Carmountside Cemetery - built in the 1940s - is a well-planned, decorous and respectful place.  The various gardens are laid out well and attract silent browsers.
It's almost like a old-fashioned stately-house park.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Time stopped still in Barlaston

Clock-tower of old St John the Baptist Church in Barlaston.

People get very confused about the church of St John the Baptist on the edge of the Wedgwood estate in Barlaston.
It’s assumed the church must be something to do with the original Josiah – as Barlaston Hall, for which St John’s serves as an estate church, is also 18th Century. In fact, the Wedgwood firm only bought the Barlaston estate in the 1930s.
However, inside, if you could get inside, there are indeed memorials to the Wedgwood family. Very confusing.

It’s also assumed that St John’s was closed in 1980 because the hall next to it went into ruin then for a few years. Actually, the building was literally undermined by subsidence from the coal-working deep underneath it...
It’s all rather abandoned now, despite being near an estate of new luxury homes; and the vandalised clock tower is a sad symbol of that state of affairs

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Saint Chad - in one piece

St Chad window at Brewood Church

It's good old Saint Chad's feast-day tomorrow (March 2nd).  St Chad is the patron saint of Staffordshire, having converted many of the area's inhabitants to the faith in his time as Bishop Of Mercia in the seventh century.

It used to be the case that his bones were paraded around the Catholic Cathedral of St Chad in Birmingham on this day, but I can't find any reference to the practice being scheduled for this year.
In fact, poor St Chad's skeleton has had a torrid time. Not only have his bones been moved from pillar to post, but for a while his head was kept in a small chapel at Lichfield Cathedral - only to disappear during the Reformation.
In this photo of a window at Brewood Church, St Chad is depicted holding Lichfield Cathedral.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Grey day on the water

The causeway over Blithfield Reservoir is as bleak a place as you'll find on a squally, rainy-damp day like today. Somehow water is the quickest thing to reflect the weather's mood - bright and blue and glinting on a sunny day, but grey, unwelcoming and sombre on a sunless one.

Yet the drive over the causeway is always a thrill (well, a small one!). Like flying... slightly.

Sited near Abbots Bromley, the lake is also a nature reserve.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Veolia grass up top

Veolia Energy Recovery Centre

Yes, look again - here we have a "living roof", with a stretch composed of grass, mosses and flowers. This growth is all deliberate too, as the construction here is claimed to be the most environmentally-friendly (man-made) in the county: described as a "breathing building".

Actually, this is the county's major recycling centre - where all sorts of processes derive energy from waste. Veolia, the owners, are very proud of it and say more developments are to come.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Gertie Gitana's bench

I was in Edinburgh recently. The city's main thoroughfare is Princes Street, which is wide enough to have benches all along one side - for nearly a mile I'd guess. Pretty much every bench has a dedication to a local notable or resident.

But this one took me by surprise, being dedicated to the variety artist Gertie Gitana (her big song was 'Nellie Dean').
Gertie was born in north Staffordshire at the end of the nineteenth cntury, and so is, er, one of 'ours', not theirs.  What's a dedication to her doing in Scotland's capital?

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Underwater path

Doxey Marshes in flood

The constant rains of the last months have caused flooding even in our relatively weather-untroubled county of Staffordshire.
Here at the Doxey Marshes Nature Reserve, you can only walk the paths so far before encountering water - and one has to turn back.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Lapley's 'castle'

Park House, in Lapley
The castellated Park House, in the nice posh village of Lapley, would certainly be a dream place to live (I'd guess!). As you walk round the bend on a road from the village green, there it suddenly is...

I imagine that this thoroughfare in front of it must have been made public sometime after it was built; otherwise, the road is very strangely intrusive for such a grand house. However I don't know its history.

What I enjoy about scenes like this is that they are confirmation that sudden eccentric surprises are still simply part of the daily experience for visitors to villages in rural Staffordshire.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

SSR bridge - in brown & yellow

Bridge on South Staffordshire Railway Walk

The South Staffordshire Railway Walk is a footpath that makes use of the now disused SSR line, but you can walk beneath its bridges of course, as I was doing here.
Somebody carefully restores the paintwork every so often - even though the railway company itself folded in 1923, giving way to the LNWR. 
These colours - a mud-brown shade, with borders of yellow must have been the colours of the SSR itself, one supposes.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Essex Bridge, for a Queen

Essex Bridge

Built for Queen Elizabeth I nearly five centuries ago, this little stone bridge, the 'Essex Bridge', crosses the River Trent a few miles from Cannock Chase.
The Earl of Essex built it, they say, so that the Queen could ride across it, from his stately home on the one side, to the forests beyond. Thus she could do some hunting whenever she stayed in this neck of the woods.
The little v-shaped niches are for passers-by to stand aside in safety when something broader comes on.

Of course, the locals just use it to cross the water, as a short-cut, not bothering too much about its history. And, why not?

Friday, 5 February 2016

Deadman in cemetery

Deadman grave in Rugeley Cemetery

I'm afraid I'm one of those who find cemeteries, especially older ones, endlessly entertaining.
Where else could one's sense of irony be reinforced - by finding the grave of Mr Deadman?

Mr Deadman's angel-monument in Rugeley Cemetery is curiously old-fashioned  - you'd have thought it was a late nineteenth century piece, not one made in 1944, which is when Mr Deadman died.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Werburgh, a home-grown saint

Saint Werburgh statue on Lichfield Cathedral

It's the feast-day of Saint Werburgh on February 3rd, so spare a thought for her this week. 
She is one of Staffordshire's own home-grown saints, which is why she has her own special niche on the frontage of Lichfield Cathedral (see photo).

The story of her relics (ie her bones) is an odd one, because they were whizzed away from her grave as the Vikings advanced - in order to find a safer resting-place for them.  They ended up in Chester, but were destroyed (historians believe) in the Reformation.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Enigmatic pediment

There is no indication on this building, in Uttoxeter’s main square, Market Place, as to who once owned it in times past. There are almost no clues in the sculpture relief you see here in the picture.  If I knew its history, I could perhaps tell you more about it.  However, its secret is safe, until I get some time to research it.
The enigmatic smile on the face at the top seems to be mocking my ignorance...
Oh well!
(If anyone knows more about this relief, and its significance, you’d save me a trip to the library if you’d leave a comment below. Gratefully received...)

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Salt Pepper and Vinegar

Bottle ovens known as Salt Pepper and Vinegar

These three bottle ovens are known locally as Salt Pepper and Vinegar, because they are as long and slender as table cruets.  And yes, they are different in shape to most of the squat, fat bottle ovens in north Staffordshire.  They have a different function – being used not to fire pottery ware, but to calcine flint, so that the flint could more easily be ground down for use in various processes.

Their heyday was the 19th century of course, and now they are preserved (as Grade 2 listed) memories of the past, as part of the Bottle Ovens Conservation Scheme. James Kent Pottery now owns the site, and they have occasional open-days when the public can get a little closer.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

A wonder house - in an ordinary place

Speedwell Castle

This ‘Gothick’-style wonder of a house is Speedwell Castle, which is slap-bang in the middle of Brewood on the main crossroads.
It’s said that, around 1750, a local man won such an outrageous bet (that he had placed on a horse called Speedwell) that he was able to fund this building project with the winnings.

The story seems odd to me. 
Why did he build right on top of the crossroads (unless it was an extension to an existing house, I suppose)? 
The fact is that: two rather uninteresting pubs face the house; the frontage is right on to the road (ie a very less than grand entrance); and the posh end of Brewood is actually 200 yards away (near the church). 
I wonder if the man, an apothecary by the name of William Rock, just wanted to impress his immediate neighbours, and used his sudden rise in fortune to publicise his rise in fortune - in an unmissable spot?  In other words, a self-aggrandising vanity project?  I wonder.

It’s now converted into flats.