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Staffordshire is bordered by Shropshire to the west, Cheshire to the north-west, Derbyshire to the north-east and Worcestershire and the West Midlands to the south. Although Staffordshire is a large county in the centre of England it is often overlooked and passed by. Historically it has never been seen as a destination in its own right and so the delights of Staffordshire are a well kept secret. The county is a mix of unspoilt countryside and small industrial towns (it is the home of the Staffordshire Potteries), with much interesting heritage to explore. If you are interested in beautiful countryside (including the Staffordshire Moorlands) interspersed with old market towns, many of which have canal-side pubs or places of historical interest, please consider making Staffordshire a place to pause in and discover. And don't be surprised if the locals all talk to you - they do that, because they are friendly! The population of Staffordshire in 20061 was reported to be 822,600, with a rise in population of 6.8% from 1986.
There is a wide diversity between urban and rural areas in Staffordshire; in 2004, Tamworth had a density of 24.2 persons per hectare whereas the Staffordshire Moorlands had a density of only 1.6 persons.
The geographic county of Staffordshire covers 1,049 square miles, divided into the following administrative districts:
- Stafford Borough Council
- Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council
- Staffordshire Moorlands District Council
- Cannock Chase Council
- Lichfield District Council
- Tamworth Borough Council
- South Staffordshire Council
- East Staffordshire Borough Council
The City of Stoke-on-Trent – the home of the Staffordshire Potteries - is located within the geographical boundaries of Staffordshire, but has been a separate authority since 1997. The City of Stoke-on-Trent itself is made up of 6 towns, the federation having been inaugurated in 1910.
Stafford station is an excellent departure and arrival point being on the West Coast main line from Scotland and Manchester to London, as well as the Cross Country route from Manchester to the South Coast which will also take you to Birmingham and Oxford.
Before the Industrial Revolution, transport to Staffordshire was somewhat limited, but this changed with the arrival of both the railway and canal. Staffordshire became a centre for pottery production because clay, lead, salt and coal were in plentiful local supply. Once transport of the finished pottery products became easier, due to the improvements of both canal and rail routes the industry prospered and became famous worldwide.
James Brindley, the 18th Century pioneer canal engineer, was instrumental in the hastening of the Industrial Revolution and designed many of the canals in Staffordshire and elsewhere. Brindley established his Headquarters of the Canal Company in Stone. Stone sits on the middle of the 93 mile Trent Mersey Canal (originally known as the Grand Trunk Canal), which was commissioned by Josiah Wedgwood, and retains some delightful canal-side pubs. There are 35 canals in Staffordshire some of the better known are listed below:
- Birmingham and Fazeley Canal
- Caldon Canal
- Coventry Canal
- Lichfield Canal
- Shropshire Union Canal
- The Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal
- Trent and Mersey Canal
- Wyrley and Essington Canal
Today it is possible, with planning, to use the canal system to navigate from Staffordshire south to Hampshire and north to Scotland.
One of England's greatest rivers, the River Trent, rises on Biddulph Moor and, after passing through Stoke-on-Trent, runs south-east to the confluence with the River Sow at Great Haywood (just south-east of Stafford) which is where it first attains any significant size. It then heads east to Burton-on-Trent and then out to sea via the East Midlands, Lincolnshire and the River Humber.
Staffordshire is easily reached by modern-day transport, being well served by its position on the motorway and rail networks. From earliest times Staffordshire has been linked with the rest of the country by an excellent system of roads. The Roman roads of Watling Street and Ryknield Street have a major junction in the county near Wall. Wall was an important staging post on Watling Street, the Roman military road to North Wales. It provided overnight accommodation for travelling Roman officials and imperial messengers. The foundations of an inn and bathhouse can be seen, and many of the excavated finds are displayed in the on-site museum.
The transport links are as up-to-date as ever. On the 9 December 2003 Staffordshire opened the UK's first toll motorway, the Midland Expressway or M6 Toll. It runs 27 miles from Cannock to the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) and joins the M6 heading south.
History of Staffordshire
The administrative County of Staffordshire was set up in 1889, prior to this it included part of what is now known as the West Midlands2. Tamworth and Burton-on-Trent were also amalgamated within its borders at this time.
The Black Country refers to the area of the West Midlands that was once within the South Staffordshire border. The term 'Black' refers to the black smoke from the numerous iron foundries in this area.
Historically, Staffordshire was divided into the five hundreds of Cuttlestone, Offlow, Pirehill, Seisdon, and Totmonslow. The county first came into being in the decade after the year 913. This was the date at which Stafford (the strategic military fording-point for an army to cross the River Trent) became a secure fortified stronghold and the new capital of Mercia under Queen Aethelfaed.
Stafford is the county town and administrative centre for Staffordshire. It is situated on the same eastern, north-south main route (now the A34), the road from Winchester to Manchester. Stafford is situated on a major crossing of the river Sow.
There is evidence of a history as far back as the Iron Age, and Romans may have settled the town. However, the first recorded history begins when King Alfred's daughter Aethelflaed fortified the town against Danes. The charter dated 913 was for a market to serve a huge rural area full of farming and forestry. When the Normans arrived Stafford Castle was built, as were many fortified houses and forts, evidence that the area was hard to subdue.
Stafford is the home of the Stafford Gatehouse Theatre. Opened in 1982 it has become a cultural centre for the county. In 2007, His Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester attended the theatre's 25th anniversary. Stafford retains the largest remaining Tudor town house in the country. The Ancient High House, a timber-framed building, is now a museum but the ground floor now houses a couple of high street shops.
Stone is a quaint market town to the north of Stafford. The town centre is notable as it is virtually unspoilt, apart from pedestrianisaton. The Crown Hotel is the former coaching inn in the town square and has an unusual double bow front.
The City of Stoke-on-Trent is located in the north of Staffordshire. A modern-day map of Staffordshire now shows what appears to be a doughnut-shaped county, because Stoke-on-Trent was removed from it in 1997 when it became a Unitary Authority. However, for geographical and ceremonial purposes Stoke-on-Trent3 still forms part of Staffordshire.
Stoke-on-Trent is the most famous city in the world for the production of ceramics, the area being known as the Staffordshire Potteries, or just The Potteries. Originally the Potbanks (the local term for the factories) fired ware in coal-fired bottle ovens, or kilns, and the whole area was very dark and smoky before the Clean Air Acts of 1956 and 1968. The city still retains a few of these iconic bottle-shaped legacies of the past.
Pottery was being produced in Stoke-on-Trent from at least the 17th Century and in 1759 Josiah Wedgwood was one of many Pottery manufacturers in the locality. By 1769, Wedgwood had built one of Britain's first large factories, in Etruria. The industry developed from being cottage-based to factory-based and the small villages had grown into sizeable towns by the beginning of the 19th Century.
The six towns that make up The Potteries, which are Tunstall, Burslem, Hanley, Stoke-upon-Trent, Fenton and Longton, eventually became a City Borough in 1925. Visitors often find difficulty in distinguishing the city of Stoke-on-Trent from the small town of Stoke-upon-Trent, particularly when searching for the City Centre.
There are two football clubs in Stoke-on-Trent: Stoke City, the second oldest professional football club in the country, which has its home in the new Britannia Stadium; and Port Vale, also in the City, with its home ground, Vale Park, near Burslem.
Newcastle-under-Lyme borders the conurbation of Stoke-on-Trent in North Staffordshire. It has a range of shops centred on the high street and Guild Hall and is one of the biggest shopping areas in North Staffordshire (others include Hanley in Stoke-on-Trent). The traditional open-air market in the high street operates regularly. There is a large cinema complex, a few nightclubs, some interesting pubs and night-life. The New Vic Theatre in nearby Basford offers theatre-in-the-round in a purpose-built building.
Kidsgrove is in the borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme, associated with mining and canals. Famous for the Harecastle Tunnel on the Trent Mersey Canal, it is also tarnished with the memory of the Black Panther, Donald Nielson, who kidnapped and left a young woman to die in the 1970s.
Leek is known locally as 'Queen of the Moorlands'. The town is brimming with historical interest and unusual architecture.
As a market town and antique centre Leek has retained its character of small independent shops around the market square where there are many buildings of architectural interest. There are various markets, both outdoor and indoor, selling a wide range of locally sourced food and other goods. Leek was granted its Market Charter in 1207 by King John and celebrated the 800th anniversary of this historic event in 2007.
Silk weaving was also carried out in the town; there are many examples of old mills and silk weavers' cottages to be seen.
Biddulph is a Moorland town, close to the Cheshire border. It was originally a mining town but is now proud of its floral displays. It is also the location of Biddulph Grange, a restored Victorian Garden designed by James Bateman complete with follies and grotto. The National Trust now owns Biddulph Grange. The nearby village of Mow Cop has a magnificent view over the Cheshire Plain and also has an unusual folly which provides a local landmark visible for many miles.
Cheadle is a small historic town in the Staffordshire Moorlands with a restored Victorian market and an Art Trail for tourists. It is also the home of one of the finest churches in Britain, St Giles Roman Catholic Church which was designed in the 19th Century by AWN Pugin4. The church has a 200-foot spire and an elaborately decorated interior.
The town of Cannock has its roots in coal mining. The smaller outlying towns of Hednesford, Heath Hayes and Chadsmoor offer a mix of history and shopping.
Cannock Chase is an area of outstanding natural beauty with wonderful wildlife, walking cycling and picnic areas.
Lichfield is a small city in the South of Staffordshire. The most well known landmark is the medieval Lichfield Cathedral with three spires, often referred to as 'The Ladies of the Vale'. The historic Cathedral City has some examples of interesting architecture combined with modern facilities. There is a Heritage Trail that will guide you around the City.
The Samuel Johnson5 Birthplace Museum stands in the centre of the historic city of Lichfield, which remained close to Johnson's heart throughout his life.
Tamworth has a fascinating wealth of local history dating back to the Middle Ages. In 1888 it was divided right through the town centre, being in two separate counties, that of Warwickshire and Staffordshire. It was finally brought entirely into Staffordshire in 1889.
Tamworth, 17 miles north of Birmingham, is now a busy centre with a selection of mainly manufacturing industry. In the past it was where the Reliant Car Company built the three-wheeled Robin and the Scimitar sports car.
Historically it was the original capital of Mercia, the 'Seat of Saxon6 Kings' and has had many Royal Charters bestowed upon it since the 14th Century. In its heyday it was the largest centre in the Midlands, when Birmingham was still in its infancy. In the 11th Century a Norman Castle was built, which still stands and is a tourist attraction.
The Victorian Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel served as the town's MP from 1830 until his death in 1850. It was in Tamworth that Robert Peel unveiled his Tamworth Manifesto in 1834 and created what is now the modern Conservative Party.
During the 19th Century a breed of pig called the 'Tamworth Pig' was initially bred here using some imported Irish stock.
Uttoxeter is a rural market town in the grazing district above the River Dove. It is famous for its racecourse and also for two of its local employers, JCB and Foxes Biscuits.
Staffordshire's most famous export - even including Wedgwood pottery, Bass Beer, Royal Doulton or Armitage Shanks toiletware - is almost certainly the JCB digger, manufactured in Rocester near Uttoxeter, and sold all over the world. The initials JCB come from company founder JC Bamford, and the Bamford family still retain control of what is one of the largest privately owned corporations in the United Kingdom. Uttoxeter is also home to the Midlands Grand National held on the town's award winning National Hunt Racecourse.
Burton-upon-Trent is a bustling market town that is most famous for its brewing industry. The River Trent runs through it and the Washlands offers a pleasant green space in the centre of the town. The town centre has been pedestrianised and has a number of shopping centres, cafés, bars and specialist shops. There are both open air and indoor markets. Burton Albion FC were promoted to the Football League for the first time in 2009, winning the Blue Square Conference despite the long-serving manager Nigel Clough leaving for Derby mid-season.
Originally the monks at the local abbey discovered that the local hard water brewed very good ale and thus the brewing industry was born.
The River Trent was an important factor in the distribution of the ale which was exported to the Baltic ports. At one time it is thought that there were up to 40 breweries in Burton-upon-Trent. There were also many inns for travellers passing through the town however, the Bass Museum has now been closed due to a decline in visitor numbers.
Rugeley, on the edge of Cannock Chase, is another market town. Its skyline is dominated by the huge cooling towers of Rugeley Power Station. It is a former mining town where the Lea Hall Colliery was once the town's largest employer.
Staffordshire is the most likely site for the battle between the Roman Governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus and a force of 10,000 men and Boudicca and her army of 80,000 in the area near High Cross in 60 AD.
The early poem Gawain and The Green Knight was written by a monk living near Leek.
The northern border of King Alfred's kingdom of Wessex was in Staffordshire and it was marked by the route of Watling Street. To the north was the kingdom of the Danes and the Danelaw.
In 1586, Mary Queen of Scots was arrested for her part in the Babington plot and sent to Tixall near Stafford. She was kept there for two weeks before returning to Chartley Hall. Her execution took place on 8 February, 1587, in Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire.
The place in the whole of Britain furthest from the sea is in Staffordshire, the hamlet of Chebsey, 5 miles north west of Stafford.
Due to administration changes Wolverhampton 'formerly in Staffordshire' transferred from Staffs to West Midlands in 1974. It seems that most people in Wolverhampton would prefer to be in Staffordshire.
Each Spring the villages of the Peak have ceremonies dating back to Pagan times called Well Dressings, where wells and springs are decorated with pictures made of flowers.
The highest village in Britain is Flash, in the Staffordshire Moorlands. Due to its remote location it is reputed that Flash was where money was counterfeited, and also where prize fighting took place. Either or both of these may be the origin of the term 'flash money' ie, having money gained by ill-gotten means.
Accents change markedly in Staffordshire depending on where you are. In the south of the county, the flat vowels of the West Midlands 'Brummie7' accent dominate, whereas those born in the north favour a more nasal accent with hard northern vowel sounds closer to that traditionally spoken in the North-West. Stafford, in the middle of all this, is something of a linguistic crossroads, and has been described by one researcher as 'the most accentless middle-class town in England'. The original Staffordshire Potteries had its own dialect rather than just a slightly different accent.
The Gunpowder plot was brought to an end when the protagonists were captured at Holbeach House in South Staffordshire.
The emblem of Staffordshire is the Stafford Knot. While some sources give the origins of this being portrayed on an early stone cross8 others give the origin to a be a hangman's noose. The fact that the knot is designed so you can save rope and hang three men at once tells you quite a lot about Staffordshire history. It is the heraldic symbol for the de Stafford family, and the heraldic badge for Staffordshire includes the Stafford Knot, with the motto 'The Knot Unites'.
The Staffordshire Railway was called 'The Knotty'.
The Staffordshire Oatcake
The Staffordshire oatcake is one of the things a local from North Staffordshire often misses when away from home. They are a local curiosity made in specialist shops on every high street and are completely different from the Scottish oatcake. Staffordshire oatcakes are the local staple food from bygone years when oats were easier than wheat to grow in the poor upland soils of north Staffordshire. Oatcakes are rather like a chapatti to look at, being soft pancake-shaped oat 'cakes' made from fine oatmeal and whole wheat flour, raised with yeast and the resulting batter baked on a griddle. The recipe for the oatcake is usually kept as a family secret and passed down from generation to generation. They are often served with bacon, cheese, sausage, eggs, mushrooms; the original all-day breakfast 'take-away'. The oatcake is such a part of the local identity that the legendary and long-running Stoke City fanzine is named The Oatcake.
Places of Interest in Staffordshire
The Peak District National Park
Part of the Peak District is in the Staffordshire Moorlands, and is an area of wild rugged beauty with many dales and of course 'peaks'. It was the first of Britain's National Parks and has many places of interest and history. Dovedale is particularly well-loved.
The portion of the Peak District known as White Peak, falls partly within the Staffordshire boundary. The Roaches, on the edge of Blackshaw Moor just outside of Leek, is an outcrop of spectacular gritstone crags that form the southernmost tip of the Pennines. It is here that wallabies once roamed the countryside as escapees from Roaches Hall private zoo in the 1930s. At Three Shires Head there is an ancient packhorse bridge and as the name implies marks the meeting point of Cheshire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire. As well as Dovedale there are further beauty spots including Beresford Dale, Wolfscote Dale and the Manifold Valley. (There's an excellent cycle path running through the Manifold Valley on the old railway line. If you wish to explore this, you can hire bikes locally.) The River Manifold flows underground in the summer, and re-emerges to the surface via 'boil-holes' in Ilam Park, now owned by the National Trust. Thor's Cave is a worthy climb up from the Manifold Valley rewarded by stunning views.
RSPB Coombes and Churnet Valley
Set in a spectacular wooded valley this reserve supports a wide diversity of birds and other wildlife.
This well-known theme park resort is near to the picturesque village of Alton, close to the town of Cheadle. Originally the stately home of The Earls of Shrewsbury it retains the original landscaped grounds including the Chinese Pagoda Fountain which is an exact copy of the To Ho Pagoda in Canton. The history of the Towers is often overlooked, in favour of the thrill of the rides. In the 8th Century there was a fortress on the site held by Ceolred, King of Mercia. From 1412 to 1920 the Earls of Shrewsbury occupied the castle. The Alton Towers Company came into being in 1924 when the castle was sold to them, but the grounds were first opened to the public in 1860.
Built on the site of an Augustinian Priory, Trentham Hall has grounds totaling 300 acres. These have been landscaped in turn by Charles Bridgeman (1690-1738), Capability Brown (1716-1783) and Henry Holland (1745–1806). The gardens today are those by Charles Barry who is also known for his work at Harewood House and Cliveden Abbey.
There are two steam railways of note:
The Churnet Valley Railway Company has stations and 10.5 miles of track between Kingsley, Froghall, Consall, Cheddleton and Leekbrook. Steam trains run frequently, with interesting themed events throughout the year.
Foxfield Light Railway is smaller, with track between Caverswall and Dilhorne.
Keele University began life in the 1950s and is situated a few miles out of Newcastle-under-Lyme.
Staffordshire University has two main campuses, in Stoke on Trent and in Stafford. There is a further smaller campus in Lichfield.
Izaak Walton, famous as the 16th Century author of The Compleat Angler, was born in Stafford and was a frequent visitor to Beresford Dale, in the Peak District. You can visit his cottage by the River Sow at Norton Bridge, just north of Stafford.
The pioneer canal engineer James Brindley9, 1716 to 1772, designer of many of the canals in Staffordshire and elsewhere. The canals in Staffordshire include the Trent and Mersey, the Caldon, the Staffordshire and Worcester.
Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) was best known for his Dictionary of the English Language and he spent the first 27 years of his life in the large, imposing house that overlooks Market Square of Lichfield, frequently returning until shortly before his death.
Josiah Wedgwood (1730-95) was born in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent. He is credited with the introduction of mass production of pottery at the Ivy Works in Burslem. He built the family home in Etruria, Stoke-on-Trent.
The 1st Earl of Saint Vincent John Jervis (1783-1823) Naval commander in chief of the Mediterranean Fleet. In 1797 he led the British fleet to victory at the Battle of Cape St Vincent. He was born at Meaford a few miles north of Stone.
Josiah Spode (I) 1733-179710, the legendary potter, started the Spode Pottery dynasty in 1767. His son, Josiah Spode (II) 1755-1827 led the development of English bone china which became the production gold standard from the turn of the century.
Thomas Sidney - local MP and Lord Mayor of London 1853 - 1854.
Edward John Smith the captain of the Titanic was born in Stoke-on-Trent on 27 January, 1850. A statue of Captain Smith was unveiled by his daughter Helen on 29 July 1914.
Sir Stanley Matthews,(1915-2000), who was the first professional footballer to be knighted, was born in Stoke-on-Trent. He played professional football for 34 years and was aged 50 when he retired in 1965. He made nearly 700 League appearances for Stoke City and Blackpool and played for England 56 times.
Another famous person to mention is Reginald Mitchell, born in Butt Lane Kidsgrove, who invented the Spitfire. He died in 1937, aged 42, just one year after the prototype of the Spitfire first flew. One can see the famous Spitfire aircraft in all its glory at the Hanley Museum, Stoke on Trent.
In 1916, J. R. R. Tolkien, the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, stayed with his wife Edith (a native of Staffordshire) in the village of Great Haywood. The surrounding area may well have been inspiration for the countryside described in his works.
More recent Staffordshire-born celebrities include:
- Arnold Bennett - novelist
- Climax Blues Band - musicians
- Frank Bough the former BBC Grandstand, Nationwide and Breakfast Time television frontman.
- Dave Follows - cartoonist
- Slash out of Guns n' Roses was born in Fenton (Stoke) but his family moved to the USA at a very young age.
- Ian Kilminster, better known as Lemmy out of Motorhead, was also born in Stoke.
- Dave Gorman - comedian
- Nick Hancock - actor and presenter
- Fran Healey - singer
- Neil Morrissey - actor
- Medicine Head - musicians
- Robbie Williams - singer
- Multiple world darts champions Phil 'The Power' Taylor and Ted 'The Count' Hankey.
- Multiple world snooker champion Ray Reardon lived in Stoke for many years. He set up a club called 'The Reardon' which is still there in Hanley near the bus station.
- Current-day snooker players Jamie Cope and Dave Harold also come from Stoke.