Friday, 27 March 2015

Arnold Bennett in Cyprus

Books in a Turkish Cypriot bookshop

As regular readers know, I do like unexpected references to home whenever I leave Staffordshire.

In a Turkish Cypriot bookshop (in Nicosia actually), I was looking for a book in English to read - but in vain.  Then suddenly I spotted 'The Old Wives Tale' by Arnold Bennett - a tale of Staffordshire people by a Staffordshire writer...!

By coincidence, there's a major exhibition soon all about Arnold Bennett.  In north Staffordshire of course.  Not Cyprus.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

All is not as it appears

Cross of St Bertelin in Stafford

It is always incredibly disappointing for me whenever I happen to pass this 'ancient cross'.  At first sight, it would appear to be the ancient preaching cross of the now-destroyed Chapel Of St Bertelin in Stafford centre - which would make it an astonishing 1000 years old.
In fact, it is actually a replica of the real cross, which is buried immediately under it.  The real cross was deemed too fragile to be left out in the atmosphere.

Incidentally, Saint Bertelin is a proper home-grown Staffordshire saint (though he may be just legendary....).  Also known as Bertram or Beorhthelm, he has a few sites dedicated to him around the county.
And the cross may actually not be a cross, it may even be a coffin.  Hmm.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Parliament's gift

Angel sculpture at Pattingham Church

You'll find this little angel just outside the main door of Pattingham Church.  It's not a very distinguished piece, but it does have an inscription on its base: "From the Houses of Parliament. Presented by Mr Geoffrey Max... MP 1934"
But... what is doing out there on its own?  Why is this 'special gift' not carefully mounted inside the church itself?

Hmm. I have a theory.
It's not a very good sculpture. so I suspect that the church wardens were not terrifically pleased to be given it.  What to do with it? - they thought.         Answer: ... oh, just stick it outside, up against a wall!
It's just a theory - but I like it.  Seems to fit the facts...

Friday, 20 March 2015

Thatched cottage - in the present

Thatched cottage in Penkridge

Penkridge is a modern large town with the feel and outlook of a quaint small village - or maybe the other way round.  It's a contradiction that is hard to explain, but Penkridge itself seems comfortable with the double identity.
For example: as you stroll past a 1980s shopping area you then come to traditional houses, then you come to modern-build, then to flowery squares - and so on, all in their turn.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Hednesford Honi Soit

'Honi Soit Qui Mal y Pense' - Tiled feature in Hednesford

Hednesford has a reputation as a no-nonsense mining town (well, ex-mining town, I should say), so to see a rather aesthetic tiled work above the shop-fronts in the town centre was a bit of a surprise. 
In the diamond it reads 'Honi Soit Qui Mal y Pense' a motto which appears on the royal coat of arms.

It seems oddly out of place; I'd love to know the history of it.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

The gardens behind the amusements

The gardens of Alton Towers

Alton Towers will be re-opening soon - and hordes of pleasure seekers will be pouring in from all over the country to enjoy the delights of this famous amusement park.

It's a shame though that many of the visitors may not even come across one of the real delights of the estate: the formal laid-out gardens.
Just right now though, the gardens rest in solitary silence.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Astrological quirks!


It's a very odd thing: but there are some howlers of mistakes on the facade of the Wedgwood Institute in Burslem.  The frieze along the top shows the twelve signs of the zodiac - but the signs for Cancer and Aries are in the wrong places. 
As you can see here, Aries (15 April to 15 May) is hovering over March, which is all wrong.  (The man is gathering clams/crabs by the way, which is not entirely obvious...). 
Also, further along the facade, the June figure seems to be shearing a ram - whcih should surely be Aries ?

This buidling was a wonder of its time.    I wonder if they realised the mistake when it was unveiled; or did those who realise just stay shtum?

This quirk is featured in the locally-set novel, The Spyders of Burslem.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

The spooky eyes have it

'Watching The Washlands' - sculpture by Hattie Coppard

This rather spooky piece of art appears to be watching one through very beady eyes - but then that's what the artist Hattie Coppard wanted us to think.  The piece is called 'Watching The Washlands', and overlooks Andressey Island, the little piece of land in the middle of the River Trent at Burton.

The eyes idea is reinforced by the legends of Saint Modwen whose hermitage was on the hills opposite. St Modwen was famous for miraculously curing diseases of the eye.

Whether this is a reassuring piece of work though, I'm not so sure.  It's a little disturbing to come across it on a grey day.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Brutal bus shelter

Pattingham bus shelter

Sometimes, it's hard to believe what you see.  This bus shelter in the centre of the otherwise pretty village of Pattingham has absolutely nothing to recommend it.
It lacks any sense of creativity, it is brutal, it is boring.  Quite simply: it was built with no love at all.

We laugh at the Victorians, who probably would have put Gothic curlicues on it, or even the pre-war authorities who would have had it resemble a pastoral cowshed - but at least they wanted public spaces to sustain our need for self-respect in places where we live.
C'mon Pattingham!  At least paint it.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Hotel in a knot


When you hear the words 'railway hotel' you know just what you'll find - something amazingly solid and even elaborate. 
The North Stafford Railway Hotel, which stands opposite the railway station itself, was built in 1848 at the height of the early railway boom.  The North Staffs Railway Company must have insisted on the knots being in the design - the Knot being the symbol of the locality.