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Episode 37: Staffordshire

Where is Staffordshire?

In our thirty-seventh episode we mentioned lots of interesting places and things in Staffordshire, so here are some pictures and links if you're interested in finding out more!

Staffordshire Bull Terrier

The Staffordshire Bull Terrier, also called the Staffy or Stafford, is a purebred dog of small to medium size in the terrier group that originated in the northern parts of Birmingham and in the Black Country of Staffordshire, for which it is named. They descended from 19th-century bull terriers that were developed by crossing bulldogs with various terriers to create a generic type of dog generally known as bull and terriers.

Staffords share the same ancestry with the modern Bull Terrier, although the two breeds developed along independent lines, and do not resemble each other. Modern Staffords more closely resemble the old type of bull terrier, and were first recognised as a purebred dog breed by The Kennel Club of Great Britain in 1935.

Staffordshire Hoard

The Staffordshire Hoard is the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork ever found, comprising over 4,000 items. Archaeologists believe the Hoard was buried during the 7th Century (600-699AD), at a time when the region was part of the Kingdom of Mercia.

The Hoard was jointly acquired by the Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Birmingham City Council after it was discovered by a metal detectorist in 2009, near Lichfield, Staffordshire. The discovery is still transforming our knowledge of the Anglo-Saxon era.

Wedgwood Pottery

Wedgwood is an English fine china, porcelain and luxury accessories manufacturer that was founded on 1 May 1759 by the potter and entrepreneur Josiah Wedgwood and was first incorporated in 1895 as Josiah Wedgwood and Sons Ltd.

It was rapidly successful and was soon one of the largest manufacturers of Staffordshire pottery, "a firm that has done more to spread the knowledge and enhance the reputation of British ceramic art than any other manufacturer", exporting across Europe as far as Russia, and to the Americas.

It was especially successful at producing fine earthenware and stoneware that were accepted as equivalent in quality to porcelain (which Wedgwood only made later) but were considerably cheaper.

Wedgwood is especially associated with the "dry-bodied" (unglazed) stoneware Jasperware in contrasting colours, and in particular that in "Wedgwood blue" and white, always much the most popular colours, though there are several others. Jasperware has been made continuously by the firm since 1775, and also much imitated. In the 18th century, however, it was table china in the refined earthenware creamware that represented most of the sales and profits.

Letocetum Roman Settlement

Letocetum is the ancient remains of a Roman settlement. It was an important military staging post and posting station near the junction of Watling Street, the Roman military road to north Wales, and Icknield (or Ryknild) Street (now the A38).

The site is now within the parish of Wall, Staffordshire, England. It is owned and run by the National Trust, under the name Letocetum Roman Baths Site & Museum. The site is in the guardianship of English Heritage as Wall Roman Site.

The Romans came to Letocetum in 50 CE to establish a fortress during the early years of the invasion of Britain. The land could not support large numbers of soldiers and Letocetum, at an important cross-roads, became a large scale posting station.

The settlement developed with successive bath houses and mansiones built to serve the official travellers as well as the growing civilian population. It is known mainly from detailed excavations in 1912–13, which concentrated on the sites of the mansio and bath-house.

Lichfield Cathedral

Lichfield Cathedral is the only medieval three-spired Cathedral in the UK, and is a treasured landmark in the heart of England. It is one of the oldest places of Christian worship, and the burial place of the great Anglo-Saxon missionary Bishop, St Chad. 

This magnificent building has a rich history, reflected in its architecture and treasures. As a place of great beauty, it continues to inspire and encourage all who visits it as tourists, pilgrims or worshippers. 

Croxden Abbey

Croxden Abbey was begun in 1179 after Bertram de Verdun, an important local nobleman, granted land to a community of Cistercian monks in 1176. At its peak in the 13th century, Croxden housed about 70 monks.

Following the monastery’s suppression in 1538 the abbey and its lands were converted into a farm. The visible remains today include parts of the abbey church, which was one of the most elaborate churches of any Cistercian abbey in England, together with the infirmary and abbot’s lodging.

The abbey flourished in the 13th century, when it may have supported as many as 70 monks, but during the 14th century the community suffered from the effects of crop failure, cattle disease and plague.

Henry VIII eventually suppressed the abbey in 1538, ordering the removal of the church roof to prevent the monks from using the site. The abbey and its lands became part of a farm. The cloister became a yard and a track was cut across the church, bisecting the site. The ruins were taken into state guardianship in 1936.

St Peter ad Vincula, Stoke-on-Trent

The first church on the site was built of timber in 670. It was replaced with a stone building in 805 which was extended over the centuries. The remains of this Anglo-Saxon and former collegiate church survive in the churchyard. The re-erected arches date from the 13th century when the chancel was rebuilt. Saxon evidence survives in the baptismal font rescued from use as a garden ornament and restored in 1932 for baptismal use in the church.

The church is the burial place of several generations of Josiah Spode's family, as well as Josiah Wedgwood, who is also commemorated inside the church by a marble memorial tablet commissioned by his sons.

The title of "Stoke Minster" was conferred on the church by The Rt Revd Jonathan Gledhill, Bishop of Lichfield, at a ceremony on 17 May 2005.

Spode Pottery

Spode is an English brand of pottery and homewares produced by the company of the same name, which is based in Stoke-on-Trent, England. Spode was founded by Josiah Spode (1733–1797) in 1770, and was responsible for perfecting two extremely important techniques that were crucial to the worldwide success of the English pottery industry in the century to follow.

He perfected the technique for transfer printing in underglaze blue on fine earthenware in 1783–1784 – a development that led to the launch in 1816 of Spode's Blue Italian range, which has remained in production ever since. Josiah Spode is also often credited with developing, around 1790, the formula for fine bone china that was generally adopted by the industry. His son, Josiah Spode II, was certainly responsible for the successful marketing of English bone china.

Since 2009, Spode has been owned by Portmeirion Group, a pottery and homewares company based in Stoke-on-Trent. Many items in Spode's Blue Italian and Woodland ranges are made at Portmeirion Group's factory in Stoke-on-Trent.

Stafford Castle

This prominent vantage point and strategic site was quickly recognised by the Normans, who built a huge timber fortress here by 1100 AD. Originally built by Robert de Toeni, (later known as Robert of Stafford), in the Norman period, Stafford Castle has dominated the local skyline for over 900 years.

In the years shortly after the Norman invasion of 1066, William the Conqueror is believed to have ordered defences to be built against a still hostile and rebellious native community. The fortunes of the castle and its owners, the Stafford family, fluctuated greatly.

An impressive example of the motte and bailey system, Stafford Castle enjoyed mixed fortunes throughout the medieval period. In the 14th century Ralph, a founder member of the Order of the Garter, became the1st Earl of Stafford. He ordered the building of a stone keep on top of the motte in 1347 and the following year was granted a licence to crenellate and so constructed the battlements.

In 1444 Humphrey Stafford was created Duke of Buckingham and the castle entered its heyday. By the early 17th century however the condition of the castle had deteriorated and during the English Civil War the Parliamentary Committee in Stafford ordered it to be demolished.

By the early 17th century, the castle's fortunes waned. During the early part of the Civil War it was defended by the Gallant Lady Isabel but was eventually abandoned and demolished. Extensively rebuilt in the Gothic Revival Style in 1813, the castle fell into ruin through this century. Rebuilt by the Jerningham family in the early 19th Century using the same foundations the keep was again a magnificent four storey structure.  However, given over to caretakers and then abandoned again in the 1950s it became derelict once more.

Tutbury Castle

Tutbury Castle is a largely ruined medieval castle at Tutbury, Staffordshire, England, in the ownership of the Duchy of Lancaster and hence currently of King Charles III. It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument. People who have stayed in the castle include Eleanor of Aquitaine and Mary, Queen of Scots, who was a prisoner there.

By the late sixteenth century the fabric of the castle began to decay, although James I stayed there a number of times between 1619 and 1624. In August 1624 he knighted Sir Henry Rainsford of Clifford Chambers and Sir Edward Vernon of Sudbury at the castle.

During the English Civil War the castle was held by Royalist forces and re-fortified for the Crown. In 1643 Parliamentary forces attempted unsuccessfully to dislodge the garrison, and in April 1646 the garrison surrendered after a three-week siege. Following the siege, a treaty of surrender was agreed upon, and the conditions were drawn up by Sir Andrew Kniveton, the Governor of Tutbury Castle – with the agreement being signed on 20 April 1646.

However, in the following on 19 July 1647, it was determined "that the castle was untenable", following the siege and damages caused to the castle. Finally in control of the castle, Parliament ordered the fortification to be destroyed; demolition work being carried out from 1647 to 1648. A folly was built on top of the motte in 1780.

Tamworth Castle

Tamworth Castle, a Grade I listed building, is a Norman castle overlooking the mouth of the River Anker into the Tame in the town of Tamworth in Staffordshire, England. Before boundary changes in 1889, however, the castle was within the edge of Warwickshire while most of the town belonged to Staffordshire.

The site served as a residence of the Mercian kings in Anglo Saxon times, but fell into disuse during the Viking invasions. Refortified by the Normans and later enlarged, the building is today one of the best preserved motte-and-bailey castles in England.

When Tamworth became the chief residence of Offa, ruler of the expanding Mercian kingdom, he built a palace there from which various charters were issued sedens in palatio regali in Tamoworthige, the first dating from 781.

Little trace of its former glory survived the Viking attack in 874 that left the town "for nearly forty years a mass of blackened ruins". Then in 913 Tamworth was rebuilt by Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, who newly fortified the town with an earthen burh. This, however, did little to defend the place when it was again sacked by the Danes in 943.

Grave of Thomas Meakin, Rushton

The story of Thomas Meakin starts in the lovely little village of Rushton Spencer just north of Rudyard, it then moved to the town of Stone and finally ends in the churchyard of St Lawrence in Rushton Spencer and centres on the belief that Thomas Meakin was buried alive.

Thomas Meakin (or Meaykin) was born c1760 at Rushton Spencer to Thomas and Mary Meakin.  Around 1780 or so, Thomas junior move to the town of Stone where he found work in service as a groom, his master being an apothecary (pharmacist).

Thomas it seems caught the eye of his master’s daughter.  It is not known whether the attraction was reciprocated.   We do know however that in Thomas was taken seriously ill and sadly died and was buried in the churchyard of St Michael’s in Stone on the 16th July 1781.

It would have been regarded as simply the sad death of a young man, but then we have the tale of a pony which had been in Thomas’s charge, making his way to Thomas’s grave and attempting to drag away the earth with his hooves.  This is supposedly to have happened more than once.

This naturally caused a lot of talk and suspicions amongst Thomas’s friends and no doubt the people of Stone, which must have continued for some time as almost to the year of his death his grave was exhumed and on opening the coffin Thomas’s body was found to be face down.

It was then believed that Thomas had taken – or been given a very powerful narcotic which did not kill him but gave the appearance of death.

His family and friends then had his body taken back to Rushton Spencer for re-interment in the churchyard of St Lawrence, but perhaps because of the circumstances he was laid to rest with his feet to the west as is his gravestone, in the believe  that his ghost would be laid to rest.

Doxey Pool

The mysterious Doxey Pool can be found on the path that runs across the top of the Roaches, a gritstone escarpment not far from the Staffordshire/Derbyshire border. The pool is relatively small, measuring 49 by 33 feet, but its sinister reputation far exceeds its diminutive size.

Some accounts maintain that this strange body of water is bottomless; others say that it is connected to Blake Mere, another nearby tarn, via a deep subterranean passage. Both pools are reputed to house a malignant mermaid called Jenny Greenteeth, sometimes described as a blue nymph.

The Roaches

Whether you’re an eager climber, an enthusiastic walker or a keen naturalist, the Roaches offers something for everyone. Its magnificent soaring rock faces and wild, heather-covered hillsides draw tens of thousands of visitors each year, and make it one of Staffordshire’s most photographed landscapes.

As well as being a popular place for recreation, the Roaches is an amazing place for wildlife. In fact, the area is protected both nationally and internationally for its wildlife and rare wild habitats.

Designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and forming part of the South Pennine Moor Special Area for Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Area, the Roaches consists of numerous internationally important habitats including blanket bog and upland moorland. There are also many specialist breeding and wintering birds such as curlew, red grouse and tree pipit.

Blake Mere or 'the Black Pool'

Blakemere Pond, also known as Black Mere Pool or Mermaid's Pond, is a small, natural lake in Staffordshire, England, six miles north-west of Leek. The pond is the subject of an enduring legend that claims that the water is haunted by the ghost of a mermaid.

The earliest known record of the lake is from 1686, when Robert Plot wrote about it in his book The Natural History of Staffordshire. According to this text, the pond used to be much larger than its current diameter of 50 yards (46 m). There is some evidence of an artificial trench dug towards its eastern shore which could be the remnants of an attempt to lower the water level.

Over the centuries the pond has been the scene of a number of drownings and a murder when, in 1679, a woman pedlar was reportedly dumped in the pool by a local serial killer.

Grave of Molly Leigh, Burslem

Margaret Leigh of Jackfields (better known as Molly Leigh) is buried in the churchyard. There are various stories concerning this “witch” but most popular seems to be that Parson Spencer, the minister at the time found her sitting in her rocking chair after her death and burial, after one of his frequent visits to the local public house, the Turks Head.

He was said to be so frightened that he summoned up the help of local clergy, exhumed her body and re-buried her. Other variations of this story are that, the day after her funeral, the people came and found her sitting on top of her grave. She is supposed to have told these people that she could not rest unless her body was

buried transversely to the others. The people however did not comply with her request but buried her again as formerly. Again however the next day she appeared as before, so the third time she was buried transversely.

These stories are based on the tales being passed down the generations and based on superstition and ignorance. Whatever the truth regarding this old story, her grave is easily recognised from the rest by the fact that it does lie North to South instead of East to West like the others. Her tomb is just outside the South porch of the church. Her burial is recorded in the registers as April 1st 1748.

Ashenhurst Egg Well

This well is recorded as Pastscape Monument No. 305789, which tells us the well is commonly called the Egg Well because of the oval way it is enclosed in masonry. "Tradition ascribes considerable medicinal properties to Ashenhurst Well, or Egg Well, ... which is of Roman origin."

They also add: "Tradition ascribes considerable medicinal properties to Ashenhurst Well, or Egg Well, ... which is of Roman origin." They date the house to late 17th to early 18th century, with 20th century brick enclosure and flat roof in stone slabs.

The Latin inscription on the basin reads: "“Renibus, et splenui cordi, jecorique medatur, Mille maelsi prodest ista salubris aqua.” The translation being: “The liver, kidneys, heart’s disease these waters remedy. And by their healing powers assuage full many a malady.”

Lud's Church

Lud’s Church is a deep, moss-covered chasm full of history, myths and dark green wherever you look; and to walk down its stone steps deep into the cleft is to escape into another world.

Close to the Roaches in Leek and through Staffordshire’s Back Forest, is Lud’s Church. An 18 metre deep chasm created in the Roaches’ gritstone caused by a giant landslip, which over the ages has been covered from top to bottom in vibrant moss.

This makes the entire chasm outstanding to walk through, the dampness, the deep green colour has suddenly replaced the bright and expansive landscape of the Roaches, and it almost seems unbelievable. It doesn’t take long to explore the chasm, as it is only 100 metres long, but you could spend forever studying every nook and cranny- each as unique as each other.

Lud’s Church is not only interesting from a nature viewpoint, it’s also know for it’s history as in the Fifteenth Century it was used as a secret place for worship for people who would have otherwise been prosecuted. The people using this deep chasm as a church were the Lollards, followers of the early church reformer and so-called ‘heretic’, John Wycliffe.

Other than Lud's Church’s religious history, there are also some myths that come with the area. One of our favourites is that Robin Hood and Friar Tuck are reputed to have stayed in the cleft whilst hiding from the authorities. Going further back into the depths of Lud Church’s history is a myth that the chasm was created by the devil’s finger nail as he scraped back parts of the earth.

Abbots Bromley Horn Dance

The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, performed at the Barthelmy Fair in August 1226, is one of the few ritual rural customs to survive the passage of time. Today the Horn Dance, which takes place annually on Wakes Monday, offers a fascinating day out attracting visitors from all over the world.

After collecting the horns from the church at eight o’clock in the morning, the Horn Dancers comprising six Deer-men, a Fool, Hobby Horse, Bowman and Maid Marian, perform their dance to music provided by a melodian player at locations throughout the village and its surrounding farms and pubs. A walk of about 10 miles (or 16 kilometres).

At the end of a long and exhausting day, the horns are returned to the church in the evening.

Attractions during the day include exhibitions, craft stalls and, of course, the local pubs.

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