blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A few hours in Stafford

We arrived in Stafford late on a wet evening, having travelled on first class tickets from Brighton, via London. We'd had some luck on that journey. The first class tickets had turned out cheaper than second class ones (I still can't understand why) and our Brighton friend Hyder had given us a good tip for getting across London in spite of flood warnings and the strike on the London Underground: we should simply take a train over Blackfriars Bridge to St. Pancras instead of Victoria station, and walk from there to Euston for our connection. We'd had an atmospheric supper at The Betjeman Arms at St. Pancras and had duly splashed through the rain and commuters to Euston. Had we realised in time that our tickets entitled us to use the First Class Waiting Lounge there, our transit would have been even more comfortable. The ride to Stafford (over 200km) took only an hour and a quarter which makes this a feasible place for London commuters to live. When we got out, Chris interrupted a loving couple to ask the way to the Swan Hotel and we walked there in five minutes, rolling our cases across some wet grave stones that we thought were a path through the churchyard. The hotel, that dates back to the 18th century, had sloping floors.

Darkness and rain notwithstanding, we needed some more fresh air on arrival; a late evening walk through the mostly deserted town gave us a good first impression of it. The whole of its centre is traffic free. The house prices advertised seem remarkably low, half the price of equivalent houses in the London area.

Next morning after a good hotel breakfast with Chris and his colleagues Michael and Garry, who had arrived by car, all three of them dressed identically in QNX shirts, I set out to explore Stafford by daylight, and the sun shone for me, so that I was able to take some touristy pictures of the Ancient High House next door to the hotel on Greengate Street and the Shire Hall in the market square.

Shire Hall
I went inside both the Shire Hall and the Ancient High House. The Shire Hall was particularly interesting, containing a modern art gallery, a craft shop, and a courtroom. In the art gallery an exhibition of portraits and self portraits held my attention; I took a look at the landscape art too, views of nearby Cannock Chase (attractive hilly woodland that we saw from the train that afternoon). The most original art in the building, though, was in the court room, location of the County Assizes until the 1990s, where lifelike models of the "circuit judge," the defending and prosecuting lawyers, witnesses, defendant and jury had been placed for the sake of visitors' education, reminiscent of Rumpole of the Bailey! I had the room to myself, walked all round it and took pictures from the gallery.

Hassocks beautifying the church
Round the side of the courthouse a narrow lane led to the elegant judges' house and other imposing old buildings. I then paid a visit to the "Collegiate Church of St. Mary," the parish church, dating back to the 12th century, although apparently there was a wooden church on that same site in the 8th century too. The existing church has an ancient "Byzantine" stone font at the back and many a Green Man carved on the ends of the pews. The church wardens have brightened up the nave by displaying all their colourful hassocks on the pew stands. Each one is embroidered with a different image in cross-stitch. Beneath the pulpit a musician was improvising at the piano as I walked around. A bust of Izaak Walton, the best known of Stafford's residents, stands against one wall. But the fact that "Kidz Prayz" (sic) take place here nowadays during the Sunday morning Sung Eucharist makes me cringe.

Edwardian shop in the museum
Chris phoned to say he had finished his meetings and wanted to meet me for lunch, so I didn't have much time left to explore the Ancient High House, which is used as a museum, and was full of a school party that day. It has rooms decorated in the style of different eras, a civil war room, for instance. The Staffordshire men were Royalist in those days and Charles I had once stayed at this house. On the top floor is an exhibition dedicated to the Staffordshire Yeomenry Regiment (1794 to the present) and their brutal, historic campaigns in Syria, Palestine, etc. (Nothing changes but the participants.)

Victoria Park and the River Sow
After a quiet lunch in St. Mary's Mews we walked on with our luggage over the river Sow at Victoria Park, flooded, to the station, and so caught an afternoon train back to London––to Euston––then via Vauxhall to Teddington.

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