In 2016, here’s 16 Things You Never Knew About….Staffordshire

Staffordshire is now well established as a recognised short break destination.  Many of its attractions are world famous.  The hospitality of the locals is legendary.  But here are 16 things you may never have known about Staffordshire…..

1. In 1903, Lord Shrewsbury of Alton Towers began to manufacture motor cars, giving them his family name of ‘Talbot’.  In February 1913, The Talbot motor car became the first automobile to cover 100 miles in one hour.  Today, visitors to Alton Towers Resort can travel from 0-60 mph in 3.5 seconds.

2. On November 27, 1944, 4,000 tons of bombs and ammunitions stored in a disused underground mine at Fauld exploded.  The blast could be heard in Leicester and Birmingham, and was even registered as far afield as Rome and Geneva.  It also created one of the world’s largest man-made craters close to the tranquil village of Tutbury, which, today, is better known for its castle, and its ornamental glass and crystal ware.

3. Richard Smith, born into a milling family at Stone, came up with the idea of extracting wheatgerm out of corn.  The process was patented in 1887; and the name ‘Hovis’ was invented by a London student who based it on a Latin phrase meaning ‘the strength of man’.  The site where Hovis was invented now houses the Mill Hotel & Restaurant; and Stone hosts an annual Food & Drink Festival on the first weekend in October.

4. George Eliot’s father spent his early life in the Staffordshire Peak District village of Ellastone, in Dovedale, on the southern edge of the Peak District National Park.  Hugely popular with tourists these days, much of the area is identifiable in Eliot’s novel, Adam Bede.

5. Most of the copper wire for the first Atlantic cable was made at Thomas Boulton’s old factory in Oakamoor – a picturesque village in The Churnet Valley, an area of the county which has been dubbed the “Staffordshire Rhineland”.

6. Burton-upon-Trent is home to one of the most sought after and exclusive status symbols in the world: The Pirelli Calendar.  Created by Derek Forsyth in 1964 along traditional pin up lines, it was initially aimed at Pirelli dealers and fleet operators, but has gained much wider popularity – just like the town itself, which is also home to the National Brewery Centre and The Marston’s Brewery.

7. “Life there was perfectly free, the country was pleasant for walking or riding.”  So wrote Charles Darwin, about Maer.  Darwin married his cousin, Emma Wedgwood, in the village church of St Peter’s Church.  Today, footpaths and bridleways around the village allow visitors to discover the unspoilt countryside enjoyed by the world’s best known naturalist.

8. “The model of a modern major-general” was descended from an old Saxon family that had been granted one of England’s oldest estates in Staffordshire.  Field Marshal Lord Garnet Wolseley was commander-in-chief of the British Army 1895-1900 and the inspiration for the world-famous Gilbert & Sullivan song. The estate may no longer be there, although it is possible to visit a popular garden centre and the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve which now stands in its grounds.

9. It is believed that the phrase, “going to the loo”, was introduced into the English language at Shugborough Hall, in Staffordshire – thanks to the eldest daughter of the 1st Earl of Lichfield, Lady Louisa Mary Anne.  A particularly unlovable character, her name-card was taken from her bedroom door one night and placed on the bathroom door.  Guests jokingly referred to “going to Lady Louisa”; in later years her title was dropped; and since then it has been paraphrased still further to one of the best known expressions in the English language.  Flushed with Pride, meanwhile, is a tribute to the toilet at Gladstone Pottery Museum in Stoke-on-Trent.

10. “May the trade of Stafford be trod underfoot by all the world.”  So said Richard Brinsley Sheridan, playwright, who, from 1780-1806 was MP for Stafford.  Once a major centre for the shoe trade, Stafford is perhaps better known as the ‘county town’ and birthplace of Izaak Walton, author of The Compleat Angler.  Izaak Walton bequeathed his cottage at Shallowford to the people of his home town, and now the museum pays homage to his illustrious life.

11. Josiah Wedgwood had his right leg amputated in 1768.  Few statues and portraits commemorating the ‘Father of English Potters’ record this fact.  Rumour has it, meanwhile, that a tunnel used to lead between his house and factory in Etruria – but that he could never ‘sneak up’ on his workforce because of the noise his wooden leg made as he clattered through the tunnel.  More recently, the company has opened the world class World of Wedgwood.

12. Newcastle-under-Lyme’s Philip Astley is regarded as the founder of the modern circus.  What goes around comes around; and today, the town is the location for the New Victoria Theatre – the first purpose-built theatre in the round in Europe.  2018, meanwhile, will mark the 250th anniversary of Astley’s circus ring.

13. “If this name is as successful for you, as it always was for me, you will come to no harm.”   These words were said to have been spoken by a wholesaler from Leek who owned the brand name Pretty Polly.  Taken from the famous filly who, in 1904, won three out of five English Classic races, the brand name was sold to Hibbert and Buckland in 1926, who set about transforming it into the household name we all know today.  Leek, meanwhile, retained its links with the textile industry and – in addition to being a noted centre for antiques – still boasts a number of factory shops.

14. It was while walking alongside a lake in Staffordshire that Lockwood Kipling proposed marriage to Alice Macdonald.  When their son was born in India some time later, they named him Rudyard, after the place where they had become engaged.  Rudyard Lake is still a popular tourist attraction, with walks, activities and boat trips.

15. Edward Weightman was the last heretic to be burnt at the stake in England.  He was executed by the Anglican authorities in 1612 in Lichfield – birthplace of the author of the first English dictionary, Dr Samuel Johnson.  Lichfield is also home to the UK’s only medieval three-spired cathedral.

16. Staffordshire’s annual Horn Dance, in Abbots Bromley, is always held “on the Monday following the first Sunday after the fourth of September”.  Which means that this year’s event is set for Monday, September 12.  The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance is a peculiarly English rural custom, and is believed to date back to the Berthelmy Fair granted to the Abbots of Burton by Henry III in 1226.  The colourfully costumed dancers consist of a band of twelve, and by tradition are always male.  Six men carry reindeer antlers – believed to date from around 1065 – and are accompanied around the village by Maid Marian, the Hobby Horse, the Jester, a boy carrying a bow and arrow, another carrying a triangle, and a musician.  The Horn Dance starts from St Nicholas Church at around 7am, and follows a set route around the village.  The dancers usually return to the church at around 8.30pm.

All tourist information about the Staffordshire, meanwhile, can be found online, at