Staffordshire, which has been able to establish quite a reputation in recent years as a popular visitor destination, is now readying itself for a special, online edition of “Staffordshire Day”, on May 1.
In the meantime, here are 10 things you may never have known about Staffordshire…
- 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. (Visitors to Alton Towers Resort these days, meanwhile, can travel from 0-60 mph in around 2.5 seconds).
- 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 as far afield as 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.
- Richard Smith, born into a milling family in Staffordshire, 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 is in Smith’s family home of Stone, which hosts an annual Food & Drink Festival – usually on the first weekend in October.
- “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, but Staffordshire Wildlife Trust’s nature reserve now stands in its grounds.
- 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.
- 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 opened the World of Wedgwood at the “factory in the field” at Barlaston.
- 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 marked the 250thanniversary of Astley’s circus ring.
- 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 picturesque place where they had become engaged.
- Staffordshire’s annual Horn Dance, in Abbots Bromley, has – by tradition – always been held “on the Monday following the first Sunday after the fourth of September”. The 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 in the morning, and follows a set route around the village, with the dancers usually returning to the church at around 8.30pm.
- Edward Weightman was the last heretic to be burnt at the stake in England. Anglican authorities executed him 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.