Stafford (//) is the county town of Staffordshire, in the West Midlands of England. It lies approximately 16 miles (26 km) north of Wolverhampton, 18 miles (29 km) south of Stoke-on-Trent and 24 miles (39 km) north-west of Birmingham. The population in 2001 was 63,681 and that of the wider borough of Stafford 122,000, the fourth largest in the county after Stoke-on-Trent, Tamworth and Newcastle-under-Lyme.
Stafford means 'ford' by a 'staithe' (landing place). The original settlement was on dry sand and gravel peninsula that provided a strategic crossing point in the marshy valley of the River Sow, a tributary of the River Trent. There is still a large area of marshland northwest of the town, which has always been subject to flooding, such as in 1947, 2000 and 2007.
It is thought Stafford was founded in about 700 AD by a Mercian prince called Bertelin who, according to legend, established a hermitage on the peninsula named Betheney or Bethnei. Until recently it was thought that the remains of a wooden preaching cross from this time had been found under the remains of St Bertelin's chapel, next to the later collegiate Church of St Mary in the centre of the town. Recent re-examination of the evidence shows this was a misinterpretation – it was a tree-trunk coffin placed centrally in the first, timber, chapel at around the time Æthelflæd founded the burh, in 913 AD. The tree-trunk coffin may have been placed there as an object of commemoration or veneration of St Bertelin.
Already a centre for the delivery of grain tribute during the Early Middle Ages, Stafford was commandeered in July 913 AD by Æthelflæd, Lady of Mercia and daughter of King Alfred the Great, after the death of her father and of her husband, Æthelred, then ealdorman of Mercia in 911, in order to construct a burh there. This new burh was fortified and provided with an industrial area for the centralised production of Roman-style pottery ("Stafford Ware") which was supplied to the chain of West Midlands burhs.
She and her younger brother King Edward the Elder of Wessex, both children of King Alfred the Great and Ealhswith, wife of Æthelred, ealdorman of the Angles of Mercia, were attempting to complete their father King Alfred the Great's programme of unifying England into a single kingdom. Æthelflæd was a formidable military leader and tactician, and she sought to protect and extend the northern and western frontiers of her overlordship of Mercia against the Danish Vikings, by fortifying burhs, including Tamworth and Stafford in 913, and Runcorn on the River Mersey in 915 among others, while King Edward the Elder concentrated on the east, wresting East Anglia and Essex from the Danes. Anglo-Saxon women could play powerful roles in society; Æthelflæd's death effectively ended the relative independence of Mercia. Edward the Elder of Wessex took over her fortress at Tamworth and accepted the submission of all who were living in Mercia, both Danish and English. In late 918 Aelfwynn, Æthelflæd's daughter, was deprived of her authority over Mercia and taken to Wessex. The project for the unification of England took another step forward.
Stafford was one of Æthelflæd's military campaign bases and extensive archaeological investigations, and recent re-examination and interpretation of that evidence now shows her new burh was producing, in addition to the Stafford Ware pottery, food for her army (butchery, grain processing, baking), coinage and weaponry, but apparently no other crafts and there were few imports.
The Lady of Mercia, Æthelflæd, ruled Mercia for five years after the death of her father and husband, dying in Tamworth in 918.
In 1069, a rebellion by Eadric the Wild against the Norman conquest culminated in the Battle of Stafford. Two years later another rebellion, this time led by Edwin, Earl of Mercia, culminated in Edwin's assassination. This meant his lands were distributed amongst the followers of William the Conqueror. Robert de Tonei was granted the manor of Bradley and one third of the king's rents in Stafford. The Norman conquest in Stafford was therefore particularly brutal, and resulted not only in the imposition of a castle, but in the destruction and suppression of every other activity except the intermittent minting of coins for about a hundred years.
Stafford Castle was built by the Normans on the nearby hilltop to the west in about 1090. It was first made of wood, and later rebuilt of stone. It has been rebuilt twice since, and the ruins of the 19th century gothic revival castle on the earthworks incorporate much of the original stonework.
Redevelopment began in the late 12th century, and while the church, the main north-to-south street (Greengate) and routes through the late Saxon industrial quarter to the east remained, in other ways the town plan changed. A motte was constructed on the western side of the peninsula, overlooking a ford, and facing the site of the main castle of Stafford, on the hill at Castle Church, west of the town. Tenements were laid out over the whole peninsula and trade and crafts flourished until the early 14th century, when there was another upset probably associated with the plague of Black Death, which was followed in the mid 16th century by another revival.
In 1206 King John granted a Royal Charter which created the borough of Stafford. In the Middle Ages Stafford was a market town, mainly dealing in cloth and wool. In spite of being the shire town, Stafford required successive surges of external investment from the time of Æthelflæd to that of Queen Elizabeth I.
Charles I visited Stafford shortly after the out-break of the English Civil War. He stayed for three days at the Ancient High House. The town was later captured by the Parliamentarians, while a small-scale battle was fought at nearby Hopton. Stafford later fell to the Parliamentarians, as did Stafford Castle, following a six-week siege. The town's most famous son is Izaak Walton, author of The Compleat Angler, who was a staunch Royalist.
In 1658 Stafford elected John Bradshaw, the man who judged the trial of King Charles I, to represent the town in Parliament. During the reign of Charles II, William Howard, 1st Viscount Stafford became implicated in the Popish Plot, in which Titus Oates whipped up anti-Catholic feelings with his claims that there was a plot to have the king killed. Lord Stafford was among those accused; he was unfortunate to be the first to be tried, and was beheaded in 1680. The charge was false and over five years later, on 4 June 1685, the bill of attainder against him was reversed.
The town was represented in Parliament by the famous playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan in the 18th century. During the same era, the town's mechanised shoe industry was founded, the most well-known factory owner being William Horton. The industry gradually died out, with the last factory being redeveloped in 2008.
In 1837 the Grand Junction Railway built the first railway line (part of the line from Birmingham to Warrington) and railway station in the town; at Warrington this linked, via another line, with the Liverpool-to-Manchester railway. Birmingham provided the first connection to London. Other lines followed; Stafford became a significant junction and this helped attract a number of industries to the town.
On 31 March 2006 the Queen visited the town to join in the 800th anniversary civic celebrations.
In 2013 Stafford celebrated its 1,100th anniversary year with a number of history-based exhibitions, while local historian Nick Thomas and writer Roger Butters were set to produce the two-volume 'A Compleat History of Stafford' (sic).
The top-tier Staffordshire County Council, and Stafford Borough Council, are both based in the town. The office of Mayor of Stafford Borough has existed since the passing of the Municipal Corporations Act 1835. The mayor of Stafford for 2016–17 is Geoffrey Collier.
Stafford Castle was built by the Normans on the nearby hilltop to the west in about 1090, replacing the post-Conquest fort in the town. It was first made of wood, and later rebuilt of stone. It has been rebuilt twice since, and the ruins of the 19th century gothic revival castle crowning the earthworks incorporate much of the original stonework. The castle has a visitor centre, with audio visual displays and hands-on items. There is also a recreated medieval herb garden and Shakespeare productions take place in the castle grounds each summer. The castle forms a landmark for drivers, as it is highly visible from the M6 motorway.
The oldest building now in Stafford is St Chad's Church, dating back into the 12th century. The main part of the church is richly decorated. Carvings in the church's archways and pillars may have been made by a group of stonemasons from the Middle East who came to England during the Crusades. A great deal of the stonework was covered up during the 17th and 18th centuries, and the church took on a neo-classical style. In the early 19th century restoration, work was carried out on the church and the Norman decoration was rediscovered. The church hosts "Timewalk", a computer generated display which relates the journey of history and mystery within the walls of the church.
St Mary's, the collegiate church formerly linked to St Bertelin's chapel, was completely rebuilt in the early 13th century in a cruciform layout with an aisled nave and chancel typical of the period. It has an impressive octagonal tower, once topped by a tall steeple, which can be picked out in Gough's plan shown above. The church was effectively two churches in one, divided by a screen, with the parish using the nave and the collegiate canons using the chancel. St Mary's was restored in 1842 by Giles Gilbert Scott.
The Shire Hall Gallery was built in 1798 as a court house and office of the Mayor and Clerk of Stafford. It houses the Art Gallery, which shows changing exhibitions. It also contains a café and previously the town's library until its recent move to Staffordshire Place. The Shire Hall used to be the town's court house, and is a Grade II listed building. It still retains two courtrooms. One of them is open to the general public and has a permanent exhibition showing the history of the building and details of some high-profile cases that were heard there. An old 'holding cell' is also open to public viewing. In recent times, the building was used as a library prior to the construction of a new facility contained within the new council buildings.
The Shugborough Hall country estate is 4 miles (6.4 km) outside town. It previously belonged to the Earls of Lichfield, and is now owned by the National Trust and maintained by the leaseholder, Staffordshire County Council. The 19th century Sandon Hall is 5 miles (8.0 km) northeast of Stafford. It is set in 400 acres (1.6 km2) of parkland, and is the seat of the Earl of Harrowby. Weston Hall stands 5 miles (8.0 km) east of Stafford, in the Trent valley, with a large park and it was once part of the Chartley estate. It is believed that the main part of the hall was built around 1550 as a small dower house, however the architectural evidence suggests that it is Jacobean. Weston Hall was extended in 1660 into a three-gable structure with high-pitched roofs.
Stafford Gatehouse Theatre is the town's main entertainment and cultural venue. The Met Studio within the Gatehouse is a dedicated venue for stand-up comedy and alternative live music. There is an art gallery in the Shire Hall. Staffordshire County Showground, just outside the town, is the venue for many national and local events. There is an annual Shakespeare Festival at Stafford Castle that has attracted many notable people, including Frank Sidebottom and Ann Widdecombe.
Victoria Park, opened in 1908, is a 13 acre (53,000 m2) Edwardian riverside park with a play park, bowling green, bird cages and greenhouses; Victoria Park has recently undergone a major redevelopment in places, incorporating a new children's play area, new sand and water jet area which has replaced the previous open-air paddling pool and also a brand new bmx/skateboard area. Stafford is also home to a 9 hole golf course near the town centre.
Although the local cinema has now closed a new odeon cinema is due to open in the summer of 2018 Stafford Film Theatre is based at the Gatehouse Theatre, and shows independent and alternative films. There is also a tenpin bowling alley at Greyfriars Place. The new Stafford Leisure Centre opened in 2008 on Lammascote Road.
Nightlife in the town consists of smaller bar and club venues such as Casa, the Grapes, the Picture House, and the neighbouring nightclubs Couture and Poptastic, most of which are in walking distance of each other. There is a big student patronage, with coaches bringing students from Stoke-on-Trent, Cannock, and Wolverhampton.
Stafford FM is Stafford's community radio station, broadcasting on 107.3fm since securing an Ofcom licence in 2015. The station's studios are based in the heart of Stafford on Crabbery Street.
Stafford is covered by Midlands Today and ITV Central, both broadcasting from Birmingham. These cover the wider West Midlands area. Stafford is mainly served by the Sutton Coldfield transmitting station, just north of Birmingham, however, some residents in Stafford use The Wrekin transmitting station, near Telford, to obtain a watchable picture.
In terms of BBC Local Radio, Stafford is covered by BBC Radio Stoke, which broadcasts to the town on 104.1 FM, with a transmitter based on top of the County Education building. In terms of commercial radio, Stafford is covered by Signal Radio, broadcasting on 96.9 FM from a transmitter at Pye Green BT Tower, near Hednesford. Both of these stations are based in Stoke-on-Trent, and cover Staffordshire and Cheshire.
There are two community radio stations in Stafford:
Stafford FM first aired on 28 October 2001 from studios situated in Gaol Mews, Stafford, and has been broadcasting continually online since August 2013. The station also broadcast briefly during 2013 using the name XL FM.
Ofcom awarded Stafford FM a Community Radio License in 2014 following several short term (RSL) broadcasts. The station launched on 107.3fm in April 2015 from studios in the town centre.
Windmill Broadcasting is an online community radio station broadcasting from the Broad Eye Windmill. It has been broadcasting since 12 June 2016, and is the only radio station in the UK to be based in a windmill. As well as being based in the Mill, Windmill Broadcasting works with the Friends of the Broad Eye Windmill to assist with fundraising and renovation, and to boost awareness of the Broad Eye Windmill.
In October 2014, it was announced by Ofcom that forces station the British Forces Broadcasting Service will broadcast to the Beacon Barracks on FM, in addition to its sister station, BFBS Gurkha Radio, which already broadcasts locally on 1278 kHz medium wave.
|Climate data for Stafford 101m asl, 1971-2000|
|Average high °C (°F)||6.5
|Average low °C (°F)||1.0
|Average precipitation mm (inches)||62.7
|Mean monthly sunshine hours||45.3||59.0||89.9||129.9||179.5||160.8||183.5||168.6||122.1||94.6||58.5||38.4||1,330.1|
Stafford has a long history of shoe making. It is recorded as far back as 1476, when it was a cottage industry, but the manufacturing process was introduced in the 1700s. William Horton founded his business in 1767, which progressed to become the largest shoe company in Stafford, selling worldwide. He had a number of contracts with the government, through his connections with the town's MP, the famous playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan. The shoe industry gradually died out in the town, with Lotus Shoes being the last manufacturers. The large Lotus Shoe factory on Sandon Road was demolished in 2001 to be replaced by housing.
In 1875, A locomotive firm called W. G. Bagnall was set up. Bagnall's manufacted steam locomotives for the London, Midland and Scottish Railway and the Great Western Railway. From 1875 to 1962 the Castle Engine Works, in Castle Town, produced 1,660 locomotives including steam, diesel and electric locomotives. In 1962 Bagnall's was taken over by English Electric who also bought Stafford based engine manufacturer W.H. Dorman who by that time was merged with Bagnall's.
Since 1903, a major activity in the town has been heavy electrical engineering, particularly producing power station transformers. The works have been successively owned by Siemens, English Electric, GEC and GEC Alsthom. Alstom T&D was sold in 2004 to Areva. At the end of 2009, Areva Ltd was split between former owner Alstom and Schneider Electric. Each transformer weighs several hundred tons and so a road train is used for transport. In the 1968 Hixon rail crash, one such road train was struck by an express train when it was crossing the railway at a level crossing.
Perkins Engines has a factory making diesel engines in Littleworth. Adhesives manufacturer Bostik has a large factory in the town. Stafford is also a major dormitory town for workers commuting to Stoke-on-Trent and Birmingham.
The public sector provides a lot of local employment, with Staffordshire County Council, Stafford Borough Council and Staffordshire Police all headquartered in the town. Stafford Prison, County Hospital and MoD Stafford are other sources of local public sector employment.
The town was home to the computer science and IT campus of Staffordshire University along with Beaconside campus which used to house the Faculty of Computing Engineering and Technology and part Business School this has all closed down and all have been transferred to Stoke-on-Trent. The only block of Stafford University left in use is the Blackheath Lane campus houses the School of Health, which teaches nursing. The main campus in Stoke-on-Trent is located about 18 miles (30 km) north.
The town centre Guildhall Shopping Centre is the town's main shopping venue, housing more than 40 retail outlets such as Boots, Topman Topshop and River Island. There are 3 major superstores that surround the main town centre, an Asda superstore, a Tesco Extra and a Sainsbury's store. They are open 24 hours with the exception of Sainsbury's.
Stafford railway station was once a major hub on the railway network, but the suspension of passenger services on the Stafford to Uttoxeter line in 1939 and Beeching's closure of the Stafford to Shrewsbury Line in 1964 completely halted east-west traffic through Stafford. The years up to 2008 saw cross-country trains (operated by Virgin CrossCountry) stopping at Stafford less frequently. Since CrossCountry Trains took over the franchise and adopted a new timetable in 2008, this trend reversed, and services between Manchester Piccadilly and Birmingham New Street almost always now stop at Stafford, giving a service typically every 30 mins during the weekdays. Towards Birmingham, these services continue alternately to Bristol Temple Meads or beyond (e.g. Paignton), or Bournemouth (sometimes only to Southampton or Reading). A fair number of Virgin Trains West Coast services still stop at Stafford railway station, being a major junction on the West Coast Main Line; this enables reasonable commuting to London via London Euston and Liverpool via Liverpool Lime Street, with hourly services in each direction 7 days a week. Since December 2008 London Midland have operated a service stopping at Stafford on the Crewe to London Euston route, and also a Birmingham New Street - Liverpool Lime Street service which departs Stafford normally every 30 mins during the weekdays. At least one train a day in each direction between Birmingham New Street and Crewe is operated by Arriva Trains Wales, usually the first and last trains of the day.
Junctions 13 (Stafford South & Central) and 14 (Stafford North) of the M6 motorway provide access to the town, therefore the major cities of Birmingham and Manchester and beyond are easily reached. The A34 road runs through the centre of the town, linking it to Stone and Stoke-on-Trent to the north and Cannock and the West Midlands conurbation to the south. The A518 road connects Stafford with Telford to the south west and Uttoxeter to the north east, and therefore is the main route to the major theme park at Alton Towers. The A449 runs south from the town centre and connects with the nearby town of Penkridge and Wolverhampton. Finally, the A513 runs east from Stafford to the local towns of Rugeley and Lichfield.
The majority of bus services in Stafford and area are provided by Arriva Midlands, and the company also operates services to Lichfield, Cannock and Wolverhampton. From late April 2015 National Express West Midlands introduced a new service between Wolverhampton and Stafford. Services to Stone and Stoke-on-Trent are handled by First Potteries and Bakerbus. D&G Bus and a number of smaller operators serve rural locations
Stafford is served by five large taxi companies: Aerobright's, Anthony's AJ's, Kaminski Hire, Westside and SmartCars. There are also a large number of independent operators who work from the ranks at the station, Bridge Street, Broad Street and Salter Street.
The town's main hospital is County Hospital It provides a wide range of non-specialist medical and surgical services. County Hospital's Accident and Emergency unit is the only such facility in the town. The hospital made the national news in March 2009, with the release of a Healthcare Commission report detailing the facility's appalling shortcomings.
St George's Hospital, part of the South Staffordshire and Shropshire Health Care Trust, is actually a combination of two historical hospitals—the Kingsmead Hospital (previously an elderly care facility) and the St George's psychiatric hospital. It provides mental health services, including an intensive care unit, secure units, an eating disorder unit, an EMI unit for the elderly and mentally frail, drug and alcohol addiction services and open wards. There is a small outpatient facility, and this is the location of the town's AA meeting. Rowley Hall Hospital in Rowley Park is a private hospital run by Ramsay Healthcare. It also offers some NHS treatments.
Policing in Stafford is provided by Staffordshire Police, which is headquartered on Weston Road. The force is currently trying to sell-off its old headquarters on Cannock Road. There is also a police station in the town centre on Eastgate Street.
Stafford Crown Court and Stafford County Court share a building in the town centre. There is a magistrates' court in nearby South Walls. The Shire Hall, Stafford used to be a courthouse, it is now an art gallery. It was completed in 1798.
Stafford Prison is a Category C men's prison, operated by HM Prison Service. The prison holds a number of vulnerable prisoners, mainly sex offenders. It was built on its current site in 1794, and has been in almost continuous use, save a period between 1916 and 1940.
Staffordshire County Council's headquarters are in the centre of Stafford. Its administrative base is at County Buildings in Martin Street, with the majority of its staff in the town in the Staffordshire Place development, which opened in 2011. Numerous council bases across the town are closing as staff centralise at Staffordshire Place. Stafford Borough Council is headquartered at the Civic Centre on Riverside.
The town's main library was formerly in the Shire Hall, it has been relocated to part of the ground floor at 1 Staffordshire Place with smaller libraries in Rising Brook, Baswich and Holmcroft. The William Salt Library in the town centre is a large collection of printed books, pamphlets, manuscripts, drawings, watercolours and transcripts built up by William Salt.
MoD Stafford is located on Beaconside. Originally RAF Stafford, the base was a non-flying Royal Air Force station. It was redesignated MoD Stafford in March 2006. The event was marked by a fly past and a flag lowering ceremony. For many years the site provided employment for civilians and military personnel. However, RAF Stafford was handed over by the Royal Air Force in accordance with the current policy of defence strategy and streamlining. A small element of the Tactical Supply Wing (TSW) still operates from the base. It is now home to a Gurkha signals regiment and a RAF Regiment contingent alongside Tactical Supply Wing.
The Chetwynd Centre also provides higher education in the town. It normally teaches specialised A-levels, some vocational qualifications and subjects taught by teachers with no school base. The centre has joined up with all the town's secondary schools, except the grammar school, to provide better resources for students.
Stafford College is a large college of further education. Stafford College also provides some higher education courses on behalf of Staffordshire University and focuses heavily on computing and engineering.
Staffordshire University had a large campus in the east of the town and focuses heavily on computing, engineering and media technologies (film, music and computer games). It also runs teacher training courses. The university has 2 halls of residence opposite the campus, the smaller Yarlet with 51 rooms and the larger Stafford Court with 554 Rooms. Stafford Court is divided into 13 'houses' named after local villages.
There is also a local hockey team with eight adult teams.
Stafford Post Office Rifle and Pistol Club is a Home Office Approved Rifle Club founded in 1956 and has its own 25yd indoor range attached to the Stafford Post Office Social Club. In addition to short range indoor shooting, the club uses a number of outdoor ranges including Kingsbury, Sennybridge and Thorpe for larger calibre long range shooting.
Stafford Cricket and Hockey Club was founded in 1864, which almost certainly makes it the oldest sports club in Stafford. The club appears to have originally played at the Lammascotes before being offered a field at the Hough (Lichfield Road/GEC site) in 1899 which belonged to the grammar school (The new ground there was opened by the mayor, a Mr Mynors in May of that year). In 1984 the club negotiated a move to Riverway in 1984 as the Hough came under the ownership of GEC. They currently own 11 acres (4 ha) at Riverway and host numerous sports all year round - they have 2 cricket pitches in the summer and in the winter host football, mini football, rugby and hockey.
In 1999 they were awarded a £200K lottery grant towards a new pavilion completed in 2000. The pavilion has 6 changing rooms and a lounge/function room for members and guests.
The cricket section always welcome new players of all abilities There are four senior sides that play on a Saturday. The 1st & 2nd XIs play in the North Staffordshire and South Cheshire League. The 3rd and 4th XI's play in the Stone & District Cricket League. They also have a senior team on a Sunday that plays in the Lichfield Sunday League. They have five junior sides in the following age groups; Under 9, Under 11, Under 13, Under 15 & Under 17s. They are an ECB Clubmark Accredited Club.
Although a significant number of people living and working within Stafford speak with distinctly Black Country or Stoke-on-Trent accents, there exists a very distinctive Staffordian accent, spoken by most residents, that sounds like a weaker cousin of the East Midlands family of accents. The famous stand-up comedian, author, broadcaster and Stafford native Dave Gorman has a typically Staffordian accent.
The Stafford accent may be distinguished from that of the more southern parts of Staffordshire heading towards the West Midlands, where the accent is more Black Country-influenced. The accent of Stafford is more influenced by Stoke-on-Trent, to varying extents, but less broad and perhaps more "watered-down." Those who live in Stafford tend to believe they have a more "neutral" accent, or perhaps no accent at all, but the influence of Stoke-on-Trent and nearby Stone sets it apart and distinguishes itself from more southern Staffordshire.
The Stafford knot, sometimes incorrectly referred to as the Staffordshire knot, is a distinctive three-looped knot that is the traditional symbol of the English county of Staffordshire and of its county town, Stafford. It is used by many local organizations on buildings, logos, coats of arms, etc., and is the name of a pub.
Notable people from Stafford include the 17th century author of The Compleat Angler, Izaak Walton, whose cottage at nearby Shallowford is now an angling museum, and the 18th century playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan was once the local MP. Also, the 1853 Lord Mayor of London, Thomas Sidney, was born in the town.
In the early 1900s, the village of Great Haywood near Stafford was home to the wife of famous The Lord of the Rings author J. R. R. Tolkien. He stayed with his wife, Edith, in her cottage in the village during the winter of 1916, and the surrounding areas were said to be an inspiration for some of his early works. The science fantasy author Storm Constantine is a long-time resident.
British poet, playwright and freelance writer Carol Ann Duffy, although born in Glasgow, Scotland, grew up in Stafford and attended Stafford Girls' High School. She was awarded an OBE in 1995, and a CBE in 2002. Many of her poems describe experiences and places in Stafford. She has been the Poet laureate since 2009 and now lives in Manchester.
Baron Stafford is a title that has been created several times in the Peerage of England. A full schedule of over 30 of the eponymous title holders is listed at Baron Stafford rather than here, where just three are included.
Stafford is twinned with:
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