. Staffordshire achieves the geographical feat of very nearly uniting Birmingham and Manchester, it spreads from the northern suburbs of the former almost to Macclesfield, within ten miles of the southern parts of the latter. The open heath and dreary urban wastelands to the northwest of Birmingham are known as the Black Country because of their iron and coal industries. There is a distinctive dialect spoken here. Cannock Chase in the middle, south of Stafford, is wild and ferny heathland, once a medieval
. Fast-growing industries in the past two centuries of industrialization and a proliferation of water transport by canal have not urbanized this county, in fact the county and its villages are very rural, and indeed much is still a farming area. Well drained in the north by valleys (notably that of the Trent River and Dovedale) it is a hilly extension of the Derby moors.
. Walsall bought the Blackpool illuminations to bring a little bit of colour to the Stafforshire Black Country.
Origin of name: Comes from the Old English "ford by the landing place", "steath" being a landing place. Name first recorded: 1016 as Staeffordscir.
STAFFORD Has the large Norman church of St Chad with splendid arcades and arches. The museum holds many special exhibitions throughout the year.
BURSLEM Another of the Five Towns (as in Arnold Bennett's Anno of the five Towns).
BURTON UPON TRENT The major brewing town of Britain with two brewery museums and brewery tours: what more can you say?
HANLEY One of the Five Towns and full of pottery workshops as well as a city museum, theatre and an art gallery displaying a huge array of ceramics.
LEEK Set in moorland at the southern end of the Peak District and a good set-off point for walkers cyclists and riders. Also plenty of antiques and bric-a-brac to browse through.
LICHFIELD A small city with a splendid 8th-century cathedral with illuminated manuscripts. A Heritage and Treasury Exhibition in St Mary's in the middle of the market square are well worth a visit.
STOKE-ON-TRENT Britain's main pottery and ceramics centre. The sixth town of the famous five.
UTTOXETER Great name! Wotochesede in the Domesday Book or Ucheter to locals today, but it may have derived from Witta which was a man's name and an old word for
WALSALL Came to fame on leather, as in the local soccerteam's nickname The Saddlers.
WEST BROMWICH Another Black Country town and home to the famous Albion! The timber-framed Manor House, dating from the early 14 century, became a
. Aldridge . Biddulph . Bilston . Brierley Hill . Brownhills . Coseley . Darlaston . Great Barr
. Harborne . Kisgrove . Rowley Regis . Sedgeley . Smethwick . Streetly . Tamworth . Tipton
. Wednesbury . Wednesfield . Willenhall
Trent, Penk, Sow, Blithe, Tean, Dove, Churnet, Tame.
The Ordnance Station at 1,657 feet.
. June: National craft fair in Stoke.
. The folk horn dance, of Norman origin, takes place at Abbots Bromley, near Rugeley, in September (normally on the Monday after the Sunday following 4 September from 8 till 8!). The dancers' attire includes a man on a hobby horse, a maid, a jester, a boy with a bow and arrow, an accordion player and triangle player plus six wearing reindeer antlers.
. May: Staffordshire County Show, Stafford.
. Reginald Joseph Mitchell was the aircraft designer who created the World War II fighter the Spitfire. He was born in Taike, son a schoolteacher. His life story was made into a biopic produced by and starring Leslie Howard: first of the Few.
. Arnold Bennett, the Victorian novelist, put Stoke and its neighbours on the map with his famous novels of the Five Towns. He lived in Stoke for seven years.
. Doctor Johnson, a famous 18th century literary figure, was born and brought up in Lichfield.
. The fisherman's writer (Compleat Angler) Izaak Walton
was born in Stafford.
. Josiah Wedgwood was born in Burslem and founded his pottery in the Five Towns.
. Lottery girl Anthea Turner and actor Neil Morrissey (Men Behaving Sadly) are both from Stoke.
. TV's Frank Skinner of Fantasy Football fame is from West Bromwich.
. Actress and writer Meera Syal was born in 1963 in Essington not far from Walsall.
A large part of the county is governed on a two-tier basis with Staffordshire County Council and the eight District Councils of Cannock Chase, East Staffordshire, Lichfield, Newcastle-under-Lyme, South Staffordshire, Stafford, Staffordshire Moorlands and Tamworth. The rest of the
County has three solely Staffordshire unitary councils. Stoke on Trent, Wolverhampton and Walsall, and three more shared with the Counties of Shropshire, Dudley and Sandwell. Clent and Broome are both Staffordshire detached in Worcestershire under a two-tier authority of Worcestershire County Council but with Broome in Wyre Forest District and Clent in Bromsgrove District.
A CONTRASTING MIXTURE of the very urban and the very rural. Cannock Chase is a great rural spread sandwiched between two different types of industrial area: the Black Country of iron and coal with towns like Wolverhampton and Walsall, and the Potteries with Wedgwood and Spode china manufactured at Stoke-on- Trent and Stafford.
Near the county town of Stafford, on the road to Rugeley, is a remarkable great house - Shugborough which has not only a large 18th-century country house to show, but also extensive gardens towards the river. The house lost many of its possessions to a sale by a profligate owner in 1842, but it is still replete with many items of the period, notably porcelains and rare pieces from China and a collection of fabulous French antiques. The formal gardens with clipped shrubs are ornamented with many intriguing temples, architectural follies, monuments and garden statuary. There is a Folk Museum in the old Stable Block. Lichfield is the county's cathedral city, and has the onlyEnglish cathedral to preserve three stone spires. The steeples of this compact cathedral are local landmarks, known as the Ladies of the Vale. (The central one was lost in the Civil War and later rebuilt.) inside you will find a 13th-century choir, transepts and nave, while the multi-tiered west facade, finished about 1300, is like a loomingsculpted screen. Lichfield is a pleasing little town which Dr Johnson knew as the son of a local bookseller. The house where he was born is a museum to his memory. The bishop's country palace used to be at Eccleshall, originally a castle that has gone through a violent and often odd history. There are lots of porcelain and pottery
on view but the family silver went down with the butler when in 1890 the Humber ferry capsized. Not far from Lichfield is Alrewas, which has a Norman church with grotesque carved heads, and Hanbury, whose church has a cross-legged alabaster statue of a14th-century knight. Hoar Cross Hall, an opulent British Victorian mansion, is considerable magnificence. Its builder did not live to see it completed however - Henry Meynell was killed in a fox hunting accident in 1871, and the neighbouring church was built by the grieving widow in his memory. The hall was developed for the presentation of 'medieval banquets' in the 1970s.
Newcastle-under-Lyme, Tamworth and Burton upon Trent were in the clothing trade. The latter is famous for brewing, but it also has a local history museum with a gallery of British birds. Tamworth, on the other hand, is known for its pigs.
Wolverhampton is one of the county's best-known towns, famous for engineering works, but originally a wool centre. Nearby Walsall focused on leather and in the 17th century specialized in making locks and keys. There's a unique museum. The two towns sit on the north-western edge of Birmingham, and while much is depressing suburb there are several fine houses close by Best known is
Weston Park, a red-brick 17th-century house designed by Lady Wilbraham, who as the heiress Elizabeth Mytton owned the original house. She built it in the prevailing style although its interior has been completely altered. Capability Brown laid out the gardens which have many architectural ornaments.
Moseley Old Hall is a rambling half-timbered house on the Stafford road at the edge of the town. It has a fascinating tale to tell of a king's escape as recounted to Samuel Pepys the famous 17th-century diarist by Charles II. After the battle of Worcester the young king, disguised as a woodcutter, was brought here, leaving after two days and a night to make his secret escape to France. Just west of Wolverhampton is Wightwick Bank, a rare surviving example of a house built and decorated by the 19th-century movement known as the Pre-Raphaelites. Aside from William Morris tapestries and textiles there arecandelabra designed by Holman Hunt and pictures by Rossetti, Ruskin, Burne Jones, Millais, Elizabeth Siddal and Maddox Brown. Even the gardens, with their high clipped yew hedges, are Pre-Raphaelite in style. To the north Stoke on Trent is the heart of the Five Towns, once crowded with the old bottle-shaped firing kilns. The Five Towns are, with Stoke, actually six - Tunstall, Hanley, Burslem, Fenton and Longton - but that musn't get in the way of a good story. They all display pottery works and you can visit a kiln revamped as a museum at the Gladstone Works, where the packing of the interior for firing is interesting. Be sure to visit the Wedgwood factory at nearby Barlaston to see present-day methods of decorating china, and to learn about the processes of pottery and porcelain making. Hanley has a huge collection of pottery in the city museum, from local Staffordshire pieces to South American, Near and Far East and European examples. In Stoke the Arnold Bennett museum shows a collection of the author's possessions. From here to the Derbyshire border it's open country, with Leek the centre of a web of roads. The town has an art gallery featuring local embroidery.
Stafford's Roman origins are illustrated in the one-time posting station of Wall, or Letocetum, near Lichfield. It stood on Wading Street, the principal Roman road from London to North Wales and was originally a place for changing horses - called mutationes, while places where travellers could rest for the night were mansiones. At Wall from the many dated coins found here it's presumed there was a Roman settlement up to the end of the 4th century AD. A set of well-preserved buildings provide what are probably the best surviving example of an extensive Romano-British bath house with many rooms.
Berry Ring is a Iron Age site off the Shrewsbury road from Stafford. Near Wall is the ancient Castle Ring. An Iron Age camp on its hill at Alton Towers has been subsumed by the castle and grounds of a much later 19th-century neo- Gothic mansion. Its famed pleasure gardens are now an amusement park - the most visited attraction charging admission in Britain - beating the likes of Madame Tussaud's and the Tower of London with its Disneyesque rides attracting nearly three million visitors a year. At Ham, right on the border with Derbyshire, St Bertram's churchyard has two Saxon crosses. Nearby Ham Hall preserves the saint's shrine. A local curiosity close to Cheshire is Mow Cop, a steep hill crowned with an exotic 18th-century folly in the shape of a ruined tower, designed to be seen as a landscape ornament from nearby Rode Hall. The Cop is famous as the site of an austere prayer meeting in 1807 which led to the founding of the austere sect of Primitive Methodism.