"Very pleasant little market town" Stafford by leics
Stafford Travel Guide: 22 reviews and 98 photos
Stafford was number 3 on my list of 'places very near to me which I cannot recall ever visiting'
As with Coventry and Northampton, I went by train (cheaper than petrol + parking and quicker as well).
Stafford is the county town of Staffordshire, in the English Midlands. Like the majority of English towns and villages it has a very long history, possibly being founded in 700AD by a Mercian prince called Bertelin. Certainly the ancient chapel of St Berthelin which archaeologists discovered in the centre of the town (see tips) dates from 700-800ish.
Stafford has a Norman castle too. I didn't spot it on my wanderings (yet again I managed to visit on a *very* chilly day!) but it dates from around 1090. But what you can now see is not original (apart from the earthworks); the castle was rebuilt twice and the existing structure is a 19th century version..although it does use some of the original stonework.
Greengate Street is the main street, running directly through the town centre and past the market square. What is perhaps Stafford's most imposing ancient building (churches aside) stands on Greengate Street: the Ancient High House. Dating from very late 1500s, this is a 'proper' timber-framed building (not a Victorian pastiche), hugely impressive and clearly built for a family of great wealth and substance. that family was the Durringtons, and they had the house built in 1594. It's the largest timber-framed building still standing in England, and now houses a museum...it's worth going in just to see the interior of such an ancient structure.
The town was long a centre for shoe-making (back to the 1300s) though I doubt much happens in that trade nowadays; over the past few decades the UK shoe trade has been pretty much destroyed by cheap imports.
So...I took the train to Stafford on a chilly Saturday morning.
Stafford station is a pleasant enough concrete monstrosity (as many UK stations are) but I was hugely pleased to find that immediately opposite was a really lovely (and classic) town park, through which I walked into the town centre. The river Sow runs through Stafford, and runs through the park as well with a rather lovely riverside walk. And there is a bandstand and flowerbeds. specimen trees and a large children's playground, shelter with thatched roofs....and, rather oddly, an aviary with pheasant, parrots, cockatoos and budgies!
I wandered into the town centre through the lovely park, spotting the remains of the town water mill on the way and also finding a thatched building dating from 1610 (it's a greengrocer's shop now). The centre of Staford is pedestrianised and it was lovely to explore without worrying about traffic.
The market square was hosting a farmers' market so I was able to buy some delicious nibbles for my day (and for my evening) whilst I sought out the local charity (thrift) shops. I'd wanted to visit St Chads. which is the oldest church in Stafford. It dates from the 12th century (1100s) and has some wonderful and ancient carvings inside, on its column capitals and elsewhere (including, of course, the Green Man). But it was shut, and I was very disappointed. Just one of those things...and I did find an entirely unexpected ancient church in Northampton last week, so I can't really complain.
The other church I wanted to explore was St Mary's, a much larger building in the centre of the town which dates from the 1200s. Again, my plans were foiled; I'd managed to visit on the day the new Mayor was inaugurated and there was a (packed) service going on when I peeked in.
Perhaps I should go back to Stafford another day, and try to visit these two churches?
But it was not a wasted visit. Stafford is a lovely, friendly little town. I really enjoyed the frequent glimpses of green as I wandered the town centre...it seems to be encircled by parks and green-ish spaces. I enjoyed the museum, found some good things in the charity shops, bought 5 excellent new books for £10 from the local 'The Works' (a discount book retailer)...including the 2010 Rough Guide to London, which will come in very useful...and had one of the best sausage rolls I've ever tasted from the farmers' market.
Nothing to complain about!
If you're in the area, Stafford would make a nice place to stop for a few hours....and certainly would make a much more pleasant overnight stop than some of the vast industrial conurbations which lie close by.
- Pros:Small, friendly, decent shopping.
- Cons:None that I came across
- In a nutshell:Two ancient churches and a lovely park
Go round the back of St Mary's church and you will see the excavated site of the earliest stone structure on this site.... more travel advice
The remains of the town mill (for grain) lie near the river Sow (obviously, because Stafford's town mill was a... more travel advice
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