Landor (Local History) Society

Recent Society meetings:


It was a full house at the February meeting of the Society when David Barrett and Robin Mathams gave a talk on the history of the Trent Valley Railway Station.  

In 1845 an Act was obtained by the Trent Valley Railway for the construction of a line from Stafford to Rugby via Colwich, Tamworth and Nuneaton.  Robin spoke and showed diagrams of how the line was constructed.  The line was completed in February 1847.

David showed photographs of the Station and the Stationmaster's house and some of the railway workers.  He also compared older photographs with the way the Station looks today.

This was a fascinating talk, which appealed to all the local people who attended.

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On Wednesday,  May  18th,  35 members were welcomed by Ben Phillips for a  visit to the Heath House at Tean.   

Ben commenced by talking about the history of the house which had replaced an earlier dwelling occupied by the Phillips family who bought the estate in the 1680’s.  This was followed by a tour of the gardens and the Orangery, built in 1824,  and incorporated into the design for the new house, gardens and surrounding landscaped grounds.

Supper was served and some members went to the top of the tower which afforded excellent views of the surrounding countryside.  A tour of the house then took place looking into the newly furbished bedroom and looking at the original furniture and wall coverings as well as artworks collected by the family over the years. The house has been featured on the programme “Country House Rescue” and is now a delightful place for Wedding Venues.

 The Red Cross has had a long association with the Heath House and during the Second World War was requisitioned by them as an auxiliary hospital.  Florence Nightingale was a visitor to the house after the Crimean War.  The house has also been used as a film location for the Miss Marple series and the film of the Hound of the Baskervilles.

This was a memorable evening spent in beautiful surroundings.

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On 20th July 2011, Philip Leason  conducted a walk around Stone.  He commenced by telling members that Stone was named after a pile of stones that were placed on the graves of King Wufhere’s two sons who were killed by their father in 665 AD because of  their conversion to Christianity.  This was followed by a visit to St. Michael and St Wulfrad church, built in 1753, partly on the site of the old Priory Church.

Members were then taken to the Jervis Mausoleum, within the grounds of the church, to see the graves of the Admiral and many members of his family.  Admiral John Jervis, born in Staffordshire in 1735, commanded the smaller British fleet at St. Vincent and, following the victory, he was created Earl St. Vincent.

After a walk around the town viewing some more notable landmarks the tour ended with a walk along the Trent and Mersey Canal which has played a vital role in the development of the town, with the Trent and Mersey Canal Company being formed in 1766 by Josiah Wedgwood and engineer James Brindley.  The murder of Christina Collins in 1839 at the “Bloody Steps” in Rugeley is a well known tale and members were able to see the statue along the canal at Stone which has been erected to mark her fatal journey at the hands of the boatmen who were taking her to London to meet her husband.

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At the October meeting members were invited to give a talk of 10 minutes on a subject of their choice..  Seven members participated, giving talks on diverse subjects.  Jean Woollet spoke about her experiences as a child growing up in Rugeley during World War II and talked about the  two evacuee sisters who stayed briefly with her family.  Janice Barry read an extract from her father-in-law’s reminiscences of his childhood in Rugeley.  Barry Walker talked about  his interest and research into Victorian Kitchen Gardens and Ruth Robinson enlightened members about the hidden brooks of Rugeley.    Mike Pope gave an illustrated talk on quirky buildings including the bottle lodge at Tixall e and Roger Francis showed pictures of the demolition of the Post Office at Slitting Mill and removal of the George VI letter box.   Last but not least Margaret Neal talked about the Old Hall at Hawkesyard  and the Rugeleys.  This proved to be an enjoyable and interesting evening.

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The speaker at the November meeting was Alan Lewis whose subject was Charles II and the Legacy of the Royal Oak.    

Charles II was a relatively young man when his father Charles I was executed.  He went to Scotland to raise an army to fight Cromwell.  Although he issued a proclamation ordering all men between 16 and 60 to rally to his cause less than 16,000, mainly Scottish, came forward against 28,000 experienced New Model Army soldiers, Cromwell was assembling against him.

After the Battle of Worcester, which took place on 3 September 1651,  Charles was forced to escape Cromwell’s troops.  He fled the city in the company of Lords Wilmot and Derby and Charles Giffard.  On their advice he headed into south Staffordshire, a Roman Catholic stronghold which offered many hiding places.    Eventually arriving at White Ladies Priory on Giffards’s Boscobel estate the king was introduced to the Pendrell brothers who helped him disguise as a woodsman.  His long hair was cut, and he was  furnished with an old set of clothes.  Unfortunately they could not supply a pair of shoes that fitted as the King was ‘two yards high’.  He had to walk many miles in shoes with their sides cut out.  When Cromwell’s troops arrived to search the nearby woods Charles spent all day hiding in an oak tree with Colonel Carlis.  Fortunately he was not discovered and eventually with the help of loyal subjects was able to escape to exile in  France.

One legacy resulting from Charles adventures is that there are number of public houses called the Royal Oak.  The other important one is that after his restoration in 1660, Charles, created pensions, in perpuity, for those who had helped him such as Thomas Whitgreave and the Pendrell brothers.  However, Alan pointed out that though these pensions are ongoing they are not index linked!

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David Barratt and Robins Mathams returned to a packed lounge to continue their talk on ‘The History of Rugeley Trent Valley Railway Station’ on Wednesday 15th February.

Robin spoke first about how the Trent Valley Line was opened in 1847 to give a more direct route from London to the North West of England.  The contractor for the original 50 miles of line was Thomas Brassey working in partnership with Robert Stepehnson and William Mackenzie.  The engineers were Robert Stephenson, Mr. Bidder and Mr. Gooch.  Originally the Trent Valley Line was owned by an independent company which started building in 1845.  While it was being built it was absorbed into the newly created London and North Western Railway (LNWR).

David Barratt continued the talk by relating the history of the Stationmaster House and showing pictures of how it has changed over the years since it was built.

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In June members had a walk around Eccleshall led by David Wilkinson.  This commenced with a visit to the Church of St Peters and then on to Eccleshall Castle followed by a stroll around the town looking at some of the historical buildings.

 The July outing on the 18th was to Bantock House Museum and Park, Wolverhampton.  Sue was the guide who told members that the
house had been built in the 1730s as New Merridale Farm.  It was extended and improved about the beginning of the 19th century and after having several tenants was bought in about 1864 by Thomas Bantock, a canal and railway agent.  His son Albert Baldwin Bantock, twice Mayor of Wolverhampton and also High Sherriff of Staffordshire in 1920, further improved the property following his father’s death in 1896.  On his own death, without children, in 1938 he bequeathed the house and park to Wolverhampton Corporation.  The house was renamed in his honour.

On the ground floor there are displays about the Bantock family and the way they lived, whilst upstairs the focus shifts to the men and women who shaped Wolverhampton and the industries they created.  Displays featuring locally made enamels, steel jewellery and japanned ware are on show.  The museum presents a more informal and imaginative setting where visitors are encouraged to sit on any furniture they can find.

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The subject of the talk given by David Robbie at the February meeting was “J.R.R. Tolkein in Staffordshire”,

In 1915 Tolkein was commissioned in Lancashire Fusilier as Signals Officer and transferred to Brocton Camp.  

In 1916 he married Edith Mary Bratt and for a while they lived at the old Clifford Arms in Great Haywood and later St. John’s Presbytery.  Tolkein travelled to France and took part in the battle of the Somme.  He contracted Trench Fever and was invalided out of the army returning to Great Haywood to convalesce.  It is thought that he gained many of his ideas for his mythical tales from living in the area.

In “The Tales of the Sun and the Moon there is reference to the village of Tavrobel which has a bridge where two rivers meet, this being Essex Bridge.  In the same tale there is a gnome, Gilfanan, “whose ancient house – 'The House of a Hundred Chimneys' – stands
nigh the bridge of Tavrobel” - thought to refer to Shugborough.

Members were enthralled by David’s spellbinding talk.

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After a very  rainy and cold May, day, approximately 40 members of the Society had a fine sunny evening for their first outing of the Summer on Wednesday 15th.  The meeting place was the Great War Hut at Marquis Drive on Cannock Chase.  

Stephen Dean, Principal Archaeologist, Stafford County Council, told the group about the construction of two large military camps at Brocton and Rugeley, where an infrastructure of water  sewage and roads had to be put in place before the building of the huts commenced in March 1915.  These provided transit training camps before the men were shipped abroadto fight in the war.  

The hut was set out as it might have been at the time, complete with beds, linen, a table, chairs and a stove.  For many years this original hut had served as a parish hall for the village of Gayton until, in 2006, it was offered to the Friends of Cannock Chase who in partnership with Stafford County Council have managed to preserve it as a reminder of the days of the camps.  

The group then drove on to the site of the WWI Messines model.  The battle of Messines Ridge took place in June 1917 near Ypres in
Belgium; the terrain model on Cannock Chase represents the section of the front captured by New Zealand troops.  Although there is little to see at the moment, Stephen told the group that, in a project led by Staffordshire County Council, the site is to be excavated later this year.

 Stephen’s enthusiasm for his subject was inspiring and the evening was enjoyed by all present. It was very topical as in 2014 it will be a 100 years since the start of WWI.

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Thirty-one members were present for a visit to Beaudesert, on Wednesday 21st on what would be the Society's last outing for the summer season. 
Mike Street, Chairman of the Friends of Beadesert, told the group that the aims of  the trust is to stabilise and preserve the ruins for future generations and bring out and tell the stories of the people of Beaudesert.  

In 1939 the Charity 'The King George V Memorial Scouts and Guides Lands" was registered and now scouts and guides from all over the country have facilities to visit the grounds for their activities.

The visit commenced with a walk around the estate, stopping at the site of the walled garden which, in its heyday had provided work for 50 gardeners; next onto the ruins of the hall which are thought to date back to the 14th century when the Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield still held the Estate.  

After the dissolution of the Monasteries, Henry VIII conveyed the property to Sir William Paget.  The estate was owned by generations of the Paget Family until 1935 when, due to the burdens of taxation, huge tracts of land were sold and after the sale of valuable items from the interior, the fabric of the  hall was demolished because no buyer could be found.  A walk to the terrace gave a spectacular view of all the surrounding area once owned by the family.  

The group then returned to the chapel where refreshments were served by Amanda: Mike then gave an illustrated talk showing how the hall used to be when still occupied by the Paget family.  

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The fascinating story of the 'Dancing Marquess' was the subject of a talk given by Mike Street on Wednesday 16th October.   

This title refers to the 5th Marquess of Anglesey, Henry Cyril Paget, nicknamed “Toppy” who was notable during his short life for squandering his inheritance on a lavish social life and accumulating massive debts.

He was the eldest son of the 4th Marquess by his second wife, Blanch Mary Boyd.  However, rumours persisted, that his biological father was the French actor Benoit-Constant Coquelin and the rumours were fuelled by the fact that at the age of two,  after the death of his mother in 1877,  he went to live with Coquelin’s sister-in-law.

When his father died in 1898 he inherited the title and the family estates which provided an annual income of £110,00 which would represent millions today.  He swiftly acquired a reputation for a lavish and spendthrift manner of living purchasing jewellery, furs and throwing extravagant parties and flamboyant theatrical performances.

He converted the chapel at the family’s country seat of Plas Newydd  to a 150 seat theatre named the Gaiety.  He would perform “sinuous, sexy, snakelike dances” dressed in costumes encrusted with real jewels.

By 1904 he had accumulated debts of £544,00 and was declared bankrupt.  He died in 1905 in Monte Carlo aged 30.  It was, in part, owing to the debts left by the 5th Marquess that the family’s principal English estate at Beaudesert had to be broken up and sold in the 1930s. 

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Staffordshire Soldiers and the Great War was the subject ofan illustrated talk given by Stephen Booth at the meeting on the 19th March 2014.

Stephen told members that he had worked as a tour guide on the Somme.  He described the role played by the Staffordshire Regiment during the war the 2nd South Staffords being the first of the battalions to see action.  By 1915  the numbers of soldiers were running out and there was a massive campaign to recruit more men.  Cannock Chase became the central location for training and camps were built on land owned by Lord Lichfield.  Here men were taught many skills such as scouting and signalling.

The 1st South Staffords and 1st North Staffords went to France and the 1st particularly distinguishing themselves at the first Battle of Ypres and at the capture of Memetz on the opening day of the Battle of the Somme.

The first line Territoral Battalions formed parts of the 46th (North Midland) Division, the first territorial formation to go to France in 1915 and their great day came in September 1918 when they crossed the St Quentin Canal to smash through the strongest sector of the Hindenburg Line.  Staffs captured Riqueval Bridge, a key event leading to the winning of the war.

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At the meeting on 19th April, Archaeologist, Dr David Barker gave an illustrated talk on Ceramic in Early modern Britain.

He spoke about ceramics being closely associated with pleasures of life such as eating and drinking and so many fragments found on archaeological digs are associated with drinking vessels.

Dating of such pieces is made evident by the style of decoration.  In the 1740’s an oriental decoration was often used.  Ceramics could demonstrate people’s place in society.  People of a higher status would use Chinese porcelain to make a statement to indicate that they were “cultured.” 

Dr Barker showed paintings of people of varying status in society and demonstrated the sort of ceramics they would use in their everyday life.

This was the last talk at Sneydlands until September. The Summer outings will commence in May with a walk around Alrewas.

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The first of the summer outings was a walk around Alrewas, on 21st , led by Roger Hailwood.

Although the village has changed from an  almost self-sufficient arming community to the present largely residential community, Roger was able to point out buildings which had once been farmhouses.

Alrewas still has a tranquil, village atmosphere, with its beautiful old buildings and the sunny evening made it pleasant for walking and observing buildings that have changed their use. 

Amongst some of the buildings Roger pointed out were the Old School first converted to an Outdoor Centre then to private housing: The Midland Bank, opened 19th November 1952, was replaced first by a building society then by an office and Crackpotz pottery cafe: the Mill has been converted to apartments and the rest of the site covered by private housing: Alrewas house, the grand private residence of Joseph Cartwright is now the base for a Chemicals company.

A church has stood on the current site since the 10th Century and was thought to be a timber building.  Alterations and rebuilding have taken place since the 13th Century through to the 19th and Roger pointed out evidence of this.  Unfortunately the group were only able to view the outside on this occasion but certainly an excuse for another visit.

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On a sunny evening on the 18th June, members visited St Lawrence’s Church Gnosall. The Rev Mark Bridgen welcomed everyone and
introduced Norman, our guide for the evening, and his wife Sheila.

Norman was able to show many features of the building and to demonstrate how the Church has adapted to the changes over the years.  The church has now entered its third Millennium as its foundation lies well before the year 1000AD.

Following a stroll around the grounds of the church Norman showed a number of slides which gave more detail of the features he had pointed out on the outside of the building.

The tour was complete when Sheila provided tasty refreshments in the church hall.

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The Landor (Local History) Society serves Rugeley, Staffordshire and the neighbouring parishes.  We care about the heritage of the town of Rugeley and its surrounding area.
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