Hanley – Saturday 29th May 2021

Hanley is one of six towns that were merged in 1910 to create Stoke-on-Trent and is generally considered to be the main shopping area of Stoke.  Stoke-on-Trent was once a prolific mining town and is famously known as ‘The Potteries’ due to the many companies in the area producing ceramics from the mid-1700s until late 19th century when there was a considerable decline in the industry.  The Waterstones here is located in The Tontines – built in 1831 as a butchers’ slaughterhouse, it later became a covered market and was used for this purpose until the market’s relocation in 1987.

Hanley map

Arnold Bennett

One of the most famous residents of Hanley is the author, Arnold Bennett – I’ve read and enjoyed a few of his books.  Born into a family of modest means, he worked as a journalist until 1900 when he became a full-time author.  His most famous works feature the fictionalised Five Towns, and are based on this area (he missed out Fenton, the sixth town that was merged into Stoke).  Bennett died aged 63 from Typhoid after drinking tap water in France, and is buried in Burslem, just two miles from where he was born.  The statue below was unveiled in 2017 on what would have been Arnold Bennett’s 150th birthday.

Telford – Saturday 29th May 2021

Telford is a ‘planned’ town in Shropshire which was created in the 1960s and 70s and was built on commercial and agricultural land, with four small, local towns being merged into it.  It was built around a large shopping centre. In 2014 the town was further developed to provide extra night-time entertainment which was previously lacking.  The development, called Southwater includes restaurants, hotels, a bowling alley and a library.  There is also a large, fantastic award-winning park on the other side of the development. Telford Waterstones is located in the shopping centre.

Telford map

Blists Hill Victorian Town

Peter had booked us a trip to Blists Hill Victorian Town for my birthday.  The museum is located on a former industrial site, and the trades which included a brick works and coal and clay mines are still in evidence.  It also contains buildings that have either been relocated or recreated and include a pharmacy, post office, sweet shop and a school house and the staff wear Victorian costumes.  It was a very interesting visit, but due to Covid restrictions there was some waiting around before we could enter some of the buildings, and so we didn’t see everything, but it was definitely worth a visit.

Southwater

Telford, and specifically the Southwater development, was a great place to stay to explore this area and we had a great time away.

Stafford – Friday 28th May 2021

Stafford is a market town and, as the name suggests, the county town of Staffordshire.  Its most famous industry was shoe-making, starting out as a cottage industry and expanding in the late 1700s, primarily by William Horton.  By the 1830s there were some 53 manufacturers in the town.  Lotus were the last company here, but closed their operation in 1998 and moved to Northamptonshire.  The Waterstones is situated in Greengate Street, one of the main shopping streets in the town.

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Stafford map

In the same road as Waterstones, the Ancient High House is the largest Elizabethan timber-framed building in England.  It was built in 1595 as a private town house for the Dorrington family.  The building is currently a museum, but sadly it was closed on the day of our visit. 

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Before leaving Stafford we had a quick drink in the Post House Bar and Grill. This attractive building was originally built by MP Viscount Chetwynd (and was called Chetwynd House).  It was sold to William Horton (mentioned above) and the playwright and MP Richard Sheridan stayed there frequently.  As the current name suggests, its last role was a post office from 1914 until it closed in 2007.

Birmingham – Friday 28th May 2021

Birmingham is the second- largest city in England and the UK after London.  In some quarters Birmingham has a bit of a poor reputation but we have visited a few times and have always found it to be a lively, fun and safe-feeling city.  Although Venice has a greater number of canals, Birmingham has more miles and the areas by the ones in the heart of the city have undergone regeneration and include lots of places to grab some food and drink.  There are plenty of interesting buildings in the city, a blend of the historic and the ultra-modern.  The Waterstones here is located in a large Art Deco building close to the Bullring Shopping Centre – the building was completed in 1938 and was formerly a branch of the Times Furnishing Company.

Birmingham map

I can’t write about Birmingham without mentioning the library!  It opened in 2013, replacing the old Central Library and is currently the largest library in the UK.   Some dislike the modern design but I think it’s fab (but then I also liked the old library, which was Brutalist in style and definitely not to everyone’s taste!) – nicknames include the hat box and the wedding cake.   It houses the Shakespeare Memorial Room, which was originally built to house Birmingham’s Shakespeare collection – the room was dismantled from its previous location and reassembled at the top of the library.

 

Wolverhampton – Thursday 27th May 2021

After our visit to the Red House Glass Cone museum, we popped to Wolverhampton for a late lunch.  Wolverhampton is a large market town in the West Midlands, which grew during the Industrial Revolution due to the wealth of minerals in the area and there is some interesting architecture if you look up.  The Waterstones is located in a modern building set over two floors. 

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Wolverhampton map

Unfortunately we didn’t have long to spend at Wolverhampton – I would have loved to have visited the town’s art gallery, but sadly we ran out of time as we had to head to our hotel.  

After dinner we had a nice walk along part of the Wednesbury Old Canal known as the Balls Hill Branch Canal.  It was very pretty and we discovered that there was a tram station nearby which we would be able to use for our trip into Birmingham the following day.

Wolverhampton Art Gallery

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Balls Hill Branch Canal

Currently reading: The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin and A Snowfall of Silver by Laura Wood

 

 

Merry Hill – Thursday 27th May 2021

Merry Hill is a large shopping centre near Brierley Hill in the West Midlands constructed between 1985 and 1990.  The author Catherine O’Flynn got her inspiration for her book What Was Lost after working here.  In the novel, the centre is known as the Green Oaks centre. The Waterstones is set over two floors.

Merry Hill map

Red House Glass Cone, Wordsley

After leaving the centre we stopped at Wordsley to visit the Red House Cone, a glass cone, which was, as the name suggests, used in the production of crystal glass.  Now a Grade 2 listed building, it was the home of the company Stuart who made glass crystal there until 1936.  There is an interesting, free museum on the site which is worth a visit.  You can peer into the impressive cone, although health and safety currently prohibits entry. 

Whilst here, I bought Crossroads by Mark Radcliffe.

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Newbury – Friday 7th May 2021

It was our wedding anniversary so we decided to have a day out, and maybe find a pub lunch outside as the weather was nice!  Having not been able to blog a Waterstones since last September we headed for Newbury in Berkshire, which was not a town we knew well. Newbury has been a market town since the 11th Century and the Kennet & Avon Canal passes through on its way from London to the Bristol Channel.   The Waterstones is located in the Parkway shopping centre just off the main shopping street. 

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Newbury map

Market Place

This area of Newbury contains some beautiful buildings, including The Town Hall, the Corn Market and the old Post Office.  The Town Hall was completed in 1881 replacing an older building.  The Corn Exchange opened in 1862 and is now a centre for arts.  The attractive old Post Office building dates from 1896 but suffered the same fate as many other post offices and closed in 2017 and is now located inside W H Smith!

The Town Hall

The Corn Exchange (l) and the old Post Office (r)

Kennet & Avon Canal

I bought the YA book A Snowfall of Silver by Laura Wood in Waterstones.

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Banbury – Saturday 12th September 2020

On our way home from our holiday we stopped at Banbury in Oxfordshire, which must surely be best known for featuring in the nursery rhyme Ride a Cock Horse and for its Banbury Cakes!  We have stopped here for coffee or lunch several times before, but didn’t realise we’d missed the main shopping area, which features an attractive market square and town hall.  The Waterstones is located in the Castle Quay Shopping Centre, which opened in the year 2000. 

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Banbury map

The ‘Fine Lady’ statue and Banbury Cross

There used to be several crosses in Banbury, but they were destroyed by the Puritans in the early 17th century.  A new cross was erected in 1859, and a nearby statue of the ‘Fine Lady’ from the nursery rhyme was unveiled nearby by Princess Anne in 2005.

There are many versions of wording for Ride a Cock Horse.  The best-known of these must surely be:

Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross,
To see a fine lady upon a white horse;
With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
And she shall have music wherever she goes.

Unfortunately I managed to cut the top off the cross in my photograph!  The one here is used by permission under the Wikipedia Creative Commons licence.  *See attribution below.

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Banbury Market Place and The Old Corn Exchange

*By Jongleur100 – Own work, Public Domain

Coventry – Thursday 10th September 2020

The last part of our holiday was a two night stay in Coventry in the West Midlands.  Coventry is the 11th largest city in the UK, well-known for its car industry and the legend of Lady Godiva and Peeping Tom for which there is a statue in the city’s central square, Broadgate.

Coventry was heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe in November 1940, causing considerable damage, and much of the city had to be rebuilt.  The centre is therefore very modern, but some of Coventry did escape the bombing – notably Medieval Spon Street.  Many of the buildings here were originally in different parts of the city, but having survived the bombs, they were relocated here and the area is now a conservation area.   We liked Coventry – there is plenty to do there.  The Waterstones is located not far from Spon Street in a modern building in the shopping area known as Lower Precinct.

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Coventry map

One casualty of the bombing raids was St Michael’s Cathedral which was left with just the outer walls and its spire.  A new cathedral, also called St Michael’s, was built next to the ruins of the bombed one and opened its doors in 1962.  Most (but not all) cathedrals are built in a west to east orientation, with the altar being at the east end, but the new cathedral is perpendicular, the altar being at the north end. This was so the original building could be left as a memorial to all civilians injured or killed by war or other conflicts.  Understandably the new cathedral is in the modernist style and has some beautiful features including its attractive stained glass.  I think it’s a lovely building. 

Cathedrals – old and new (outside)

Coventry ‘new’ Cathedral (inside)

On the outside of the cathedral is a large sculpture by Jacob Epstein.  Entitled St Michael’s Victory over the Devil it symbolises the triumph of good over evil. Michael is the Patron Saint of Soldiers, doctors, and grocers, amongst other things!

Coventry was home to the Coventry Sewing Machine Company from the 1860s.  They went on to bicycle manufacturing which was popular in the area.  By the early 20th century this industry had been joined by the motor trade, and many notable companies set up factories in the Midlands, including big names such as Jaguar, Hillman, Morris, Triumph and the French company Peugeot. Coventry houses an impressive transport museum with many exhibits hailing from the area.   On the day we visited it was really quiet – the only people there apart from the few staff members were the two of us and a family of four!  I imagine that during non-Covid times it is much busier.

Lady Godiva Statue

(The outside photos of Coventry Cathedral  were taken in 2012 on a previous visit to the city)

Market Harborough – Thursday 10th September 2020

Our next destination was Market Harborough, a market town in Leicestershire.  The town is very picturesque, and one of the loveliest buildings is the Old Grammar school, which is fairly unusual in that it is was built on stilts so that the butter market could be accommodated underneath.  The Waterstones is located in a large building that was possibly built in the 1930s.  I bought a copy of Tim Waterstones’ autobiography here!

Market Harborough map

The Old Grammar School

Market Harborough was also the site of R & W H Symington & Co Ltd’s factory which made corsets in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  The building is now council offices and also houses a museum and the town’s library.