Alice Myers explores Staffordshire’s historical landmarks
From Arthurian legend, to heritage railways and Stone Age caves, history isn’t only found in museums. And there are an abundance of historical tourist attractions in Staffordshire.
Here are a few places to visit in Staffordshire that all tell part of the county’s varied history.
Please do check opening hours directly with attractions, as they are subject to change at short notice. Many places are operating on a pre-booked tickets basis only.
1. Lichfield Cathedral
19a The Close, Lichfield, Staffordshire, WS13 7LD
One of the oldest centres of worship in the UK, and the only three-spired medieval cathedral. The first cathedral in Lichfield was consecrated on Christmas Day in 700AD. The cathedral was particularly badly damaged during the Civil War. Lichfield was besieged and the cathedral’s position and walled close made it an attractive garrison to both the Roundheads and the Cavaliers (albeit at different times). The cathedral was substantially restored by the Victorians. It is still possible to see the “Lichfield Angel” which comes from the tomb of St Chad, Lichfield’s first bishop.
There are many other historical sites to visit in Lichfield, including the Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum and Erasmus Darwin’s House. There is even a coffee shop based in Lichfield House, a building built in 1510, rumoured to be connected to the cathedral via an underground passage.
Watling Street, Wall, Staffordshire WS14 0AW
Just a few miles outside Lichfield, Letocetum was an important Roman settlement on Watling Street. The first Roman fort was constructed around 50AD, and the town grew in importance into the 2nd century. On the main military route into North Wales, this staging post allowed soldiers and traders to rest themselves and their horses.
The ruins of the inn and the bath house can still be seen. It is even possible to make out the remains of the hypocaust system which provided heat and steam. The bath house with its warm and hot rooms must have been a welcome refuge for travellers in the winter. There is also a small museum in the village of Wall which houses some of the artefacts found during the excavation.
3. Shugborough Estate
Milford, near Stafford, Staffordshire, ST17 0UP
The historic seat of the Earls of Lichfield, the Shugborough Estate is a rare example of a complete working estate. Unlike many others it has not been broken up and parcelled off and the 900 acres contain all the estate buildings including stables, farm, and brewery. Touring the Georgian mansion will take you from the servants’ hall, to fashion photographer the late Patrick Lichfield’s apartment showing the story of this house throughout its lifetime.
The extensive grounds include the estate farm which keeps rare breeds. The parkland is easily explored with clear routes past the many follies in the grounds. The woodland and river areas offer lots of space to relax. Refreshments are available from the farm café on site.
4. Stafford Castle
Newport Road, Stafford, ST16 1DJ
There has been a fortress on this hill since Norman times. The hill offers a great vantage point sitting above the town and the Normans built a large timber fortress here to defend their position against the angry native population. As weaponry advanced, the castle changed and the first Earl of Stafford, Ralph, built a stone keep with battlements in 1347. Unfortunately, this had fallen into such a state of disrepair that it was demolished during the English Civil War and the remains of the castle visible today are from the 1813 rebuild.
Make sure you leave time to wander round the herb garden in the castle grounds. This has been created to show herbs that would have been used in cooking and in medicines in the medieval period.
5. Ilam, Holy Cross Church
Ilam Park, DE6 2AZ
Ilam was a site of pilgrimage from medieval times. Even for those with no interest in history or churches Ilam is a beautiful village to visit. There is ongoing debate as to whether St Bertram, the 8th century Mercian King, died in Ilam or in Stafford, but his tomb is within the church at Ilam. Legend has it that St Bertram became a hermit, living in a cave in Ilam after his wife and daughter were eaten by wolves.
The Church of the Holy Cross was substantially remodelled in 1855, but parts of the medieval church have survived. There are also two rather battered but still clearly identifiable Anglo-Saxon Crosses in the churchyard. It is likely that these crosses were preaching crosses, places where crowds would have gathered to hear itinerant preachers.
Keep reading for even more popular tourist attractions in Staffordshire…
6. Lud’s Church
Back Forest, Staffordshire, SK11 0BH
As you walk along the bottom of this natural rock chasm, the vertiginous mossy walls suggest a natural cathedral. The chasm is so deep that it is a couple of degrees cooler and quiet, cut-off from the outside world. This is considered to be the inspiration for the Green chapel in the Arthurian poem “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”. Lud’s Church was also a secluded place of worship for the Lollards, 15th century followers of religious reformer John Wycliffe.
The path through the bottom of the chasm can be muddy so sturdy footwear is required. Visiting Lud’s church could be combined with a visit to the brewery at Wincle as part of a half day’s circular walk, or more sedately a quiet cup of tea at Gradbach Mill.
Lud’s church is easily reached on foot from the carpark near Gradbach Mill.
7. The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery
Bethesda St, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, ST1 3DW
Not only is this a great place to head for if you want to learn about the history of the pottery industry but it is also the home of the Staffordshire Hoard. The Staffordshire Hoard was discovered in 2009 in Hammerwich near Lichfield. It is the biggest collection of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver that has ever been uncovered. The objects belonged to Kings, Princes, and the elite warrior class in the 8th century. The hoard includes armour, sword fittings and jewellery, and everything seems to have belonged to men rather than women. The intricacy of the gold work is incredible. Definitely worth a trip whether your interest is in history, or even just jewellery.
The museum has a great gift shop and café on site. The nearest car park is just opposite the museum.
8. Thor’s cave, Manifold Way
Access from Waterhouses, ST10 3JR
High up above the Manifold valley there is a cave that goes deep into the limestone hillside, Thor’s cave. Excavations show evidence of the cave’s occupation at the end of the Palaeolithic period, then again in the Iron Age and Roman periods. In more recent history the Verve filed their single “the Blue” here in 1993.
The caves can be reached on foot from the Manifold Way, a largely car free route which follows the old Manifold railway line. The track is popular with cyclists with cycles available for hire. As the cave is in a limestone crag and the entrance to the cave is very steep it can be extremely slippery when wet, so caution is needed.
9. Churnet Valley Railway
Trains depart from Froghall Station, ST10 2HA
The North Staffordshire Railway was formed in 1845 linking towns in North Staffordshire together. Work on the Churnet Valley line began in 1847 using a section of old canal route, and the line opened in 1849. The line opened up the Churnet Valley, which local hoteliers branded “Staffordshire’s little Switzerland” to visitors. Services ran to enable people to visit the Earl of Shrewsbury’s gardens at Alton, long before the theme park was envisaged. The railway closed to passengers in 1965.
Steam locomotives now run on the heritage line from Froghall station, a replica heritage railway station. The two-hour scenic route takes you through the Churnet Valley passing by the Caldon canal, then up to Ipstones in the Staffordshire Moorlands before returning to Froghall.
10. Rudyard Lake
Rudyard, Leek, Staffordshire, ST13 8XB
A miniature Victorian style railway runs along the east side of Rudyard Lake. Technically this is a reservoir rather than a lake. It was built in 1797 to provide water for the canal system and developed into a significant tourist attraction by the early 1900s. Rudyard Kipling was named after the lake as his parents met on its shores at a party.
The lake is over 2.5 miles long and the views from dam are incredible. Today it is popular with boaters and fishermen as well as walkers and runners enjoying the footpaths that stretch all around. Boats, kayaks, and paddle boards can be launched from the pontoon for a day fee. Refreshments are available both at the station café and the dam head.