“There is nothing like looking if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
Celebrant Steve was born in Lichfield. He lived in Cannock for 16 years, before then moving to live in Stone, a Stafford town, in 2005. His children were all born in Stafford, he worked in Stafford for 11 years, and served the people of Stafford as a Local Minister when he was with the Anglican Church. Stafford then has become especially important to him. In this blog, he shares some of the reasons why this is. He writes…
Stafford is a gem of a county town. It has a fascinating history. It is also steeped in legends; largely, in my opinion, because of the stunning Chase Countryside, an area of outstanding natural beauty which surrounds it.
It was whilst serving as a local minister in 2011 that, with a group of friends, I help shape The St Bertelin’s Way, a 25-mile cross-country trek from St Mary’s Church to St Bert’s shrine in the Church of the Holy Cross, Ilam. St Bertelin is the patron saint of Stafford.
Despite only moving to Stafford in 2005, I feel in many ways, that I was always destined to live here. As a child, I remember being captivated by my first proper full read of a book. I would be about 8 years old at the time. The book was J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, which then led me to read The Lord of The Rings, which was at first intended to be a children’s tale but quickly grew darker as the tale progressed. These works were instrumental in inspiring my fascination with the English language and literature, religion, history, and ritual. In the early 1900s, the village of Great Haywood near Stafford became home to Tolkien and his wife. It is no surprise to me that the surrounding areas were said to have inspired some of his early works. And when I walk through the Chase, I often find myself being transported to the realm of Middle Earth and imagine I might stumble across Mr Baggins himself.
But one of my favourite spots in Stafford is Stafford Castle, which was built by the Normans in the year 1090. The castle now has a visitor centre with audio-visual displays and a medieval herb garden. Every summer it hosts some fabulous Shakespearean plays, providing a wonderful backdrop to the drama. Along with a couple of other little gems, St Chad’s Church, dating back to the 12th century, and St Mary’s, formerly linked to St Bertelin’s chapel, which was rebuilt in the early 13th century. As is the Shire Hall built in 1798 as a courthouse. The Shire Hall used to be the town’s courthouse and is now a Grade II listed building. In recent times, the building has been used as an art gallery too.
Closer to my home in Stone, and a part of the Borough of Stafford, is Downs Banks, which is looked after by the National Trust. A great place to walk Bella my Rottie. It’s a little wilderness of woodlands and heathland, with a beautiful babbling stream that runs through it. From the top of the banks, there are far-reaching views, marked by a rock pillar that reveals the whereabouts of important landmarks that can be seen in the distance on a clear day – for example, the Long Mynd, Mow Cop Castle, and even the Wrekin and Clee Hills of Shropshire.
And as for the people of Stafford, well they are the real jewel in the crown. Warm, all-embracing, friendly people. I’m aware of the myth that Stafford people are a little stuck up, put about by neighbouring areas, but I don’t find that at all. On the contrary, overall, I find them to be very charitable, and always willing to invest a great deal of themselves in others. It has been a real honour to serve them both as a Local Minister, and as Funeral Celebrant since 2007.
I have enjoyed being able to listen openly to what each family is going through and the feelings they have and reflecting these back to them. I suppose, as a Celebrant, I do like people generally and seek to see the best in them, and I am genuinely interested in their well-being. I have been fortunate enough to be able to help many people across Stafford, to express their thoughts clearly at a difficult time in their lives and to help them to find solutions to complexities, but always with a gentle sense of humour.
I expect it helps to be a Staffordshire person myself. I look forward to serving the people of Stafford for many more years to come.
by Mal Dewhirst
Harriers drift on the breeze along castled crags
a double sun-set illuminates between the folded hills
Brass and copper were founded here
among the acoustic festivities of Spook Market Days
The air has the hint of malt and yeast,
hill over the field, on the fringe of the chase
womb stream, birthing channel
spilling full lap through meadowlands
the brambled woods
and heathered heath,
where the deer roam
and the Brambling and Yellowhammer call
howls to the winds
that cross border plains
where dialects change to softer tones
Bower days and festivals,
the tombola’s, the writers, the Jazz
pistons fired and forged out of sweat
water lined with redbrick,
where hands made bricks,
made briars, weaved cotton,
made hats, dug coal, cast iron,
This our canvas, our clay, our ink,
where we live, breathe, create.