The charming county town of Staffordshire lies in a bend of the River Sow, is Saxon in origin and was listed as a borough in the Domesday Book of 1086. Little of its pre-Norman history is visible now except the extensive earthworks close to the castle, and the foundations of a tiny Saxon chapel in the grounds of St Mary's Church.
In common with many other ancient towns in Britain Stafford was at one time enclosed by a medieval town wall, evidence of which is still retained in the main street names. Unfortunately, only East Gate of the entire structure remains today. Here it was that Elizabeth I met the town councillors on her visit of 1575 - the Gate quite appropriately is located at the top of Queensgate. Green Bridge marks the site of the ancient ford across the River Sow, and there has been a bridge on this spot since the late 13 th century. However, the original gate in the town's old medieval walls, also located at this point, was demolished in 1777. The town does however retain its medieval street pattern, constructed around the ancient market-square. Many original half-timbered houses have now disappeared, but some few examples still stand. The finest is the Ancient High House in Greengate Street, a many gabled Elizabethan structure built in 1595, the largest timber-framed town house in England. Now restored to its former glory, the High House plays host to the Museum of the Staffordshire Yeomanry, and its varied history can be traced through period room displays taking visitors on a journey through the 17 th, 18 th and 19 th centuries. Both Charles I and Prince Rupert sheltered here for three nights in 1642. Located in the same street is the Tudor Swan Hotel, described by the travel writer George Borrow (1803-81) in his book Romany Rye .
The 12 th -15 th centuries Church of St Mary stands in a garden of Remembrance commemorating the dead of both World Wars. This parish church lost much of its medieval stone and wood when being ‘restored' in the 1840's, but still retains its imposing 14 th century central tower, nave and fine Norman font. Sir Izaak Walton (1593-1683) author of The Complete Angler was baptised here on the 21 st September - his bust may be seen on the north wall of the nave. The tiny Norman Church of St Chad is worth a visit by those interested in ecclesiastical architecture with its lovely chancel arch and nave arcades.
Situated one-and-a-half-miles south-west of the town is the impressive earthworks of Stafford Castle. Rebuilt in the 19 th century but now in ruins, it stands on the site of the original 14 th century Norman Castle, incorporating a medieval settlement within its 20 acres. The castle grounds are often used for historical re-enactments by dedicated groups of enthusiasts, such as the Napoleonic Society or the Sealed Knot - these events are open to the public.
The Royal Brine Baths, opened in 1892, used brine extracted from salt deposits discovered at Stafford in the 19 th century. The Baths have now been converted for freshwater swimming. Situated in Eastgate Street is the William Salt Library, a fine 18 th century house containing a large collection of pictures, maps, manuscripts and other local history documents illustrating the history of borough and county. Several of these artefacts relate to Sir Izaak Walton, famous in his time as a writer of biographies, including that of his friend the poet John Donne, but remembered today for The Compleat Angler, the Contemplative Man's Recreation , written at the age of 60. Walton's place of birth in Eastgate Street was demolished in 1888, but the pretty 17 th century half-timbered cottage at Shallowford, to the north of Stafford, where he spent his last years still stands. In fact, Izaak Walton's Cottage, set in beautiful grounds in this delightful hamlet, is furnished as a typical farm cottage such as Walton would have recognised and open to the public as a museum. Within the grounds is an authentic 17 th century herb garden, orchard and picnic area.
Following the River Sow east from Stafford brings us to one of the most impressive attractions in the county - Shugborough Hall, the 17 th century seat of the Earls of Lichfield. A splendid piece of architecture with an imposing Ionic portico dominating the east front, and despite the mansion having been altered several times, the Hall has managed to retain its distinct grandeur throughout. The Red Drawing Room, designed by Samuel Wyatt in 1794, has a coved ceiling decorated with magnificent plasterwork and contains an impressive collection of paintings, ceramics, silverware and elegant French furniture. The surrounding 900-acre estate includes Shugborough Park Farm, a Georgian farmstead built in 1805, and an outstanding collection of neo-classical monuments including a copy of the Classical Greek Tower of Winds . Both House and Park are open to the public.
Five-miles south-east of Stafford begins Cannock Chase, the remnant of a vast royal hunting ground, which covered much of Staffordshire in Norman times. Despite lying very close to regions of dense population Cannock Chase remains a surprisingly wild stretch of heath and woodland designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Chase has large herds of fallow deer, descendants of those that survived the Plantagenet hunts, as well as many other species of wildlife. Excellent vantage-points can be found at Coppice Hill and Brereton Spurs, and there is an impressive Iron Age hillfort at Castle Ring. Amid this natural beauty are reminders of 20 th century Man's contributions - military cemeteries near Broadhurst Green where some 5000 German soldiers imprisoned during the Great War lie buried. During the First World War the Chase was used for military Training and there was a camp for prisoners of war. The German cemetery includes the graves of the first Zeppelin crew shot down over Britain. Lying on the southern edge of the Chase is the town of Cannock, which dates back to the time of the Norman Conquest and was known as Chenet in the Domesday Book of 1086. An important market town granted its charter by Henry III in 1259, Cannock's parish Church of St Luke dates from at least 1143, its tower is 14 th century.