Staffordshire 6 - Cheadle /a gothic roman catholic church/Pugin and a whole shedload of money/vinyl records

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February 13th 2017
Published: February 13th 2017
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Spring last week felt as if it were just round the corner. Just as you think it is safe to venture out then Winter comes back to bite you. As we progress further into February I remember mums saying "Never cast a clout until May is out". We wore liberty bodices until June. We barely changed into summer school uniform until the Whitsunday Holidays had passed us by. In some ways mum was right . It turned cold over the weekend and the predicted flurry of snow arrived coating the Pennines and the Peak District with the slushy, wet and mushy stuff . Luckily it was fairly shortlived as it turned to rain and washed itself away. Before it arrived we took Suzy for her new tyres. We almost made a mistake with them. Arriving at the garage we told the lad there to take the fronts off and replace them. In our minds we are sitting in the hot sun in the Sierra Nevada mountains close to Granada pondering on changing the tyres . Wisdom tells us that we may not wear them down but the sun degrades them and five years is long enough to ride round on the set that was on the front of Suzy. We knew we had changed one axles wheels in 2014 but somehow we got muddled up about which axle. The driver quoted the back needed changing. The co-driver/navigator insisted it was the fronts. We even checked the MOT certificate and made the decision it was the fronts that needed changing. Off one came. Luckily I asked the lad to check the backs and he pronounced they are perishing. Once off it seems they were the originals fitted way back in 2011 on Suzy before she was converted to a motorhome. Both of us were wrong in our deliberations in that sunny spot in Spain last year. Alls well that ends well and Suzy is now the proud owner of two new tyres.

We have insured her for another year and have the Tax application sitting waiting to be completed and paid for. Habitation check next - then MOT and service and then we can tax her for the year 2017/2018. We even ordered a Crit Aire sticker for her. It seems that diesel is a monster. We were all encouraged to change our driving habits some years ago from petrol cars to diesel . Now they are fire breathing monsters who gush out all manner of toxins and are banned from many cities across the globe. Lyon and now Paris have joined the list of cities that bann diesels if they do not meet the criterion they require. Luckily we are Euro 5 rated and for the moment can pay our 4 euros 70 cents for the sticker that will let us wander into Paris if we choose . Without it a fine of 114 euros can be levied . Having wandered in by accident a few years ago when Sally Sat Nag refused to work under the streets of Paris and we chose the city rather than La Defence , we realised just how easy it is to fall foul of the law . Hopefully the little sticker will arrive in the next few days.

So today with the sun out , the wind chilly , swimming finished for the day we set off for Stafford. A not very pretty city and one with a spagetti junction of roads and speed cameras at many locations. Our intention was to park up , call in at a record shop where we could sell for a paltry sum of money our collection of vinyl records. We no longer have a record player and we cannot remember the last time they came out of the box. All have been replaced over the years by CD's. Arriving the shop looked derelict with boards on the windows and an iron grill with huge lock covering the door. However the door inside was wedged open and records were piled up on shelves, on tables and on the floor. The owner was nowhere to be seen. No sign on the door to suggest he had popped out and would be back shortly. We tried the mobile number on the door with no success . We tried the land line number on the window and then decided to give up , picked the boxes of vinyls up and head off to Cheadle for a bite to eat.

Lunch was in a Weatherspoons. Cheap, relatively cheerful but sadly a bit predicable with the food coming out of the microwave. The constant pinging in the background gave the game away. However we were not in Cheadle for the food . More like for the food for our souls. The nearby catholic church was to be our destination. You could not miss it . The spire soared upwards and was visible from the streets with its cockeral weathervane on the top. So why were we there? What had made us choose this particular church ?

Are you ready to be assailed by colour, by a mad fascinating insight into the Gothic Revival in Britain? For a start this is a grade I listed building - the creme de la creme of buildings, top notch and at the top of its game. Designed by the Gothic architect Augustus Welby Pugin. The town of Cheadle doesnt look big enough to house such an impressive church and even more strange that it is Roman Catholic and not Anglican. As we walked up the street with its empty shops, its small coffee houses and independent stores we passed the old medieval cross and then in front of us was the church. You could not miss it if you tried .

The history of St Giles begins with the establishment of a Catholic mission in Cheadle in private house in the town. This was par for the course as Catholicism in Britain had been virtually sidelined by Henry VIII after his schism with Rome. To be a Catholic meant gaol, no chance to go to university and certainly no career to speak of . In the 1820's as catholic emancipation appeared a certain Charles Earl of Shrewsbury from nearby Alton Abbey attended the mass. The numbers grew and the private house became too small for the growing congregation. So as good clergy do they approached the Earl for support and probably money to buy land and build a new church. A new building was obtained and in 1827 the Earl died and was succeeded by his nephew John Talbot the 16th Earl of Shrewsbury who moved into Alton Abbey and renamed it Alton Towers.

He brought the renowned architect Pugin to North Staffordshire in the autumn of 1837. Money flowed and Pugin visited gothic churches around Norfolk and in Paris for inspiration. Boy did he get some inspiration as we were to find once we opened the doors .

You really have to come in with me and I will do my best to describe what we saw inside . I doubt though that photographs or my simple description will bring to life this wonderful place. Forget being religious, forget catholicism - inside is a confection of painted walls , of medieval style wall paintings, gold and brass and a stunning interior as beautiful as you could find anywhere. On our doorstop too.

All the materials for the construction came from local sources . Elm and Oak from the Alton Estate , sandstones of various colours from the local quarries, Alabaster for the carved altars The first thing you come to is the West Door set within a carved portal. We could not enter via this painted red door with its brass lions but all I felt was a wow feeling and a great desire to know what was the other side of the door. Come on in - you know now you have seen it you too want to peek through the keyhole and see what this church is like. When we walked in it was like walking into a cave , the light was dim and although we could see glimpses of colour the place felt as if in darkness. The stain glass let in some light but craning and peering into the distance we could just see patches of colour . We needed a £1 for the meter. Once the £1 was inserted the place was lit up like some Aladdins cave. The first small chapel held the font , a wonderous affair like a wedding cake made of wood. The walls all painted red , gold and green, zig zag patterns covered every inch of the columns as they rose skyward. The chandeliers all brass and gold shone brilliantly. The stain glassed windows all 19th century were rich with colour showing up the biblical themes much loved by the Victorians . The money in the main kept coming but the Earl did in the end start to count the pennies as he complained about the cost of the rood screen and the expensive floor tiles . Every inch of the nave was painted. Repeated patterns covered every possible inch and where there were no patterns there were the stations of the cross . We walked beneath the rood screen a wonderfully carved and decorated piece that again had caused some controversy between Pugin and his patron. Use my carpenters on the estate he said . No said Pugin they are not good enough. Cover the tiles on the floor to protect them said the Earl . Never said Pugin - a carpet defeats the object of having beautiful tiles .

High above us was the magnificently painted roof, the medieval style wall paintings and paintings that mimicked mosaics . The painted walls went on and on. The only simple things in the building were the blue vases upon the altar filled with simple white tulips. Any blousey flower would have been lost in all this splendour and any colour other than white would have lost itself in the detail.

Sometimes less is more when it comes to a building but this one seemed to be so lovingly adorned that it was impossible not to love it. It was wildly ornate, it was embellished to within an inch of its life but the overall effect did make me want to sit and admire the mind of Pugin who developed it from a thought on a piece of paper to the full blown church in all its glory. Whether you are religious or not this was a place where you could sit and quietly contemplate and light a candle and think of the genius of the man who made it.

Ok we didnt sell the vinyl but we did see something beautiful just on our doorstep.


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