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History of Stafford

  • council: Stafford
  • population: 63,681
  • phone code: 01785
  • postcode area: ST16, ST17
  • county: Staffordshire

Stafford is the county town of Staffordshire in England. It lies in the north of the West Midlands region, between Wolverhampton and Stoke-on-Trent. The population of Stafford was given in the 2001 census as 63,681, with that of the wider borough of Stafford as 124,531.

Stafford means 'ford' by a 'staithe' (landing place). The town's location was the only feasible place for a large army to cross the River Trent, and so was strategically important in the wider region. The original settlement was on an island in the middle of the marshes of the River Sow, a tributary of the Trent. There is still a large area of marshland just north of the town, which in both 1947 and 2000 saw floods.

In the year 913 Stafford was fortified by Ethelfleda, Lady of Mercia and daughter of Alfred the Great, becoming the new capital of Mercia (the previous capital having been in or near Stone). Queen Ethelfleda ruled Mercia from Stafford for five years as Queen of Mercia, after the death of her father and husband - at around this time the county of Staffordshire was first formed. King Alfred's son Edward, with the crucial aid of Ethelfleda, finally conquered and christianised the Vikings who had settled in the east of England.

Stafford Castle was built by the Normans on a nearby hilltop in 1070, four years after the invasion of 1066. It was first made of wood, and later rebuilt of stone. It has been rebuilt twice since, but now only 19th century ruins remain atop the impressive earthworks. Night-time illuminations create a landmark for motorists on the M6 motorway and train travellers on the West Coast Main Line. Stafford was considered part of the ancient Pyrehill hundred.

Buildings and the Town Centre
The oldest building in Stafford is St Chad's church. Opened in 1908, Victoria Park is a 13 acre (53,000 m) Edwardian riverside park with an open-air paddling pool, bowling green, bird cages, greenhouse and two play areas.

Stafford Gatehouse Theatre is the town's main entertainment and cultural venue. An Arts centre has also been planned for the town to offer more culture and try and boost tourism in the town.

In the main shopping street, Greengate Street, lies the Elizabethan Ancient High House, the largest timber-framed town house in England. The Ancient High House is now a museum, with changing exhibitions.

The Shire Hall Gallery, found in the very centre of Stafford town, houses the Art Gallery, which shows changing exhibitions. It also contains a cafe and the town's Library.

The Shire Hall used to be the Court House for the town, and as a Grade 2 listed building, still retains two courtrooms. One of these is open to the general public and has a permanent exhibition showing the history of the building, some high profile cases that were heard there and guided tours are available. Part of the tour includes an old 'holding cell' which is open to public viewing.

The Apollo Cinema shows most big-budget films and has three screens. A larger multiplex cinema, another shopping centre and offices are also planned to be built in the town centre along the River Sow. The Riverside Recreation Centre and former Tesco store/multi-storey car park would both be demolished as part of this development.

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