Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Stepping back in time

The handsome St Michaels and All Angels church at Penkridge
Anyone who has been following 'Wolf Hall' on BBC will be aware that the political shenanigans in Tudor England made today's politics look like a kindergarten squabble.
At Penkridge we came upon one of the beneficiaries of the in-fighting in the shape of the elaborate tombs of Sir Edward Littleton and various of his family. Littleton was a bit of a nouveau riche character in the eyes of the aristocratic gentry of the day but he was a canny operator with friends in high places who leased or bought lands, often using the courts to pursue his claims. Over the years he amassed many thousands of agricultural acres around what are now Brewood, Penkridge and Cannock where the family's second huge stately home, Teddesley Hall was built in the 1700s.
Ironically, what were in Tudor times wealthy agricultural lands were to become yet more valuable when the Industrial Revolution arrived and coal was discovered there. Coal from the big Littleton Colliery was shipped by narrowboats down the canal to Stourport power station. The large colliery basin is now obliterated by the M6 and recent improvement work on the motorway has removed the last traces of the short arm that linked to the main S&W
Magnificent in scale and delicate in detail, a Littleton tomb
The Church of St Michael in Penkridge where the Littletons lie was a collegiate church, one step down from a cathedral and Littleton leased many of the lands it owned when the Reformation took ownership away from the churches. Littleton had the church itself remodelled into its present impressive perpendicular style too.
Every hair on Littleton's beard has been perfectly delineated
See the detail in Lady Littleton's dress and the fine carving around the tomb
The tombs, three of them, are stunning for the size, their magnificence and the sheer detail of the alabaster carvings. There is one either side of the chancel but the finest is at the end: a double-height affair with son and wife above and father and wife below. Every detail, from the hairs of his beard to the look on the face of the dog at his feet remains perfect.
Forget the main road that slices along one edge of it and the village (for it's scarcely a town) of Penkridge seems like a step back in time with its narrow, timber frame building lined main street, butchers with chain fly-curtain in the doorway and – more than anything else – the twice weekly market.
Rather a contrast: chickens await their buyers at the livestock auction
This is as close as a proper old fashioned market as you're likely to find these days. Not one of those with a handful of stalls pushing cheap clothes, fall-apart tools and phone unlocking services, no the Penkridge market is huge and sprawling. You can buy everything from a ball of wool to a live duck.
Yes, a live duck. The covered market was holding its livestock auction - and we could hear the rival cockerels crowing half across the marketplace. Ducks, chickens, bantams, pheasants, geese: they were all there in their cages. Not a pleasant sight, perhaps, for those of us who buy our meat in supermarkets but that's farming life.
All that was lacking in the market were small stalls selling random old toot – but there was plenty of that in the sale at the auction rooms next door. No chairs for us, though, so we moved on and I never got to see what Item 407 'A quantity of offensive items' actually was.
Rodbaston Lock where two centuries of transport are within touching distance
Back on the canal we climbed the last of the locks, passing within yards of the M6 on the way, to reach to the summit level at Gailey where we are stopped tonight.

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