STAFFORD, ENGLAND, a market town, municipal and parliamentary borough, and the county town of Staffordshire, England, on the river Sow, a western tributary of the Trent. Pop. (1901), 20,895. It is an important junction on the main line of the London & North- Western railway, by which it is 133! m. N.W. from London. Branches of this company diverge to Wolverhampton and Birmingham, and to Walsall; a joint line of the North- Western and Great Western companies to Shrewsbury and Welshpool; the Great Northern serves the town from the eastern counties, and the North Staffordshire runs north through the Potteries district. The town, while largely modernized, contains a number of picturesque half-timbered houses. The church of St Mary, a fine cruciform building having a transitional Norman nave, and Early English and Decorated in other parts, was formerly collegiate, its canons having mention in Domesday, though the complete foundation is attributed to King John. It contains a memorial to the famous angler, Izaak Walton, born at Stafford in 1593. The older church of St Chad contains good Norman details, but is chiefly a reconstruction. It formerly provided sanctuary. There are county council buildings, a shire hall and a borough hall. The grammar school is an ancient foundation enlarged in 1550 by Edward VI. The county technical institution is in Stafford. A museum, consisting principally of the collections of Clement Wragge, and called by his name, contains a specially fine series of fossils. The William Salt library, presented to the borough in 1872 after the death of the collector, has a large collection of. books and MSS., deeds and pictures relating to the county. Charitable institutions include a general infirmary, county asylum, and the Colon Hill intitution for the insane. The burgesses of Stafford had formerly common rights over a considerable tract known as Colon Field and Stone Flat; the first is now divided into allotmenls and the second is a recrealion ground. The staple trade is Ihe manufaclure of boots and shoes; there are ironworks, and salt is prepared from brine wells in the neighbourhood. These also supply baths. The parliamentary borough was extended in 1885, when the representation was reduced from two members to one. The town is governed by a mayor, 8 aldermen and 24 councillors. Area, 1084 acres.
In the beautiful well-wooded neighbourhood an interesting site is that of Stafford Castle, on a hill commanding a wide prospect. The existing ruin is that of an unfinished mansion dating from 1810, which replaced an old stronghold. Beyond it is an early encampment, Bury Ring.
Stafford (Stadford, Stafort, Stafforde) is said to have originally been called Betheney from Berthelin, a hermit who lived here. The first authentic mention of it is in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, where it is stated that Aethelflead, lady of the Mercians, in 913 built a fort at Stafford. It was a place of considerable importance in later Anglo-Saxon times, and the evidence of coins shows that a mint then existed here. Stafford is described as a borough in Domesday Book, and at the time of the survey it was the chief place in the county though many of the houses were " wasted." The king received all the dues, two-thirds coming to him as king, the other third as earl of Stafford. From the Domesday Survey it appears that the Conqueror took certain land out of the manor of Chelsea in order to erect a castle at Stafford; this was destroyed in the wars of the 17th century. A charter from John in 1 206 constituted Stafford a free borough. In 1399 the government was by bailiffs. In 1501 it was ordered that two bailiffs should be elected annually out of a council of twenty-five burgesses. Charters were granted by Edward VI. in 1551 and by James I. in 1605, the latter incorporating it under the title of the mayor and burgesses of the borough of Stafford: owing to irregularities in elections, another almost similar charter was given by George IV., under which the town was governed until 1835. In Elizabeth's reign Stafford was in a depressed condition owing partly to the decay of the cap manufacture which formerly had been considerable. Speed (d. 1629) states that Lichfield is "more large " than Stafford: in the middle of the 18th century the town had " greatly encreased of late by their manufacture of cloth: " about the same time the shoe trade began. Two fairs, to be held on St Matthew's day and on the 4th of December, were granted in 1261 and 1685 respectively, and are still kept up. There are now eight annual fairs in all.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)