Monday, 27 October 2014

Newcastle under Lyme Stairlifts Company Get The Cup!

Castle Comfort Stairlifts MD with Tracey Aherne of the Newcastle Bridge Club,
receiving the silver- plated Castle Comfort Trophy. 

Bridging The Gap
Our latest local sponsorship award goes to Newcastle Bridge Club

With many members of local Bridge Clubs being customers of ours and reaching the ages when wanting a nice new recliner chair for their golden years is the norm, it made sense that we would like to be involved in the launch of an annual bridge competition at Newcastle Bridge Club.  The winning pair will get their names engraved on "The Castle Comfort Cup" and also will win a cash prize, though it's not compulsory to spend it with us on any of our helpful products!
Scroll on down the page for more information all about Bridge as well as the club itself.

The Newcastle Bridge Club began nearly 65 years ago when a group from Basford Bridge Club set up their own matches in members homes and by hiring local meeting rooms.  By the 1970's they were renting a second floor room on the High Street in Newcastle, but their need for ground floor premises of their own was answered in the mid 1990's when the building on King Street became available and after a lot of hard work from volunteers and some considerable loans from members and the bank, they took possession of the premises.  The Club was officially opened by the Lady Mayor, Elsie Ashley, on Thursday 31st March 1994.

Of course, defining the word bridge goes well beyond the popular game about which we referring to with our sponsorship of Newcastle Bridge Club. Some years ago it entered the world of mobility products - to be exact stairlifts, when people with perhaps a limited a budget or simply cost conscious - needed a chairlift to go around a curve at the top of the stairs. A curved stairlift system until recent years ago could have cost between £4,000 and £7,000 - so certain manufacturers and specialist suppliers created a 'bridge platform' or often referred to as a 'bridging platform' This ingenious gadget constructed from a strong timber platform and small hydraulic hinges - enabled a straight lift to be fitted (a lot cheaper of course) and even with the extra £200 or so for the bridging platform - It was considerably less than the cost of a curved installation

Here it is, demonstrated by a 'supporter' of the Premier League team Stoke City, alias 'The Potters'

The disadvantage of a bridge platform however, is that apart from the fact it has to be lifted up and down manually by the user, they could fall of it and break their necks.
Hardly a mobility product acquisition linked to longevity!

Where the angle of the stairs and the width was considerable then the danger pointed out there is considerably less, but nevertheless, the industry has worked hard to avoid using a risky adaptation - and in recent years the cost of a good curved system, whether new or reconditioned has come down, and made them much more affordable.

Ironically, a stair-lift specialist near Stoke on Trent (whose directors are probably Stoke City fans - but not the one shown above) claim to be partially responsible for the dramatic reduction in the size of investment needed for less hazardous solutions to mounting a curved stair-well.

Castle Comfort Stairlifts, based precisely at Cross Heath and Wolstanton in Newcastle under Lyme claim, as agents for all UK manufacturers, to have enabled huge price drops due to the sheer volume of business generated by them.

Apart from handling their own direct contracts, the enquiries received are supplied to any one (OR MORE) of several manufacturers to compete for the work. These days, a price paid for a curved stairlift installation is more likely to be between £2,500 and £4,000 - still not tuppence halfpenny, but around half of what it was a few years ago. Few things we buy in life have followed such a price change pattern.

In essence, the public who contact Castle Comfort - find that they will probably receive a quotation (or more than one) to consider, that is a lot less than had they responded to a newspaper or a TV ad, thinking that was the only stairlift company to approach.

So apart from saving money, it is perhaps a better option than a broken neck! Call 01782 611411 or 01782 631111 for a free no obligation quotation for a curved (or straight) stairlift - or visit the Stairlift showhouse at Cross Heath for a ride on one!


Here below written by our esteemed columnist Mr John Pedder MBE we have more about Bridge the well loved game played especially by the most senior members of society.

"Every game has a character of its own appropriate to the company it keeps and the place where it is played."
David Partlett - Oxford Guide to Card Games

What do James Bond, Dwight Eisenhower, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Martina Navratilova, Omar Sharif and Snoopy have in common? They all play Bridge. Yes, Snoopy is no stranger to the bridge table, thanks to cartoonist Charles Schulz.

Bill Gates is a self-confessed bridge addict, attributing his condition to the billionaire investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett. Buffett, a die-hard player, once said "If I'm playing bridge and a naked woman walks by, I don't even see her"

James Bond, chalked up 7 redoubled in Ian Fleming's novel "Moonraker". The hand used by Fleming was an historic one. It is known as 'The Duke of Cumberland Hand.' Duke of Cumberland Hand - A purportedly rigged hand dealt to the son of George III, the King of England, resulting in the loss of a £20,000 wager. The hand was used in the James Bond movie, "Moonraker" against the villain Drax.
While Bond's 8 points don't look too strong, he uses Drax's tendency to clubs to promote his own diamonds resulting in a thundering thirteen tricks.

How old is Bridge? 

An early reference to Bridge, using the earlier name of trump or English ruff can be found in a perhaps unlikely place, namely a sermon published in 1529 by Bishop Hugh Latimer . The sermon, entitled "On the Cards" was given on the Sunday before Christmas 1529 in St Edmunds Church, Cambridge. "And where you are wont to celebrate Christmass in playing at Cards, I intend, by God's Grace, to deal unto you Christ's Cards, wherein you will perceive Christ's Rule. The game that we play shall be called the Triumph, where, if it be well played at he that dealeth shall win, the players shall win and likewise the standers and lookers upon shall do the same. You must mark also that the Triumph must apply to fetch unto him all the other Cards, whatever suit they be of. What requireth Christ of a Christian man? Now turn up your Trump, your Heart, (Heart is the Trump as I said before) and cast your Trump, your heart on this card."

Bishop Latimer lived in very turbulent and dangerous times, the England of the 16th century. Monarchs and prelates were all powerful and religion was at the heart of much of the power struggle. It is sad to reflect that very little has changed. Today we see that the abuse of religion and ruthless fanaticism remains at the heart of much of the world's troubles. Those who were safe and in favour could very soon see the tide of fortune rapidly change. On his death, King Henry VIII left three heirs, his son Edward and two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth. On the death of Henry, Edward V1 ascended the throne in 1547. He was just nine years old. Henry was a Protestant or, in view of his young age, it may be more likely that his advisors were. During his reign the Latin services were translated into English and a desire to establish a more Bible based faith developed. Hugh Latimer, a Cambridge scholar and Bishop of Worcester, was favoured by Henry but failed to influence the King to allow the Protestant reforms. He had more success under Edward and, with two other men, Nicholas Ridley and Thomas Cranmer, the English reformation painfully took shape. On the death of Edward V1 at the age of fifteen, his cousin, Lady Jane Gray took his place but only for a mere nine days! Mary ascended the throne in 1553 and Mary was a Roman Catholic. She earned the name "Bloody Mary". Although fewer people were condemned compared with those at the behest of her father, Henry VIII, she had hundreds of people put to death, often by fire, solely because of their religious convictions. Mary had a firm objective and that was to return England to its 'true faith' , to Roman Catholicism under the Pope. Mary ordered that Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer be arrested. They had refused to recant on their Protestant beliefs and charged with heresy - punishable by death. Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley were burnt at the stake outside Balliol College in Oxford on 16th October 1555. The same fate befell Thomas Cranmer on March 21st 1556. The clerics became known as the Oxford Martyrs. For all of his skills at the card table, Ridley failed to win his final game against a powerful player, Queen Mary 1st.They are commemorated close to the place of the executions by the Martyrs Memorial outside Balliol College, a landmark well known to Chief Inspector Morse!

Le Mémorial des Martyrs
Martyrs Memorial Oxford (Source:
Bridge has been played for centuries, albeit under different names - triumph,trump,ruff,whisk swabbers and of course by the 17th century whist.
Whist may have been a reference to the speed at which cards were swept up after a winning trick or perhaps a call for silence during play. It was in 1742 that the first book on the game was published, 'Short Treatise on Whist' by Edward Hoyles. The first game of Duplicate Whist was played in London in 1834.

Cards in Literature 

Shakespeare uses card games quite frequently in his texts. An interesting reference is taken here from 'Antony and Cleopatra' It is probably a reference to a game called Trump. This was probably the triumfo of the Italians, and the triomphe of the French — being perhaps of equal antiquity in England with primero. At the latter end of the sixteenth century it was very common among the inferior classes. There is, no doubt, a particular allusion to this game in "Antony and Cleopatra" (iv. 14), where Antony says: "the queen — Whose heart I thought I had, for she had mine; Which, whilst it was mine, had annex'd unto't A million more, now lost — she, Eros, has Pack'd cards with Caesar, and false-play'd my glory Unto an enemy's triumph." There is confusion between trump and triumph. The game in question bore a very strong resemblance to our modern whist — the only points of dissimilarity being that more or less than four persons might play at trump; that all the cards were not dealt out; and that the dealer had the privilege of discarding some, and taking others in from the stock. In Eliot's "Fruits for the French," 1593, it is called "a very common ale-house game in England." Players of modern day bridge may not be too pleased by such a description!

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

Charles Dickens was arguably the first English novelist to write with a social conscience. The gap between rich and poor, the legal system, the exploitation of children and conditions in the workhouse and prostitution all came under his scrutiny. Dickens viewed card games as a symbol of class and social mobility as well as a potential evil.
In Victorian days, cards were associated with gambling and as such were often frowned upon. 'Great Expectations', thought by Dickens to be his finest work, appeared in weekly instalments in the periodical 'All the Year Round' between December 1860 and August 1861. Young Pip is summoned by Miss Haversham to Satis House and commanded to wait upon her once a week. On first meeting, the mad Miss Haversham, still attired in her now shabby wedding gown, commands the boy to "Play, play play!"
Pip is overwhelmed but agrees to play cards with the adopted daughter Estella, who remonstrates "Play with this boy! Why, he is a common labouring boy!" "What do you play, boy?" asked Estella of myself, with the greatest of disdain. "Nothing but Beggar-my-neighbour, miss."(Beggar-my-neighbour first appears in the Oxford Dictionary in 1734 but may have evolved from an earlier game Knave Out of Doors from as far back at the 16thcentury.) "Beggar him," said Miss Haversham to Estella. So we sat down to cards. Estella beats Pip at every game and uses her skill to dominate and belittle him. As Pip grows up and becomes a gentleman he makes acquaintances in the higher echelons of society. What he had assumed would bring him happiness and fulfilment failed to come up to his expectations. Only when he rejects games playing and other trappings of the gentility does he find contentment. Pip accepts the values of the Victorian middle classes, loyalty, honesty and hard work which trumped the games of trickery and chance played by other characters in the novel.

Agatha Christie (1890-1936)

Even the least amongst lovers of literature will almost certainly have heard of the crime writer Agatha Christie. One of her best known characters, featured in the TV series, is the fictional Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. Bridge is featured in the 1936 novel 'Cards on The Table.' There are four key players, Superintendent Battle, Colonel Race, Ariadne Oliver and Hercule Poirot. Whilst not usual police procedure, the Superintendent in charge of a murder investigation, agrees to work with three other 'sleuths', sharing all of the facts equally. "Cards on the table, that's the motto for this business" . The plot is that all of the potential murders played bridge together at the time of the murder. Poirot 's technique is to study how each of the suspects played bridge; their skill level, risk taking and their killer instinct. By using the way they played he could gain insight into their psychology and thus be led to the killer.

Bridge the Game

Bridge Players

Since the average person's small supply of politeness must last him all his life he cannot afford to waste it on bridge partners. (Alfred Sheinwold)

Bridge players are found all around the world and from all walks of life. From Monarchs and Presidents, film stars, academics, and politicians, to the ordinary man in the street, bridge has a compelling appeal. Each year teams from both The House of Commons and The House of Lords compete at the bridge table. Bridge is played at local club level and at national and inter-national level where both the determination to win is only matched by the high stakes.

The Cavendish Invitational
One of the largest, if not the largest event, certainly in terms money, is The Cavendish Invitational. The Cavendish Club, whose name is associated with the event was founded in New York back in 1925. Among the members were some of the greatest names in bridge. For whatever reasons, it moved around from Mayfair House, the Ambassador Hotel to the Ritz Tower Hotel and Carlton House. The club began hosting the Cavendish Invitational Pairs in 1975. The event continued for a number of years but in 1991, financial difficulties and a dwindling membership, forced the New York club to close its doors. However, the event continued in New York until 1997 when a major boost to its future occurred. World Bridge Productions took over the Invitational Pairs tournament and moved to the glitzy environment of Las Vegas. This was not only to raise the profile of the event but also the purse. More players were needed and WPB introduced another tournament, the Open Pairs. This is an auctioned event and is surrounded by drama and wealth. The day before the event, a black tie cocktail party is held where all the top pairs are acquired by the highest bidders. The pool can be in the region of $1million or more. The pairs purchase a minimum share of 10% in themselves and may go as high as 40% or more if agreed with the winner of the bid. So, what happens to the pool pot? At the end of the tournament, 95% is shared out proportionally. The rules are that each pair plays three boards against each of the other pairs, with a time limit of twenty five minutes per round with a total of forty five rounds being played to decide the winner. In 2012, the tournament moved location to Monaco.
Monaco 2014 gave some unexpected results as the choices made by the auctions turned out to not always be the correct ones. Number 1 rated Helgemo Helness had to be satisfied with second place in Final B which was won by the Russian pair, Gromov/Dubinin. Last year's winners, Nanev/Gunev, didn't qualify for Final A and only managed to claim eighth place in Final B. The final winners of 2014 Open Pairs, with a commanding superiority were Polish pair Krystof Buras and Gregorz Narkiewicz.

Buffett Cup
Another prestigious bridge tournament is the Buffett Cup, named of course after Warren Buffett (the inspiration behind Bill Gates' addiction to bridge) first staged in 2006. The event is modelled on the Ryder Cup golf competition with teams competing from the USA and Europe. This biennial event is held the week preceding the Ryder Cup. Teams are selected by invitation and must include at least two female players. The tournament allows for a mixture of teams of four, pairs and individual sessions. The 2014 Buffett Cup was scheduled to be held in Monaco but in the event it never happened. It was Europe's turn to offer a location and Monaco graciously offered to be the host and provide funding, with the exception of airfare. The problem was that the American Bridge Federation agreed to fund the tickets but then withdrew the offer. It seems that agreement could not be reached when deciding on the US team and months of bitter infighting followed, resulting in cancellation.

Bridge over troubled water
I now return to Agatha Christie's 'Cards on The Table' and the theme of murder. Surely, there is no connection between murder and bridge? Well, in fact there is more than one recorded murder where bridge was a factor.

"Regardless of what sadistic impulses were may harbour, winning bridge means helping a partner avoid mistakes." (Frank Stewart)

 The Bridge Murder Case September 1929

What activities should a married couple never undertake together? No doubt there are many. I would certainly list learning to drive and hanging wallpaper! It would seem that playing bridge should be added to the list. It has led to murder - literally.

It all started as a perfectly normal social occasion between neighbours on the evening of September 29th 1927 in Kansas City. John and Myrtle Bennett were hosts to their friends Charles and Myrna Hofman who lived in the same affluent apartment block. Earlier in the day, the two men had played golf. John Bennett was said to be of a volatile disposition and was prone to slapping his wife when things failed to go his way - not an ideal qualification for bridge partners! The Hofmans were not skilled players and the Bennetts were soon in a commanding lead.
As the evening progressed the Hofmans managed to catch up and then took the lead. The tables had been turned by the time the fatal hand was played. In the debacle that followed, the cards were scattered and the exact nature of the hand is largely a guess. What was remembered by the survivors was the bidding.
John Bennett opened one spade, Charles Hofman overcalled two diamonds and Myrtle Bennett ended the auction with a jump to game in spades. After Mr Hofman made the opening lead Mrs Bennett spread as dummy a collection of cards Myrna Hofman was later to describe as "a rather good hand". Myrtle clearly believed the dummy she had laid out added to the values of her husband's first bid and should easily have resulted in game but Mr Bennett managed to fail in his contract by two tricks. It was then discovered that he had opened on less than full values.
It was alleged that after Mr Bennett played the hand to its inevitable less than glorious conclusion, his wife added to the already volatile atmosphere by calling him "a bum bridge player."
What followed is taken from Myra Hofman's testimony. The Hofman's tried to restore calm but could not do so. Bennett slapped his wife several times and said that he was going to spend the night in a hotel and then leave town.
What followed bears an uncanny likeness to the events described in the recent trial of Oscar Pistorius! John Bennett went to the bedroom and started to pack a suitcase and Myrtle went to her mother's room where she knew there was a loaded gun. Seeing the gun, John Bennett ran into the bathroom and bolted the door. Myrtle fired twice through the locked door. Unlike the Pistorius case, both shots missed.
A frantic John Bennett escaped from the bathroom by another door which led into a hallway, ran through the lounge and made an unsuccessful attempt to open the front door. Myrtle was quickly upon him and fired another two shots, this time with fatal results. Myrtle Bennett was charged with first degree murder. In the trial that followed Myrtle pleaded not guilty and claimed that she brought the gun to give to her husband as he routinely carried one when going away on business trips. The gun went off by accident as she tripped up in hall. Incredibly the jury chose to ignore the two bullet holes in the bathroom door and the fact that there was no suitcase in the hall. Mrs Bennett was acquitted. (

So, the Bennett case was a long time ago and surely such a case couldn't happen again. Well, it did as recently as July 2010. The shocking case was reported by 'BBC News Lancashire.'

Bridge player Stephen Green guilty of wife's murder

A former world championship bridge player has been jailed for life for murdering his wife in a knife attack. Stephen Green, 52, stabbed Carole Green, 57, 100 times at their flat in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire. A jury at Preston Crown Court took 75 minutes to convict the former British Aerospace worker after a week-long trial. The murder followed his constant criticism of her card-playing. He was ordered to serve a minimum of 23 years after being found guilty of her murder. The court was told of the couple's stormy relationship, Green's heavy drinking and constant bickering about Mrs Green's playing abilities at Lytham Bridge Club, where they first met. The court heard testimonies from fellow bridge players who said that Green considered his wife to be a mere "club player" and viciously put her down in front of friends. It beggars belief that a card game could be taken so seriously as to result in an extraordinary motive for a frenzied attack by a player of world championship status.

What is the future for Bridge Clubs? We are living in a high tech world. Every electronic gadget has to be fast, exciting and gratification has to be immediate. Viewers of 'Click' will know that the industry brings out something new to tempt our obsession with all things cyber and virtual with frightening regularity. One can of course play bridge on line but this is another example of people interacting with others, who may or may not be real, in a solitary environment, an introverted world - we are losing the ability to socialise. A part of going to play real bridge with real people in a real place should not be surrendered easily. However, I fear that such activity may be the domain of a dwindling number of predominately older people, unless the image of the game or some of the discipline required to learn it changes somewhat.
Writing in 'The Independent' (Monday October 27th. 2014), Maureen Hiron, The Independent's bridge correspondent, expressed fears for the future of what may be claimed to be the world's most sophisticated and subtle card game. She believes it to be both an image problem and too complicated, especially for younger people. "The world's most sophisticated and subtle card game has got a serious image problem. While poker conjures up notions of fast cars, loose women and all-nighters in Vegas, bridge is more likely to suggest cucumber sandwiches, blue rinses and afternoon naps.
That's why Ms. Hiron, The Independent's in-house expert, set out to create a faster, funkier version that would bring younger players flocking to the green baize." I can hear the purists shouting with outrage already! "Two years ago, Maureen Hiron -The Independent's bridge correspondent - was playing a weeknight club game with her expat friends in Marbella when there was a break in play. Table seven had been asked to speed up a little. The instruction, quite literally, fell on deaf ears. That night, table seven consisted of a 98-year-old golfing Canadian called Sidney Matthews; Edith Gross, 95, a former ballerina who once danced for Adolf Hitler; Lilian Matthews, a Spanish international bridge player, 90; and 90-year-old Lorenzo Runeberg, a Finnish international known as "Ruthless Runie". They had a combined age of 373.
For Hiron, a British international herself, there couldn't have been a clearer example of the way bridge is becoming a dangerously old game. She is not the only one to make this observation. Ever since poker took off in Britain in the last decade, bridge has been fighting an uphill battle. Although, worldwide, 200 million people play bridge, it is an increasingly ageing constituency. And in Britain, despite signs in the Nineties that the game was bursting with life, there are now fewer than 30,000 members of the English Bridge Union, the game's governing body. The average age of EBU members is 55 (for the American Contract Bridge League that figure is over 60).
As a solution towards this she has created a game called Abridged, a simplified version of bridge. It gets rid of bidding, the most complicated part of the game and uses colours, not suits. Face cards have been replaced by the numbers 11,12,13 and 14. Abridged is a huge hit in America. After an initial sell out run, another 50,000 boards are about to hit the shops. Can it be the same here in Britain?
"I can see what is happening in bridge," says Hiron. "Because it's become so complex, because the learning curve has become so huge, people are put off by it. It's only natural. Bridge is a living, breathing game, and it has developed. That's fine for committed players but it means that to learn the game can be eternal for some people. What I have done is to get rid of the complicated part of the game, so people can start playing in twenty minutes. "
Chair of the English Bridge Union Peter Stoken had this to say about it. "There's absolutely no reason why the average age of bridge players should be going up. It's entirely our own fault for not coming to grips earlier with what we should be doing. We've come to realise that bridge needs a change of culture, and what we need to do is to create happy, friendly clubs where you can get a good game. One of the blights of bridge in the past, for instance, has been the bad behaviour of some. God knows, I was guilty of it in my youth. It's usually partners getting at each other, and it's incredibly off-putting."

Do you play bridge? Did it take you a long time to learn the intricacies of the game? What age did you start learning it? Let us know in the comments, and if you do fancy a few games or want to start learning then call the club on 01782 611164 to find out more about it.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Phil The Power Taylor Buys His Mum A Riser Recliner Chair

Phil's Mum Scores A Bullseye With Her Choice Of New Chair

"Keith delivered the chair personally within half an hour and my mum's previous one was taken to a friend's house with no cost. All professional, organised and simply aiming everything just right!"

Castle Comfort staff knew Phil supports many local good causes in Stoke on Trent. So on delivery of his mum's riser recliner chair, asked for permission if they could use the photos and short films taken on our blog and website, and in return would make a donation to one of his favourite charities.

Phil was delighted, and mentioned without hesitation 'Donna Louise' So it's a top score on the day for all... Castle Comfort achieved more business and delighted to have a celebrity of this status in the client list, and Phil Taylor's mum is over the moon.

Not least, Donna Louise, a marvellous institution doing a fantastic job will now have received a cheque for £150. (see pic below)
Acknowledgement from Donna Louise Children's Hospital Trust

Phil had said that they had been to a few places looking for chairs and that Castle Comfort had the largest selection.  His mum was pleased because she had finally found a chair that was just "so comfortable."

So thanks again Phil for kindly allowing us to use the picture and video and we trust your mum is very happy with her new purchase.

Keith, Ann and Dr.Stirling - Castle Comfort Centre

Monday, 12 May 2014

Castle Comfort in Newcastle under Lyme takes on new employee

Chairs For The Elderly Showroom Takes On New Recruit

Expanding Stoke on Trent business Castle Comfort Centre has just taken on a young lady by the name of Camilla (on the left pictured standing next to Castle Comfort director Ann Bruce.)

She is the latest applicant to the Castle Comfort Centre branch of the business in Cross Heath, Newcastle under Lyme. The other main branch being Wolstanton where Castle Comfort Centre is located.  Also we have another satellite branch at Tunstall Market.  It is anticipated she will rotate her shifts round all 3 branches once her training induction period has completed.

Her duties will include greeting guests at the door and marketing and promotions and she has kindly agreed to work unpaid 24 hours a day, refuses to take a break or have any time off for lunch! She also won't sit down on the job. What??!!  Isn't that illegal?

To see an actual video of Camilla in action scroll down the page, click on the white triangle and all will be revealed.....

If you like our fun and friendly approach why not pay us a visit and you can see a nice range of comfortable chairs while you are here. Many folk have come over the road from HSL Chairs to do their comparison shopping and we welcome you to park for free right outside our shop. Our testimonials around the web show what people think of our service, our quality products and our value for money prices.

While you are here you can also take a look around our adapted bathroom or ride on the stairlift, which is a brand new Acorn/Brooks model that we have here for people to try before you buy. Walking Sticks and Wheeled Walkers are also available to purchase along with adjustable beds and chairs from top British manufacturers.

Enjoyed the little clip below? Please pass it on in Social Media.
Facebook Shares, Tweets and Pins Appreciated!

The latest update is that Camilla has a boyfriend!

See the picture below taken with our friendly neighbours, the guys from ETS - our local electrical and lighting suppliers next door. We know it is hot weather but at least he could have put some trousers on. The honking of horns has been very distracting!

She is currently advertising comfy chairs at:-

Castle Comfort Stairlifts Ltd, 135 Liverpool Road, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire ST5 9HD

Beep your horn when you pass!

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Cross Heath - Who is King of the Castle?

'Who is King of The Castle?' 

'Local boy opens new chairs outlet in Cross Heath'

At the time of writing, a new business venue is about to open. Keith Simpson, founder and Managing Director of the well known 'Castle Comfort Centre' of Wolstanton, is opening a shop in Cross Heath next to what was the joinery business which is mentioned below. Keith is a supplier of mobility and easier living aids such as stairlifts, chairs and beds and adds a Cross Heath furniture store to the Wolstanton and Tunstall branches.

                                  Work in progress on the new Castle Comfort Centre outlet, 135 Liverpool Road, Cross Heath, ST5 9HD

Keith grew up in Cross Heath. His father, Harry, was on the PTA at Hempstalls Junior School and also a town planning officer. The inspiration for Castle Comfort Centre lies with the needs of Keith's mother, Doreen. At that time, it was not easy to acquire the equipment needed. This motivated Keith to set up a business making the acquisition of quality mobility aids at an affordable price and with good after sales service, readily available in the local area. Castle Comfort Centre opened at Bank House in Wolstanton. From that beginning, Castle Comfort Centre is now a national and international company.

Keith has fond memories of his early days in Cross Heath and he is delighted that he is now able to put something back into the locality to the benefit of local people. Castles and Kings go together, and 'Castle' still has its own - Keith "the Stairlift King"

Here are some photo's of the visit from the Mayor and Terry Conroy who came for a sneak peak before the official opening later this February and for the invited guests an early celebration for both Keith's Birthday and also for Pat's a familiar face at our Tunstall branch and for those that can remember us from Hanley Market.

Mayor of Newcastle Eddie Boden with Keith Simpson of Castle Comfort Centre on a new recliner bed.

Keith and Eddie welcome the invite-only early visitors

Pat - a seasoned traveller receives her 70th birthday gift 

Keith receives his birthday gift - Stoke City newspaper stories (he's featured in a few himself!)

 Keith looking through the book signed by Terry Conroy

 Terry Conroy trying out one of the recliner beds in the showroom

 Keith, Ann and Terry at the Cross Heath Castle Comfort Centre trying out a chair

   Keith and Cross Heath Councillor John Williams have a riser recliner chair race!

Here is the history of Cross Heath which we have had researched by our roving reporter John Pedder MBE as we have found out some interesting facts out about the area which has been previously covered in the Way We Were supplement of the Sentinel.

Whenever I am asked where I live, I always say Newcastle, never Stoke-on-Trent. This has often led to confusion. People assume that I mean Newcastle-on-Tyne. Even if 'under-Lyme' is stressed, the confusion can still occur. However, that all important distinction at least does guard against an association with Ant and Dec. There is an upside. The north east is a fascinating and beautiful region of England with its rugged coastline and ancient castles and it is home to some of the most endearing of people.

Newcastle-under-Lyme is situated north of Stoke-on-Trent and on the doorstep of the Peak District National Park. 'Castle' folk are proud of the 'Loyal and Ancient Borough' and guard their heritage and identity. It has to be said that the Newcastle of today is very different from the town in which I grew up. The old feel of a market town has slowly been lost. The cattle market no longer exists. The cows and sheep have gone and with them the farmers and dealers from the outlying areas who enlivened the town centre and brought in not only a vibrancy, but much needed trade for the local shops and public houses. Whilst there is still a traditional open market, and a farmers market, in common with many towns, the High Street is dying and varied small business outlets have given way to banks, building societies, charity shops and supermarkets.

Sainsbury's and Morrison's (where Castle Comfort have their displays and free walking stick repair days) (on the site of the old cattle market in Brooke Lane) now dominate the retail market rather than 'the butcher, the baker and candlestick maker' of bygone days. Other than 'The Bulls Head' in Lad Lane and 'The Boat and Horses', a link to the old canal days, very little of the old Newcastle remains. But what of the historical Newcastle? Newcastle has its origin in the ancient manors. Tracing the history of the Manor of Newcastle may well start with the castle itself. This is difficult. Unlike Conway, Nottingham, Caernarvon or other towns where a castle still stands largely intact, there is not much of our castle left to be seen. John Ward, in 'A History of Stoke-on-Trent' (first published 1843 - republished by Webberley Ltd 1984) makes the following observation: "In treating, therefore, of the ancient history of such townships as are within the Manor of Newcastle, we should have little more to do than write a history of the Manor itself, and the castle which gave it the youthful name it still retains (after every vestige of the structure has been swept away by the destructive hand of age); but this is by no means an easy task, for we are unable to arrive at any satisfactory conclusion as to the precise period when the castle was built, or respecting the original formation of the manorial territory.' In the 11th century, England was invaded. An army of Norman, Breton and French soldiers was led by Duke William 11 of Normandy; later to be known as William the Conqueror. William's claim to the throne was based upon a familial link to the childless Edward the Confessor. Edward had named Harold as his successor but he may well have already named his distant cousin William as well. Not a good situation! For the first eleven years of Edward's reign, the real ruler of England was Godwine, Earl of Wessex. In 1004, Edward had married Godwine's daughter Edith but it was not a case of happy families. Edward outlawed his father in law and family. Such were the unstable affairs of the day, that with the help of Edward's opponents, Godwine and his sons returned and his lands were restored. On the death of Godwine, in 1053 his son Harold took over the mantle. Edward died on January 4th 1066 and was buried in the abbey he had constructed in Westminster. The invasion which followed, an arrow in Harold's eye and the date 1066 were destined to become the facts known by all school children, even if the rest of history escapes them! Why is all of this relevant to Newcastle-under-Lyme? At the time of the Norman Conquest, large parts of the County of Stafford belonged to the Crown. At the time of Domesday survey, Wolstanton and Penkull were described as 'large manors', certainly much larger than today. Trentham was an adjoining manor. These Crown properties needed to be defended and that meant the building of a new castle. William died just two years after listing of his territorial possessions and it seems unlikely that he was responsible for the castle. William was followed by his son, Rufus who reigned for thirteen years. Rufus was aware of the necessity to defend the kingdom his father had won. He became known as a great builder of castles. Rufus was followed in 1100 by Henry 1st and he was to reign for the following thirty-five years. Henry continued the establishment of defensive structures. It likely that the foundation of our castle may be within that period but there is no existing record to that effect. A reference does appear during the reign of King Stephen in a 'treaty of accommodation' between him and Henry Plantagenet, the future King Henry II. This involved castles and lands including the 'new castle' of Staffordshire. It seems that Newcastle, together with Stafford, Tamworth and Tutbury were the total castles maintained in this county. The new castle was built to defend royal lands and also to protect us from the Welsh! The castle had another facility, a gaol to house those who had transgressed, way before Saturday night's revellers in the modern day Iron Market! The new castle was not the first defensive site in the Borough. In the 1st century, the Romans established a fort at Chesterton. There was a settlement at Holditch and a villa at Hales. There is evidence of a Saxon settlement in the Borough from the 6th to the 9th century. Madeley was granted a royal charter in 975 by King Edgar. Newcastle is not given a mention in the Domesday Book (1086) whereas Bradwell, Wolstanton, Clayton, Knutton, Hill and Chapel Chorlton and Maer do appear in the book. Newcastle was planned and established by King Henry 11 and its Royal Charter was granted in 1173.

Where was the castle and what did it look like?

The castle was located in what is now Pool Dam on a site between Lyme Brook and Silverdale Road in Newcastle. Excavations have located remains of the Castle Motte. Remains of the walls have been found alongside St Mary's Primary School on the corner of John O'Gaunt's Road and opposite to a new housing development aptly named Castle Keep Mews. For further fortification, a dam was constructed to divert water from the Lyme Brook to form a pool or moat around the castle; hence the name Pool Dam.

The pool, complete with fish, is included in the Arms of the Borough.

The motto is 'Prisca Constantia' meaning 'Ancient and Royal'. The title of the Ancient and Royal Borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme is still in use today. The Manor and castle fell into the custody of the Earl of Chester with whom it remained for quite some time until his death in 1232. Having no children, the custody reverted to the Crown In the early reign of King John 1166-1216 (of Robin Hood fame) the castle was in need of costly maintenance. He was the youngest son of Henry 11 and is buried in Worcester Cathedral.

A visit by Royalty always inspires interest and often benefits to an area. If you have read my article about Tunstall you may recall the lovely story of Alderman Barber, The Princess Royal and the boiled ham! Over many years, the Potteries and Newcastle have been favoured with visits by the Queen and by Princess Margaret, particularly at Keele University, I remember seeing Princess Margaret opening the New Victoria Theatre in Basford. More recently The Prince of Wales has shown much support for the regeneration of the area.

In the third year of his reign, King John visited Newcastle to inspect the works carried out on the castle. By King's Writ, forty pounds had been allocated for repair work on the castle. This was not an insignificant amount of money. The King seems to have been doing the rounds as he was in Middlewich the day before. According to J.Ward's research (1843) the King had instructed the Barons of his Exchequer to allow the Sherriff of Salop to finance the repairs to the King's castles of wood in his bailiwick and also for timber used in fortifying his Newcastle-under-Lyme castle. The King directed the Sheriff of Staffordshire to take from the neighbouring woods, beyond the limits of his forest, sufficient timber for the repairs which the castle required. This instruction gives us a strong clue to the fact that the castle was predominantly a wooden structure with just a tower or Keep built of stone. If the entire structure had been built of stone it is likely that a similar warrant for the masonry would have been issued.

The history of Newcastle and its castle seems to have gone through numerous twists and turns, all of course linked into the complex and often ruthless events in the politics and intrigues of holders of power in England. The King's power was to be challenged by a group of rebellious barons. The battle of Lewes (1264) resulted in the tide turning in the favour of the opposition. The King was taken prisoner in the hands of his rebel subjects and made by them to surrender his castles and possessions and even his authority. By 1262 and 1263, the castles of Chester, the Peak and yes, Newcastle were in the hands of Prince Edward, the King's eldest son. Edward was fully occupied in skirmishes with Llewellyn, Prince of Wales, and in the pursuit of the rebellious English barons. It was not going to be long before 'Happy Families' changed the pattern of power once again. Young Edward was entrapped by his uncle, one Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester. The University of Leicester carries his name today. The King and the Prince were forced to make peace terms with de Monfort and the remaining rebel barons. In 1264, the Prince agreed to surrender his castles and munitions stored in Newcastle. Montfort's ambitions were not to end with a mere three castles! He became a powerful man and raised himself to the position of High Steward of England, vesting himself liberally with the spoils of his sovereign nephew. Uncle Simon was soon to meet his comeuppance. The end of Simon de Montfort's period of grandeur, as well as the rebel cause, came to an abrupt end at the battle of Evesham (August 4th 1265) in which de Montfort perished. King Edward III resumed his power and possessions was once again 'King of the Castle'. He was to bestow the de Montfort estates on his second son, twenty-one year old Edmund Plantagenet. Edmund was nicknamed Crouchback, (meaning Crossback). He had fought in the eighth crusade and was entitled to wear a cross, stitched into the back of his clothing. As well as the title Earl of Leicester, Edmund was created Earl of Lancaster.

The Duchy of Lancaster is one of two duchies, the other being the Duchy of Cornwall. The duchy traces its origins to the rebellion already described. The Duchy comprises homes, farms, offices and estates. The income from the duchy provides the money to fund the Queen's official duties and the upkeep of palaces and also provides income for the Duke of York, the Earl of Wessex, The Princess Royal and several other members of the Royal family. The money is separate from the £13.3 million paid to the Queen by taxpayers' (one of which she is). The Duchy's property portfolio is now valued at £405 million. Who was John of Gaunt? Names bear witness to history. The remains of the Newcastle-under-Lyme Castle can be found on the street of the same name. Close by is 'The Castle' public house, previously called 'The John O' Gaunt'.

The area and pub close by is called 'Black Friars'. Close to the castle was a Dominican Friary. (Not a reference to the 'Dancing Octopus' chippy located by 'The Castle' pub!) Dominicans wore a black habit, hence the term 'Black Friars'. The house was to fall under King Henry VIII and the Reformation.

John of Gaunt, ( 1340-1399) or originally Ghent, where he was born, was the third surviving son of Edward III and younger brother of Edward, the Prince of Wales, known as 'the Black Prince'. There was a rumour at the time that his father was actually a Gent butcher, a story which was to always drive him to showing his temper! Being the first Duke of Lancaster his lands brought him great wealth. In fact he was probably one of the wealthiest men ever, being worth the modern equivalent of $110 billion. It is claimed that he was the sixteenth richest man in history. Among his huge 'portfolio' was the castle in Newcastle-under-Lyme.

In the later history of Newcastle-under-Lyme industry and philanthropy were to feature. As with the John O'Gaunt public house, other hostelries bear the names of local figures, linking the town to some of its past.

The name Gresley is important in the story of Cross Heath.

'The Gresley Arms' in Alsagers Bank is a popular venue with magnificent views across the Cheshire Plain. The pub is, I assume, named after Sir Nigel Gresley. We must take care not to confuse him with the railway engineer and designer of the Flying Scotsman of the same name. Sir Thomas Gresley,6th Baronet, after whom the public house may be named, was a land owner, coal mine owner and a canal builder. He lived at Knypersely Hall in Biddulph, Stoke-on-Trent, which he inherited from his mother. He was appointed High Sherriff of Staffordshire in 1759.

Coal mines and canals are part of the industrial history of Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme. Wolstanton Colliery was one of the deepest and most productive. Prior to the nationalisation of the coal industry, mines were in the hands of private ownership. Gresley owned a mine in Apedale. This was to play a major role in the development of Newcastle-under-Lyme and especially to the area of Cross Heath, settled alongside the A34 or Liverpool Road. Newcastle-under-Lyme used to have a thriving textile industry. Enderley Mills (1881 Enderley Street) in Brampton was opened by one Richard Stanway and specialised in making uniforms, both for civil bodies and of course for the military. The mill has gone and is now a small residential development. Enderley Mills was way ahead of its time in terms of employees facilities, a fact recorded by factory inspectors. It had a surgery, creche, reading room and a savings bank. Close by was a silk mill. Built in 1825, the mill was sited close to the canal in Brampton Sidings. At a later date, following major structural changes, it became the site for Photopia. In 1797, a cotton mill was built in Cross Heath by one Richard Thompson. He was a cotton manufacturer from Burton on Trent. In 1790 Thompson bought the site, on the A34, to establish his own business. The site included a house for the owner, apprentices' accommodation and mill workers' cottages. Production ceased in the 1960's. For a short time, part of the building was taken over by Royal Doulton and General Electric and it became known as Swift House. Today the premises is of mixed use, including a car and motorcycle outlet.

The Cross Heath of today

Swift House - the original cotton factory can be seen from this angle

Rear View of Swift House - one of the old cotton sheds is still visible

'Coals to Newcastle'

It is hard to imagine, but Thompson's mill stood on the side of a canal. There is a link here to Sir Nigel Gresley. He needed a means of transporting coal from his Apedale mine to Newcastle. His answer was to build a canal. The Gresley canal received Parliamentary approval 1n 1793. Within a couple of years, the four or so miles of new canal was open and Gresley could move his coal to a wharf in Cross Heath. Gresley was awarded sole rights for 21 years on condition that price of his coal did not exceed 25 pence a ton. During this period (1795) authorisation was given to build another canal, entering Newcastle-under-Lyme from the south, linking the town to the Trent and Mersey in Stoke-on-Trent. In 1798 a third canal was proposed to link the Newcastle Canal to the Gresley. It was to be 8 called the Junction Canal. Differences in the terrain of some 60 feet where the canals would meet brought the project to an end as funds would not meet the cost of a proposed railway inclined plane. The Gresley canal was left in isolation with a small extension of what was to be the Junction Canal. The remains of the wharf are buried beneath the new Newcastle-under-Lyme College. The Cross Heath of today History of an area, Interesting as it is, we need to take a look at Cross Heath today. My first problem is where exactly does Cross Heath start and finish? In common with most urban conurbations, one area merges into another. Where does Cross Heath become the town centre, Brampton, Milehouse or Wolstanton or May Bank? One authority is perhaps political maps.

Cross Heath is an electoral ward within the Borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme, but then these boundaries change. How do you know if you are in Cross Heath, Wolstanton, Porthill, Bradwell or wherever? It seems to be a case of what the locals tell one. The figures from the 2001 census records Cross Heath as having a population of 6,159. It is an area which one passes through, but few stop to take a closer look. There is the usual mix of architecture found in all towns marking different stages of historical development. Much is attractive from an age of character and some of the latest perhaps more aesthetically questionable.

A34 Liverpool Road Cross Heath

Local pubs are an important part of the social life of any area. Recent years have witnessed the closure of literally hundreds of such places. The trade is at an all time low. There are a number of factors at work. Cost is certainly one. Supermarkets carry a wide range of much cheaper products, a fact which arguably needs to be controlled. Much of the industry is held in the grip of national companies. These are not brewers; they are more interested in real estate. Tenants and managers are tied into them and not allowed to buy from elsewhere at what can be more competitive prices. Rents are high. Many a publican has worked hard to build up trade only to be rewarded by increased rents. Free houses with 'real ales' and food outlets are more successful. Cross Heath is no exception. 'The Hanging Gate' (also known as 'The Castle Tavern') stood on Liverpool Road. During the 1880s the pub stood on the opposite side of the road. The new pub was built in the 1930s. 'The Hanging Gate' finally closed in 2007 and stood abandoned until it was demolished in 2009. The plan was to build 26 flats on the site. Following neighbours' concerns, the plan was blocked in 2008. In 2009, permission was granted for the fast food giant 'KFC' to develop the site and the fast food outlet now stands on the site.
A34 Newcastle KFC 

The view expressed at the time by one local resident is of interest. It is a classic example of wanting something as long as it is not on my doorstep! However, he may have had a point! "Another pub lost, but what I cannot understand is that the site was earmarked for flats until that was blocked by the neighbours. Letting KFC build a drive through is going to create more nuisance, rubbish, noise, fumes and anti-social behaviour. Anyway, not to worry. I love KFC, and I don't have to live next door to it." Other pubs in the area have suffered a similar fate. 'The Dimsdale' was demolished and the site now plays host to McDonalds. Further along the A34, you will find what was another 1930s substantial public house, 'The Milehouse'. The building has survived. At one time a 'Berni Inn' steakhouse it is now 'Buffet Island', a location for excellent Chinese cuisine.

 The community has some interesting, thriving places of worship.

Cross Heath Methodist Church 

St Michael and All Angels Cross Heath

As well as churches and pubs, schools are an integral part of any community. Just around the corner from St. Michael's is Hempstalls Primary School

Cross Heath has a long and successful connection with the military. During the Second World War, the location was home to Cross Heath's version of 'Dad's Army', the Home Guard. In more recent times, it was a TA Centre and home to 58 Regiment Royal Signals. Following cuts in the defence budget and the restructuring of the TA, 58 Signals was disbanded in 2010. A campaign was launched to save the centre on Liverpool Road.

The case was taken up by Paul Farrelly, M.P. for Newcastle -under-Lyme. To quote Mr. Farrelly: "The former barracks complex is an important part of the culture of the area. Our cadets use the building every week and it is vital that they will be given an assurance that they will have a place to meet locally in the future." The campaign was a success and today RAF and Army Cadets, together with a Careers Office, use the location. Paul also applied to English Heritage to designate the complex as a Grade 2 listed building.

Amongst the things which I discovered is the number and variation of businesses, sometimes in unexpected places. The mills and wharfs of the past may be no longer, but enterprise continues along Liverpool Road.

Talking of enterprise, whilst walking around the area I even came across a 'Seasonal Cat Burglar'!


Next door to the TA Centre, a substantial single storey building has had a number of uses over the years. Many years ago it was a petrol station. Once a mecca for lovers of fast and stylish cars, 'Classy Chassis' operated there. They were followed by similar goodies but with just two wheels! Today it is a furniture shop. Another well-known business in the same area of Cross Heath was 'Joseph Jones Joinery'. Joseph Jones, after many successful years, retired to the West Country but as I understand it the ownership of the building remains with the Jones family. Here is another example of change as the site is now an Electrical Suppliers. 

The new Castle Comfort shop will be opening soon, so look out for opening offers on clearance chairs to bag yourself a bargain. The number to call is 01782 631111.

Image Credits:All Cross Heath Area Photos:John Pedder MBE 

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Stoke City Player Gives Recliner Chair To Care Home Resident

Living Like A King In Comfort!

Previous Castle Comfort regular Mick Downing of Wolstanton, who started with a free ferrule for his walking stick, is pictured here as the latest beneficiary of the CCC good deed fund which helps local people to live life more comfortably with a donation of a chair, bed or other piece of mobility equipment from the team.

We had to do a double take when we saw this photo as residential home carer Kandy is a double for Stoke City player Kenwyne Jones!

Regular readers will have recognised Mick from the youtube video below which shows him when he received a riser recliner chair that Terry Conroy (ex- Stoke City player and Ireland International) had borrowed from Castle Comfort during his own recuperation from a stroke. Click the grey arrow in the middle to watch it.

It was very fitting that Terry should have presented the chair after his own recovery, as Mick is a die-hard Stoke City fan having watched them play in their Victoria Ground days as a lad.  His new room at Samuel Hobson House - a care home in Wolstanton, clearly shows his footballing allegiance.

Over the years he has been an ardent fan of Stoke (and of Castle Comfort Centre!) Micks's friends and family reminded us that his birthday was coming up, and wondered if Terry Conroy could perhaps get a "Potters" football autographed by some of the players at the Brittania Stadium. Terry, after an email from the mobility products firm arrived like a shot at CCC's showroom - not with a ball, but with something even more special.  A Gordon Banks's collectible 75th Birthday plate was given as a gift to thank him for his loyalty over the years. The plate was delivered by Keith from Castle Comfort on behalf of "TC" who had a mammoth weekend involved with the Stoke/Liverpool game (a match to go down as an historical classic in footballing history) and is signed by Gordon on the back - wishing Mick all the best. Each limited edition plate was created in Stoke on Trent and shows Gordon Banks in his 1966 World cup winning days celebrating with Bobby Charlton.  The plate now takes pride of place in his room, named Stanley Matthews Way, along with his comfy riser recliner.