People have eaten at The Soup Kitchen in Stafford for hundreds of years, but under very different circumstances. It’s a popular place to meet friends or family and grab something to eat and drink. In an age where there are so many franchises on the high street it can be difficult to find independents, but the Soup Kitchen is well worth a visit.
It’s located in Church Lane, in Stafford, just off St Mary’s churchyard. Stafford town centre is quite small – it was once walled in – but this is the historic, well-preserved part. As well as the ancient churches of St Mary and St Chad, the Ancient High House and almshouses are nearby (and written about elsewhere on this blog).
The building is very old, dating back to the 16th century. In his book, The Ancient Town of Stafford, Alfred Middlefell writes that in 1881 number one Church Lane belonged to Joseph Griffiths and his daughter Margaret Owen, a dressmaker. Number 2 was the Soup Kitchen, opened by Lady Salt of Baswich House, who was devoted to looking after the poor.
Nursing care was provided and, Middlefell notes, a blanket club was run for the poor with around 150 blankets handed out each winter. By 1903 number 2 became a lodging house for actors at the nearby Playhouse. In 1920 it became an antiques shop before it became the Soup Kitchen once more. It is run by Duncan Sandy and has seating for around 300. The staff are very friendly and helpful and the food is great. More of that shortly. There’s more info here – http://thesoupkitchen.co.uk/about_us.htm
In such an old part of town, close to the churchyard, there may be some restless spirits or at least rattling crockery. BBC Stoke reported in 2014 that a ghost ‘affectionately known as Ethel’ would turn hot plates on and off and objects would fly from shelves. An apparition has also been reported in the entrance hall. It’s a fascinating building with booths and snugs and nooks and crannies. There are rooms that can accommodate many people – it’s popular for afternoon teas and family gatherings for christenings etc – but there are quiet, private tables and a small roof garden.
They have branded teapots and cups, saucers and mugs which are popular with visitors. We enjoyed a wonderful afternoon tea a few weeks ago and today stopped in for tea and cake. The Soup Kitchen can get very busy but it was quiet this afternoon and peaceful upstairs. We sat with views over the rooftops and The Swan hotel. It’s interesting to imagine who has lived here and sought refuge here in the last five hundred years. There are plaques on old houses in the town to commemorate soldiers who left their homes for the Great War. There is a plaque here as houses ran all down Church Lane.
This is a new home-baked addition and was delicious.
Duncan drives this Austin in on weekends to help advertise the business (and provide a focus for selfies). I like it as it reminds me of the Anthill Mob, but perhaps it has Foyle’s War feel to it in keeping with the tea and scones. They also have a bicycle with a floral basket as part of the friendly, nostalgic feel which is a pleasant alternative to many coffee houses. I’ve been visiting the Soup Kitchen for decades and also enjoyed returning when I lived away. My in-laws love to go there when they visit from Scotland. I hope it remains as busy and enjoys many more years.
There are some great photos and a write-up by BaldHiker here, which really capture the atmosphere. https://www.baldhiker.com/2015/08/20/stafford-church-lane-and-the-soup-kitchen/
The Soup Kitchen is open 9am to 5pm Monday to Saturday.