Sunday, December 8

The 2019 Festive Forage

The yuletide season is upon us once more so Saturday 7th December has been pinpointed as the day for our annual Christmas pub poachers extravaganza. This year we will be the Foragers Three as Stephen is joining Nick and myself for an Irish-influenced tour of Highgate and Digbeth...

- Setting out with Good Intent -
Train strikes and reduced timetables mean that our original Nuneaton intentions have to be shelved, and even though the industrial action affecting West Midlands Railway services ends up being cancelled, we decide to stick with our revised Birmingham remit anyway. After meeting up in the ever-reliable Wellington (where Nick and I unwittingly pair up pints of Leatherbritches' Scoundrel), we proceed to the Good Intent in the Great Western Arcade, a newly-opened Craddock's outlet which operates on not-for-profit principles. Crazy Sheep plays Old Prickly here while Stephen tackles a multitude of icecubes, safe in the knowledge that it's all in a good cause. 

- Beaming inside a big bauble -
Central Birmingham is fully in the grip of Christmas market mode so we twist and turn through wave upon wave of shoppers to emerge unscathed by St Martin's Church. Along the way, Nick poses inside a glittering globe feature and we admire the Bull Ring's decorative Christmas tree. The crowds gradually subside as we continue through to Highgate, happily reacquainting ourselves with the Lamp Tavern and Eddie (a true gent of a publican). Cheltenham Gold is on top form as an accompaniment to Heineken Champions Cup rugby, Northampton taking on Leinster.

- The Market Tavern -
One pub we sadly won't be able to incorporate on this forage is the Market Tavern, a red-brick temple of tile and terracotta that ceased trading several years ago. Standing on the corner of Moseley Street and Birchall Street, it used to serve Bull Ring market traders and the Irish community, not to mention a number of backstreet engineering firms. The Grade II listed building is late Victorian (dating from 1899 into 1900) and features an impressive octagonal cupola above oriel windows, so I can only wonder how extravagant the interior might have looked like in its prime.

- Feeling festive in Cleary's -
Arguably of even greater landmark status is the Rowton Hotel, which first opened to house migrant workers in 1903 and remains a significant Gothic Edwardian edifice on Alcester Street. We tiptoe quietly past in tracking down Cleary's (previously known as both the Brewers Arms and the Hen & Chickens) for a slice of Irish hospitality, coupling Guinness with a country soundtrack - Exhibit A being Declan Nerney's version of 'Stop the World and Let Me Off'. By way of contrast, the Moseley Arms just up the road is concentrating on Sky Sports Soccer Saturday with Jeff Stelling getting typically excited as the goals start flying in.

- Lighting the way to the Spotted Dog -
Those last two calling points had been places we'd never done before but now we turn our attentions to two of our firmest favourites. The Spotted Dog on Warwick Street is a real cracker, very cosy with a coal fire and a drop of Mallinsons 'What's Going On' (pale and golden giving hints of grapefruit). The Anchor meanwhile seems to have adopted the shabby chic approach - I'm not entirely convinced but the Green Duck 'Smooth Criminal' creme brulee stout is exceedingly indulgent! We heed the instruction not to put our glasses on the pool table as we debate the likely outcome of next week's General Election, Nick naturally being cautious not to break royal decorum by offering too much of an opinion!

- On the black stuff in the Big Bulls Head -
After having his fill of the purple peril (a.k.a. blackcurrant and lemonade), Stephen retires for the day leaving Nick and myself holding the fort at the closing couple of watering holes. The Big Bulls Head sorts out our culinary cravings thanks to a hearty dishful of Irish Stew - utterly delicious I might add! - and then this forage finishes off with further Guinness at the absolute institution that is the Irish Centre. We hear this facility is set to close early next year, relocating to the former Stadium Club on Wheelers Lane in Kings Heath - hopefully this will safeguard the future of an important community organisation although Digbeth won't quite seem the same without it. Cheers!

Sunday, December 1

Dudley Winter Ales Fayre 2019

Friday 29th November is one of those very rare occasions when Mr D9 and Nick Turpin join forces, brought together by the unmissable event that is the Dudley Winter Ales Fayre - and I was there too of course!

- Mander Centre Merriment -
As is so often the case, my tale begins in Wolverhampton where the Mander Centre is getting nicely into the festive spirit. The annual kiddies grotto has been installed with Santa on hand for a morning photocall, aided and abetted by some rotating reindeer and various teddy bears. Christmas really is just a few weeks away so I'd better get organised with all my shopping and wrapping.

- Hub duties in Dudley Town Centre -
I digress so back to the Dudley matter in hand. Andy, Nick and I converge upon the Griffin as our eventual rendezvous point, meeting up over some perfectly decent Banks's Bitter so that Nick can contemplate a Caribbean-themed menu comprising fry fish and johnny cakes. Further down Stone Street, Mr D9 is pressed into Hub Marketing service when we spot a community hub facility near the old trolleybus terminus. 

- Let the festival frolics begin! -
And now for the main business of the day with the beer festival once again being held in Dudley Town Hall on St James's Road. Stocking up on tokens, we pitch straight into ale action courtesy of Holden's Toffee Porter (nice and treacly) and Cerne Abbas Rum and Coconut Stout. Andy is then determined to work his way up to the absolute whoppers whereas Nick is a man with a stout and porter fixation. I try a few fruity flavours - Church End Apricot among them - and seek out some silly names, Electile Dysfunction seeming very apt in these times of political uncertainty. 

- A Winter Welcome -
Toll End's Old Cockstrangler has a title also likely to raise a chuckle or two; at 7% it needs to be treated with care, as does Andy's superstrength choices of Branscombe Vale Harbinger (9%) followed by Kinver Full Centurion (a mere 10% tempter). Nick is slightly more restrained in settling for some Sarah Hughes Snowflake (clocking in at 8% only), but our unanimous vote for favourite tipple goes to New Bristol's Irish Cream Stout - Bailey's in beer form, simply superb!

- Barge & Barrelled -
Our post-festival entertainment initially involves pricey Peroni in the Glass House, an establishment situated in Dudley's former fire station building off Stone Square. Next up we make a bus 11a beeline to Tipton where the Barge & Barrel keeps guard over the Birmingham Main Line Canal's Factory Junction. Previously known as the Old Bush Inn, we pause here for a Brakspear interlude so that Mr D9 can recreate some pop hits from 1988. 

- Making new friends in Tipton -
Last and possibly least comes the Legends Bar on Owen Street, a keg outlet that is part of Tipton's main shopping precinct. We've missed the switching-on of the local Christmas lights but there is still very much a party atmosphere in town as we partake of some Carling and meet the resident cuddly toys - Andy seems particularly enchanted with the fluffy orange character seen above (no, Nick hadn't morphed into a woolly llama). After that we say our farewells, Mr D9 thwarted in his quest for an English Oak nightcap. Dudley Winter Ales Fayre never lets us down so cheers to a wonderful afternoon!

Thursday, November 28

WME Flickr Focus - November 2019

As election fever grinds the nation into submission, at least we have the West Midlands Exploration photostream to provide a welcome distraction from manifesto launches and frenetic campaigning. Here is what November provided by way of snapshot solace...

I can't claim to have covered the length and breadth of the country although Exploration Extra has offered some farther flung photography. The single Welsh representative is a platform running board from Tenby railway station whereas Leicestershire garners some Thorpe Acre wildflowers from the edges of Loughborough. Liverpool meanwhile has been left to its own devices, hence a visit to Ye Cracke Inn as a pub with links to the Beatles plus a penchant for vintage Bass and Boddingtons branding.

Closer to home, there is shock news from WME Coventry which has belatedly taken delivery of its first picture of the year - it only took me 11 months to arrange such an addition! The Brooklands pub in Coundon ensures any pictorial washout is deftly avoided, and there may yet be more Coventry contenders before the calendar crosses into 2020. It's worth noting at this point that neighbouring WME Warwickshire has also seen some activity, landing a shot of the number 10 bus at Rugby.

The busiest collections over the last few weeks have been WME Shropshire and WME Telford. Salop has benefited from some Bridgnorth bonuses (Foxall's Electricals, the Black Horse at Low Town, some reprises for the Shakespeare) and Albrighton arrivals (Beamish Lane with Upper Pepperhill Farm), whereas Telford pays another visit to Blists Hill Victorian Town. Here I present various bill posters, a New Inn luncheons advertising board and some enamel advertising for Reade's Head & Stomach Pills - I'm sure they are very efficacious! 

No such medication matters for WME Staffordshire although the 261 bus (pictured at Wombourne) did previously serve Russells Hall Hospital. WME Birmingham brandishes a bridge sign for Belmont Row on the Digbeth Branch Canal, then stops off at Stockland Green for a look at Brookvale Park's lake. WME Wolverhampton unusually finds itself bringing up the rear, something it does adeptly thanks to Bilston Bus Station letterings and a Bantock Park information board. Ah well, that escape from the election circus didn't last long and I guess in December our destiny will become clearer. Until then, enjoy the photos!

Sunday, November 17

Lost Pubs from the WME Archives - Part Seven

I'm rather enjoying these monthly mooches through my photo archive, even if there's a bittersweet edge to digging out pictures of pubs that have passed into history. Here are four November nuggets for your delectation...

- The Black Horse -
I was only in Oakengates just last week but one boozer I had absolutely no chance of frequenting was the Black Horse, long since gone I'm afraid. It stood on Market Street between the Leek United Building Society and Giles Opticians; this September 2010 shot shows it in a bad way having suffered extensive fire damage in 2007, the year after it ceased trading. Although the building has since been partially repaired, it still remains looking for a new lease of life.

- The Dry Dock -
It's not just the run of the mill watering holes that can fall by the wayside, sometimes some very well-known establishments expire too. One such example would be the Dry Dock at Windmill End, handily located by a prominent junction on the Dudley No. 2 Canal and close to Netherton Tunnel. This was for some years a Mad O'Rourke's outlet notable for having a narrowboat bow for a bar. I only had the pleasure of one visit before it got turned into flats although Peter Allen called in on a few occasions as evidenced here

- The Hailstone -
The Springfield area of Rowley Regis is where we find the Hailstone, a former Banks's number situated on the junction of Dudley Road and Springfield Close (opposite the local Social Club). It had shut down by the time of this March 2009 photo and latterly became a Bangladeshi restaurant that retains the old pub name. 

- The Joker -
Joaquin Phoenix is conspicuously absent from this picture of the Joker, which relates not to the recent film but rather a flat-roofed estate example that used to serve the residents of Hamstead. Seen here in April 2009 promoting Sky Sports coverage and a car wash facility, it now provides a different kind of community amenity by operating as a Tesco Express store.