Saturday, June 8

Lost Pubs from the WME Archives - Part Three

Wet weather and work commitments have combined to curtail any exploration ambitions I might have had in mind for the last few days - drat! All is not lost though as I can dip back into the WME photographic vaults and pluck out another quartet of bygone boozers...

- The Oddfellows Arms -
Every so often when trawling through my archives I come across something I'd completely forgotten about. The Oddfellows Arms here is a case in point, and a bit of detective work was required to confirm its West Bromwich whereabouts. I've since reminded myself that it stood on the High Street, not far from the Farley Clock at Carters Green. This shot shows the pub in February 2009, before the building got taken over by the neighbouring decorating store. 

- The Brewer & Baker -
Next up, a Birmingham offering adjacent to Camp Hill Circus where the Brewer & Baker was a Banks's number, refurbished towards the end of the 1980s. The pub was actually located on Ravenhurst Street prior to a road realignment scheme, but by the time of this 2009 photo it was well on the way to becoming an eyesore. I believe the building is still just about standing albeit in a very sorry state.

- The Swan -
How I wish this place was still trading as a pub! Bridgnorth is a town almost awash with architectural treats, among which the former Swan Inn holds its own as a 17th century timber-framed gem. Situated part-way along the town's High Street, I wonder what tales might have been told within those old walls over the years. Alas I never had the pleasure of sampling a drink there myself, the building having since become a Prezzo Italian restaurant (thankfully with much external character maintained).

- Bulls Head -
I'm always partial to a waterways boozer so I might well have liked the Bulls Head at Brockmoor. The pub could be found on Pensnett Road next to an access point for the Fens Branch of the Stourbridge Canal. It has the look of a standard Black Country boozer and was in the process of being converted last time I saw it, presumably for general residential use. The stretch of road between Pensnett and Brierley Hill has also seen the loss of the Fish and the Queens Head in recent times, so perhaps I'll dig my pictures of those out for a future posting in this series. 

Thursday, June 6

WME Flickr Focus - May 2019

There's only one place to start this month, and that's with the news that the West Midlands Exploration photostream has taken delivery of its 4,000th photo! Details of the momentous arrival and other recent additions are as follows...

  • So which particular picture was responsible for me achieving the landmark number? The honour fell to the railway station sign at Honeybourne, swiftly followed by photo 4,001 which tackled the Thatched Tavern in the same village. May was actually quite productive for WME Worcestershire as Kidderminster's Diamond Bus depot and a carpet showroom also joined the party.
  • WME Wolverhampton has always been the most consistent contributor of photostream content, accounting for 700 or so of my pictorial tally. Street signs have been prevalent here of late, including examples from Goldthorn Hill, Holden Road (Penn) and Jeddo Street (on one corner of the Sunbeam building).
  • To WME Telford next and some input from Ironbridge. Two sackcloth pig characters make a change from my usual type of muse and there are some Merrythought teddy bears for added cuteness. A Golden Ball pub sign is more of a standard shot whereas Jackfield jumps in with a tile or several.
  • Not to be outdone, WME Staffordshire proffers forth a couple from Kinver (the local High School and the Royal British Legion office) plus some Potteries helpings from Hartshill, most notably a nod to the Jolly Potters pub. WME Sandwell meanwhile busies itself with Bearwood (a tribute to the gardener John Tradescant), lingers on the Lyng (a dartboard in the Vic) and gathers a railway sign at Smethwick Galton Bridge.
  • This brings us lastly to May's lesser lights which were WME Shropshire (the Rose & Crown in Ludlow), WME Dudley (receiving Gornal's Bulls Head) and a Gillhurst Road snippet from WME Birmingham.
After all of that, I'd better start working towards the next major milestone - 5,000 photos looks a long way off but I hope to get there one day!

Sunday, June 2

Birthday in Broseley

Regular readers may remember that between September 2017 and September 2018, the Chip Foundation had a year-long ticket covering all of the Ironbridge Gorge Museums. Even though the twelve months had expired, our passes still allowed access to any of the attractions we might have missed and thereby meant a visit to the Broseley Pipeworks was in the offing - the day just so happened to be my birthday too...

- Testing out the new footbridge -
Saturday 1st June 2019 and the 59th episode of the Chip Foundation Chronicles commences with a train ride to Telford - following the timetable shakeup in May, there are now three trains an hour between Birmingham and Shrewsbury rather than two. Telford Central's shiny new footbridge link to the town centre is subjected to our collective scrutiny with Ken and Stephen on hand to model the improved walkway. We then bypass the busy shopping malls in taking a shortcut towards Southwater.

- Meeting a golden lady at Maxell Gardens -
Southwater One is a prime leisure and retail complex that has reinforced Telford's position as an important regional destination. We try to spot some fish in the reconfigured lake but our finest piscine discovery actually comes courtesy of the Maxell Cherry Gardens where a finned friend stars as a flowerbed centrepiece (according to Mr B Senior the species resembles a carp although it seems to be modelled out of carrier bags). Nick meanwhile is more concerned about making the acquaintance of a certain shimmering lady nearby.

- Monkey Business -
Both the Maxell and Chelsea Gardens have become familiar to me over the course of many Telford Town Park visits but I've never encountered the bright yellow gorilla sculpture before. Apparently the British Ironworks Centre near Oswestry provide the park with a different display animal each summer so we take it in turns to pose with the current incumbent. Stephen's picture has been selected for blog purposes, and to avoid any doubt I should confirm that Mr B appears on the left of the photograph!

- Mechanical Miner -
The number 8 bus at 11:30 forms our Broseley connection as we settle in for the trundle down through Madeley, Ironbridge and Jackfield. This is our fifth museums trip in total so we're becoming well versed in the sights of the Gorge, with Ironbridge itself attracting plenty of tourists as befits a summertime Saturday. Broseley is thankfully a little quieter and we alight on Bridgnorth Road in order to investigate some of Gerry Foxall's artistic homages to the former mining industry. Crafted out of chains and other pieces of blackened metal, the designs evocatively depict the hard toil undertaken by miners and their pit horses back in the day.

- Worthington's Appreciation Society -
Keeping in mind an intended tour time of 13:30, we have scope to sample a couple of neighbouring watering holes on Broseley High Street. The Albion is our first port of call, Nick and I sampling Salopian Shropshire Gold whereas Mr B Senior gives the keg Worthington's his considered seal of approval - such was his admiration for said pint, he completely forgot to pick up his digital camera afterwards - cue minor panic! Luckily we'd only decamped next door to the Old Butchers Shop Bar so it was easy enough to retrieve the mislaid article. As for the Butchers Bar, we all rather liked it as a friendly little establishment showing the Cricket World Cup action and supplying Stephen with his sausage roll fix.

- Thorn-themed pipes -
The allotted hour for our museum moment is rapidly approaching so we make a beeline along Duke Street to Broseley Pipeworks, said to be the only surviving example of a pipe factory in Britain. Indeed, Broseley was historically at the forefront of the clay pipe industry and gained a global reputation for the quality of its products. The pipeworks today effectively acts as a time capsule showing the factory as it was when abandoned in the 1950s, and we start by perusing some of the wares in the gift shop - the designs on show include thorns, acorns and lacy ladies' legs! They look quite fragile but always were a throwaway commodity, hence why Broseley pipes turn up in archaeological excavations.

- A Pipeworks Panorama -
Our guide Roy is a font of knowledge, bringing to life how clay pipes were made and even having all the answers when Mr B Senior unleashes a series of quickfire questions (we can only assume John was channelling his inner-Paxman interrogation technique). Producing pipes was an intricate process requiring much dexterity during a ten-hour shift. We are intrigued to learn about the different lengths that were made, from standard cutties to the long-stemmed churchwardens for which Southorn & Co were particularly renowned. Nick no doubt would have wanted the longest pipe possible, acting both as a status symbol and allowing further distance over which the smoke had chance to cool down. 

- 'Murkgate' in Madeley -
That genuinely fascinating visit is followed by a swift half in the Duke of York and an increasingly crowded return ride on the 8 (a game of sardines on a bus that seemed to be struggling with suspension problems). It's something of a relief to hop off at Madeley, especially when we can call into the Miner's Arms for some traditional Banks's hospitality. The Mild is on good form here as the two dreaded B words crop up in conversation (Brexit and Boris). We need an urgent distraction and the Foresters Arms does the trick with an intentionally cloudy Salopian brew called Paper Planes - the murky appearance and grapefruit aroma prompts much discussion, Ken gamely giving it a whirl. Supping up, we seek a bus back to Telford with the 2 eventually obliging by way of Sutton Hill, Dawley and Malinslee. The 18:31 train sees us homeward, and we consider our museum mission signed off successfully - those passport tickets really were excellent value!

Sunday, May 26

Warning - this crawl is a load of Cobblers!

I'm not the only person who's partial to the occasional Rail Rover adventure. Nick Turpin, our favourite dandy highwayman, has spent the last few days roaming the railway network and on Friday 24th May I joined him for a nudge into Northamptonshire...

- Knife Angel -
With instructions to be aboard the 10:14 London North Western service from New Street, I have a bonus hour in Birmingham at my disposal beforehand. This gives me ample time to make the acquaintance of the Knife Angel sculpture on display at Victoria Square - this thought-provoking creation is fashioned out of 100,000 blades that were collected during knife amnesties by police forces across the UK. Brum also sees me nibble along Newhall Street for a handful of pictures of Farmers Bridge Locks (specifically numbers seven to nine in the shadowy bowels below BT Tower).

- A basket case at Foot Meadow? -
The train is slightly delayed by having to wait behind a pesky late-running Virgin competitor but Nick Turpin can still board at Coventry as planned. Arriving at Northampton by 11:30, we pick out an opening riverside stroll through Foot Meadow - this admittedly isn't the most glamorous introduction to Northamptonshire's county town as we dodge broken bottles while counting dumped shopping trolleys and discarded baskets. Things as they say can only get better!

- A Carlsberg Chimney -
Northampton is traditionally known as a centre for the shoemaking trade (hence the local football team being nicknamed 'The Cobblers') but it also has a significant brewing pedigree. Carlsberg have their main UK operations based here and the plant dominates the skyline south of the main town. Nick Turpin is a discerning dandy who doesn't normally dabble with the lager side of the drinks spectrum, so although we grudgingly admire the brewery's chimneys and mass fermentation vats, we're not planning on sampling any of its output today.

- Northampton Lock -
We will of course be concentrating on cask ale as usual, but not until we've investigated more of the River Nene. Various tributaries and channels seem to converge here and the Waterfront area makes for a pleasant stroll, noting the presence of a marina and landmark lock just across from the University of Northampton campus. Wathen Wigg Bridge is a striking structure bearing the green, yellow and black colours of the town's rugby club and named in honour of their founder, the Reverend Samuel Wathen Wigg. 

- Pomfret Arms -
Nick Turpin has a hitlist of pubs he wishes to plunder and first of those is the Pomfret Arms, home of the Cotton End Brewery. Some Coffee Porter hits the spot nicely (and so it should at 5.2% ABV) as we seek out two armchairs and listen to some 1970s tunes. This sets us up nicely for a canal hunt, venturing along the Nene Way past the Carslberg complex to intercept the Grand Union Canal (Northampton Arm) at Towcester Road. The arm is a four-and-three-quarter mile long branch which links the River Nene with Gayton Junction for the Grand Union main line.

- Champion Cheese Hurler -
Two classic watering holes are next on our agenda as we take great delight in sampling both the Malt Shovel Tavern and the Albion Brewery Bar. The former has an enviable collection of beer trays (including one from the defunct Simpkiss Brewery of Brierley Hill) and is where pause for lunch, the artisan cheddar and leek bangers proving very tasty. The latter meanwhile is the location of the resurrected Phipps NBC brewery, bringing a renowned Northampton name back to prominence. Ratliffe's Celebrated Stout is exactly the lubrication we need when attempting to play table skittles; there's clearly a technique required for this and we aren't about to master it very quickly, even if Nick Turpin has some success flinging his cheeses around!

- Bass branding in the Lamplighter -
Our attentions now switch to the north-eastern portion of town, whereby the multicultural Kettering Road seems an almost ironic setting for a pub called Olde England. The basement takes us by surprise with an array of historical illustrations and framed vintage banknotes, a real escape from the hubbub above. We then engage in a backstreet rummage through the old Boot and Shoe Quarter, happening across the Lamplighter amidst the terraces of Overstone Road. We instantly like it here, seduced by Bass lettering and the prospect of an experimental stout served in dimpled half glasses.

- St Giles Church -
Northampton town centre is graced with some very fine provincial buildings, chief among which are the Guildhall (elaborately Gothic), All Saints Church and an attractive Market Square. St Giles's Church merits a mention too and has a namesake micropub that prompts Nick to man the (Titanic) Lifeboat - I opt for some kind of honey mild, a bit of an acquired taste perhaps. A check of the train app confirms we've scope for an extra half somewhere so the lively Wig & Pen gets the nod for Jack's Spaniels (a Gun Dog blonde brew) and Adnam's Ghost Ship.

- Long Buckby Shed Station -
The 18:39 train awaits and we interrupt our journey home at Long Buckby, which surely boasts one of the most underwhelming station buildings anywhere on the Heart of England Rover map. Thankfully the rest of the village is kinder on the eyes, especially the thatched treat that is the Old King's Head on Harbidges Lane. Whatpub gives this place an effusive write up and it is certainly popular, although we have to be swift with our Everard's Gold - not even another set of table skittles can persuade us into a longer stay. No, we must head home and thus concludes Nick Turpin's Cobblers crawl - cheers!