Saturday, September 25

Hub Marketing 2021: Leaping Into Lye

Now that our esteemed Chairman has returned to full fitness, the Hub Marketing Board can convene the meeting we'd originally scheduled two weeks ago. The hostelries and taverns of Lye are on standby to receive our custom, so brace yourselves for bald spots, discounts and an encounter with a famous feline...

- Treatos Are Served -
Friday 24th September 2021 and our first challenge is to get ourselves across to Stourbridge to meet that celebrity cat. Mr D9 dodges any cob forfeits by arriving promptly at Bradley Lane while Secretary WME survives a brief brush with The Hawthorns, meaning we soon saunter into Stourbridge Junction in search of resident mousecatcher George. He isn't on his usual ticket office seat so we eventually track him down on platform 1, studiously ignoring us until the Chairman's pack of Dreamies provides the necessary persuasion - let it not be said that the bald one isn't above acts of blatant bribery when a ginger furball selfie is required!

- The Queensway, Pedmore Fields -
Leaving George to roll about in some platform mud, we press on into Pedmore Fields via Old Ham Lane and Drew Road. The local JET petrol garage is attracting constant queues as motorists try to stock up amidst concerns over fuel shortages, hence the Queensway pub gives us an ideal vantage point for watching the unfolding pump procession. Keenly-priced respective pints of Carling and John Smith's put Mr WME into early discount contention as we watch a bit of the Racing Channel and trade some Pick of the Pops predictions. The front bar here is smartly furnished in making for a good start to the day's quaffing business. 

- Stevens Park, Wollescote -
From Pedmore Fields we weave a trail through Wollescote, taking in the leafy surroundings of Stevens Park - this is one of three public open spaces gifted to the area by Ernest Stevens, the others being in Quarry Bank and Stourbridge. Wollescote Hall is the park's Grade II-listed centrepiece, dating from the C17th and latterly used as a Social Services base by Dudley Council. We tiptoe through the trees and out towards Brackendale Way, playing our silly song selections as we go; it remains to be seen whether the excitable strains of Margarita Pracatan have ever echoed across these grassy expanses before but they certainly have now!

- Checkout Craftiness in the Hadcroft -
Our other dubious ditty choices both concern decimalisation, whereby Max Bygraves seems very much in favour but Wilfrid Brambell bemoans the potential loss of old-fashioned counting skills. Our mathematical prowess is duly put to the test at the Hadcroft when we stage our latest darts contest. D9 Destroyer takes the opening leg and seems to be fixated on leaving himself 19 for each and every checkout, a ploy that backfires when WME Whirlwind snatches a double 17 finish that leaves all onlookers truly flabbergasted. Perhaps the Secretary feels inspired by the Banks's Mild or the melodious tones of Petula Clark, either way he wins 2-1. 

- A Foxy Bald Spot? -
The Lye area was once known for having over fifty watering holes within half a mile square. There aren't quite as many nowadays even if we still have plenty to keep us occupied, our next example being the Fox on Green Lane for a dose of backstreet Banks's complete with a Peaky Blinders undercurrent. One swift Amber later we head around the corner to check on the Hollybush, just down from Lye & Wollescote Cemetery (sadly for D9 the old closet was removed a few years ago). Elsewhere, the Railway is closed despite having undergone extensive renovation and the Windsor Castle is now home to the Printworks Brewery after the Sadlers name was bought up by Halewood International.

- Sir Cedric Hardwicke Tribute Filmreel -
Lye Cross is the intersection of the A458 Stourbridge Road/Lye High Street with the A4036 Pedmore Road/Dudley Road, a notorious bottleneck prior to the bypass being constructed. The junction has been chosen as an appropriate setting for a sculpture celebrating the life and works of locally-born Sir Cedric Hardwicke, an acclaimed stage actor whose many film credits include roles in 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame', 'The Ten Commandments' and 'The Ghost of Frankenstein'. Lye railway station resolutely remains its usual mundane self, improved by the replacement of a concrete footbridge but the grey plank ticket office ensures a continuing sense of ugliness.

- Beat Brewery -
Secretary WME has been keeping a close eye on the clock for the last half hour and his intentions become clear once an industrial estate wriggle reveals the Beat Brewery premises. A relatively recent arrival to the West Midlands beer scene, the Lye taproom was established in 2018 after the brewery relocated from Somerset. 4pm opening sees us eagerly partaking of Metalhead Stout and Jungle Drum Machine American Pale, all accompanied by a ginormous grated cheese and onion cob - a Madness soundtrack is evidence of the company's music preferences, one of the other craft brews being named Skaburst. 

- Lye Cross -
We've enjoyed a stellar afternoon already but we couldn't leave Lye without sampling the Shovel, one of those must-visit Black Country hostelries it would be sacrilege to avoid. The stand-out ale here is Bath'ums, a cheeky collaboration between the pub and the Ambridge Brewery - it certainly hits the spot! A final glance at Lye Cross precinct then precedes a ride on the 7 up Thorns Road, spotting the aforementioned Quarry Bank version of Stevens Park followed by the Koyla Kitchen (the overhauled Thorns box boozer that operates as a sports bar-cum-steakhouse and has nothing to do with Koala bears). 

- D9 Drives Home -
A Delph dash will round off the day nicely, and for once we won't be making the pilgrimage to the hallowed Bull & Bladder. No, the Chairman has his heart set upon doing the Roebuck on Amblecote Road, an ex-Ansells number if Detective D9 is to be believed. The Golden Glow is on form here as we check the bus times and realise we've got a small window for a Corn Exchange curtain call. It's certainly been an action-packed blast and homeward haulage duties go to the number 8 route via Merry Hill, Woodside and Dudley. Cheers!

Monday, September 20

Lost Pubs from the WME Archives - Part 23

Although new episodes of the WME Lost Pubs series are less frequent than they used to be, I keep my file marked 'Bygone Boozers' on standby for the occasional airing. The dust has thus been brushed away from this quintet you may or may not remember...

- The Scott Arms -
Numerous former public houses have been turned into fast food outlets over the years with the Scott Arms being merely another to have succumbed to that common fate. Positioned on the A462 between Darlaston and Wednesbury, this expired establishment ceased trading circa 2011 and then remained a disused eyesore until the creation of the Yuyi Dragon Chinese takeaway gave the building a new lease of life. 

- The Pheasant Inn -
Our second snippet for this post is a Madeley (Telford) offering that was the lesser-heralded of two characterful Coalport Road calling points. The All Nations is rightly highly regarded as a traditional brew pub but a few doors along was the Pheasant, an end-of-terrace Banks's house that I first photographed back in 2010. The premises has permanently closed having been turned into a private residence.

- The Talisman -
I spent the best part of thirty years living in Wolverhampton's northern suburbs and in all that time I never remotely felt drawn towards the Talisman, a somewhat notorious box boozer on the Underhill estate. My only visit came during a Hub Marketing crawl in May 2015 and even then I resolutely insisted on sitting outside while D9 performed round honours. Police raids and revoked licenses were the story here before a serious fire ravaged the building. 

- The Waggon & Horses -
Another Wolverhampton watering hole that had a chequered reputation during its final days was the Waggon & Horses on Cannock Road. Situated close to the Birmingham Main Line Canal and backing onto Fowlers Park, the building has since been extended in becoming a  'Casper' Polish supermarket although it retains the decorative tiled frieze above the entrance. Incidentally there used to be a separate Coach & Horses pub further down Cannock Road, that one being an old Butler's (M&B) effort where the car garage now stands.

- The Park Tavern -
Finally we weave our way across to Walsall and a place that had completely slipped my memory. Broadway North was the location for the Park Tavern, a seemingly well-heeled offering that befitted its leafy surroundings in close proximity to the town's Arboretum. Having closed down back in June 2013, the site was developed into the Kilhendre Court retirement complex as operated by McCarthy & Stone. 

Sunday, September 12

Baggeridge and Gospel End

Sometimes despite your best intentions, things simply don't go to plan. Friday 10th September 2021 had been reserved for Hub Marketing action, only for the stricken Chairman to cancel due to a sickness bug. Left to my own devices, I conjure up a solo snoop into a part of South Staffordshire I hadn't visited for years...

- Footpath to Gospel End -
It's a very grey and overcast morning as I catch the 15 to Himley, sprinting my way to Merry Hill island just in time to intercept the bus. A top deck ride through Wombourne helps me get my breath back before I alight on School Road near the care home. Himley Cricket Club is my first real photo target of the day; established in 1883, they currently play in the Birmingham & District Premier League. Beggars Bush Lane seems to be a building site as part of the Bovis Homes Gittins Park development, then a public footpath points me across the fields towards Gospel End flanked by the perimeter walls of Himley Park. 

- Baggeridge Adventure Hub - 
Mr D9's enforced absence doesn't prevent me from carrying out certain Board formalities, including gathering hub evidence at the main entrance to Baggeridge Country Park. The park was created on the site of the former Baggeridge Colliery as owned by the Earls of Dudley; the pit had been the last operational deep coal mine in the Black Country area prior to closing in 1968, while the Country Park itself was officially opened in June 1983. My public footpath route introduces me to a couple of post-industrial hovels and gives glimpses of Baggeridge Wood Farm, the stables of which are home to horses such as Roxy, Spirit and Ben.

- St Barnabas Chapel -
Emerging onto the main A463 Wodehouse Lane, I quickly reach Gospel End which is a small settlement between Sedgley and Wombourne. I'd imagine the place would have been quite busy when the pit and the associated brickworks were in full production; Baggeridge Brick was a well-known name in the construction industry and their site has latterly been converted into a craft village and housing complex, albeit with the historic brickworks chimney retained for future posterity. Another notable Gospel End landmark is St Barnabas Mission Church, dating from the 1890s but no longer in active use as a place of worship. 

- The Summer House -
One village amenity that still fulfils its intended function is the Summer House pub, set slightly away from the roadside and looking rather inviting now I've walked up a thirst. Dodging the posse of car park ramblers, I enter the main bar and procure myself a well-earned pint of Wainwright. News filters through that the Old Trafford test match has been cancelled while a pair of old boys count out their pennies in readiness for subsequent rounds. One drink is sufficient for me here as I'm keen to get into Sedgley, hence my onward stroll takes me past the Northway turning and the Seven Stars (a Banks's establishment that seemed very quiet for a Friday lunchtime). 

- The Beacon's Back Garden -
Somewhere altogether busier is the Beacon Hotel, forever cherished as one of my ultimate West Midlands watering holes. Despite countless visits over the years I don't think I've ever frequented its beer garden before, which makes for quite a revelation when I discover a scene of outhouse toilets and well-worn benches. The Sedgley Surprise ale (Sarah Hughes Brewery) is utterly impeccable and I'm very partial to the accompanying bag of Bostin' Scratchuns too - beat that for a proper Black Country lunch! Even a minor drizzle flurry can't dampen my enthusiasm for this all-time classic so if you've never been you simply must go. 

- St Mary the Virgin, Hurst Hill -
Any risk of prolonged rain soon recedes and I'm all clear to proceed along Gorge Road into Hurst Hill. St Mary the Virgin Parish Church seems to be in wedding mode and there's an interesting memorial to Dr Isaiah James Baker (1850 - 1912) on the corner with Hall Lane. Woodcross tries to tempt me with the prospect of the Horse & Jockey but on this occasion I decline in favour of the Three Crowns out along Dovedale Road, a hostelry that now has Desi leanings thanks to the provision of Nepalese and Indian cuisine. A chilled pint of John Smiths Beardsmore bleach keeps me quenched whilst I lap up a sense of Friday afternoon freedom.

- Dovedale Road -
The Three Crowns is the main pub serving the Ettingshall Park estate nestled below the crest of Sedgley Beacon. Dovedale Road's local shops are arranged either side of the Delhurst Avenue junction and include a post office, Posh Paws pet grooming, a dental practice and a hand cut crystal glass showroom. Brightening skies then allow for sunnier snapshots involving Farrington Road before I flag down the number 1 bus for my lift home to Wolverhampton. It may not have been a Hub Marketing day but I made the most of things regardless - cheers!

Saturday, September 4

Bears on Tour: Manchester 2021

Ah the thwack of leather on willow, how we have missed that ageless sound! Cricket has been played during these Covid-afflicted times but there's nothing quite like actually being at the ground as the drama unfolds. I have been back to Edgbaston since pandemic restrictions were eased, and now I can happily report on an away fixture as Warwickshire take on Lancashire at Old Trafford...

- First drink of the holiday -
Sunday 29th August 2021 sees Stephen, Mr B Senior and I journeying up to Manchester in advance of the game. The market town of Altrincham will be our base for the next few days, so with the Beardsmobile safely parked outside our Premier Inn accommodation, we set about exploring a locality that was historically within Cheshire but is nowadays one of the largest settlements in Trafford Metropolitan Borough. Licking our wounds after Wolves controversially lost to Manchester United at Molineux, we grab a pint in the Unicorn Wetherspoon's where a John Smith's shortage nearly causes serious grumpiness. Our favourite pub of the day has to be the Malt Shovels, a traditional Sam Smith's boozer near the railway station - the Old Brewery Bitter is definitely on form as we look forward to the contest ahead.

- Typical Manchester skies? -
Monday 30th August heralds the start of the all-important sporting action as we catch the Manchester Metrolink across to Old Trafford. Leaden grey skies shroud the scene as the Bears elect to bat and make respectable progress, compiling 259/3 thanks to centuries from Sam Hain and Chris Benjamin (the latter making his red ball debut for the club). Warwickshire have actually been doing well in four-day cricket this year and are in the mix to be County Champions having qualified for the top division as the season nears its climax. It was a less productive day for beleaguered Dom Sibley, dismissed for 3 as part of a new ball burst by home bowler Tom Bailey, but on the whole we are pleased with how things are going.

- The Navigation -
Monday's evening exertions involve a stop off at Sale, the town where Stephen and I stayed during our previous Manchester getaway in 2016. We didn't sample the Railway five years ago so it merits a look tonight as a Robinson's tied house just behind the Sale Waterside complex; Oasis tunes on a heavily-worked jukebox make for a very lively atmosphere here. A few stops further along the tram line is Navigation Road, the station also being served by Northern trains between Manchester Piccadilly and Chester. A dusky stroll along the street of the same name brings us to the Navigation pub so that Mr B Senior can indulge in his craving for John Smith's whilst watching a gruelling Warrington vs St Helen's rugby league fixture. 

- Linotype Works -
The navigation that both the pub and the thoroughfare refer to is the Bridgewater Canal, first opened in July 1761 before going on to link Leigh with Runcorn via Manchester city centre. Tuesday morning gives me chance to investigate the towpath between Seamons Moss and Altrincham Bridge, spotting evidence of the 1897 Linotype Works en route - this landmark Broadheath factory made typesetting equipment for the national newspaper industry although sadly one of the former buildings has been declared unsafe. Over at Old Trafford, the Bears batsmen seem unable to get out of first gear and it's a real struggle to get the scoreboard moving. Hain departs early for 118 with Burgess and Lamb subsequently dropping anchor.

- Bobby Charlton, Best and Law -
The lunch interval therefore comes as a blessed relief as we relocate to the 'other' Old Trafford, Manchester United's so-called Theatre of Dreams. Even though I haven't forgiven United for robbing Wolves on Sunday, it's a thrill to see one of the famous homes of English football. We undertake a loop around the Stretford End, say hello to the statue of Bobby Charlton, George Best and Dennis Law, and even note Lou Macari's chip shop on the main road near the stadium. The afternoon cricket is thankfully less attritional, Saqib Mahmood taking 4/77 as Warwickshire are dismissed for 371. The host's reply reaches 100/1 at the close as Luke Wells and Josh Bohannon build a painstaking partnership.

- Mr B Senior grapples his Guinness -
The bright lights of Manchester itself beckon on Tuesday evening whereby we can savour a trio of classic pub experiences. The Circus Tavern claims to have the smallest bar in Europe (the servery is little more than a shelf in the entrance hallway) and we share the back snug with some slightly eccentric theatrical luvvies. The Lass O'Gowrie has the kind of superb tiled frontage I'm always a sucker for, not to mention a crisp pint of Mobberley's Bunji 3.8% pale ale. As nice as that was, it gets upstaged by a cracking Titanic Plum Porter in the City Arms where we bump into a bunch of fellow Bears supporters and exchange observations on the match thus far. Stephen is happy enough with the situation on the field while John gazes lovingly at his glass of Guinness. 

- Sibley scores some runs -
Wednesday 1st September is all set to be a decisive day at the cricket - could either side seize the initiative? In short, no, because the teams are effectively cancelling each other out and a tame draw looks the likely result. For the record, Lancashire amassed 341 in their first innings with standout contributions from Bohannon (an excellent knock of 170) and Liam Norwell (by far Warwickshire's most penetrative bowler, claiming an impressive 6 for 57). The Bears are poised on 52/1 second time around as opener Sibley gets some much-needed runs but the consensus is that - barring a monumental collapse - there will be early handshakes sometime after tea tomorrow afternoon.

- Tatton Blonde in the Old Packet House -
The end of third day's play prompts us into a Brooklands breather, popping into the Brook (a JW Lees establishment adjacent to the Altrincham-bound platform). Sale Sharks rugby regalia is apparent here alongside the anticipated Man City/Man Utd representation, and for once it isn't Stephen creating a spillage when my knees are caught out by an unexpected table leg. Navigation Road is then called into action again for a chippy tea - steak and kidney puddings really do need to be added to West Midlands fish bar menus - and a couple more Broadheath boozers. The Railway beguiles us with Irish leanings, glorious Guinness and the T20 ladies match vs New Zealand, setting us up perfectly for an Old Packet House nightcap courtesy of a terrific Tatton Blonde very much befitting a place that's received Good Beer Guide recognition.

- Moss Lane Turnstiles -
Thursday 2nd September starts with a non-league nugget as I track down the Moss Lane base of Altrincham FC, founded in 1891 and currently plying their trade in the top tier of the National League. Cricketing concerns see the expected stalemate materialising very much as predicted, the Bears batsmen seeing out the day in relative comfort. This was despite the erstwhile efforts of spinner Matt Parkinson who bowled unchanged from the Brian Statham End and was rewarded with 4/94 and no doubt a very sore arm. The Warwickshire resistance was led by Sibley (57), Hain (48) and 36 not out for Matthew Lamb although it did feel farcical playing out the overs when the end result had long become inevitable. 

- The Bricklayers Arms -
All of which leaves us with the small matter of our final evening in Altrincham as punctuated by a few more pubs. Pi is a craft beer bar situated on Shaw's Road opposite the bustling Market Hall; we partake of Stubborn Mule's Absolute Banker here and feel right at the heart of the local nightlife. A nearby establishment to attract our custom is Kennedy's, a dedicated Irish pub that apparently has only been trading for a few months. Guinness is naturally our drink of choice as we witness some of the England goals going in against Hungary in the World Cup qualifying tie. Last but not least is the Bricklayers Arms for a pint of Wainwrights that just about beats the call for last orders, and we raise our glasses to a memorable five days. Cheers!