Friday, November 27

Lost Pubs from the WME Archives: Part 17

It already seems an age since my last pub pint - White Rat in Wolverhampton's Chindit on the 1st November - and news that the West Midlands will be in Tier 3 come the end of the second lockdown means I'll be waiting a while yet for my next cask indulgence. In the meantime, I'll try to fill the void by summoning a further five bygone boozers from the depths of the WME Archives...

- Coach & Horses, Balsall Heath -
November's selection begins in the backstreets of Balsall Heath where the Coach & Horses occupies the corner of Edward Road and Mary Street, not too far from the Edgbaston cricket ground. From what I can gather, the building survives having at one stage become the Al Nakheel cafe-cum-restaurant specialising in Arabian and Yemeni cuisine. I'm not sure if it is currently in use though so any updates on its status would be appreciated. 

- Cottage Inn, Stourbridge -
Last month I featured the Somerset House as a casualty from the 'Enville Run' crawl which links Stourbridge and Wollaston, and here we lament the loss of another from that notable sequence. A compact traditional watering hole, the Cottage Inn was the first pub on Enville Street after you'd escaped the clutches of Stourbridge Ring Road; I never got to sample it myself sadly and now it is purely residential, albeit still retaining the little circular portrait detail between the upstairs windows. 

- The Falcon, Smethwick -
We go back to May 2010 in recalling this Smethwick specimen which I spotted whilst preparing for a walk along Windmill Lane towards Cape Hill. The Falcon stood on Baldwin Street with Messenger Road on the left terminating at those concrete bollards; a very plain establishment, it received a Hub Marketing visit in February 2011 when Mr D9 and I made the acquaintance of a dog with a large surgical collar. Barely a couple of months later, the place was flattened and the land has latterly been claimed for the Windmill Heights development. 

- Great Horse, Heath Town -
My fourth offering this month is a boozer that will need no introduction where the Beardsmores are concerned, with Mr B Senior being especially well versed in the hospitality of the Great Horse. This was almost the definitive M&B box boozer, situated on the fork where Bushbury Road and Prestwood Road converge near Heath Town Park. Having suffered from something of a dubious reputation (to put it politely), it was converted into a One Stop store and takeaway about eight years ago. 

- The Grange, Coventry -
Somewhat surprisingly, I haven't featured a perished Coventry pub until now so here is a Stoke Heath sample as my token attempt to redress that particular balance. Trying unsuccessfully to find the Rose & Woodbine in 2012, Mr D9 and I stumbled upon the Grange on Alfall Road quite by accident. It would have been a handsome roadhouse in its day but had already shut down and remained derelict for a couple more years before being turned into a Co-op supermarket. Until next time, cheers!

Monday, November 23

A Wolverhampton Waterways Walk

 ... or if I were to give this post an alternative title, it would be called the Wolf Mountain, Wildside and Whitmore Reans trip. Lockdown Mk II is still curtailing my exploration horizons but the need to keep close to home does mean I can report on a stretch of canal that sometimes gets overlooked on the pages of this blog, namely the section from Compton through to Dunstall Park.

- Wolf Mountain -
Sunday 22nd November and this 'All the Ws' affair commences at Compton Park. I've mentioned St Edmunds School and the Wolverhampton Wanderers training ground before but one new item for my archive is the Wolf Mountain Indoor Climbing Centre, positioned to the rear of City of Wolverhampton College's Paget Road Campus. The facility is closed during the second lockdown and hopes to reopen in December, while in normal times it offers indoor climbing, caving, bouldering and archery activities.

- Tettenhall Old Bridge -
And so to the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal which I join at the ever-familiar Compton Lock. It's a little squelchy underfoot but the crisp morning sunshine encourages me on towards Tettenhall where bridges of differing vintages stand almost side-by-side. Tettenhall Old Bridge is definitely the more interesting and used to carry the main coaching road to Holyhead until Thomas Telford re-routed things via The Rock. Wolverhampton's Multiple Sclerosis Therapy Centre is a notable amenity nearby while Tettenhall New Bridge is sturdier than its earlier counterpart if rather less photogenic. 

- Wildside Activity Centre -
Beyond Newbridge, the canal flanks a small wharf and the local playing fields before also passing an entrance into the Double Pennant Boatyard as guarded by a Mobil sign. Next up is Hordern Road where I branch off to investigate the Wildside Activity Centre (again currently closed due to Covid). A wooden walkway is adorned with creature caricatures including hedgehogs, swans and flapping bats, while the centre's resident narrowboat is moored up waiting for services to resume. Wildside ordinarily is an important resource providing outdoor learning and environmental education opportunities. 

- Tunstall Water Bridge -
Rejoining the Staffs & Worcs, I soon reach the intriguing Tunstall Water Bridge, otherwise known as Dunstall Water Bridge although the nameplate retains the original 18th century spelling. This structure is a combined aqueduct and footbridge that is said to date from the 1770s; it carries the Smestow Brook over the canal and is part of the long-term drainage infrastructure for this corner of Wolverhampton. A short distance further brings me to Aldersley Junction so that I can switch attentions to the BCN.  

- Dunstall Park Bridge & Lock 19 -
The Birmingham Main Line Canal runs from Aldersley all the way into the centre of Brum and intrepid boaters first would have to negotiate the famed Wolverhampton flight of 21 locks. I'm only focusing on the last few locks on this occasion, hence No. 21 is immediately adjacent to Aldersley Junction Bridge whereas No. 19 accompanies Dunstall Park Bridge in the shadows of the racecourse. Oxley Viaduct is an unmistakable presence as I approach Lock 17 from whence a footpath leads me into the new(ish) estates off Gorsebrook Road. 

- Dunstall Park Lodge -
Despite taking various pictures around Dunstall Park over the years, I can only recall attending an actual race day just the once when I was a kid. The racecourse is an integral component of the Wolverhampton economy with its all-weather track, Holiday Inn hotel and as a venue for other leisure events, while the lodge has been a firm fixture for as long as I can remember. Dunstall Lane, Gatis Street and Riches Street provide a sunkissed-slice of Whitmore Reans on my way home, with the Gatis Community Space adventure playground being an excellent closing photo target - the former Farndale Primary School and the Victoria pub having long since been demolished. Cheers!

Saturday, November 14

Hub Marketing Reflections: The Coventry Collection

It is around this time of year that the Hub Marketing Board would normally descend on Coventry for our annual autumn dash around Godiva's fair city. Sadly the 2020 edition has had to be cancelled due to the second national lockdown but you know the drill by now - when new trips aren't possible we dip back into the archives instead. Here then with the help of some previously unseen quiffage is a rundown of recollections from Coventry trips past...

- The Original Quiff -
Our very first Coventry caper took place during September 2012 and comprised a madcap tour of Brownshill Green and Willenhall bus termini along with a partial attempt at the 'Craven Run' pub sequence in Chapelfields. The Biggin Hall made an impression as a Binley Road example of 1920s Brewers Tudor style, whereas the New Haven in Cheylesmore was seriously spartan by comparison. Perhaps most importantly, the concept of the Ron West tribute quiff was born - the inaugural design was simply a folded-up Metro newspaper, seen above as modelled by our illustrious Chairman in the Hastings. 

- Two-Tone Quiff -
The quiff is Mr D9's affectionate homage to Ron West, a former bus driver who also hosted a Rock and Roll show on local radio. The 2013 creation was a black cardboard effort intended to clip behind one ear although it kept falling off, hence the Secretary holds it in place when enjoying a cuppa at the 2 Tone Cafe. It was actually a morning for drinking tea, our keenness for greasy spoon experiences meaning we did three such establishments in quick succession. Cats were a key theme too - especially those sitting on dustbin lids - while the standout pubs included two flat-roofers at Ernesford Grange (Bear & Staff, New Tiger Moth) plus the round-fronted Foresters in Hillfields.

- Children in Need Quiff -
To November 2014 when the purplish quiff ensemble was accompanied by Pudsey ears in preparation for Children in Need. After a couple of previous near misses, the Secretary finally got his bearings correct for finding the Rose & Woodbine among the backstreets of Stoke Heath; Riley Square's closet captured the Chairman's attention in Bell Green while the Coventry Cross coughed up some contraband salmon when giving us a 'Dive of the Century' contender. Elsewhere, the Boat at Walsgrave and the Bird in Hand at Aldermans Green made for good pub discoveries although Mr WME's favourite find was the Bricklayers Arms on Cromwell Street, a backstreet boozer beloved by the Irish community. 

- Perfectly Coiffed at Sandy Lane Garage -
The 2015 episode began with a homage to Ron West's old stomping ground of Sandy Lane bus depot, hence Mr D9 parading his paper towel creation outside what is now an industrial estate. An overcast hike along the Coventry Canal was rewarded with a cracking breakfast at Little Heath before Tile Hill took the afternoon honours, the Black Prince being an estate pub with a proud Sky Blues allegiance. Mount Nod and the Maudslay might mischievously have been subjected to spells of WME witchcraft while there were dubious dominoes afoot in the Nursery Tavern. We eventually landed up back in Birmingham for a Halloween helping of Hockley, staging our only visit to the Gunmakers Arms (a Lozells haunt that has sadly since closed) and finishing with some friendly feline attention from Willow in the White House. 

- Closed Closet Inspection with the 2016 Quiff -
The Chairman's quiff constructions have become increasingly intricate over the years, a fine example being the fully laminated headpiece he crafted in 2016. Said specimen was on hand to document a closed closet at Jubilee Crescent although D9's spirits were soon lifted by being able to sample the Pilot, a vast Grade II-listed Radford roadhouse. This was also a day when we solemnly remembered Coventry's automotive heritage by stopping off at Stoke Aldermoor to see how the Peugeot plant had been transformed into housing. Poppy Ale in the Humber Hotel and Guinness in the Grapes (an Irish mainstay that's been under threat of late) preceded a Coundon curtain call and a Town Crier nightcap - we do like to cram a lot in!

- Bequiffed WME at War Memorial Park -
It's fair to say that sightings of the Secretary embracing the quiff phenomenon are relatively rare, so the above snap taken at War Memorial Park is certainly a collector's item. Fashioned from scrunched-up paper and gaffer tape, this was a weighty number that rustled in the breeze. 2017's jaunt took us to Finham, Fenside - scene of a memorable three dart finish for WME Whirlwind - and Earlsdon, plus the Chairman was able to demonstrate his Bendibus driving prowess. Standout watering holes included Byatts Brewery Tap at Lythalls Lane and a Burnt Post brekkie but star billing was stolen by the Ansells Mild in the Cheylesmore Social. 

- Tinkling the Ivories at the Nugget -
Next up naturally is 2018 which saw a somewhat understated beige affair accompanying Mr D9's best Bobby Crush impressions in Coundon Green. Canley and Cannon Park had provided a productive morning, spotting Elmer elephants before seeking out the Sovereign, while the Brooklands and the Old Shepherd (with its psychedelic sheep art) joined the Nugget on our afternoon agenda. The 16A bus was treated to some steering shenanigans along the Keresley Road, and who could forget our impromptu 'Gone Gone Gone' Johnny Mathis karaoke session inspired by seeing a proliferation of Henry's estate agent sale boards. 

- A Ragged Bit of D9 Driving -
Our most recent Coventry escapade came in November 2019 when the quiff was a full-on fabric concoction complete with raggedy sideburns - the Chairman's finest masterpiece yet? Having perused the busy stalls of Coventry Market to begin with, we ventured out to Binley and Willenhall in search of further flat-roofed fun courtesy of the Standard Bearer and the Glade. Fargo Village gave us gorilla art followed by the Twisted Barrel brewery tap, leaving Holbrooks and Lockhurst Lane to supply our early evening entertainment. Hopefully normal service will be resumed in 2021 and Coventry will once again christen another entry from the D9 quiff catalogue - cheers!

Sunday, November 8

Lockdown Log: FORDHOUSES

I had hoped I wouldn't have to file any new entries in my Lockdown Log collection but a surge in the Covid infection rate means we're back under national restrictions until the start of December. Exploring is still possible provided I stay close to home so I summon up another walk from my Wolverhampton doorstep repertoire...

- Scarlett -
Friday 6th November is the day after the latest lockdown came into force and I start with the A449 Stafford Road out to the northern fringes of Wolverhampton. Fordhouses is an instantly familiar location with features I've known for ages - the Moreton Arms pub, Vine Island and what used to be the Lucas factory (now operating as Collins Aerospace following a succession of name changes) all bring back a variety of memories from the years when I lived in nearby Bushbury. There are some new arrivals though, most notably three carved wolves that occupy the dual carriageway central reservation.

- Maverick -
Commissioned as part of i54 route upgrade works, the sculptures were crafted by the Brewood-based artist Robot Cossey and named by local primary schoolchildren. We therefore have Maverick (in a howling pose), Lucky (in a prowling pose) and Scarlett (almost leaping) all giving commuters something to smile about as the traffic rumbles past. I've been meaning to take pictures of the trio since they were first unveiled in June 2019 so at least that's something I've achieved during the pandemic!

- Oval Drive -
Wandering now into the wider Fordhouses estates, Springfield Lane allows access to several streets inspired by racecourses - Aintree, Lingfield and Fontwell to name but a few. Taunton Avenue is where I find the beigely understated St James's Church while Oval Drive was built on what used to be the home of Fordhouses Cricket Club. Established in 1927, the club was based here until all their sporting and social activities relocated to the former Dowty's ground off Wobaston Road in 2005. 

- Chetton Green Flats -
Wobaston Road is briefly on the agenda for me today as I pass the Brammer Distribution Centre and cross into Winchester Road, bound for Chetton Green. Harrowby Road offers reminders of allotments, cafes and the Yummy Yummy Rice House although community pub the Harrowby Arms (Banks's/ Marston's) is temporarily closed in line with recent regulations. Chetton Green Flats never seem to change much and Patshull Avenue Open Space serves as my gateway towards Pendeford. 

- A Dovecotes Decoration -
After some canalside views in the vicinity of Marsh Lane, I proceed via Pendeford Square which is understandably quieter than normal. There are still a few socially distanced shoppers keeping the Morrisons supermarket ticking over while St Paul's School has windows wide open for extra ventilation. Ryhope Walk then melds into Reapers Walk for a little taste of Dovecotes where the Haymarket shopping precinct (never the prettiest of places) comprises a Premier Convenience Store, the Pendeford Fish Bar and a poultry business. 

- Tettenhall Clock -
Reapers Walk in turn becomes Long Furrow as I continue into Palmers Cross, undertaking a loop of Coniston Road for no good reason other than general curiosity. Stockwell End is being treated to some improved broadband infrastructure that means I need to keep clear of Lothians Road workmen, but I make it to Tettenhall without undue delay. Here my stroll concludes at Upper Green in the shadow of the village clock, which was installed to celebrate the June 1911 coronation of King George V. Cheers!