I was due to meet Andy at West Bromwich around about 10:30ish, giving me scope beforehand for some solo exploration. My initial destination was therefore Dartmouth Street, tempted by the prospect of some tram shots and the chance to track down local pubs such as the Vine and the Railway.
A random wiggle through the estates eventually leads me to Albion Road and an inviting new addition to my burgeoning canal collection. Pudding Green Junction is where the Wednesbury Old branch meets the New Main Line and is marked by a rather desolate turnover footbridge akin to the example at Deepfields. It’s fairly bleak and industrial to be honest with Izon and Albion Bridges also adding their tuppennyworths.
A wander up Oak Road garners glances at the Yew Tree pub and Oak House Museum, the latter a beguiling timber-framed former yeoman’s residence. Construction of an altogether more contemporary vintage is taking place on the Lyng where a considerable regeneration project is bringing about the rebirth of the former estate. The current scene sees impressive buildings like the new health centre situated alongside building sites, earthworks and piles of rubble - the very definition of a work in progress.
To West Bromwich Central and its time to meet Mr Lunn himself. Soon he emerges from the bus station and the outing proper can get underway. First on our hitlist is The Hawthorns, slightly unnerving with it being so close to the Black Country derby. Making a sharp exit we track down an old corner market store before surveying the hideous blue exterior of the crumbling Waggon and Horses pub, a Halford Lane landmark that is quickly becoming a gaudy eyesore.
Lewisham Road next, bringing back a few memories for Andy, specifically of one drunken Christmas at the New Navigation when he apparently got taken home by a pick-up truck. This is another pub in a sorry state but it still seems appropriate for Andy to pose there, just for old time’s sake…
Industrial decay awaits us on Cornwall Road in the form of a half-demolished factory then Andy gets remarkably excited when I introduce him to the old gents beneath Booth Street – definitely ‘one for the blog’.
A loop around Black Patch features a brief detour into Winson Green and then a tour of the park itself, which sadly seemed littered and neglected. At least the Soho Foundry is still an impressive sight, especially the gatehouse arch with its ornate lettering and Avery logos.
Directly opposite of course is the Soho Foundry Tavern, and having worked up a thirst it’s time to head inside. The front bar area retains pleasing elements of tradition with a wooden counter and a dimpled copper bar-top surface. Beerwise it has to be M&B Mild, an appropriate choice in the brewery’s old heartlands, and the pint provides a welcome distraction from the perils of the daytime TV tripe showing on the big TV.
One pub down but plenty more await. Rabone Lane beckons for a steady walk into Smethwick, admiring more industrial sights including graffiti for £29 beds. A number of former pubs entice us along Rolfe Street, including the Staffordshire Knot and the Crown & Anchor.
True to form, Andy’s sensitive bladder has sprung into life and we suddenly need to find the next pub rather urgently. The Falcon was a curious place where our Guinness came in cans and we had to wait for staffing reinforcements and the float to arrive before we could pay for them – how bizarre? In the meantime a dog sporting a large surgical collar provided the entertainment and we also spotted some murals depicting lakeside scenes that looked more like Coniston than Cape Hill!
Next up is the Moilliet Arms, albeit only after a Mission Impossible style quest to get into the building – did they want anyone to know that they were actually open? Having gained access we then felt like we’d entered the kind of Monty Python-esque sketch last seen in the Angel in Bewdley; working our way along the bar we were told that virtually everything was unavailable apart from the lager and some Bass Bitter. Despite these somewhat alarming first impressions I still ended up liking the place, won over by further hints of tradition and the fact I'd satisfied another of those little curiosities.
Andy throws me a curveball for our next port of call as we visit a pub that hadn’t previously registered on the Paul pub radar. Lurking in a sidestreet just behind the Moilliet is the London Works Tavern, a cracking find with a purplish corner frontage. On our way in we get chatting to a seasoned regular who bemoans the changing face of Smethwick and it’s pubs; he’s a veritable mine of local information even if he does resemble Roger fast-forwarded 20 years. A quick John Smith’s in the side lounge does us nicely, and it’s sad to hear that the pub is being threatened by a proposed superhospital development that might take up lots of the surrounding land too.
Four pubs and counting, it’s time to concentrate on Cape Hill. Andy again plays tour guide to point out the site of the old Windmill Precinct (now just an empty patch with a few scattered railings) and the Red Lion, but his expert commentary is cut short when the bladder kicks in again and finding the next pub becomes a matter of critical importance.
That next pub is The Robin, historically known as the Robinson Crusoe, and a place that was a pleasant surprise with some more Smethwick characters creating a lively and friendly atmosphere. We get served by a chap in an Albion shirt and I’m back on the M&B Mild. Some chaps are having a chat whilst others quietly read the paper or do a crossword, so it’s a pub I could even consider visiting on my own.
With Andy no longer doing contortional bladder gymnastics it’s safe to continue into the centre of Cape Hill in search of food. There didn’t seem to be any menus in the Seven Stars or the Sampson Lloyd although we did at least stop in the latter for a quick half of Worthington’s. Andy says this place used to be a Wetherspoon’s and it does have that kind of feel – it’s certainly popular here, although I’m not sure having Countdown on the big screen is part of the attraction.
Greggs finally sorts the bellies out and then it’s down Shireland Road for a further swift half. The Shireland is another impressive M&B building that helped the brewery mark out their territory in years gone by. Internally it wasn’t my favourite of the day, although the bar still had a traditional appearance with some nice stained glass friezes Whisky, Rum etc. The visit is also memorable for seeing Noel Edmonds presenting Deal or No Deal in a hideous Rocky Horror style costume, yuk!
Heading towards the evening and we’ve hardly been on the bus yet. Famous last words those as we seek out the 87 and Andy fires up the old D9 – luckily for me we’re only going a couple of stops, just long enough to get a couple of bruises from the dodgy steering.
The Old Chapel was one of my favourite Smethwick discoveries of 2010 and I was particularly keen to see if its external charm would be mirrored inside – I’m delighted to say it does. The lounge was healthily busy with friendly locals creating a relaxed ambience, and we enjoyed a refreshing pint of Guinness each sitting in the window watching various 89s going past, none of which were remotely running on time!
- The D9 does Smethwick High Street for the first time since 1968 -
It was a shame to tear ourselves away but needs must so on we went. Waiting for an 89 would have been a thankless task so we turned to the reliability of the 87, which soon appeared after a little trek down to the Red Cow. Taking residence on the back seat, Andy was able to let the D9 fully loose at last with the slog down to Oldbury providing the cue for a bit of videoing and several tortuous gear changes!
Oldbury was our final destination as I was eager to sample the Jolly Collier, an entrant in the 2011 Good Beer Guide. Situated on Junction Street, the pub looks inviting all lit up in the dark. Heading inside it’s a really nice local with a choice of real ales from which I select Dorothy Goodbody’s Country Ale, and very nice it was too. An excellent setting for our final pint and then sadly it’s time to say our farewells.
It had been an absolutely cracking outing sampling good honest local pubs and investigating some of Sandwell’s industrial heritage. I relished the chance to explore Smethwick in more detail and I will definitely have more affection for the area as a result.