Another twelve months have sped on by and here I am again raking over the embers of my final Flickr update of the year. November began an alphabetical approach to additions with an array of As, so December followed suit by bringing on the Bs...
Among the lingering coals at the end of 2014 we find Bridgnorth, warming up WME Shropshire with a neat selection drawn of the Black Horse, the Cliff Railway, the Vine at Low Town and our old friend the Shakespeare. There's even a sniff of the Severn Valley Railway with a footbridge shot from Bridgnorth Station, a place where the scent of coal really does hang in the air when the trains are about!
Also accumulating in the ashes is Brierley Hill, hence WME Dudley benefits from pictures of the Rose & Crown pub, Marsh Park, the George Gallagher (historically the Plough) when it still had a roof and also the Briar Rose sculpture outside the police station. Prior to these additions, my Brierley Hill coverage on Flickr had been limited to a handful of shots that were about ten years old so it was good to add in a more recent injection of content.
Elsewhere, we are only really looking at a dusting of updates rather than a roaring flame of activity. WME Wolverhampton dropped in on the Mervyn Supermarket in Bradley whereas WME Sandwell made its way to Bearwood for a look at Lightwoods Park and the Midland pub. WME Walsall brushed over to Birchills (the Orange Tree) and Blakenall (the Kings Head), leaving WME Birmingham the last rites of sweeping Bartley Green's Bale of Hay from the grate.
All of which means we close 2014 with 2,385 pictures now showing on the WME Flickr Photostream, of which 1790 appeared on Fotopic back in the day and the rest have been cobbled together from previously unseen archive items. The challenge remains to release more material both new and old so let's see what can be conjured as I stoke the fire ready for January 2015...
Tuesday, December 30
Sunday, December 21
'Twas a week before Christmas, and all round the hubs, Board members sought cafes, canals, closets and pubs... Yes, Thursday 18th December was designated as the Hub Marketing Board's official 2014 Christmas caper, with Charles Pemberton-Rowbottom III due to make a guest appearance at the annual Hub Awards ceremony. Here comes the tale of the trip!
- J. Houghton Ltd in Handsworth -
Handsworth has opening honours for this particular outing, a swish new Midland Metro tram dropping us at Winson Green Outer Circle stop for a walk up Nineveh Road. The backstreets here have lots of goodies for us to unwrap, such as the Handsworth Central Club, Ashwin Tunnel underpass and the corner electrical store of J. Houghton Ltd.
- Stafford Road Closet? -
Emerging onto the Soho Road, we are drawn towards the Handsworth Campus of South & City College with its grand facade and clock tower. One of the outbuildings particularly catches our eye, and following closer inspection the Chairman declares it as an old closet, the key detailing being the windows and some patterned tiling on the worn doorsteps - cue the customary pose...
- A Different Take on D9 Driving! -
Grove Lane leads us around towards Handsworth Park, passing the local Grammar School and a soggy sofa where the Chairman can momentarily rest his legs. Mr D9 doesn't have to wait long for some driving action, although a wobbly jeep in the park's play area was quite a departure from his usual bus antics.
- Handsworth Cricket Club -
Handsworth Park is also home to Handsworth Leisure Centre, an ornate bandstand, a couple of scenic pools and a cricket pitch so there is plenty keeping the Secretary's camera occupied. The park is bisected by a railway line so although we didn't see any old closets on this occasion it might be worth having another look in future.
- Cafe and Calendar -
That preliminary piece of ferreting means we are now ready for breakfast and a long-awaited visit to a place that first came to our attention during the North Birmingham outing back in May. Stan's Cafe with its Pepsi signage needed to be sampled where besides egg and bacon the cafe was also the setting for the day's first official ceremony, the unveiling of the 2015 Hub Marketing calendar. Excellent!
- Benefits Street Baldness -
Catching the 11A Outer Circle just outside the Handsworth Horticultural Institute we wend our way to Winson Green, the Chairman making the call to alight just before the local prison. D9 has a television filming location in mind, this being James Turner Street which found its way onto the nation's screens courtesy of the 'Benefits Street' series on Channel 4. There wasn't any sign of White Dee or Black Dee today but at least the street has now been immortalised with its very own bald spot!
- Prison Break at Winson Green -
The Chairman adopted a more conventional pose outside the prison gates, and it was only on later inspection that we realised the photo made it look like he'd just been released with his belongings tucked under his arm. The drama of the jailbreak may explain why we missed spotting an important nearby feature (more about that in a bit) although the Old Smithy and Aberdeen Street did attract our attention.
- Hockley Port Junction -
The next stage of our merry mission was to explore the Soho Loop, a fascinating section of the original Old Birmingham Main Line Canal. Snaking around the edges of City Hospital, the loop provides access to Hockley Port Junction where the Soho Branch now comprises residential moorings. The prison walls soon loom large once more, as does the asylum frontage of the former All Saints Hospital.
- The Winson Green Closet -
Approaching Winson Green Road Bridge, we spot a mysterious brick hut up above and decide to take a closer look. Through a hole in the brickwork we can see the telltale tiles and marble of old urinals that confirm another closet discovery, this being all the more remarkable given we'd walked straight past the building earlier without batting an eyelid!
- Soho Foundry and Tavern -
Back on the towpath trail, we proceed to Winson Green Junction where we join the Main Line Canal in the shadow of Soho train maintenance depot. There are traces of old industrial arms and inlets as we reach Avery Rail Bridge, from where a shortcut path brings us out by the entrance to Soho Foundry, a factory that was to be instrumental in the industrial revolution after being originated by Matthew Boulton and James Watt in 1795. Across the road is the Soho Foundry Tavern where we exchange legs of darts over a well-earned pint of M&B Mild.
- A Smethwick West Spot -
Mr D9 is in his element now, taking a stroll down memory lane when the New Navigation summons up thoughts of Christmas 1986, Status Quo, Springfield Bitter and pick-up trucks. Brasshouse Lane leads to our final canal section of the day, Galton Tunnel being a concrete tube below Telford Way. After a homage to Smethwick West station, the Chairman engages full sleeve-seeking mode with the St Paul's Road Good Cheers Cellars off licence (sadly with new signs recently installed) and the Oldbury Cemetery closet.
- Cheers in the Old Cross -
All this adventure and we'd still only done one pub, so from Rood End we momentarily muse on the Merrivale closet (D9 is now expert at avoiding manhole accidents here) before pitching into Langley. The Royal Oak is a traditional corner M&B pub where we can rest after much walking, while across the road the Old Cross (backing onto Langley Library) is handy for a half as darkness begins to descend.
- Safe-cracking Santa -
With D9 in charge of directions, the 'Londonderry Hub' gets an evening airing although a daytime shot may be required to do the location full marketing justice. Some nifty navigation gets us to the Hollybush, a red brick M&B pub not far from Smethwick Cricket Club. We need a darts decider so the Secretary gets in the groove to rack up another victory, then its over to Bearwood where Charles Pemberton-Rowbottom III takes to the stage at the Midland and announces the award winners from the last twelve months. For D9 though, his brush with Winson Green Prison earlier hadn't put him off a life of crime judging by his attempts to crack the combination on an old Chubb safe - the Santa hat was no disguise!
- Pepsi Sign at Waterloo Fish & Chip Shop -
We hoped for a bit of a Barrel bash when catching the 82 to Cape Hill but it wasn't to be, although consolation comes from the lovely old Pepsi sign outside the Waterloo Fish & Chip Shop. Stocking up on chips, there's time for an encounter with the Puffing Billy on Raglan Road before we round off in West Bromwich with an Oakdale nightcap, our hub happenings complete for another year.
- A Merry Marketing Christmas -
And finally... an awards summary from the presentation at the Midland. With nominations submitted and spreadsheets duly studied, we can declare the following winners: 'Cafe of the Year' goes to Pype Hayes as a proper trucker's greasy spoon, the cafe also being the location for 'Bald Spot of the Year'; 'Sleeve of the Year' was Riley Square in Coventry; 'Discount of the Year' was the Heathway in Buckland End, 'Dive of the Year' the Coventry Cross. With that, it's a very Merry Christmas from the Hub Marketing Board, and we look forward to more adventurous antics in 2015.
Monday, December 15
It's Friday 12th December 2014 and another Hub Marketing mission is afoot. Tickling Tamworth is our challenge this time on a pre-Christmas cornucopia that also featured Fazeley and Wilnecote...
- Nechells Gas Holders -
Before riding off to Staffordshire there is however the small matter of a Brummie breakfast. The Chairman and the Secretary meet outside New Street just before 9am, and after a brief hello to Tony Hancock, Mr D9 is tasked with sniffing out a greasy spoon sleeve. He has just the place in mind so the 65 bus is requisitioned for a ride via Aston Cross to Cuckoo Road. Polly's Pantry is then revealed, a no frills cafe just the way we like them with the added bonus of gas holders on the horizon.
- Sapphire Steering on the 110 -
Back on the Lichfield Road, we lament the demolition of the King Edward VII pub while awaiting our intended 115 connection to Sutton Coldfield. The bus is a no-show so Salford Circus subways get us onto Gravelly Hill just in time to see the Arriva 110 emerging off the Expressway. I don't know how we did it, but somehow we managed to cross several lanes of traffic during a kamikaze sprint to the bus stop, breathlessly boarding the Sapphire-branded bus. The back seat allows a spell of rest and recovery punctuated by the customary (albeit tired) D9 driving demonstration.
- Fazeley War Memorial -
The 110 takes us on a tour of Erdington, Wylde Green and Sutton Coldfield before leaving the West Midlands via Whitehouse Common. Bassetts Pole looks like a candidate for an expensive D9 future round, although sadly Mile Oak no longer has its landmark pub with the distinctive bottle-shaped frontage; flats and a fish bar are the main features here now. A further ride down Watling Street and we alight at Fazeley Square, admiring the local war memorial, Parish Hall and historic Tolsons Mill.
- Bridge 77, Coventry Canal -
Fazeley has long been an important junction location on the canal network, with the old mill looking down on the point where the Coventry Canal meets the Birmingham & Fazeley. It's a relatively tranquil spot these days with kingfisher murals but you can still imagine it being a hive of activity here in its industrial heyday.
- Bird Bothering Baldness -
We investigate the canals briefly in each of the three directions available. Bridge 77 serves as the junction turnover crossing, so we peek towards Fradley (spotting the rear of the Three Tuns) then towards Coventry (discovering Bridge 76) followed by the Birmingham & Fazeley to Tolsons Footbridge. The Chairman also takes time to acquaint himself with the local waterfowl - the ducks wisely resisted any efforts to be photographed but the D9 bald spot wasn't quite as fortunate!
- Our Darts Destination -
Prior research suggested that a couple of Fazeley pubs would be well worth a visit. The first was the Three Tuns on Watling Street where we enjoyed some Wye Valley HPA and a game of darts. The Secretary was on good form here, nailing a 64 checkout and all but securing the title of 2014 Pub Games Champion in the process.
- Three Horseshoes -
Our second Fazeley pub was the Three Horseshoes, tucked away on New Street near the Fazeley Pharmacy and the local post office. This was an unspoilt traditional Mitchells & Butlers place with a long-serving landlady. We sampled some Marston's Pedigree and admired the tiled bar surround and vintage pub signs - an excellent find!
- Wilnecote Station Sign -
Watling Street now takes centre stage as we make our way to Wilnecote, perching on an old bridge for a look at the River Tame then getting a shot or two of the Bulls Head standing sentry at Two Gates crossroads. I was intrigued to see what Wilnecote Station might have to offer but as an unstaffed halt with standard metallic shelters there wasn't a lot to see. The same could be said for the nearby Railway Inn, sadly reduced to a few stumps of brickwork and a solemn stanchion minus a picture sign.
- 'Spotted' on Watling Street -
Better photographic pickings are to be pocketed courtesy of Wilnecote Parish Hall, then the village centre awaits on the other side of Marlborough Way/Ninian Way roundabout. Holy Trinity Church adds a sense of history while the Chairman's bald spot makes its presence felt after stocking up on supplies at a local shop.
- Feeling Festive -
The Secretary's sights were now firmly on The Globe, a gem of a Marston's pub recognised in the Good Beer Gudie for the quality of its Pedigree. The ale certainly lived up to such a lofty billing, and there were more darts to be played too once we'd properly got to grips with the electronic scoreboard. Further down the hill we sample a festive fireplace in the Queen's Head (complete with a perpetually 'snowing' Christmas tree) and then there is tarmac to be tasted in the Red Lion.
- The Kings Ditch -
For a supposed Tamworth trip we hadn't actually touched the town centre yet, so we corrected that by catching the number 9 circular. Despite the fading light, we still got a good view of the Belgrave estate along Birds Bush Road, not forgetting a Snow Dome sighting on the final approaches into town. The Chairman wasn't able to concentrate too much on the scenery though as he was in serious danger of a bladder calamity - thankfully the Robert Peel provided requisite relief so Mr D9 was spared any accidents (but only just!) The Secretary has something of a penchant for micropubs and was thus delighted to discover the newly-opened Kings Ditch, a simply-furnished converted cycle shop where some Burton Porter slipped down a treat.
- The Globe -
Virtually opposite the Kings Ditch is our second Globe of the day, Tamworth's example dating from 1901 with an interior that borders on opulent. Draught Bass is an enjoyable tipple here, and then we need to start thinking of heading home. D9's waterworks play havoc just as we're about to catch our return 110, so an emergency half in the Old Stone Cross is the result. Belatedly securing our Sapphire passage to Sutton Coldfield, we interchange onto the 5 and round off more magnificent marketing with a final nightcap in West Bromwich. Tamworth was terrific and there's still much of it we've yet to explore, so a return visit might well be in the offing at some point next year...
Sunday, December 14
December is here and the countdown to Christmas continues as the Chip Foundation set out on their annual yuletide bash. Gornal and goulash have been among the ghosts of Christmas past, with 2014’s spirit summoning up a seasonal Halesowen selection to keep us out of the cold…
- Rowley Regis Cycle Hub -
It’s a squally old morning as Stephen and I make our way to Smethwick in the hope of meeting Nick on a Stourbridge-bound train. Unfortunately we just missed our connection, meaning the Royal one had to do an emergency about turn at Cradley Heath. Normal service is resumed once the gang are reunited at Rowley Regis, where we grit our teeth in the drizzle and gaze in wonder at the Centro-inspired Cycle Hub near the station car park.
- Russian Rouble in The Swan -
Our first pub target of the day is the Swan on Long Lane, a place taken under the Black Country Ales wing earlier this year. A stroll via Nimmings Road and Shell Corner ensures we get there just on opening time, and we eagerly enter in search of warmth and hospitality. A pretty white Christmas tree immediately unleashes some festive flavour as we enjoy studying various vintage local photos – one sepia shot shows a very leafy Long Lane complete with the Swan as an Atkinson’s tied house. We were very impressed with the standard of the refurbishment, creating a real sense of cosiness that was just perfect for savouring some Russian Rouble – Nickolenko is back!
- The Royal Oak, Manor Lane -
Onwards dear fellows, and the walk to our second port of call takes us quickly through Quinton where I’m saddened to see the former Waggon & Horses (Long Lane) being seemingly dismantled. The Stag & Three Horseshoes gets a photographic nod before Kent Road leads us to the Royal Oak, an Ember Inns establishment where we just about find a seat in among the office parties. Nickolenko is now in full winter regalia while Mr Beardsmore proudly displays his Bears allegiance.
- Jenga Concentration -
Lunchtime sees us in Halesowen town centre, calling into the William Shenstone Wetherspoons for a bite to eat – in the process I am subjected to a Headmaster’s Christmas Sermon, a pleasurable experience despite my initial apprehension! The combination of the Waggon & Horses (Stourbridge Road) and the King Edward VII ensures that the beer standards are kept very high, Indian Empire being our first taste of the Newbridge microbrewery in Wolverhampton. The Hawne Tavern then is the setting for a jolly bout of Jenga, Nick revealing his destructive side by sending the precarious pile tumbling asunder.
- Christmas Cheers -
A final stop beckons as we endure the chill while awaiting the number 9 bus, Nick and I gallantly relieving Stephen of some unwanted salad even though one rogue lettuce leaf defiantly hid among Mr B’s ham roll. Lured thence to Lye, we alight for the Sadlers brewery tap – given Nick’s regal resemblance it was only right and proper to sample the Windsor Castle, especially given the added attraction of Mud City Stout. Red baubles are an appropriate festive flourish for a Cheers photo before we catch our trains home.
Merry Christmas from the Chip Foundation!
Merry Christmas from the Chip Foundation!
Monday, December 1
The last vestiges of autumn are gradually gone as November becomes December, and with Christmas just around the corner the temperatures tumble in sympathetic chorus with the few remaining leaves. To borrow ever so slightly from Keats, autumn has been both mellow and fruitful where the WME Flickr Photostream has been concerned, so let's assess November's poetical nod to photographic progress...
Buses were definitely my muse for the first part of the month, with various routes and locations prompting me to wax lyrical. Examples are the 23 at Woodgate (WME Birmingham), the 205 at Kingswinford (WME Dudley), the 7 at Lichfield (WME Staffordshire) and another 7 at Atherstone (WME Warwickshire). However, it was WME Shropshire that took laureate honours for bus bonuses, summoning up shots from Ellesmere (the 53), Ludlow (the 702) and Oswestry (Tanat Valley 445).
The second half of the month became an ode to all things 'A' with various additions afoot from that leading letter of the alphabet. WME Shropshire was again prominent with an Albrighton refrain featuring grazing cows and the local library (albeit not in the same picture), while WME Warwickshire advanced upon Atherstone for the old railway station house (now a veterinary surgery) and a car dealership. The All Nations in Madeley got a snippet of stanza on WME Telford, while WME Coventry mustered forth a verse from Allesley Village.
All of this activity leads me to celebrate one notable milestone. When my Fotopic site vanished into the ether back in March 2011, it comprised 2359 images and I've been painstakingly rebuilding towards that number ever since. Many of the original Fotopic images have steadily been reinstated on Flickr, along with a fair sprinkling of pictures that hadn't been seen before, bringing me to my current total of 2363 photographs. It's uncharted territory from this moment on, so where will winter lead us on this venerable journey I wonder? The anthology continues...