Tuesday, May 30

WME Flickr Focus - May 2017

Whitsun for me is one of the defining weeks of the year when summer is fast approaching with (hopefully) blue skies and soaring temperatures to match. The transition from May into June also prompts me to summon up another of my monthly summaries, so here we go again with more photostream progress...

I shall start this brisk bulletin with WME Warwickshire, latterly the proud purveyor of some Warwick Castle wares. I've focused on the armour and the waxwork exhibits so far rather than the formidable architecture, although the sight of King Henry VIII in all his glory is not one to trifle with. The castle content is joined by fledgling albums showcasing Southam (the Bowling Green pub), Kenilworth (the Virgins & Castle) and The Lakes railway station.

A shuffle through the shires takes me next to WME Worcestershire where Stourport stakes its own claim as May's biggest photo contributor. The Treasure Island amusement park, some ruined church walls, a mysterious cave in Wilden and a couple of pub signs certainly make an impression while the town's canal heritage is evident in photos of York Street Lock and a helter-skelter basin view. Class 323 trains at Redditch and a peek at Pershore's station sign complete the county's haul on this occasion.

Where to now dear reader? How about WME Birmingham for a stop at Star City so we can spot the Vue Cinema, or perhaps a wander over to West Heath Park? WME Shropshire can offer us Maund's Garage at Wem plus some simple pub signage courtesy of Shifnal's Anvil, WME Staffordshire then maintaining that theme with some traditional Holden's examples from the Swan at Whiston - anywhere that proclaims 'Golden Glow on sale here' is always likely to secure my custom! 

WME Solihull and WME Sandwell have both been rather quiet in terms of 2017 updates but make sure to get in on the act this time around. Solihull squeezes through a Salter Street church carving and a glimpse of Robin Hood Cemetery (not forgetting a Widney Manor station sign) whereas Sandwell busies itself with Tipton Conservative Club. I should definitely note that even WME Coventry has sparked back to life, its 2017 debut offering being the Jolly Colliers sign at Potters Green.

That leaves me quite neatly with some Black Country bits and pieces on which to finish. WME Dudley collects a fossil find from the Wrens Nest nature reserve, WME Walsall picks up April's Pelsall thread by adding in more pub photos (the Railway and the Fingerpost) then WME Wolverhampton samples St Jude's Church before confirming the Polski Sklep fate of the former Waggon & Horses on Cannock Road. May is thus done and dusted for another year and the spotlight now falls upon June to see what the next few weeks can bring our way...

Sunday, May 28

Hub Marketing 2017: Bloxwich

There is wonderful weather all the way as the Hub Marketing Board take their third bite out of Bloxwich (with a little help from Lower Farm and Blakenall Heath too)...

- Forest Footbridge -
A look back through the archives confirms that Messrs D9 and WME do a 'Bloxwich Blast' roughly every two years. 2013 and 2015 had established the sequence so 2017 continues the happy trend as our trusty Secretary boards the 69 bus, the top deck of which feels something akin to a sauna in the sticky on-board temperatures. Blue skies are very apparent as the day's photo acquisitions get underway with some canal coverage - Top Lock on the Walsall Canal at Birchills is an old favourite making another archive appearance but Forest Footbridge on the Wyrley & Essington is a structure seldom seen among the WME back catalogue.

- A four dart flourish -
Apart from the canals, Mr WME is keen to uncover corners of Walsall he hasn't seen before. The Local History Centre on Essex Street is therefore an excellent discovery, although the old schoolhouse here will cease to be the base for the borough's local studies facilities when the service transfers to the centre of town later this year. Talking of historic relics, the Chairman is due to join proceedings so a Carl Street rendezvous precedes some refreshment in the Railway, a Leamore local where the Carling powers D9 Destroyer to an impressive 101 darts checkout. 

- All aboard for Lower Farm -
A trundle to Lower Farm is next on the agenda, the 302 negotiating the predictable congestion along Bloxwich High Street where Mr D9 grinds through the gears during another expert driving demonstration. Little Bloxwich Bridge then heralds the turning for Stoney Lane as we eye up the Beacon Way for a decent pint of Wye Valley Butty Bach. Elsewhere the estate has a tower block or two and a Costcutter store plus a further run of shops can be found on Buxton Road. The Secretary's local knowledge secures him a sleeve success in the form of the Saddlers Arms, a Fishley Lane alehouse that initially thwarts our hopes of access - persistence will pay off later though.

- Christ Church, Blakenall Heath -
Making the most of the beautiful sunshine, we continue our estate endeavours by breezing into Blakenall Heath. Christ Church is a key landmark here, built in 1872 and looking particularly commanding with its tower peeping out through the treetops. Valley Nursery School and a Sure Start Children's Centre can be found clustered around the church while the Peace Tree on the green serves as a focal point for poppy wreaths. Two pubs are in the vicinity, but having sampled the New Inn back in 2013, we focus this time on the Kings Head (Ingram Road). This proves to be an excellent choice, the back lounge being the setting for Banks's Original amidst an impressive teapot collection. 

- Showman Silliness -
With the aid of Leamore Park's New Deal pathways, we swap the Kings Head for the Queens Head as the centre of Bloxwich beckons. The pub's basic box boozer architecture certainly has the Chairman captivated even if for most observers it wouldn't win any beauty prizes - neither indeed would our erstwhile Secretary who bravely (or foolishly) accepts a challenge to wear a pink wig in the Bloxwich Showman. The resultant effect makes WME look like the illegitimate offspring of rock guitarist Brian May and 'Are You Being Served?' matriarch Mrs Slocombe!

- Pat Collins Memorial Clock -
The Bloxwich Showman (a former cinema) is the town's Wetherspoons outlet and is named in honour of local personality Pat Collins, a renowned fairground entrepreneur who made Bloxwich his home. A further tribute to the 'King of Showmen' is the Memorial Clock on Promenade Gardens, funded through public subscription and presented in 1955. The afore-mentioned pink wig is thankfully squirreled out of sight as board members dutifully conclude their pub deliberations with a combination involving the Victoria, the Diana, the One Man and His Dog and that promised return to the Saddlers Arms - all in an afternoon's work.

- And finally... -
No self-respecting account of Hub Marketing activities could be accepted if it lacked either a bald spot or a closet. Here at the Chairman's request is a photo that ticks both boxes, the location being Bloxwich Cemetery. Until next time... cheers!

Friday, May 19

Wednesfield Area Wanderings

Another sunny Thursday morning means another local walk updating my archive with new photos of familiar areas. With the weather smiling on me once more, I take aim at wider Wednesfield with the intention of gathering pictures covering Old Fallings, The Scotlands, Long Knowle and Ashmore Park...

- Fallings Park Primary -

Wednesday's rain has fortunately given way to blue skies mixed with a handful of cheerful clouds as I set out along Whitgreave Avenue passing the former site of the Highcroft. Old Fallings Lane allows me to maintain my recent diet of school entrance signage with both Fallings Park Primary and Our Lady & St Chad's Catholic Academy on hand for extra educational coverage. The Otter and Vixen curiously insists it isn't closing as I pass the junction of Croft Lane/Fifth Avenue, then the Cannock Road roundabout has two churches for me to contend with although Our Lady of Perpetual Succour is much more impressive architecturally than its United Reformed counterpart.

- Scotlands Homezone -

I covered a little section of the Cannock Road during my Underhill walk two weeks ago but this time around it marks my approach to The Scotlands. I can just about remember the Plough pub near the turn for Mill Lane (now the site of a drive-thru McDonalds) then the Homezone decorating store also prompts a few childhood memories. I seem to recall there once being a tatty corner shop on the other side of the island where the Domino's pizza place latterly stands while other local stores include Zaras Plaice takeaway, the Fruit Tree greengrocers and a branch of the Nationwide building society.

- Blackwood Avenue backdrop -

The recollections continue along Blackhalve Lane where a Lidl supermarket replaced the Royal Oak a few years ago (somewhere in my back catalogue I've got a couple of pictures of the pub just before it was demolished). Blackwood Avenue leads me into Long Knowle, scene of Green Bus photos in times gone by - the flats are still there, as is the playing field and the primary school although you won't get a vintage breadvan trundling by these days; the estate is currently served by the 65 route linking Wolverhampton, New Cross Hospital and Fordhouses whereas the Green Bus used to go to Essington and Cannock. 

- Devils Elbow Bridge -

Wood End is next, keeping me busy with pubs past and present.  The Noah's Ark has been converted into a One Stop outlet but the Pheasant is still trading and remains a handsome building in a neo-Georgian style. A Ridge Lane rummage reveals that Dave's Supersave on Wootton Avenue has closed, then I can take a towpath timeout by joining the Wyrley & Essington Canal at Moathouse Bridge. Nesting swans and suburban back gardens accompany me along the short stretch to Devils Elbow, noting en route the narrow spot where Moat Green Bridge was formerly located.

- Griffiths Drive Co-op -

Arriving into Ashmore Park, I quickly account for the new Co-op store built on part of the Ashmore pub's car park (the pub itself has thankfully been retained after being under threat of closure). Other amenities to be found along Griffiths Drive include St Alban's Church, a health centre, Corpus Christi Church and School, and the community hub (comprising library, cafe, fitness suite and sports hall). The local park has been a favourite haunt over the course of various sporadic visits to the estate, and I also enjoy exploring the earthworks by the shopping parade which represent the remains of a medieval moated farmhouse. It's then just a case of catching the 59 into Wolverhampton and another productive couple of hours has flown by.

Saturday, May 6

Northycote and Underhill

There's nothing I like better on a beautiful spring morning than getting out and about taking a few pictures, and I don't always have to go very far to gather a sizeable set of photos. Thursday 4th May placed some glorious sunshine at my disposal so I stayed close to home by visiting some of my favourite doorstep haunts. The walk went on to prove that even in the most familiar places there can still be new discoveries waiting to be made...

- Bushbury Arms House -
I'll begin if I may with an update from Low Hill (Showell Circus to be precise) where the transformation of the Bushbury Arms from public house to residential apartments has been complete for a while. The new houses of Sewell Gardens (on the former pub's back lawn) are also fully occupied although the Dale House site on the other side of 'The Circle' still remains empty. At least Low Hill Library is still on hand much as it's always been, looking out from the corner of Kempthorne Avenue and Jenks Avenue.

- St Mary's Churchyard -
A glance through the blog archives confirms that the combination of Low Hill - Bushbury Church - Northwood Park is one I've strung together several times on my doorstep wanderings, so if it ain't broke don't fix it! St Mary's Churchyard ensures that pattern is very much maintained as I eye up a few views among the headstones with hints of bluebells. 

- Flamin' Chicken -
Crossing Bushbury Lane, I venture once more into the Northwood Park estate where I've previously noted the conversion of the Staffordshire Volunteer into a convenience store (initially a Family Shopper, now a One Stop). This shop has latterly been joined in the old pub premises by a hairdressers salon and the Flamin' Chicken fast food takeaway. Nearby, both Northwood Park Primary School and the Broadway Gardens Retirement Village are serving as polling stations for the election of the West Midlands Metropolitan Mayor.

- A Sheepish Shot -
And so to Northycote Farm where notices advise that the lambing season is in full swing; indeed, one tiny woolly character is particularly cute when baa-ing in my direction! My customary visit to the herb garden confirms that the lemon balm, sage and lavender seem to be flourishing this year, but one addition to the farm's attractions that I hadn't photographed before is an impressive sensory area with varied planting that showcases different colours, scents and textures.

- Underhill Shops -
Just along the lane from the farm is Underhill where the local shops on Westcroft Avenue include a hairdressers, an undertakers and a cafe - I manage to resist the lure of hot roast pork, instead focusing on the steady stream of number 11 buses terminating here. Elsewhere, the Wulfrun Rose care home has taken over the site where Underhill House once stood and the Talisman still looks rather ominous as a pub prospect.

- The Berry Brook Farm -
Emerging onto the Cannock Road, there's a name change to contend with whereby the (New) Pear Tree is now calling itself the Berry Brook Farm following another makeover. Westcroft straddles the border with Staffordshire but I stay within the bounds of Wolverhampton (Belton Avenue, Blackhalve Lane) in taking a look at Wood Hayes; building work is finally underway here after the old pub grounds had lain disused for several years. A ride on the 11 (via The Scotlands and Fallings Park) rounds things off neatly and I have to say that was a rather productive morning's work!

Wednesday, May 3

Acocks Green with the Chip Foundation

April's last blast of exploration action saw Nick, Stephen and myself bound for the Acocks Green area (plus a side order of Solihull) in an outing otherwise known as number 48 of the Chip Foundation Chronicles...

- Olton Running Board -
Friday 28th April 2017 and our gallant trio descend upon Olton to begin proceedings with a rendezvous scheduled just after 11 o'clock. I rather like Olton Station with its a simple island platform, well-maintained waiting room (complete with geraniums) and artistically-tiled underpass scenes featuring windmills and boating lakes. The interchange information point directly outside the station is guarded by a stainless steel sculpture of a king on horseback while Olton's branch library is just across the road.

- Gongoozling on the Grand Union -
Via Ulverley Green Road we make our way to the Grand Union Canal which runs in a reasonably leafy cutting where the stretch from Acocks Green to Damsonwood is concerned. We initially tackle the towpath from Castle Lane to Woodcock Lane (Vineries Bridge), pausing to admire swooping herons as Stephen ponders the canal's fishing potential. We then momentarily branch off into Yardley for the Journeys End on Clay Lane, a Sizzling pub where Nick is just a little too young to be eligible for the Golden Years menu.

- Former Fire Station -
Back on the canal and the afore-mentioned Vineries Bridge is said to date from 1794, making it something of an original survivor where so many other bridges have been replaced to cope with the demands of modern traffic. We follow the towpath through to Yardley Road before making our way into Acocks Green Village, passing the railway station, the police station and Cottesbrooke School. My favourite find however is an old fire station on Alexander Road, a heritage feature I must admit I'd never spotted before.

- Blackberry Stout? Don't mind if I do! -
Our primary pub target in Acocks Green is the Inn on the Green, a place that is quickly becoming a favourite of mine given that I also called in with D9 a few short weeks ago. The range of real ales here always seems to include something really interesting, Waen's sumptuous Blackberry Stout fitting the bill perfectly this time around. Mr Beardsmore is happy as he has some cricket to watch while a background soundtrack of rock classics seems to fit the pub's personality.

- Warwick Road Chip Choices -
A true Chip Foundation outing always requires for actual chips to be eaten so our lunchtime location turns out to be the Dolphin Fish Bar (the Spread Eagle Wetherspoons being far too busy to tempt us to stay). A bench on the Warwick Road might not be the most scenic of perches but we can contemplate the former Adler's Garage building while munching our respective roes, mini fishes and battered sausages. The Aldi supermarket just behind us was once the site of the Dolphin pub (demolished 1991), a landmark which gave its name to the adjacent lane where there seems to be an outbreak of abandoned sofas lurking among the suburban front gardens.

- Solihull High Street -
Hall Green seems to have less in the way of discarded furniture as we seek out the Bulls Head on Stratford Road, a typical Ember experience on the junction with Fox Hollies Road. A vintage Scotts Cycles shopfront is a further point of interest before a ride on the 6 through congested Shirley brings us safely into Solihull. Stephen is running the risk of a purple beverage overload but gamely braves a final dose of blackcurrantyness as we make the Masons Arms (opposite St Alphege's Church) our closing port of call. Inviting armchairs serve as our setting for some political debate encompassing the forthcoming General Election and a mention or two for President Trump, and with that we wend our way home from Solihull Station - cheers!