Friday, November 23

Chip Foundation Correspondence

Wednesday 21st November and the Chip Foundation's 2012/13 close season itinerary commences with a tour of Smethwick and Birmingham. As an added treat, Secretary Stephen has brought along a relic of a 1992 diary containing the Foundation's minutes from a full twenty years ago - dusting off the pages, we prepare to uncover progress and parallels from the passage of time...

SMETHWICK: Rolfe Street Station is our present day starting point, alighting from our train for a stroll along Smethwick High Street. Something about the Old Talbot sends Nick all a-shuddering whilst other notable features include the Blue Gates (constructed in 1932) and a former tollhouse. The autumn leaves mark the passing of another cricketing summer but the game is never too far from our thoughts, so we welcome the sight of Broomfield, the home ground of Smethwick Cricket Club, as we wander by The Uplands.

OLD CHAPEL: There are some nice old corners of Smethwick and none more so than down by the Old Church with its appealing slice of historic character. The Old Chapel pub next door offers our first refreshments of the day, and whilst the hoped-for real ale didn't materialise, a half of M&B Mild is at least a traditional Smethwick tipple. Sitting in the bar, Stephen digs out the diary and recalls lunchtime visits to bygone Wolverhampton venues including the Exchange, the George and the Tatton Sykes. It seems that library closures were very much on the agenda back in 1992 as well, although the greatest revelations are reserved for the drinks notes, Stephen being partial to bitter shandies whilst Nick was often ascribed with a Grolsch.

- Smethwick Old Church -

SPRING HILL: we head off in search of the 82 bus, intercepting the route by the Barleycorn on Bearwood Road - the pub is highly distinctive with its round frontage but seems to have been unused for several years. Hopping on the bus, we negotiate familiar Cape Hill congestion and pass the former M&B Brewery site followed by City Hospital. The landmark clock tower of Spring Hill Library is our cue to alight, and whilst we would applaud Tesco for helping safeguard an iconic gothic building, the sight of a supermarket grafted onto the side of a library doesn't sit that easily with us.

JEWELLERY QUARTER: the Chip Foundation are no strangers to the Jewellery Quarter these days, and the Chamberlain Clock greets us like an old friend as we approach along Warstone Lane. Our chosen pub here this time around is the Rose Villa Tavern, where I am a confirmed admirer of the exquisite tiled interior. Some Thornbridge Pollards is an excellent accompaniment to ornate fireplaces, antler light fittings and some very comfortable armchairs.

- Tugging on tassels -

SHAKESPEARE: we don't have to go too far for our next pub, so the suitably hatted 'Nickolenko' leads a walk down Frederick Street to Summer Row where The Shakespeare shines out in the encroaching darkness. The pub is part of the Nicholson's brand and offers a suitable degree of reverence to the Bard, including framed cast lists for various plays such as Anthony and Cleopatra. Nestling in a dimly-lit corner, we discuss the 1992 diary in more detail, debating the political situation in the country and wondering whether things have really got any better. Stephen ponders the progress made by English cricket whereas Nick hails technological developments whilst getting to grips with some theatrical tassels.

- Bears in The Bull -

GUN QUARTER: Lionel Street takes us directly below the BT Tower and we then shimmy around St Chad's Cathedral where the pavements are illuminated by little spotlights. The Gun Quarter is home to The Bull, an established favourite although we bypass the crockery today in favour of sitting by the stained glass signs in the pub entrance. The Beardsmore belly is rumbling so a call into The Square Peg resolves the appetite anguish, the ham, egg and chips of 2012 being not too dissimilar to the sausage and chips fare that was usually consumed in 1992.

- Beardsmore in The Bacchus -

BACCHUS: Corporation Street in central Birmingham is eerily devoid of traffic in preparation for the construction of the Midland Metro extension to New Street, although we note that in 1992 the tram was still a few years away from being reintroduced. Burrowing beneath the Burlington Hotel, we complete proceedings in the fantasy kingdom that is the Bacchus Bar, where Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Arthurian influences all intermingle for a surreal sense of wonderment. The 1992 diary doesn't go back quite as far as classical civilisation but it has provided plenty of food for thought during the day's endeavours, and we look forward to filing further 2012 minutes in due course...

Sunday, November 11


When I think of classic autumnal outings, my local walk around Oxley back in November 2006 is always near the top of the list - the colours were spectacular and all on my own doorstep. Now a whole six years later, the falling leaves were calling to me again, beckoning me to see what had changed and what still remained the same...

GOODYEARS: my starting point is the Goodyears roundabout on the Stafford Road, a scene that has changed dramatically in recent years and continues to do so right now. Back in 2006 much of the site was still the Goodyears tyre factory complete with the iconic blue chimney being very much intact. Whilst the factory still has a presence here, much of the land is now being developed for housing. A new Aldi supermarket has made itself at home, and the finishing touches are being applied to The Gatehouse, a Hungry Horse chain pub that is due to open shortly.

- The Gatehouse -

OXLEY: with the arrival of one new pub, it is sad to report the final days of another. The Homestead on Lodge Road closed a few years back but the building has clung on grimly awaiting its ultimate fate. Passing by today I can see that houses are springing up on the pub's former car park, so I assume it can only be a matter of time before the pub itself is demolished. Another sad sight is the old Oxley Library - the branch was still open in November 2006 but since closing in 2009 the site has gradually looked increasingly untidy. Something needs to be done with this building one way or another.

RAKEGATE: the alleyway alongside the library brings me onto the St Anne's Road estate, where Rakegate School brings back a few early childhood memories. The facility has been completely transformed from when I remember it though, and now sports a curiously fetching shade of green in looking rather modern. The street names are familiar recalling English towns like Filey, Minehead and Arundel, whilst the park on Belgrade Road also sparks some fond recollections. 

- Foxley Campus -

WOBASTON: emerging onto Marsh Lane, I call by at what used to be Pendeford School, now masquerading as the Foxley Campus of the North East Wolverhampton Academy. The Fordhouses and Oxley Community Centre that I remember from Christmas parties and blood donations has been flattened and a smart new building has gone up in it's place as part of the academy redevelopment. Patshull Avenue and Chetton Green bring me round to Wobaston bus terminus, a location that has served me well over many years.

6: one considerable change to have occurred since 2006 has been the Wolverhampton Bus Network Review, so whereas the 506, 507 and 698 were the routes through Wobaston six years ago, nowadays you have the 3, the 25 and the 6 with the latter now terminating at Wobaston turning circle. I wasn't especially intending to catch the bus today, but having heard that the 6 had recently been amended to serve the new i54 development, I thought I'd hop on board and take a look. i54 has been one of Wolverhampton's rare good news stories in recent years, and the arrival of Jaguar Land Rover will be a huge boost for the local economy. The site is located off Wobaston Road with the 6 entering from the Droveway roundabout to perform a u-turn by the impressive Moog building. I look forward to seeing i54 take further shape over the coming months and years.

- Autumn on The Dovecotes -

DOVECOTES: staying on the 6 through Pendeford, I alight on Ryefield for my latest flirtation with The Dovecotes, starting with my customary photos of the Shropshire Union Canal bridges. Reapers Walk brings me into the heart of the estate where I am greeted by a golden carpet of leaves as I approach the Dove Learning Centre (formerly the Dovecote pub). The Haymarket Shopping Precinct remains as something of an eyesore despite various talk of regeneration schemes, whilst the 17th century dovecote is an altogether much more enticing photo target just across the way.

- Claregate Park -

CLAREGATE: after a brief venture into Blakeley Green to cast a nod to the Pilot, my exertions end with a wander around Claregate where the park looks delightful in contrasting shades of red, orange, gold, yellow and brown. The Claregate pub apparently might have a mini-Tesco store built on its car park, although I understand that the pub itself would still remain open. With that I catch the 5 back towards Wolverhampton, reflecting on the fact that change is one of the few certainties in life. 

I've known Oxley all my life and the area is different now from what it was when I was a child, and different again from the Oxley I encountered on that outing six years ago. Some things have changed for the better, some for the worse but some things have remained the same, providing a valuable constant and some personal nostalgia. It's safe to say that should I repeat a similar outing again six years hence, the Oxley of 2018 will have moved on again from what it is in 2012...

Sunday, November 4

D9 Does North Wolverhampton

Viewers longing for the latest episode of the D9 costume dramas need wait no more, for Friday 2nd November sees the Anti-Hub Marketing Board reconvening for another session of Wolverhampton area scrutiny. This time the Secretary’s North Wolverhampton home patch would provide the setting whilst the Chairman was of course on hand to summon up various moments of madcap attire...

WOLVERHAMPTON: The screening is scheduled for 1230 hours but it is nearly 1300 before the Chairman graces the set, and the meter is definitely ticking pending his arrival. Compensatory cobs for lateness are an established contractual clause now and so production moves to the Lych Gate Tavern, although at only 50p each the Secretary might need to think of a more hard-hitting punishment. The Chairman then gets chance to add to his subway collection, although the shock emergence of a West Bromwich Albion supporters card could have had cliffhanger consequences at the Wanderer.

- Dusters ready in The Moreton -

FORDHOUSES: luckily we always aim to be a family show, and being as the Secretary could not find a pair of scissors, the Chairman and his Baggies card made it onto the number 3 completely intact. Recalling the days when this was the 503 route, we enjoy a ride up to Fordhouses to alight outside what used to be Lucas Aerospace, the factory having had quite a few different guises since. Across the road is the Moreton Arms where the Chairman makes his first scheduled costume change, digging out the dusters once more. Thankfully the yellow cloths did not make an appearance at the Harrowby, although D9 did repeat his trick of accidentally wandering into the ladies toilet – this action wasn’t in the script but he seems to be ad-libbing similar instances with increasing regularity.

- Harrowby Hub Protest -

LOW HILL: next up comes a ride on a virtually empty 25, taking the show but a short distance from Wobaston to Showell Circus. Here D9 enters into a dream sequence, hunting around for some mythical public toilets that he thought were located around the back of the shops. Back to reality and the Secretary had heard that the Bushbury Arms might be at risk of closure, so this landmark 1930’s Mitchells & Butlers boozer definitely required inclusion. Chairman D9 was very impressed when his round of M&B Mild came in at £2.10 - one for the long-running spreadsheet storyline or so he thought - and the pub made quite an impression with its motley collection of regulars and a memorable outdoor smoking area. ‘The Bush’ might not be the greatest pub in Wolverhampton but it will be a loss to the area if it does shut.

- In the Bushbury Arms -

WOOD END: with the action now moving towards Wednesfield, the Chairman’s bladder made its customary presence felt, so it was his own fault that we had to nip into the Red Lion. D9 soon regretted this development when the Secretary’s round was a mere £1.99, snatching back the spreadsheet saga honours before the Chairman could even say Microsoft Excel. As the crew made tracks for Wood End, it was the green neon lighting of the Noahs Ark that proved most tempting for our next bit of location work, although a bonus Banks’s half could not persuade the bald spot to make an unexpected appearance.

ASHMORE PARK: darkness has descended but there is still some final filming to do as we cut quickly to Ashmore Park. The 28 suffices for a short hop into the estate as the Chairman reminisces about the old 527 and 528 circular routes - the current incumbent is merely a link between Wolverhampton, New Cross Hospital and Willenhall. Snape Road provides the chance for the Secretary to steal the scene with another of his infamous sleeve finds, whereby the True Briton allows for some time travel as we admire some of the original 1960’s features.

WOLVERHAMPTON:  most good dramas involve some chase or another, so a dynamic dash down the Cannock Road built the suspense as we hoped for a bus back to Wolverhampton. Just when the situation looked critical, the 11 came riding to the rescue with the Chairman recalling his own experiences of driving the 511 around Underhill back in a previous series. The ‘Tram Waiting Room’ is our closing set for some last minute D9 duster drapery, and the credits start to roll when the Midland Metro takes the Chairman off into the night. Goodness knows what costume changes he’ll work into the script next time… 

Thursday, November 1

WME Flickr Focus: October 2012

Trick or treat? The wizard of WME has been slaving over his cauldron during October, conjuring up more magical morsels that have taken their place on the West Midlands Exploration photostream. Let's see what joys and horrors have been making their presences felt...

Well for starters, the sorcerer opened his book of spells to find a potent potion for bringing photographs back from the abyss. A drop or two was cast Shropshire way with the result that the WME Telford & Wrekin archive has begun to reappear. Amongst the back from the dead offerings are some Arriva buses at Telford, Dawley and Wellington, plus local photos representing Hinkshay (the former White Hart), Dawley (the Lord Hill), Hadley (shops and the old library) and Leegomery (the community centre). Newport gets some attention with a look at canal remains plus a few pub shots, whilst the railway reckoning features the odd image from Oakengates, Telford Central and Wellington stations. Spooky!

There has also been plenty of WME Worcestershire wizardry as the cauldron bubbled forth with further reinstated creations. Spilling over the sides were Clent, Cofton Hackett, Hagley and Wolverley with various pub and library pictures for your delectation. A recipe for railways was also brought to the boil, and the stations that appeared from the pot included Evesham, Worcester Shrub Hill and Great Malvern along with the Severn Valley contingent from Bewdley and Kidderminster Town. Terrifying!

Amongst all the hocus pocus there were a few random spells that managed to throw themselves into the mix. From WME Wolverhampton there was a solitary trick from Castle Bridge on the Wyrley & Essington Canal, whilst Marston Green Post Office miraculously appeared on WME Solihull. Finally there was a sign of further restorative magic to come, with WME Warwickshire taking a first swig of elixir to generate up bus photos from Stratford-upon-Avon and Rugby. The WME wizard is thus hoping that there might be a few fireworks in November...