Saturday, December 8

East Birmingham the Second

It's Friday 7th December and the Second City is once more on the radar as the Anti-Hub Marketing Board gear up for their pre-Christmas campaign meeting...

EASTSIDE: with the terms and conditions meter ticking once more, Chairman D9 arrives just in time for a breakfast conference during which he takes delivery of the Board's latest marketing publication, a 2013 calendar. Having inspected the goods we then convene in Eastside to see how the transformation of the area is gathering pace. Moby Dicks and the former Belmont Row works are looking increasingly incongruous as new development takes place around them. 

- Belmont Row Works -

NECHELLS: next up it's a case of inner-city interrogation as we weave our way through Nechells where various gas holder towers are a constant presence on the skyline. Other landmarks to note include Avenue Road canal bridge, Shanahans Bar on Rocky Lane and the Villa Tavern on Nechells Park Road, and the stage is also set for some 'sleeve surprises'. The Chairman offers up the corner closet on St Clements Road whilst the Secretary lands a double serving in the form of the Britannia and the Albion Vaults, two very intriguing backstreet boozers.

- Giving it some Gas -

BLOOMSBURY: having lubricated ourselves with M&B Mild courtesy of the Albion Vaults, we breeze into Bloomsbury where the local library is a red-brick bastion of Victorian civic pride. Hints of history can also be detected in Bloomsbury Park where there's a vehicular monument marking the location where Lanchester built the first All British four-wheel petrol car back in 1895. The Foaming Tankard is of more recent vintage and has a few Christmas decorations to get us into the festive spirit.

- St Clements Closet -

SALTLEY: Chairman D9 is in his element as we explore the area around Saltley Viaduct, trying to pinpoint where the 'Battle of Saltley Gate' took place as part of the 1972 Miners Strike. The Saltley Coke Works have long gone now, along with the urinal that Arthur Scargill stood atop when declaring victory, but it is still fascinating to reconnect with the area's industrial history. A quick half in the Sportsman is our surreal reward, chatting to a couple of interesting characters whilst listening to a soundtrack drawn from Alma Cogan and Eve Boswell.

- A Spot at Saltley -

ALUM ROCK: Alum Rock Road is always an experience with its vibrant ethnicity as we catch the 14 up to the Brookhill, a 1930's Mitchells & Butlers estate pub where the Chairman attempts to resuscitate his dead mobile phone. Sadly the poor thing is out of power and nothing can be done to boost the battery. 

WARD END: the East Birmingham extravaganza continues with a wander into Ward End where we find St Margaret's Church closely followed by the Barley Mow. Ansell's Mild and a roaring coal fire are just the job on a windswept December afternoon. There is a suspicion of price collusion in the air given that every round we've sampled so far has come to £2.50, threatening to scupper our perennial battle over who can secure the biggest discount. We needed a dose of Wetherspoons to break the cycle, and the Hornet came with the added prospect of meeting drivers from the former Lea Hall Bus Garage. 

- Christmas Chairman at the Fox & Goose -

YARDLEY: the onset of dusk sends us scampering to Yardley, making use of the Outer Circle for a visit to Swan Island where the shopping centre has been redeveloped by Tesco. The Chairman recalls the days when the Swan pub was a major focal point in this neck of the woods and reputedly had the longest bar in Europe. The pub closed some years ago, leaving the New Inn, the Old Bill & Bull and the Redhill Tavern to maintain the Coventry Road quota.

- The Monica -

SMALL HEATH: every excursion has to end somewhere, and in this case the final stand is taken in Small Heath where we go on a Monica hunt only to find the pub closed. On a brighter note, we are able to acquaint ourselves with Bedders fish and chip shop, a Coventry Road institution going back over 50 years that combines nostalgia with excellent food and a free serving of onions in vinegar. What a way to finish an East Birmingham epic!

Monday, December 3

Digging into Trench

Friday 30th November and a free day of bonus exploration takes me back onto the Telford trail, seeing what treasures I could unearth from a tour of Wrockwardine Wood, Trench and St Georges...

- An Oakengates Welcome -

OAKENGATES: as has been my custom when investigating Telford in recent years, the starting point of my expedition is Oakengates. The town is clearly gearing up for Christmas, hence lights and decorations are going up along Market Street and a miniature funfair appears to have moved in too. 

- Lincoln Road towards the Pheasant -

WROCKWARDINE WOOD: I seem to have two separate Wrockwardine Wood excavations on the go today, and the first involves a wander along New Road where I encounter the Wrockwardine Wood School along with pubs the Fountain (closed), the Pheasant (pink) and the Red Lion. The area grew as a coal and iron workers settlement and still has a number of old cottages to lend a lot of character.

- Trench Pool -

TRENCH: Moving onto Wombridge Road, I prepare for some serious spadework around Trench. Initial finds here include the Bridge pub and some shops on the junction with Teagues Crescent, but the best discovery is reserved for Capewell Road where the Blue Pig has a quirky name reflecting the local pig iron industry. A former branch of the Shropshire Union Canal used to come right through the area, and although much of the remains have been obliterated by more recent development, the canal's feeder reservoir is intact as Trench Pool. Another clue to canal heritage is inferred by Trench Lock, and from the modern road interchange I take Trench Road towards Donnington, picking out further artefacts like the Trench Tavern and the Duke of York.

- Bulls Head and Butchers -

WROCKWARDINE WOOD: the second stage of my Wrockwardine Wood extractions brings me up Church Road, where Holy Trinity stands solemnly as the red brick parish church. I also scoop out shots of the White Horse Tavern and the Bulls Head, the latter having a particularly nice tiled frontage. The haul here is completed by an athletics stadium and the Wrockwardine Wood FC clubhouse.

- St George's Church -

ST GEORGE'S: with Moss Road and Gower Street as my next links, I shovel my way into St George's where I strike a rich seam of photographic productivity. Pubs are again very much evident, notably the Talbot, the Albion (at the top of the hill up from Oakengates) and the Bell & Bails, but my main focus is on the imposing St George's Church and the neighbouring recreation ground complete with war memorial gates and a cricket pavilion.

- Priorslee Village -

PRIORSLEE: there's one final locality left for me to mine this time, so I finish off with a poke around Priorslee. Sadly the Pigeon Box pub down off Priorslee Road is no more (replaced by a marketing suite for the 'Priorsleap' housing development), and the estates around Priorslee Avenue are distinctly modern in the Telford New Town vein. Nonetheless, Priorslee Village is a pocket of older properties and the Lion pub on Shifnal Road also looks like it might have been around for a while. With that, I hang up my spade and head for Telford Central, highly satisfied at another day of successful hard graft!

Sunday, December 2

WME Flickr Focus: November 2012

Well well well, here we are again. November has now sailed off into the sunset, leaving us with just the small matter of December to contend with before another year is chalked down into the history books. Christmas is on the horizon, but let me first take a break from present planning and festive thoughts to reflect on November's contribution to all things WME...

The last few weeks have actually been rather busy with the Flickr photostream rumbling along at a tidy lick. WME Warwickshire built on its initial appearance in October, WME Shropshire strong-armed itself back into contention, and even Exploration Extra has had the temerity to come out of hiding. Add in a straggler or two and suddenly the light at the end of the tunnel is glimmering brighter than ever.

WME Warwickshire then, and 34 of my original 45 Fotopic pictures are now back online. Amongst those returning to the fold were waterways shots from the Grand Union (Hatton Lock Cottage) and the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal (Bancroft Basin and Bridge 66). Local photos round and about covered Nuneaton (the Railway Tavern sequence), Keresley Village (the Community Centre) and Stratford (Shakespeare's Birthplace) whilst the railway representation came from Wilmcote and Leamington Spa.

WME Shropshire really flexed its muscles when bursting back to life with 53 returning images. Along with three token bus shots, there were healthy local offerings featuring Boscobel House, White Ladies Priory, Bridgnorth and Wem, plus a wander across some golden fields near Worfield. I was particularly pleased to welcome back some of my Rail Rover memories, whereby Church Stretton, Craven Arms and Gobowen all tell of my traditional Tuesday foray into the county.

The re-emergence of Exploration Extra is especially significant because it marks the final stage of rebuilding the constituent pieces that made up my initial Fotopic galleries. You may recall that the old version of Extra included photos from transport rallies, family holidays and Rail Rover haunts outside of the West Midlands area, and the same principle will be applied again. So far the resurrected contents comprise visits to BaMMoT, a handful of shots from the last operational day of Chase Bus Services, and an Essex selection from my Clacton holiday in 2008. There is extra Extra to come so to speak, and this is where I will be concentrating in December.

The remainder of November's activity saw Newport Bus Interchange creeping into WME Telford, Leamore shops nestling onto WME Walsall, and Jibbet Lane Bridge (Birmingham Main Line Canal) and some 505 buses at Pendeford reclaiming their spots on WME Wolverhampton. Altogether this means that a fair old chunk of my archive is now back online, and in the New Year I will be hoping to introduce some completely new content into the mix. Now to get back to the Christmas shopping!