Wednesday, February 28

WME Flickr Focus - February 2018

Hasn't it been cold recently? The so-called 'Beast from the East' is blowing in from Siberia, and here in Wolverhampton it's absolutely freezing. The plummeting temperatures have not deterred the WME Photostream from embarking upon some update action, so let's don our thermals and see what's what...

First out with the snowplough is WME Wolverhampton, making sure Bilston and Bushbury are free from icy obstruction. The resultant arrivals include Bushbury Churchyard (making another archive appearance), Bert Williams Leisure Centre and Bradley Lane Metro stop. And that's not all - Marstons' White Rabbit building site gets some pre-pub attention along with ceramic street signage from Monmore Green, both notably photographed during sunnier conditions!

Wrapping up warm we have WME Staffordshire, shielding itself from the elements through an influx from Burton (Bass breweriana, the Lord Burton Wetherspoons sign, and a prized picture of the Town Hall's Wurlitzer organ). Codsall and Codsall Wood escape the chill courtesy of Moatbrook Lane and St Nicholas Church while the Bratch Locks tollhouse joins a 'replace the chain' notice down near Wombourne.

Next to brave the big freeze are WME Walsall and WME Sandwell. Walsall visits Top Lock at Birchills then takes another look at the Anchor in Brownhills whereas Sandwell accounts for the ornamental lamp outside Blackheath's Shoulder of Mutton. WME Birmingham meanwhile faces the blizzard conditions of Burbury Park by supplying us with a snowy shot of some Newtown/Lozells artwork.

Finally, huddling around the fire we find the lesser-spotted WME Warwickshire which has been busy in Bedworth. The Liberal Club and the local market have both taken their places by the hearth, joined by WME Dudley's solitary February submission in the form of the Briar Rose sculpture at Brierley Hill. That completes this sub-zero summary, fingers crossed for milder weather in March!

Monday, February 26


Selected highlights from last Saturday when Worcestershire provided the stage for a reunion outing that saw Messrs D9, UK Buses, SBI and yours truly joining forces once more...

- Early morning driving duty on the 256 -
Saturday 24th February 2018 and it's an early-ish start for D9 and myself aboard the 7:42 256 to Stourbridge. Along with the usual driving demonstration, we punctuate the journey with musical moments by singing along to Joe Brown's 'Jellied Eels' and then listening to Les Ross on WCR FM. At Stourbridge we meet up with Woody and Roger, the old WARP crew thus all back together again for a collective ride on the Kidderminster-bound 25 via Broadwaters.

- George Hotel, Bewdley -
Kidderminster offers the prospect of a few bus photos focusing mainly on the Diamond fleet, although Central Buses are in attendance on the 125 route during their final day of operation (Rotala have bought them out, expanding their empire yet further following the recent acquisition of Hansons). The 2 is responsible for taking us to Bewdley - allowing glimpses of Habberley and Wribbenhall - before we celebrate our reunion over a pint in the George Hotel Wetherspoons.

- The Wheatsheaf, Stourport-on-Severn -
Our next bus is something of a novelty when we realise that one of Worcestershire County Council's Woosh minibuses will be our steed - perhaps Roger called the Ring and Ride out on account of his injured hand? Our £7.50 County Connecta ticket is still applicable though so we don't need to invoke D9's bald spot as proof of having an elderly passenger. Extracting ourselves on Stourport High Street, we call into the Wheatsheaf for a dose of basic Banks's hospitality - cheers!

- 'Spotted' at the Diamond Depot -
After the Wheatsheaf, a late-running 3 arrives to transport us back towards Kidderminster so we can squeeze in a quick look at Diamond's depot; some Wessex-liveried Geminis from Bristol and Bath can be seen out on the yard attracting interest from a certain bald spot. There is Wessex branding afoot on our 303 connection to Worcester too, the bus being rather sickly in wheezing its way through Hartlebury and Ombersley dodging residential parking in the process.

- First Worcester Garage -
Lunch in Worcester comes care of the Postal Order Wetherspoons on Foregate Street where Brewster's Hop A Doodle Doo ale goes well with a gherkin-fuelled ultimate burger. Dessert becomes our second bus depot of the day when we stroll round to Lowesmoor for First's Worcester garage, a remnant of the former Midland Red days. We glimpse the engineering bays and some parked-up school buses before availing ourselves of the Johnsons Excelbus number 350 to Redditch. A scenic jaunt ensues, calling at villages including Upton Snodsbury, Flyford Flavell and Inkberrrow.

- Hub Happenings in Redditch -
Alighting at Redditch, Mr D9 is instantly excited when the Kingfisher shopping centre displays some Hub branding. Over the road from the bus station, the Golden Cross pub gets a WARP revisit as I thankfully avoid falling over on the doorstep this time - just as well being that You've Been Framed is showing once we get inside! Our tour of Worcestershire towns calls finally at Bromsgrove following a trundle on the 42 (complete with a first peek at the new Bromsgrove railway station); the Queens Head is on hand for our closing pint after which the 318 has the honour of returning us to Stourbridge by way of Catshill, Belbroughton and Hagley. All in all, a rather special reunion trip!

Friday, February 23

The Enville Expeditionary Force

Chapter 52 of the Chip Foundation Chronicles recounts a Tuesday trip out to South Staffordshire and Stourbridge, with Captain WME leading a plucky expeditionary unit onwards to Enville…

- All aboard the Stourbridge shuttle -
Tuesday 20th February is the allotted date for this enterprising excursion, and the unit gathers together aboard a Stourbridge-bound train at Smethwick Galton Bridge. Thankfully the weather is pleasant sunshine rather than anything from the Antarctic, so at Stourbridge Junction we can change onto the Dodger shuttle for our connection along Britain's shortest branch line to Stourbridge Town.

- A Kinver welcome -
Reaching Enville's extremities next requires a bus to Kinver, specifically the 228 via Wollaston and Stewponey. We alight at White Hill terminus (near Potters Cross grocery store) and commence a two mile hike, keeping spirits high by discussing pheasants, kitchens and university tuition fees. Nick and Captain WME forge ahead along the lane while Messrs Beardsmore and May bring up the rear, keeping watch for passing motorists and farmyard dogs.

- Scoreboard Stephen -
Arriving at Enville before noon, there is an investigatory interlude involving the driveway to Enville Hall. Sporting facilities that require discovery along here include Enville Athletic Social Club with its cricket and football pitches. The cricketing concern is watched over by a rustic scorebox where Stephen monitors the number of overs while Nick gets to grips with the unexpected appearance of a random cock (a turn of events that would inspire a steady stream of innuendo for the entire afternoon).

- Contemplating the Cat -
The Cat Inn is base camp for the day, a homely village pub which showcases ales from the Enville Brewery alongside carefully selected guest beers. Our adventurers' thirst is slaked by respective pints of Enville Gothic (pleasingly stout-like with a hint of honey) or lemonade and blackcurrant, the public bar proving the perfect setting in which to recover from our labours thus far. A real fire adds a nice warmth to proceedings as the conversation turns to the mysterious appeal of David Mellor.

- Staffordshire Sleuthing -
It is now time for the return trek to Kinver so we precariously plod back along the A458 (looking out for lorries) and then retrace our footsteps down Enville Road. The expedition log book finds plenty of photo specimens to record in Kinver village centre - the British Legion office and the local High School among them - but we weren't expecting to spot a Big Sleuth bear in the wilds of South Staffordshire. The sculpture in question is 'Sunny', a leaf-themed design which was previously sited at MAC in Birmingham's Cannon Hill Park.

- Royal Exchange, Stourbridge -
In need of further refreshment, the unit makes plans to stop at two Black Country Ales establishments in swift succession. The Cross at Kinver (just below St Peter's Church) supplies sustenance in the welcome form of cheese or ham salad cobs - plus Black Hole's Supernova golden ale - after which the Queens Head in Stourbridge provides an encounter with some Celtic Hill Porter. The latter pub is a few doors along from the Royal Exchange, a traditional Bathams boozer where the portrait of Queen Elizabeth I entreats us to sample the resident Mild and Bitter.

- Some Barbridge Deception -
Two more Stourbridge stopping points serve as our reward for safely re-entering the West Midlands. The first of these is the Old Bank, a landmark former financial premises that nowadays operates as a grand bar; Pardoe's Bumblehole is eagerly obtained from the ale selection here as a Coventry Street cock emblem smiles down knowingly (cue more innuendo at Nick's expense). We move thence to Barbridge for our foray finale, partaking of Abbeydale Deception and a curious stout that tasted remarkably like smoky bacon crisps - an acquired taste indeed. Evening's onset means expedition's end as Nick and Ken boldly make tracks for Birmingham whereas the 256 suffices for WME and Stephen (by way of a Kingswinford chip shop pit stop). 
Another Chip Foundation chapter is thus chronicled and we now await our next assignment - cheers!

Monday, February 19

Little Obsessions

I’ve always had a certain fascination when it comes to a sense of place, wanting to know where things are and how to get there. This in turn has manifested itself in my digital photo archive and this here blog, but it’s also an evolving interest whereby certain themes emerge over time. When I first started out with camera in hand, my focus was firmly on bus routes and railway stations but pubs and local features then became more prominent in my picture hauls. More recently still, documenting pubs has taken on more urgency and I’ve developed a liking for smaller street scene details – ghost signs and ceramic tiles – all in my quest for extra West Midlands knowledge. Friday 16th February therefore offered a chance to indulge in these 'little obsessions'…

- Coalway Road -
So what's all this fuss about ceramic street signs I hear you ask? Well for me they are little pieces of history, characteristic of the older inner-city areas of Wolverhampton where they can be found among terraces and corner shops, quietly marking their respective locations for many a year. Today's hunt takes me along Coalway Road where besides my tiled targets I can also look out for Penn Fields Bowling Club, Woodfield Junior and Infant Schools plus - via a slight Poplar Road detour - Wolverhampton's Carmelite Monastery. Founded in 1922, the monastery is home to a cloistered community of Roman Catholic Discalced Carmelite nuns.

- Moorfield Works -
The Blakenhall area is a rich picking ground for ghost signs and general vintage street scene discoveries - the Ale & Porter paintwork on Moor St South opposite St Luke's Church for example, or the Dudley Road reference to Baker's Removals (on the corner with Byrne Road). There is automotive and sporting heritage to investigate too - Wolverhampton Wanderers no less were founded in the vicinity back in 1877, and John Marston based the Sunbeam Motor Car Company at Moorfield Works off Upper Villiers Street. Elsewhere, a quick look along Raby Street confirms the completion of recent housing construction including the creation of Mike Swain Drive.

- Dark Ruby Mild -
With the Dudley Road dealt with, attention is turned to my other pet interest - pubs. Generally speaking, public houses appeal to me as local landmarks that often act as the heartbeat of their community, so as part of our Hub Marketing Board antics Mr D9 and I have effectively made it our open-ended mission to collect as many West Midlands watering holes as we can. I like the sheer variety from large Birmingham roadhouses to estate dives and backstreet industrial boozers, but my favourites tend to be pubs where time has stood still - not museum pieces by any means but places where you feel you're following in the footsteps of previous generations of drinkers. This particular afternoon sees me meeting up with Stephen to revisit two such examples, starting in Sedgley with the lure of Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby Mild.

- Bathams' Britannia -
The Beacon Hotel is where the Ruby elixir can be found, a deep brooding perfect pint in a special setting - Surprise and Pale Amber are the other regular Sarah Hughes brews, and crouching down to order at the screened bar certainly adds to the fun. A short ride on the 1 then leads us to another entrant on CAMRA's inventory of nationally-important pub interiors - the Britannia at Upper Gornal. Sally's rear tap room is primarily responsible for that listing, a snug survivor with wall-mounted handpumps, although on this occasion Mr B and I prefer to plonk ourselves in the parlour. Here I can sample that beer of Black Country legend, Bathams Best Bitter, which stands the test of time for quality quaffing. Once again my little obsessions have resulted in a most enjoyable outing, and I wonder where next they might take me...

Wednesday, February 7

Hub Marketing 2018: Warley Wanderings

The Hub Marketing Board hereby submit their opening trip log for 2018 as we recount a Black Country tale of baldness and beer centred upon Sandwell (Cradley Heath and Warley to be precise)...

- Dudley Street Metro Sign -
The date is Friday 2nd February as Secretary WME makes his way towards West Bromwich in advance of the scheduled rendezvous. A bright but chilly morning is set fair for photography so some solo shot-gathering is permitted, starting at Dudley Street (Guns Village) metro stop. The West Bromwich Working Mens Social Club is an intriguing find nearby (is it still going?) then Claypit Lane allows for an update on the Park View housing development, whereby Living Well Street is firmly in place as a residential crescent stretching down towards the open spaces of Greets Green Park.

- Greets Green Community Hub -
Further Greets Green picture potential comes in the form of the Fox & Goose pub just beyond Belper Bridge before Hambletts Road supplies a circuitous approach to Hanbury Primary School. The Secretary isn't expecting to come across any initial hub potential so the discovery of Greets Green Community Hub is certainly a surprise, especially given its location on the Chairman's workplace doorstep yet Mr D9 hadn't noticed it. The balding one makes his appearance at the allotted time and members can board the 4M bus for Cradley Heath via Oldbury and Blackheath.

- Roe, chips and batter bits! -
The 4M drops us off practically outside our first watering hole of the new year, the Waggon & Horses on Reddal Hill Road being an 'Ostler's Urban Ale Venue' whatever that means! Tiger print wallpaper and pop art depictions of Debbie Harry make for an eyecatching experience as we sample some Malvern Spring ale from the Malvern Hills Brewery. Pint supped, we head over the road to Ivan's Fish & Chips for a rather special lunch; this family business has been operating for over 60 years and has become something of a local institution. The roe, chips and mushy peas special really hits the spot, all topped off with a scoop of batter bits in time-honoured fashion.

- 'Spotted' on Corngreaves Road -
We eat our chips among the hallowed surroundings of St Luke's churchyard on the corner of Upper High Street and Corngreaves Road, both of us sensing that the location isn't quite how we remember it. We then realise that the church itself is no longer here, St Luke's having been demolished in late 2016 after repair bills made the building unviable (the last service was held in October 2014, bringing to a close nearly 170 years of worship). Corngreaves Road then has the Chairman trying to sniff out closet remains - leaving the bald spot unguarded in the process - while the Plough & Harrow contributes a tasty drop of Ludlow Gold.

- Judge D9 drives the 129 -
The Secretary has bad memories of the 129 misbehaving when the Chip Foundation were in the area two weeks ago, but this time around the bus arrives reasonably promptly. The Chairman is therefore able to perform a top deck costume change, transforming himself into 'Judge D9' with his adopted theme tune being 'Your Honour' by Pluto Shervington (plenty of mentions of closets you see). Some judicious steering guides us to Shell Corner for a closer look at Shell-ter complete with more Albion Pale Ale for Mr WME. This distinctive micro bar has a few interesting props (a vintage typewriter and a field telephone) plus a back room where the walls are graffiti-tagged with the names of recent visitors. 

- Dusky Navigation -
One micropub is swiftly followed by another as members proceed to Causeway Green, picking up a pint prescription in the Old Dispensary. The 'medicine' in question is Gentleman's Nectar from the Box Social Brewery with a proper smack of American hops - tasty! We then engage in darts at dusk, the Navigation beside the Titford Canal serving as the setting for another oche battle. The New Year means all scores are reset and D9 Destroyer has a fresh chance to claim his maiden championship; alas WME Whirlwind is keen to hold onto his title and thus administers a 5-2 victory with something approaching ruthless efficiency. 

- WME in the Wernley -
Our Warley wanderings comprise a couple of other calling points, both from the Sizzling stable. The Wernley is a large roadhouse on the A4123 Wolverhampton Road where D9 gleefully grabs a £2.35 round of Bitter. The George meanwhile is one of Warley's most defining landmarks where a quick half of M&B Mild costs the Secretary a mere £2.30 - the discount duel is hotting up! With our respective wallets now slightly lighter, we board the Oldbury-bound 128 (via Bristnall Fields) and then interchange onto a 4M once Mr D9 has homaged the remains of a former cafe closet.

- No Barking on the Lyng -
Our finale on this occasion is a little lingering on the Lyng, the estate having undergone wholesale regeneration in recent years. Among the new residences and fancy apartments, two pubs cling on as links to the past - the Prince Albert and the Old Vic. A swift half in each sees this trip through to its conclusion, and the Chairman is glad he hasn't got his pet pooches with him when noting a stern 'No Barking' warning. Without the slightest woof, we locate our homeward Metro and that's that - the first Hub trip of what will hopefully be another epic year.