Wednesday, March 28

WME Flickr Focus - March 2018

Would you believe it, we're at that time of the month again where I subject you to the usual diet of photostream progress. Several of my West Midlands Exploration collections have been limbering up and getting fit ready for their next intake of pictorial nutrition...

First with a finger in the salad bowl this month is WME Worcestershire which has admittedly suffered from a severe lack of appetite thus far in 2018 - a solitary portion of the Gate Hangs Well at Headless Cross in Redditch is probably not much by way of nourishment but it is a start. Exploration Extra meanwhile has itself been on rations of late but avoids going hungry by taking a bite out of the beer festival shuttle bus at Derby.

WME Wolverhampton has certainly been piling on the pictures, although where the photostream is concerned any extra weight is always a good thing. A hearty meal has been devoured comprising Dudding Road bus stop, Fallings Park's Co-op store, some George Street signage and Dunstall Park Bridge on the Birmingham Main Line Canal. Dessert comes in the form of some bus garage demolition with two shots of the former Cleveland Road depot meeting its fate.

Approaching the scales somewhat nervously are WME Birmingham and WME Sandwell with their respective weigh-in reports now imminent. Birmingham succumbs to the temptation of Cotteridge (the Grant Arms), Falcon Lodge (the Anvil) and a dragon bench outside Hall Green Library, whereas Sandwell secretively tucks away the Greets Green Sports Bar and Cradley Heath's Mary McArthur Gardens. 

Finally we have a handful of collections reaching for the juice smoothies and the vitamin pills. WME Dudley seeks out supplements such as the Little Chop House at Colley Gate or some shops at Cotwall End, Sedgley; WME Walsall puts Darlaston through the blender, resulting in sign snaps for Middleton's chip shop, the Vine and the Horse & Jockey; WME Coventry is on the cod liver oil care of Fords Hospital almshouses, and last but not least is WME Staffordshire taking a recreational stroll around Chasewater Reservoir. That concludes a healthy month on the photostream, more of the same in April will do very nicely indeed...

Tuesday, March 20

The Telford Trip 2018: Woodside and Sutton Hill

Every year one of the trips I most look forward to is my annual tour of Telford, adding another chapter to an exploration pedigree dating back to 2004. The 2018 instalment would include a closer look at two estates I haven't photographed much before - Woodside and Sutton Hill - plus there will be a chance to make further use of my Ironbridge Museums yearly pass...

- New Bus Station -
Friday 16th March and the day begins with something of a surprise - Telford has a new bus station that I didn't know about! In fairness, it has pretty much the same site (Coach Central) and layout as the old one so it isn't a huge change, even if continuing construction works mean there currently isn't direct access into the shopping centre. I grab a quick couple of photos and then board the 4 for a ride to Woodside, trundling down Stirchley Avenue past the Boscobel Tavern and then thrashing along a stretch of the Queensway.

- Park Lane Centre -
Alighting on Woodside Avenue, I can set to work capturing the Woodside estate on camera. The Elizabethan pub is familiar from a D9 visit a couple of years ago but otherwise there is much to discover. The local amenities are clustered around the Park Lane Centre with its conferencing facilities, rooms for hire, pharmacy and community cafe. A doctor's surgery is next door and there are shops close at hand in a new(ish) precinct built on the site of what was the Dolphin pub. 

- The Beacon boarded up -
Weaving through wider Woodside has me happening across a Costcutter store on Warrensway, a rather unnerving thoroughfare among garages and back yards. Wyvern releases me towards Roberts Road which in turn leads me to the Beacon, a rather sad looking pub atop the hill overlooking Ironbridge. This would have been a handsome building back in the day but the presence of security hoardings doesn't bode well for its ongoing survival.

- Anstice Memorial -
Ironbridge Road and Park Street form my Madeley approaches, passing in turn the cricket club, the Red Lion and the old Bethesda Methodist Chapel. Madeley itself has seen a few changes in recent years, most notably the appearance of a Tesco supermarket, but I'm pleased to report that the Anstice Memorial retains its place at the heart of town -  for now. Construction of the hall commenced in 1868 to create a Workmens Club and Institute but 150 years later there is considerable uncertainty as further funding is needed in order to secure the future of the building.

- Sutton Hill Street Art -
A peek at Prince Street reveals the Miners Arms as accompanied by a pit pony sculpture crafted out of scrap metal, reflecting Madeley's heritage as a mining community. Tweedale has me briefly on the trail of a lost canal when I follow a muddy track through to an industrial estate, then from Cuckoo Oak roundabout I can seek out Sutton Hill. Like Woodside earlier, this is an estate that has undergone a fair bit of regeneration hence the celebratory street art adorning the 'Hub on the Hill'.

- Blists Hill Brickworks -
Other Sutton Hill features include a local church, a little shopping unit (Premier store and Oceans fish bar) and the Sir Alexander Fleming Primary School - considering my younger recollections of the estate were less than flattering I am impressed by the changes. Sutton Hill also means I'm handy for a Blists Hill revisit so I sign in with my annual passport and make a beeline for the old brickworks, once part of the Madeley Wood Company's extensive industrial holdings.

- Blists Hill Street Scene -
A pint in the New Inn is a must at Blists Hill, today's tipple being some frothy Banks's Bitter. I'm then keen to see more of the Lower Town exhibits today having missed some of these last September, such as the bright red tin tabernacle that is St Chad's Mission Church, or the Forest Glen Refreshment Pavilion that used to greet visitors to The Wrekin. The Sidaway Mercantile building is home to 'Spry', said to be the last surviving Severn Trow boat which originally plied its trade transporting river cargo in the Bristol Channel.

- Madeley Market Station -
Stocking up on traditional scratchings and sweeties (toffee bonbons) as you do, I complete my Blists Hill haul on this occasion with the Saw Mill, the Stirchley Board School - no need for the cane thank goodness - and the cycle showroom; I will no doubt be back again before too long. I still have time for a Silkin Way stroll though, reacquainting myself with the former Madeley Market railway station (the passenger service here ceased in 1952). My very final stop is the Britannia Inn at Aqueduct, sampling a swift Banks's Mild while the regulars get excited about the Cheltenham Festival horse racing. Home to Wolverhampton thence I go but Telford certainly came up trumps for another top trip!

Tuesday, March 13

Dodging the Staffordshire Showers

The weather hasn't been particularly conducive to exploration recently, and even though the Beast from the East has been and gone there was still a fair bit of rain in the forecast when I ventured out last Saturday. Stafford would be my destination of choice as I hoped to avoid the worst of the showers...

- Waggon and Horses, Greyfriars -
Saturday 10th March 2018 brings quite a dank morning as I catch the slightly delayed 10:15 Manchester train out of Wolverhampton. The skies are grey and ominous when I reach Stafford ten or so minutes later but this does not deter some photography - Foregate Street and Greyfriars are in the immediate firing line as I spot the former Staffordshire General Infirmary (now a Carers Hub). The A34 also features the Waggon & Horses as a landmark pub near the Stone Road roundabout.

- Stafford Rangers Social Club -
Fancy Walk offers a sidestreet ferret in connecting me with Marston Road where I emerge opposite the Joiners Arms. There are some interesting ghost signs in the vicinity, remnants of old industrial buildings plus another pub (the Kings Arms). Marston Road is a name well known in non-league football circles as the home ground of Stafford Rangers FC; the club's main entrance is actually on Astonfields Road so I get a few photos there while groundstaff prepare for the fixture against Lancaster City (a 2-2 draw would later transpire).

- The Sandonia -
Passing the Astonfields Balancing Lakes, I join Sandon Road accompanied by the murmuring ripples of the Marston Brook. St Patrick's Church and a Christadelphian Hall offer photo pickings along with a sequence of further pubs, namely the Tap & Spile (currently closed), Princess Royal and Hop Pole. My star find is undoubtedly the remains of the Sandonia Cinema with its elegant carved stone facade; sadly the building has effectively been abandoned, the vestiges of its later use as a snooker hall still evident courtesy of a gurning portrait vaguely resembling Jimmy White. 

- Lego sentry on Salter Street -
The Four Crosses heralds the bottom end of Marston Road as I pass the local prison on my way back into Stafford town centre. A lunchtime pint seems appropriate - the Vine Hotel on Salter Street is tempting (once I've said hello to a Lego character outside a nearby toyshop), but ultimately it's the Black Country Ales promise of the Shrewsbury Arms which secures my custom. A Salopian Brewery stout is absolute nectar, especially when paired with a curry and onion scotch egg - lovely!

- 8 at Parkside -
Though overcast, the weather is still largely behaving itself so a little bus ride is now in the offing. The number 8 is a cross-town service linking Moss Pit and Parkside, the latter of which appeals as an estate I've never visited before. Boarding my Arriva steed at Gaol Square, I settle back for a ride along Stone Road, passing the old Antelope Inn prior to navigating the residential reaches of Holmcroft. Parkside Avenue then reveals the terminus location just beyond the shopping parade.

- The Staffordshire Bull -
The precinct's stores include Parkside Bakery, Scott Paul hairdressers and a Lifestyle Express outlet, while the neighbouring pub is the Staffordshire Bull. I'm in two minds over whether to call in for a drink or not so the prospect of Manchester United vs Liverpool football action is a necessary means of persuasion - a nice pint of Sharp's Atlantic is my reward as the respective charges of Klopp and Mourinho do battle at Old Trafford.

- Holmcroft Library -
United won and the final whistle is my cue to embark upon a closing dose of estate exploration. Holmcroft fits the bill although the rain has now caught up with me, persistent drizzle setting in as I attempt to account for branch library, Holmcroft pub and St Bertelin's Church. The elements can't stop me enjoying my wander back along the Eccleshall Road either, and I dry off with a Slater's High Duck in the Butler's Bell Wetherspoons before catching my train home - cheers!

Sunday, March 4

Bagpuss and Bilston

A day of two halves - iconic puppets in the morning before some snow-struck Hub Marketing in the afternoon. The Beast from the East is intent on making its presence felt so will the exploration bandwagon keep on rolling?...

- WME meets Bagpuss -
Friday 2nd March and winter has returned with a vengeance, overnight snow threatening widespread disruption. Despite this, Wolverhampton Art Gallery beckons for a look at the TV puppets exhibition which evokes memories of much-loved children's programmes. One zone is dedicated to the creations of Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate - their Smallfilms stable included the Clangers, Noggin the Nog and Ivor the Engine along with that famous cloth cat Bagpuss.

- Zippy and George -
The adjacent room presents more classic characters from television history, beginning with those WME personal favourites Zippy and George from Rainbow. Spitting Image caricatures are displayed along with Gerry Anderson marionettes and good old Basil Brush - boom boom! Mr WME must also declare a soft spot for Button Moon, the sight of Mr Spoon and Eggbert bringing back some proper 1980s nostalgia. The exhibition is recommended for kids of all ages and runs until mid-April.

- Farley Clock Portrait -
To the main outing and the Midland Metro is operating a ten minute frequency in the adverse weather so the Secretary is able to head towards West Bromwich ready for some hub happenings. Chairman D9 is delayed however, hence a Carters Green interlude is necessary with the prospect of saying hello to the Farley Clock - the red brick and terracotta tower was erected in 1897 with relief panels featuring Reuben Farley, Oak House and West Bromwich Town Hall. The Wheatsheaf then provides some Holden's hospitality (and a bit of test cricket action from warmer climes) while Mr WME awaits further instruction.

- Wrapped up warm when driving the 40 -
The Chairman duly makes contact whereby our rendezvous is switched to Wednesbury in advance of a trundle on the number 40 bus; sadly the bald spot is kept well hidden during the resultant driving duty. Mr D9 has his heart set on some Friar Park ferreting so we alight on Coronation Road and slush our way into the Windmill, a community pub just up from Park Hill shops. Cobs and scratchings fortify us for the afternoon ahead, as do respective pints of Carling and Banks's Mild.

- Friar Park Food Hub -
Initial snow flurries are threatening to become more persistent as we proceed towards Crankhall Lane - it's not quite a blizzard yet but there are certainly a few flakes about as we pose for a Food Hub photo call. The Friar Park Inn (known locally as the Cabin) is thankfully close at hand by way of shelter so we settle in the front bar and watch some of the UK Open darts from Minehead. The pub's 1970s-era gas fire helps us thaw out a little before we enter the breach once more, gratefully intercepting a passing 40 for a careful ride through to West Bromwich.

- A Dirty Tackle in Bilston -
We are determined to not let the elements defeat us but it is sensible to get closer to home if possible. The trusty tram therefore conveys us to the relative safety of Bilston where our rapidly revised agenda now points us in the direction of the White Rabbit. Wychwood's Dirty Tackle ale is themed for the Six Nations rugby and goes down well in the comfort of new Marston's surroundings, Mr D9 getting excited about some vintage Big Lizzy steelworks pictures.

- Honours even in the Hop Pole -
Next up by way of contrast is one of Bilston's oldest buildings, the Greyhound & Punchbowl being an architectural treat with moulded ceiling plasterwork (said to be Jacobean) and impressive panelling, not to mention a carved overmantel. From here we nip into the Sir Henry Newbolt Wetherspoons, Secretary WME plundering a Nelson's Revenge discount, and last but not least comes the Hop Pole for some belated oche occupation. Two legs apiece means D9 Destroyer and WME Whirlwind can not be separated until the worsening weather intervenes. Ultimately the Beast from the East has the final say and the outing is adjourned so that everyone is able to get home, but we'd had a very enjoyable and rather cold adventure anyway. Cheers!