Sunday, August 26

Chip Foundation Chronicles: Blists Hill and Coalport

The date when our annual Ironbridge Gorge Museums pass expires is drawing near so the Chip Foundation endeavoured to squeeze one final trip out of our tickets. Friday 25th August was therefore chosen for a return visit to Blists Hill and Coalport, repeating the outing we did for Nick's 60th birthday on the occasion of his 61st...

- Mr B awaits the bus -
So here we have it, the fourth in our quartet of Ironbridge adventures and a trip that in some ways echoes the first of that mini-series (last September's Blists Hill original). A few things have changed over the intervening period however, most notably the Arriva bus network which no longer directly connects Wolverhampton with Telford. Our trusty number 9 route now only runs as far as Bridgnorth so we have to catch the train instead, then navigate our way through Telford Town Centre building sites in order to catch the number 2 at the town's new(ish) bus station.

- Silly hat season in the Goods Shed -
The ride on the 2 is an interesting one, weaving through Malinslee, Dawley (where the former Lord Hill pub is now a takeaway), Little Dawley and Aqueduct (spotting the village surgery and pharmacy). We alight in Sutton Hill for the short walk to Blists Hill, presenting our passports and then stepping back in time to the age of Victoria circa 1900. We soon get into the spirit of things by sampling the selfie station in the Goods Shed - give us the chance to try on a few hats and we're instantly happy!

- The Coalbrookdale Locomotive -
Other initial Blists Hill curiosities include McClure's Drapers (selling millinery for ladies of distinction), the Bates & Hunt Chemists (purveyors of medicinal tinctures and embrocations) plus the Boys Brigade hut (scene of candle dipping activities). We're also pleased to see the Coalbrookdale locomotive in action - this particular engine is a working replica built at GKN in 1989/90 that brings back to life an original 1802 design by the steam pioneer Richard Trevithick.

- Inspecting the Hay Incline -
One of my most memorable moments from going to Blists Hill last year was walking along the old canal and seeing the Hay Inclined Plane, so this time around the rest of the Chip Foundation chaps join me in taking a closer look - the tracks are where cradles with tub boats were transported up and down the hillside for over a century. Back below in the main village we attend an appointment in the doctor's surgery (with its stark and ominous waiting room) before checking out the locksmiths, Stephen resisting the temptation to apply for their 7-year apprenticeship.

- Vintage petrol pump (with eager attendant) -
Mr B Senior meanwhile makes the acquaintance of Casey the pony (dropping his camera in the process), but with several notices about public floggings on show we think its wise to move on for our own safety! The All Nations is our unanimous choice for the first pint of the day (Hobson's Old Prickly proving popular here) before we descend the Silkin Way footpath into Coalport. The Brewery Inn's mid-afternoon closing once again thwarts my hopes of a drink but at least we can spot a rusty relic of a petrol pump to keep the photos flowing.

- Coalport Tar Tunnel -
Coalport is home to two museum attractions, one of which is the Tar Tunnel tucked away below the village shop. This is where 18th century miners unexpectedly struck a spring of natural bitumen when digging into the hillside, and the tar still seeps through amidst the brickwork today. The site is only partially accessible at the moment so we have to make do with the view from the tunnel entrance; when fully operational, visitors can don hard hats and venture deeper inside. It's strange to think that the tunnel was almost forgotten about for years until being rediscovered in 1965.

- A Ceramic Octopus -
The village's other major attraction is of course Coalport China Museum, housed within the former factory buildings and showcasing exquisite examples of bone china and decorative ceramics. Some of the porcelain looks very intricate, especially the miniatures, and there is a demonstration area where we can witness the artistic skill required in producing such wares. The Social History gallery offers us an insight into historic working conditions and emphasises the importance of river, rail and canal for transporting the finished goods.

- Inside the bottle kiln -
Continuing through the museum, we enjoy exploring the insides of a bottle kiln whereby Stephen is intrigued to discover a 'wicket' is the technical name for the entrance to the oven - something tells me Mr B still prefers the word in its cricketing context! The Caughley Collection then presents some early Shropshire porcelain for our delectation; the firm was active from around 1775 to 1799 producing tea and dinner services plus other everyday objects.

- The Shakespeare Inn -
With our passports punched and the museums all mused, the remainder of the trip is dedicated to pubgoing so the Shakespeare Inn becomes our next target by the foot of the inclined plane. There is a distinct dining emphasis here although the main bar area is quite appealing with a sturdy tiled floor. Stephen is dispatched to find us a table and picks one in the conservatory, our setting for a check on the Wolves score (a highly creditable 1-1 draw against Manchester City) and a chat about forthcoming cricket getaways.

- The Half Moon, Jackfield -
Two additional watering holes await over the river in Jackfield. The Boat can be found barely a stone's throw from the Memorial footbridge with flood level markers recorded on the front door - I think I'm the only one of us tall enough to have kept my head above water! The building has a quaint riverside charm even though the Banks's Mild is a tad iffy; we follow that with a wander to the Half Moon which also has an enviable position beside the River Severn. As the sister pub to the Shakespeare this is also food-led but we can't deny it's rather nice sitting outside supping Joules' Pale Ale or Sharp's Atlantic.

- Euston Way, Telford Central -
The final word should be for the birthday boy himself, Nick now being 61 years young. After the 8 returns us from Jackfield to Telford, we make use of the number 4 bus as our railway station shuttle then raise a further glass in HRH's honour. The venue for our final half is the Euston Way Beefeater outlet just across the driveway from Telford Central station, not the most thrilling of pub experiences admittedly but handy enough for Doom Bar or Hobgoblin when waiting for the train. There concludes our quartet of Ironbridge investigations albeit we still have the option of doing Broseley Pipeworks and returning to the Tar Tunnel at our leisure - cheers!

Friday, August 24

WME Flickr Focus - August 2018

What's going on here then? It's not even the end of the month and yet we have a photostream digest post already - scandalous! I'll be away watching cricket in Wales for a few days (fingers crossed for good weather) so I'm getting the Flickr admin sorted out before I go, hence this brief summary of the latest photographic arrivals...

WME Telford led the way in August with a dozen additions all from the Blists Hill Victorian Town museum. The Chip Foundation went there last September to celebrate Nick's birthday - a visit we intend on repeating imminently - so the offerings include vintage enamel signs (Dunlop Tyres, Wem Ales), newspaper headlines (Queen Victoria's Birthday, the Boer War) and a look at the post office frontage. The Hay Inclined Plane also makes an impression, one of my favourite examples of canal engineering.

Along with Telford, WMEs Coventry and Solihull are usually the lesser-seen members of my photostream family but both came out of hiding with some useful new content. WME Coventry registered a Bonds Hospital circular plaque plus the Ember Inns pub sign for the Burnt Post near Stivichall, whereas WME Solihull found itself a Berkswell village fingerpost and a Blossomfield Road bus stop. 

Weighing in with their own acquisitions were WME Dudley and WME Birmingham. Brum busied itself around Centenary Square, pocketing glimpses of the International Convention Centre (ICC) and the Library of Birmingham; Dudley meanwhile concentrated on Coseley (an evening shot of the New Inn's Holdens Brewery stanchion) and Brierley Hill (the cottagey Dog & Lamppost). 

By far the biggest contributor to my published archive this year has been WME Wolverhampton, a status it maintained with another healthy selection of snaps. The Banks's 'Tells It Like It Is' campaign has remained in the spotlight courtesy of their Property Ladder and Walls Have Beers creations whilst the Firs at Castlecroft supplied a more traditional style of pub signage. Bushbury Hill beckoned too for an almost-rural scene complete with grazing cows and pasture.

That as ever just leaves us with the stragglers, which this time around were WME Walsall (a solitary Beechdale street art contender adorning the rear of the local Social Club), WME Staffordshire (a second view of the flat-roof Castle pub in Brereton near Rugeley) and WME Worcestershire (the tented entrance to Bromsgrove Beer Festival). I'll now get packing for my cricket-watching escape so until next time enjoy the pictures and Come On You Bears!

Wednesday, August 22

Hoodwinked Hubs

Friday 17th August sees the Merry Men of the Hub Marketing Board assembling in Nottingham in search of a selection of winking robins, the latest in our growing list of animal artwork adventures! Here are some of the highlights of the day...

The Robins

- Royal Robin Redbreast -
The Hoodwinked trail is a play on the Robin Hood legend and has seen 30 bird-like sculptures appearing in various locations across Nottingham City Centre. Having caught the 9:49 train up from Birmingham (not calling at Derby due to engineering works), we pitched straight into our quest by meeting Royal Robin Redbreast immediately outside the railway station. The design is an eyecatching mosaic made up of sparkly tesserae. 

- Judge Robin -
Station Street was home to two particularly amusing creations: Robo Robin (looking like how a child would imagine a robot, complete with rivets and dials) and Judge Robin (an officious fellow with red robes and a curly wig). Our initial stroll through the city streets also revealed Goose Fair Goose Fowl at St Peter's Square, Rocket Robin the Smithy Row space shuttle, and A City Built on Wisdom inside the intu Broadmarsh shopping mall.

- Ay Up Me Duck -
More robins could be detected in the environs of Nottingham Castle, an appropriate place to find the villainous Sheriff casting his tyrannical gaze upon all and sundry. Far more friendly was Ay Up Me Duck, a robin that celebrates the local dialect greeting and keeps Robin Hood's statue company on Castle Road. The sight of the statue prompted a musical interlude courtesy of Dick James with the theme tune to the 1950s TV series 'The Adventures of Robin Hood'... altogether now, "Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen, Robin Hood, Robin Hood, with his band of men".

- Captain Jack -
Several robins were located in the vicinity of Upper and Lower Parliament Streets, most notably Captain Jack the pirate complete with skull and crossbones hat plus eyepatch. Tigguo Cobauc referenced the ancient name for Nottingham as the 'place of caves' whereas Max (Superhero on the Weekends) combined elements of various superhero costumes - including a POW! belt - in being ready to fight crime but only between 9:30 and 4:30 on Saturdays and Sundays.

The Hubs

- Friar Lane -
Nottingham supplied us with a veritable bonanza of hub locations with the Secretary's research paying off in fine style. One of the first we found was on Friar Lane in the shadow of the Pearl Assurance offices, a discovery we quickly followed with the Wellbeing Hub on Hounds Gate. It's fair to say that the Chairman was kept busy with several promotional photocalls...

- Citycard Cycle Hub -
... so here is that man D9 again with one of our early evening revelations, the Citycard Cycle Hub at Sneinton's Victoria Leisure Centre. The centre combines a modern glazed frontage with the Victorian clock tower of the original swimming baths, all overlooking the landscaped spaces of the market square with the Bath Inn (a gridiron pub turned into a chip shop) adding its presence to the scene.

The Pubs

- Sherwood Stout -
Besides our robin-hunting exploits we made sure to sample a variety of watering holes and partake of (mostly) Nottinghamshire ales.  Secretary WME is seen here modelling the Sherwood Stout that was obtained in the Lincolnshire Poacher, a Castle Rock outlet on the A60 Mansfield Road. The Chairman later tried the stout for himself in the Barley Twist, Castle Rock's Carrington Street spin on a modern craft bar-cum-wine cellar.

- The Longbow -
The afternoon saw us taking a little ride out to Arnold, a market town that falls under the auspices of Gedling Borough Council. The 58 Lime Line bus dropped us off on Surgeys Lane for the Longbow, a proper estate boozer that was very much to Mr D9's liking. Arnold's photographic attractions included the branch library, Scattergood's coal yard and Front Street shops, while the market stall patch next to the Methodist Church was guarded by an antique ice cream van.

- A Transport Tome -
Two Lincoln Green establishments featured during the course of the outing, important inclusions given their ales have Robin Hood names in keeping with our overall theme. Indeed, the Sir John Borlase Warren at Canning Circus had opened our drinking proceedings with a tasty pint of Hood Bitter, whereas at Arnold's Robin Hood & Little John we supped a half of Marion Pale Ale whilst perusing an absorbing 1978 magazine containing vintage bus and tram pictures.

- Samuel Hall -
Keeping with the transport theme, the Chairman's advance request for the day had been to visit the Samuel Hall in Sherwood, a Wetherspoons named after a notable lace manufacturer. The building used to be a bus garage so it was only appropriate to have a pint of Bus Stop Bitter, the house ale as provided by the Nottingham Brewery. Notable mention must also go to two contrasting Daybrook venues, the Abdication micropub being very compact whereas the Vale was a classic roadhouse with a largely intact 1930s interior - Art Deco opulence at its finest!

The Finds

- Home Brewery Gates -
Between the bird-spotting and ale-quaffing we found plenty of time for some fascinating ferreting. Two places really stood out as prime discoveries, the first of which was the Home Brewery site on Mansfield Road. Home Ales and Shipstone's (whose brewery was in Basford) were the two major players in terms of Nottingham beer production for much of the twentieth century, with Home being based in Daybrook for over 100 years prior to closure in the 1990s. Their office building with green frontage gates still stands and is currently used by Nottinghamshire County Council.

- Sneinton Market -
The Secretary's favourite find however was undoubtedly Sneinton Market on the edges of the city centre. Comprising a series of elegant avenues, the market was at one time run down and dilapidated but has been revived as a cultural quarter with new businesses and workshops. The result is an intriguing mixture of traditional arcade architecture and modern street art with the added bonus of hosting two more robins, Rockin' Robin and Wagathlon (the latter in a GBR triathlon vest perched on a bicycle).

The Closets

- Gleeful at the Gents -
Sneinton Market fulfilled another essential Hub Marketing requirement by giving the Chairman his prized closet fix. The gents in question seemed particularly atmospheric with a cast iron grille and old lettering, supplementing the Wood Street toilet block in Arnold that Mr D9 had spotted earlier. 

The Bald Spot

- Hands of Hope -
No Hub Marketing report is ever signed off by the committee unless it contains a bald spot photograph, so here's one containing a robin for good measure. Hands of Hope represented the various colours of Nottingham Hospice as a patchwork-style waistcoat and was located on King Street close to Brian Clough's statue (hence old bald head met Old Big Head). Anyway, that pretty much covers everything and we caught the train home happily hoodwinked - cheers!

Tuesday, August 7

WME Walks: Kingswinford

Kingswinford is one of those places I know really well in part but there are bits of it that I hardly know at all. It is these less-familiar corners that I set out to investigate for my first August 2018 adventure, grabbing my camera and catching the 255 bus across from Wolverhampton...

- The British Oak -
Just a little walk this one but a productive morning's work, starting off with Stallings Lane which always seemed to get mentioned on local radio commercials when I was a kid. Initial targets to capture on camera are a Lidl supermarket, a Cane Furniture showroom and the Kingswinford Snooker Centre plus a couple of garages. I then find the British Oak, a wedge-shaped modern Marston's pub that makes its debut among my photographic archive.

- Charterfield Shopping Centre -
Stallings Lane is also where I happen across the Charterfield Shopping Centre, based off the junction with Charterfield Drive just over the road from the pub. The self-contained parade includes several shops, most notably a large Morrisons store and a selection of takeaways (Double Happy, Balti Cottage et al). The Pensnett Trading Estate isn't far away either, home to a National Express West Midlands bus depot along with factory units and office accommodation.

- Blanford Mere School -
Branching away from Stallings Lane, I now take Balfour Road which I vaguely remember being the terminus of an old Travel Merry Hill route (possibly the 232). There aren't any buses along here these days though so I have to content myself with shots of the local primary school, Blanford Mere off Mimosa Walk (sharing its site with the Kingswinford & Wall Heath SureStart Centre) . The wider estate comprises a warren of cul-de-sacs and alleyways but I manage not to get lost, the sound of the church bells helping me keep my bearings. 

- King George VI Park -
A footpath beside the school leads in turn to King George VI Park, Kingswinford's flagship area of public open space. A pavement mosaic marks the main entrance (off Park Lane funnily enough) and depicts a royal portrait with a boar's head heraldic crest. The usual recreational amenities apply - sports pitches, children's play area, bits of grassland, trees and shrubs - while the park is the base for the Dudley Sports Crown Green Bowling Club as well.

- St Mary's Church -
I mentioned the church bells earlier and it's only right that I should give St Mary's my full consideration. Situated adjoining The Village (itself an attractive triangular green), the church has that classic picture postcard appeal set off perfectly by the summer sunshine. A carved lich gate and a poppy wreath-laden war memorial add to the scene, all watched over by the proud church tower with its 1897 clockface. It's a historic location harking back to the days when Kingswinford was a rural parish rather than part of the Dudley urban sprawl.

- Kingswinford Pool -
A further wander through King George VI Park boosts the quota of pretty scenery thanks to Kingswinford Pool, a man-made balancing lake that has become something of a haven for Canada geese. The Union, the Cottage and the Bell all get some repeat pub pictures before I finish off at Manor Park, surveying the sidestreet bus stop where the 205 and 657 routes layover. The Select Estate Agents and Amblecote Furnishers complete my photographic endeavours and I depart satisfied at adding that little bit more to my Kingswinford knowledge.