Sunday, May 26

Warning - this crawl is a load of Cobblers!

I'm not the only person who's partial to the occasional Rail Rover adventure. Nick Turpin, our favourite dandy highwayman, has spent the last few days roaming the railway network and on Friday 24th May I joined him for a nudge into Northamptonshire...

- Knife Angel -
With instructions to be aboard the 10:14 London North Western service from New Street, I have a bonus hour in Birmingham at my disposal beforehand. This gives me ample time to make the acquaintance of the Knife Angel sculpture on display at Victoria Square - this thought-provoking creation is fashioned out of 100,000 blades that were collected during knife amnesties by police forces across the UK. Brum also sees me nibble along Newhall Street for a handful of pictures of Farmers Bridge Locks (specifically numbers seven to nine in the shadowy bowels below BT Tower).

- A basket case at Foot Meadow? -
The train is slightly delayed by having to wait behind a pesky late-running Virgin competitor but Nick Turpin can still board at Coventry as planned. Arriving at Northampton by 11:30, we pick out an opening riverside stroll through Foot Meadow - this admittedly isn't the most glamorous introduction to Northamptonshire's county town as we dodge broken bottles while counting dumped shopping trolleys and discarded baskets. Things as they say can only get better!

- A Carlsberg Chimney -
Northampton is traditionally known as a centre for the shoemaking trade (hence the local football team being nicknamed 'The Cobblers') but it also has a significant brewing pedigree. Carlsberg have their main UK operations based here and the plant dominates the skyline south of the main town. Nick Turpin is a discerning dandy who doesn't normally dabble with the lager side of the drinks spectrum, so although we grudgingly admire the brewery's chimneys and mass fermentation vats, we're not planning on sampling any of its output today.

- Northampton Lock -
We will of course be concentrating on cask ale as usual, but not until we've investigated more of the River Nene. Various tributaries and channels seem to converge here and the Waterfront area makes for a pleasant stroll, noting the presence of a marina and landmark lock just across from the University of Northampton campus. Wathen Wigg Bridge is a striking structure bearing the green, yellow and black colours of the town's rugby club and named in honour of their founder, the Reverend Samuel Wathen Wigg. 

- Pomfret Arms -
Nick Turpin has a hitlist of pubs he wishes to plunder and first of those is the Pomfret Arms, home of the Cotton End Brewery. Some Coffee Porter hits the spot nicely (and so it should at 5.2% ABV) as we seek out two armchairs and listen to some 1970s tunes. This sets us up nicely for a canal hunt, venturing along the Nene Way past the Carslberg complex to intercept the Grand Union Canal (Northampton Arm) at Towcester Road. The arm is a four-and-three-quarter mile long branch which links the River Nene with Gayton Junction for the Grand Union main line.

- Champion Cheese Hurler -
Two classic watering holes are next on our agenda as we take great delight in sampling both the Malt Shovel Tavern and the Albion Brewery Bar. The former has an enviable collection of beer trays (including one from the defunct Simpkiss Brewery of Brierley Hill) and is where pause for lunch, the artisan cheddar and leek bangers proving very tasty. The latter meanwhile is the location of the resurrected Phipps NBC brewery, bringing a renowned Northampton name back to prominence. Ratliffe's Celebrated Stout is exactly the lubrication we need when attempting to play table skittles; there's clearly a technique required for this and we aren't about to master it very quickly, even if Nick Turpin has some success flinging his cheeses around!

- Bass branding in the Lamplighter -
Our attentions now switch to the north-eastern portion of town, whereby the multicultural Kettering Road seems an almost ironic setting for a pub called Olde England. The basement takes us by surprise with an array of historical illustrations and framed vintage banknotes, a real escape from the hubbub above. We then engage in a backstreet rummage through the old Boot and Shoe Quarter, happening across the Lamplighter amidst the terraces of Overstone Road. We instantly like it here, seduced by Bass lettering and the prospect of an experimental stout served in dimpled half glasses.

- St Giles Church -
Northampton town centre is graced with some very fine provincial buildings, chief among which are the Guildhall (elaborately Gothic), All Saints Church and an attractive Market Square. St Giles's Church merits a mention too and has a namesake micropub that prompts Nick to man the (Titanic) Lifeboat - I opt for some kind of honey mild, a bit of an acquired taste perhaps. A check of the train app confirms we've scope for an extra half somewhere so the lively Wig & Pen gets the nod for Jack's Spaniels (a Gun Dog blonde brew) and Adnam's Ghost Ship.

- Long Buckby Shed Station -
The 18:39 train awaits and we interrupt our journey home at Long Buckby, which surely boasts one of the most underwhelming station buildings anywhere on the Heart of England Rover map. Thankfully the rest of the village is kinder on the eyes, especially the thatched treat that is the Old King's Head on Harbidges Lane. Whatpub gives this place an effusive write up and it is certainly popular, although we have to be swift with our Everard's Gold - not even another set of table skittles can persuade us into a longer stay. No, we must head home and thus concludes Nick Turpin's Cobblers crawl - cheers!

Sunday, May 19

An Inner Circle Indulgence

While the 11A and 11C 'Outer Circle' in Birmingham can stake a claim to be one of Europe's best known bus routes, its sister service the 8A and 8C 'Inner Circle' tends to go largely unheralded. Step forward the Hub Marketing Board who are eager to examine what this inner city circuit might have to offer...

- The Jewellery Quarter Closet -
Friday 17th May is our chance for a half day homage to the number 8 so members congregate at the Jewellery Quarter for a 1pm start. The cast iron urinal outside the railway station is ideally placed for an opening photocall before we catch the 8C to Newtown via Hockley Circus and Gerrard Street. The first pub of the day is our old favourite the Bartons Arms where the tiling is as spectacular as ever. A pint each of Oakham JHB will be easily the best beer we'll drink all day, and the setting is stunning complete with snob screens and hunting friezes - make no mistake, the Bartons is an all-time classic.

- Getting tanked up in Aston -
Park Lane leads us into Aston where the Chairman gets reminiscing about two bygone businesses; both Ansells Brewery and the old HP Sauce factory were based at Aston Cross, the former having ceased production in the early 1980s whereas the latter closed in 2007. We need a silly song to lift the mood - cue Stanley Hollway's 'Galloping Major' - while D9 can't resist clambering aboard your common or garden roadside tank for one of his most unusual driving poses. A swift Guinness in Shanahan's gives us an early slice of Irish atmosphere, the pub actually doubling up as a greasy spoon cafe which serves the local salvage yards. 

- Nechells Public Baths -
The joy of the Inner Circle is that we get to go deep into some truly fascinating Heartlands territory. Nechells isn't directly on the bus route but we can't resist branching off for a look at the Villa Tavern, a building that dates from 1925 and retains many original features. The function room here is primed for some darting action as WME Whirlwind reasserts his authority thanks to a 3-1 triumph powered by M&B Mild. The back bar adds an extra veneer of character and there's more heritage over the road courtesy of Nechells Baths, which like the pub is Grade II listed. The baths opened in 1910 with separate male and female entrances, and having been saved from demolition it is now a community well-being facility. 

- Grand Union Canal near Aston Church Road -
Time now for a canal interlude perhaps? We want to make our way through Saltley so we join the Grand Union and bear south beside the River Rea and the A47 Heartlands Parkway trunk road. I wouldn't describe the towpath as scenic given the presence of some dreary recycling plants but we entertain ourselves by reliving the sounds of Eurovision 1979 - the UK entry was by Black Lace that year, finishing 7th with 'Mary Ann' whereas Israel won with 'Hallelujah'. We then emerge at Adderley Park where the eponymous local watering hole seems to be preparing for a party and the barstaff are arguing about some lost keys.

- An Arthur Holden's Factory Find -
Adderley Park feels very bleak as a railway location these days with the Station Hotel looking almost abandoned directly opposite the ticket office. Ash Road is closed for gas main repairs so the Inner Circle currently has a slight diversion en route to Bordesley Green - we survey the frontage of the ex-Arthur Holden & Sons factory (the firm specialised in paints, varnishes and lacquers) before undertaking a detour of our own, enticed along Ronald Road by the decaying remains of the Tipsy Gent. That establishment must have been shut for some considerable time but Shannon's is still going strong in giving us a second Irish-influenced item on our burgeoning itinerary. 

- A different take on Burns Night? -
We're running out of time to complete the entire 8A/8C loop today so we bail out at Bordesley and save the other half of the route for a future trip. This does however mean we can sample some hardcore Bluenose boozers in the vicinity of St Andrews football ground. The Cricketers Arms on Little Green Lane sets things rolling on this score with a very warm welcome while the Roost is more functional yet still worth a swift half. Tilton Road corner is then where we find the Royal George which boasts a gallery of Birmingham City heroes from yesteryear; alas the Secretary couldn't find a framed portrait of Britain Beermat so he has to make do with a youthful Kenny Burns instead.

- D9 drives to Deritend (with help from a friend) -
That my friends is very nearly that as we board the 97 on Garrison Lane bound for Birmingham City Centre. The Chairman takes the opportunity to stage a more conventional driving pose (with some assistance from a Coventry Road legend) and our Guinness nightcap comes at the Irish Centre in Deritend where the Connaught Bar was readying itself for the Friday night craic. The evening ends with a Midland Metro ride home and we're already looking forward to completing the whole Inner Circle circuit in due course.

- And finally... a stormy spot -
No set of Hub Marketing minutes can be signed off unless a certain bald spot has made an appearance, so here by order of the Secretary is an example surreptitiously taken amidst the gathering clouds near Adderley Park station. Until next time, cheers!

Saturday, May 11

Frankley My Dears...

For motorists journeying along the M5 from the West Midlands into Worcestershire (and beyond), Frankley is a place most associated with motorway service stations although there's a little more to it than that. I attempted to explore these other aspects of Frankley as part of an outing that also embraced Woodgate Valley, Bartley Green and Illey...

- Quinton Library -
What with Rail Rover and Redditch among my most recent explorations, I've almost been neglecting the West Midlands of late so Friday 10th May 2019 was my chance to redress the balance. I start out by catching the number 24 bus at Birmingham's Colmore Row, noting that the Paradise Circus redevelopment scheme means the route uses Cambridge Street rather than Broad Street when heading out of city. The ride through Chad Valley and Harborne is peaceful enough before I alight at Quinton Library, a local branch facility on Ridgacre Road.

- Quinton Police Station -
My walk begins in earnest with glimpses of Worlds End (no, not a post-Brexit armageddon but a suburban district of Birmingham) and other Quinton landmarks. The former Monarch roadhouse pub is now operating as the Island Inn Desi-type establishment while Quinton Police Station no longer operates a public enquiries desk. Simmons Drive is my gateway into the Woodgate Valley North estate where I recall the 103 bus used to terminate during my early photographic adventures; I can't always keep track of the current route numbers but it seems the 10, 10H and 10S call along here now.

- Woodgate Valley Walkway -
Woodgate Valley is an area of open space that comprises some 450 acres straddling the Bourn Brook between Quinton and Bartley Green. It takes a bit of detective work (i.e. getting lost around the back of some houses) to find a path into the country park, but once I've got my bearings I can enjoy getting pictures through the trees in some pleasant springtime sunshine. A bridge takes me over the brook as some excitable dogs splash about in the water, then I emerge into Woodgate Valley South courtesy of Sommerfield Road. The Coopers Arms has long closed on the corner of Bean Croft although the Hobsons Choice still appears to be trading as part of the precinct at Illeybrook Square. 

- Bartley Green Social Club -
Clapgate Lane and Jiggins Lane serve as my means of approaching Bartley Green, a district of Birmingham that takes me back to my fledgling camera outings circa 2002/2003. Some of my previous photo targets remain in place, including the war memorial, St Michael & All Angels Church and the Cock, plus its great to add in some new items such as the Social Club and a medical practice. The local shops are situated on Curdale Road and appear to be going strong with few vacant units; among the family businesses represented here are Murphy's Meats and Hickton's Funeral Directors.

- Bartley Reservoir -
Greggs supplies my lunchtime snack so I make my way along Scotland Lane looking for a suitable vantage point at which to tuck in. I've got the ideal spot in mind, looking out over Bartley Reservoir as the sun continues to make a welcome appearance. The reservoir opened in 1930 to provide drinking water to the people of Birmingham and is nowadays a popular place for sailing and bird-watching, it's certainly a relaxing location for me to capture on camera from my picnic table perch!

- St Leonard's, Frankley -
And so to the centrepiece of today's jaunt... Frankley, nestled on the urban fringe where Birmingham meets Worcestershire. I'm investigating the old village centre rather than the modern estate at Holly Hill, so Church Hill has a distinct country lane feel with high hedgerows, narrow bends and limited visibility. St Leonard's is my star discovery, a parish church that traces its origins back to the year 1087 and seems quite isolated with only a few farms for company. The churchyard is well maintained and perfectly peaceful, just right for some calm contemplation

- The Black Horse -
A further stretch of Church Hill brings me to Frankley Green on the Worcestershire side of the county boundary. Scattered houses suggest quite a small settlement and there are footpaths off to the enticing environs of Romsley or Hunnington. I however take Ravenhayes Lane up past the edges of Kitwell with views of the afore-mentioned motorway services (operated by Moto with facilities both northbound and southbound). My next target is Illey, a little village that is home to the Black Horse pub which seems to be popular with family diners. A drop of Doom Bar wards off any threat of thirstiness while a toddler tries to scream the place down - should have brought my earplugs!

- Home dugout at Bartley Green FC -
Illey Lane is a tad too precarious for pedestrian comfort so I decide to go cross country to get to Halesowen. My choice of path means I stumble quite literally onto the pitch at Bartley Green FC for an unexpected peek at the home and away dugouts - all quite rudimentary in keeping with the basic clubhouse. Field tracks and the occasional stile then follow as I plot a course for Manor Way, although my hopes of adding Halesowen Abbey to my archives are scuppered by a sudden downpour. The number 9 bus swishes to my rescue and it's then a case of drying out whilst negotiating typical Friday afternoon traffic homewards to Wolverhampton - cheers!

Sunday, May 5

More Lost Pubs from the WME Archives

It's a reasonably quiet Bank Holiday weekend here at the WME residence so I thought I'd take another random dive into my photographic archive and remember some more pubs that are no longer with us...

- New Inn -
I'll start this second batch off with something from Birmingham, or Balsall Heath to be specific. The Moseley Road corridor is home to a number of fine landmarks, most notably the Grade II* listed Library and Public Baths, while the New Inn also has a rather distinctive reddish appearance. Standing on the junction with Edward Road, it was boarded up at the time of this photograph and latterly became part business centre part grill restaurant.

- The Oakfield Tavern -
Amblecote is an area widely known for the quality of its boozers with the likes of the Starving Rascal, the Swan and the Robin Hood on hand to tempt discerning drinkers. Sadly the Oakfield Tavern can't feature on that list because it has long since gone; there's a suggestion of fire damage in this picture I took during a February 2008 wander, and three year laters Rog and I confirmed that the site had been reduced to a pile of rubble.

- Royal Oak -
A suburban pub serving the Blakenall Heath and Harden districts of Walsall, the Royal Oak could be found on the corner of Walker Road and Well Lane. Despite a Brewers Tudor beamed appearance suggesting 1920s or 1930s construction, this one never particularly appealed to me due to it having a certain hardcore notoriety. It has since been converted into a convenience store and chip shop.

- The Woodcock -
Finally here's a pub that I have actually been in, the Woodcock having entered Hub Marketing legend as a place I always said I wouldn't touch with a bargepole yet ended up rather liking. Mr D9 and I called by in May 2012 to discover beers from the Acorn Brewery (Barnsley Bitter, Oakwell Dark Mild) at very reasonable prices. Situated on Hillwood Road near Bartley Green Reservoir, it was turned into a children's nursery centre. 

For me pubs are often one of the defining features of a local community so there is an element of sadness whenever one closes, although realistically changes in drinking habits mean they simply can't all survive. Three of the four buildings above have found new uses so it's only the Oakfield that has been completely consigned to history. I've got my eye on some further archive extractions to bring you in due course so watch out for a third posting in the not too distant future - cheers!

Thursday, May 2

WME Flickr Focus - April 2019

With Rail Rover Week done and dusted, I need to get straight back down to photostream business. Here's what April had to offer as I inch ever closer to the 4,000 photo landmark...
  • We can always rely on WME Wolverhampton to cough up some additions and in this instance these comprise some Chapel Ash street art (inspired by the Frost Report), a Dovecotes estate sign and a bright yellow Stevensons bus stop on Dilloways Lane. 
  • WME Walsall has been no slouch this month and piles in with contributions from Darlaston (the Frying Pan and Prince of Wales pubs) plus a Dandy's Walk tiled street sign.
  • Also flexing some muscle is WME Birmingham fresh from encounters with Washwood Heath (a reminder of the former LDV works) and Farmers Bridge Locks (specifically numbers 5 and 6 on the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal).
  • Elsewhere, WME Sandwell pauses for some roe and chips in Cradley Heath, WME Telford visits the Enginuity museum at Coalbrookdale, and WME Shropshire samples some Severn Social murals in Frankwell.
  • Finally we have WME Staffordshire which treats us to Lichfield Canal lock remains, Ebstree Lock on the Staffs & Worcs near Trysull, and two Enville examples (a wickets close-up from a cricket scoreboard and the driveway sign at Enville Hall).
Added together I reckon that comes to thirty April additions meaning my photostream grand total now stands at 3,984 pictures. Hopefully May will be the month when I reach that 4,000 milestone...