Sunday, June 30

Southport, then Bromsgrove

Two trips for the price of one now as I attempt to catch up on some post-York blog housekeeping. The first outing was a jaunt out to Southport with the Beardsmores whereas the second involved a Lego giraffe, Nick and the Bromsgrove Beer Festival...

- Stephen tries some seaspotting -
The logical point at which to start is Southport, situated in the Merseyside borough of Sefton and destination for a coach trip with the Low Hill Sons of Rest on Tuesday 25th June. Morning drizzle cannot dampen our enthusiasm even though the Model Railway Village is closed due to a family funeral. A squally stroll along the pier allows us to see rather a lot of sand (the sea itself being just about visible on the horizon when the tide is out) before we peruse a vintage penny arcade populated by antique slot machines and fortune tellers. 

- Lord Street -
The weather is predicted to improve as the day goes on and sure enough, after we've paused for a Wetherspoons lunch courtesy of the Sir Henry Seagrave, the sun starts to put in an appearance. Lord Street is widely recognised as one of Southport's finest features due to the elegant Victorian shopfront canopies that run almost continuously along the mile-long parade. We browse along the boulevard, call by at the railway station (somewhat less inspiring architecture here) and keep tabs on the cricket score, England putting their World Cup progression in jeopardy by losing to Australia.

- Funland, part of the Silcock Leisure empire -
The Silcock's name is nigh on unavoidable in Southport as the family business seems to be everywhere, owning several amusement arcades, restaurants and the town pier. We can't complain at the ice cream prices - a princely quid for a cone with a flake - and suddenly it really feels like summer again. A wander around the King's Gardens allows us to admire the marine lake (an abandoned pitch and putt course is considerably less photogenic), and the pier comes into play again for sunkissed views towards Formby or Blackpool. We also check out Baron's Bar within the Scarisbrick Hotel for a quick drink before the coach home, wherein the Cask Tetleys receives the Beardsmore Senior seal of approval. 

- A Lego Lookout? -
Flitting forward if I may to Friday 28th June and any festival fun in Bromsgrove is preceded by a bout of Brum-based photography around Old Turn Junction and Gas Street Basin. The regenerated waterways here have attracted my camera on several occasions but this time around the canals get upstaged by the presence of a gangly giraffe that guards the entrance to Legoland. St Vincent Street gives me a little look at Ladywood, noting the Frank Allart factory as makers of door, window and cabinet fittings. I then meet up with Nick in time for the 10:50 train into Worcestershire.

- Bromsgrove Station -
And what should await us at Bromsgrove but the town's new railway station (I say 'new', it actually opened in 2016 although this is our first proper glimpse of it). The facility is a vast improvement on the previous incarnation, boasting a staffed ticket office and four platforms instead of two. One thing that hasn't much changed is the distance from the town centre, estimated to be a 25 minute walk away although Nick and I don't really mind the exercise. New Road therefore leads us past a Salvation Army hall, across the A38 and down by the Ryland Fitness Centre to emerge on High Street opposite Poundland.

- Church of St John the Baptist -
Our aim is to do a bit of sightseeing and try a pub or two prior to tackling the festival. The touristy element doesn't take very long in fairness, despite the undoubted charms of St John's Parish Church, so we swiftly make the acquaintance of the Little Ale House micropub to partake of ale from the Malvern Hills Brewery. Elsewhere, the Golden Cross Wetherspoons is a former coaching inn rebuilt in the 1930s which serves as our lunch stop - it is in the Good Beer Guide albeit we aren't bowled over by the Byatt's Crystal Cookie. 

- Daring to drink Decennium -
To the festival we must go, held as usual at Bromsgrove Rugby Football Club on Finstall Road. The main marquee is already abuzz with revellers as a steady stream of campers arrive to pitch on the adjacent field. Our tokens take us through a variety of tastes and styles, including mango infusions and Belgian farmhouses. Stouts and porters are definitely in the mix with Red Moon's Wicked Witch making quite an impression (hints of burnt caramel), although the most memorable beer discovery is undoubtedly Bewdley's Decennium, a 10% abv heavyweight as modelled by Nick - just what you need on a sweltering afternoon. Cheers!

Sunday, June 23

Bears on Tour: York

The magnificent city of York seldom plays host to first class cricket fixtures - in fact, the last County Championship match staged there took place in 1890 during the reign of Queen Victoria. History was in the making then as - with Headingley being used as a World Cup venue - York Cricket Club was chosen to host the game versus Warwickshire. Stephen and I were there to see the action unfold...

- Getting our bearings -
Our tale begins on Sunday 16th June as Mr B and I drive up to Yorkshire the day before the game. The journey goes very smoothly as we negotiate the A38, M18 and A1(M) without incident and then spot the John Smith's Brewery (one for Mr B Senior) as the A64 passes Tadcaster. Having checked into our Premier Inn, we get our bearings regarding the location of the cricket ground on Shipton Road. A couple of pints help us preview the Bears chances of victory so we sample the Old Grey Mare near Clifton Green followed by the Ainsty on Boroughbridge Road - it's fair to say we are hopeful of a win rather than expectant!

- Poised for the sound of leather on willow -
Monday 17th June is a drizzly affair but an enjoyable breakfast stands us in good stead ready for taking our seats in the temporary stand York CC have installed especially for the occasion. Warwickshire elect to field and keep Yorkshire in check with some tidy bowling, Craig Miles and Oliver Hannon-Dalby (a.k.a. OHD) being among the wickets. The home side's batting is led by Gary Ballance's battling 54 and a swashbuckling if streaky 46 from David Willey as they compile 208 for 8 by the time more rain forces an early close. 

- Bootham Crescent -
Cricket isn't the only sport on our minds. Stephen has long had a soft spot for York City FC (nicknamed the Minstermen) and is keen to find their Bootham Crescent home. We thus have a little wander there on Monday evening, taking a few snaps of the turnstiles and main entrance - the club is actually due to move to a new stadium at Monks Cross which will hopefully be in use in the not-too-distant future. Sightseeing of the more general kind is also on the agenda as we seek out the Shambles and admire the famous York Minster. 

- Clifford's Tower -
York is a place that just so happens to be blessed with some excellent boozers. The Golden Ball at the junction of Cromwell Road and Victor Street is listed on CAMRA's National Inventory of Historic Interiors so we gravitate there to ponder Tadcaster tiled lettering and sit in the smoke room - the Dark Masquerade Mild goes down very well indeed. Elsewhere, Clifford's Tower looks imposing as a surviving remnant of York Castle bathed in some overdue sunlight while the York Tap at the railway station has me spoiled for choice of ale; in the end I plump for Timothy Taylor's Golden Best as a rare example of the light mild style.

- Poppleton Level Crossing -
Tuesday morning presents some glorious sunshine as I target Poppleton for some pre-match photography. The station here has a quaint level crossing while the neighbouring villages of Upper Poppleton and Nether Poppleton keep me busy with pictures of war memorials, a local library and a preserved tithe barn. As for the cricket, Yorkshire are bowled out for 259, OHD claiming an impressive haul of 5/76. The Warwickshire reply is solid rather than spectacular thanks to contributions from Dom Sibley (67) and Rob Yates (49 - his highest Championship score to date). Additional entertainment is provided by a charity auction in the corporate marquee. 

- Boltmaker in the White Horse -
Tuesday evening is marked by a return to Poppleton in order to sample a trio of pubs. Nether Poppleton offers the Lord Nelson, a musty old John Smith's place serving a decent pint of Landlord, whereas Upper Poppleton boasts the twin appeal of the Lord Collingwood (a Marston's establishment near All Saints Church) and the White Horse (setting for more Timothy Taylor's ale, this time bringing forth a Boltmaker). Of the three perhaps the Lord Collingwood stood out most, mainly due to the presence of an excitable dog called Bertie who (like the pub) is named after Cuthbert Collingwood the naval admiral who served with Nelson.

- Meeting Mallard -
Skipping merrily into Wednesday 19th June now whereby some initial wet weather means we employ our contingency option of visiting the National Railway Museum. Among the exhibits are a Japanese bullet train, some luxurious royal carriages and the likes of the 'Duchess of Hamilton' and 'Henry Oakley'. The most renowned resident however has to be 'Mallard', holder of the world speed record for a steam locomotive having set a mark of 126 mph back in July 1938. Even all these years later, Mallard is still an iconic engine in tones of LNER garter blue.

- Delicately poised -
Any dampness soon dries off and the cricket commences at midday, the Bears progressing to 254 all out trailing by a mere five runs. Of the Yorkshire attack, Steven Patterson impresses most with a miserly 3 for 33 off 23 overs, the home side then set about building their slim advantage. Opener Lyth makes 37 but a lot hinges on the not out Jack Leaning when stumps are drawn on 178/7. Low scoring encounters often make for the most fascinating matches and this particular game can go either way heading into the fourth and final day. There is much to contemplate as we seek out the House of Trembling Madness, surely one of the most memorable pub names I've ever come across, and squeeze into the upstairs bar to partake of Lucid Dream Cookie Cream Stout (or lemonade and blackcurrant in Mr B's case). There's just time for us to gatecrash the Swan's pub quiz over a pint of Cask Tetley's, recognising Tom Jones as an answer to one of the teasers.

- Jeetan hits the winning runs -
Thursday arrives with all results very much still possible, and Warwickshire have to work hard to prise out the remaining Yorkshire wickets - Leaning is last man out for a stoic 65 while Jeetan Patel snaffles 4/48 and OHD 4/61 (making that 9 wickets in the match, his best ever figures). The Bears chase gets off to the best possible start courtesy of an ultimately decisive opening stand of 132 between Sibley (81) and Will Rhodes (83). Despite a bit of a wobble as our 217 run target comes into sight, the game is settled when captain Jeetan launches the victorious blow - Warwickshire have won by three wickets, excellent! It's been a closely-fought game throughout and credit must go to York Cricket Club for putting on such a show. Hopefully it won't be another 129 years before York next hosts a championship fixture!

- York Minster (the typical tourist shot) -
With glorious sunshine smiling down on us, Stephen and I set about celebrating that result by doing a little more of the York tourist trail. The Minster looks especially monumental against the bright blue skies, and the curiously-named Whip Ma Whop Ma Gate has to be seen too. There are of course pub stops along the way, starting with the Eagle & Child on High Petergate. This is owned by the Leeds Brewery and one of their ales immediately stands out, Boycott's Best having been brewed in collaboration with a certain legendary batsman/broadcaster. 

- Classic Pub Alert! -
Having emerged unscathed from that brush with Geoffrey, we proceed to the Blue Bell on Fossgate, a compact gem where we make sure to abide by the house rules. From a week of stellar pub discoveries this is probably my favourite, combining dark wood and cosy conversation with brilliant beer (Rudgate Ruby Mild). A word too for the Phoenix on George Street, tucked just inside the city walls at Fishergate Bar not far from the grave of the notorious felon Dick Turpin. Ainsty's Moloko Mild goes down a treat as a jazz/blues band tune up for an appreciative audience.

- Acomb Green -
Friday 19th June brings with it the sorrow of heading home at the end of our holiday, although I do manage to eke out some closing nuggets of exploration care of a brief Acomb adventure. A sprawling suburb east of the city centre, Acomb has some intriguing features including a village green, Front Street shopping parade, a branch library and an old-fashioned working mens club. The journey back to the West Midlands goes just as smoothly as our initial drive last Sunday, and that's all for the time being other than to sign off with Come On You Bears!

Saturday, June 8

Lost Pubs from the WME Archives - Part Three

Wet weather and work commitments have combined to curtail any exploration ambitions I might have had in mind for the last few days - drat! All is not lost though as I can dip back into the WME photographic vaults and pluck out another quartet of bygone boozers...

- The Oddfellows Arms -
Every so often when trawling through my archives I come across something I'd completely forgotten about. The Oddfellows Arms here is a case in point, and a bit of detective work was required to confirm its West Bromwich whereabouts. I've since reminded myself that it stood on the High Street, not far from the Farley Clock at Carters Green. This shot shows the pub in February 2009, before the building got taken over by the neighbouring decorating store. 

- The Brewer & Baker -
Next up, a Birmingham offering adjacent to Camp Hill Circus where the Brewer & Baker was a Banks's number, refurbished towards the end of the 1980s. The pub was actually located on Ravenhurst Street prior to a road realignment scheme, but by the time of this 2009 photo it was well on the way to becoming an eyesore. I believe the building is still just about standing albeit in a very sorry state.

- The Swan -
How I wish this place was still trading as a pub! Bridgnorth is a town almost awash with architectural treats, among which the former Swan Inn holds its own as a 17th century timber-framed gem. Situated part-way along the town's High Street, I wonder what tales might have been told within those old walls over the years. Alas I never had the pleasure of sampling a drink there myself, the building having since become a Prezzo Italian restaurant (thankfully with much external character maintained).

- Bulls Head -
I'm always partial to a waterways boozer so I might well have liked the Bulls Head at Brockmoor. The pub could be found on Pensnett Road next to an access point for the Fens Branch of the Stourbridge Canal. It has the look of a standard Black Country boozer and was in the process of being converted last time I saw it, presumably for general residential use. The stretch of road between Pensnett and Brierley Hill has also seen the loss of the Fish and the Queens Head in recent times, so perhaps I'll dig my pictures of those out for a future posting in this series. 

Thursday, June 6

WME Flickr Focus - May 2019

There's only one place to start this month, and that's with the news that the West Midlands Exploration photostream has taken delivery of its 4,000th photo! Details of the momentous arrival and other recent additions are as follows...

  • So which particular picture was responsible for me achieving the landmark number? The honour fell to the railway station sign at Honeybourne, swiftly followed by photo 4,001 which tackled the Thatched Tavern in the same village. May was actually quite productive for WME Worcestershire as Kidderminster's Diamond Bus depot and a carpet showroom also joined the party.
  • WME Wolverhampton has always been the most consistent contributor of photostream content, accounting for 700 or so of my pictorial tally. Street signs have been prevalent here of late, including examples from Goldthorn Hill, Holden Road (Penn) and Jeddo Street (on one corner of the Sunbeam building).
  • To WME Telford next and some input from Ironbridge. Two sackcloth pig characters make a change from my usual type of muse and there are some Merrythought teddy bears for added cuteness. A Golden Ball pub sign is more of a standard shot whereas Jackfield jumps in with a tile or several.
  • Not to be outdone, WME Staffordshire proffers forth a couple from Kinver (the local High School and the Royal British Legion office) plus some Potteries helpings from Hartshill, most notably a nod to the Jolly Potters pub. WME Sandwell meanwhile busies itself with Bearwood (a tribute to the gardener John Tradescant), lingers on the Lyng (a dartboard in the Vic) and gathers a railway sign at Smethwick Galton Bridge.
  • This brings us lastly to May's lesser lights which were WME Shropshire (the Rose & Crown in Ludlow), WME Dudley (receiving Gornal's Bulls Head) and a Gillhurst Road snippet from WME Birmingham.
After all of that, I'd better start working towards the next major milestone - 5,000 photos looks a long way off but I hope to get there one day!

Sunday, June 2

Birthday in Broseley

Regular readers may remember that between September 2017 and September 2018, the Chip Foundation had a year-long ticket covering all of the Ironbridge Gorge Museums. Even though the twelve months had expired, our passes still allowed access to any of the attractions we might have missed and thereby meant a visit to the Broseley Pipeworks was in the offing - the day just so happened to be my birthday too...

- Testing out the new footbridge -
Saturday 1st June 2019 and the 59th episode of the Chip Foundation Chronicles commences with a train ride to Telford - following the timetable shakeup in May, there are now three trains an hour between Birmingham and Shrewsbury rather than two. Telford Central's shiny new footbridge link to the town centre is subjected to our collective scrutiny with Ken and Stephen on hand to model the improved walkway. We then bypass the busy shopping malls in taking a shortcut towards Southwater.

- Meeting a golden lady at Maxell Gardens -
Southwater One is a prime leisure and retail complex that has reinforced Telford's position as an important regional destination. We try to spot some fish in the reconfigured lake but our finest piscine discovery actually comes courtesy of the Maxell Cherry Gardens where a finned friend stars as a flowerbed centrepiece (according to Mr B Senior the species resembles a carp although it seems to be modelled out of carrier bags). Nick meanwhile is more concerned about making the acquaintance of a certain shimmering lady nearby.

- Monkey Business -
Both the Maxell and Chelsea Gardens have become familiar to me over the course of many Telford Town Park visits but I've never encountered the bright yellow gorilla sculpture before. Apparently the British Ironworks Centre near Oswestry provide the park with a different display animal each summer so we take it in turns to pose with the current incumbent. Stephen's picture has been selected for blog purposes, and to avoid any doubt I should confirm that Mr B appears on the left of the photograph!

- Mechanical Miner -
The number 8 bus at 11:30 forms our Broseley connection as we settle in for the trundle down through Madeley, Ironbridge and Jackfield. This is our fifth museums trip in total so we're becoming well versed in the sights of the Gorge, with Ironbridge itself attracting plenty of tourists as befits a summertime Saturday. Broseley is thankfully a little quieter and we alight on Bridgnorth Road in order to investigate some of Gerry Foxall's artistic homages to the former mining industry. Crafted out of chains and other pieces of blackened metal, the designs evocatively depict the hard toil undertaken by miners and their pit horses back in the day.

- Worthington's Appreciation Society -
Keeping in mind an intended tour time of 13:30, we have scope to sample a couple of neighbouring watering holes on Broseley High Street. The Albion is our first port of call, Nick and I sampling Salopian Shropshire Gold whereas Mr B Senior gives the keg Worthington's his considered seal of approval - such was his admiration for said pint, he completely forgot to pick up his digital camera afterwards - cue minor panic! Luckily we'd only decamped next door to the Old Butchers Shop Bar so it was easy enough to retrieve the mislaid article. As for the Butchers Bar, we all rather liked it as a friendly little establishment showing the Cricket World Cup action and supplying Stephen with his sausage roll fix.

- Thorn-themed pipes -
The allotted hour for our museum moment is rapidly approaching so we make a beeline along Duke Street to Broseley Pipeworks, said to be the only surviving example of a pipe factory in Britain. Indeed, Broseley was historically at the forefront of the clay pipe industry and gained a global reputation for the quality of its products. The pipeworks today effectively acts as a time capsule showing the factory as it was when abandoned in the 1950s, and we start by perusing some of the wares in the gift shop - the designs on show include thorns, acorns and lacy ladies' legs! They look quite fragile but always were a throwaway commodity, hence why Broseley pipes turn up in archaeological excavations.

- A Pipeworks Panorama -
Our guide Roy is a font of knowledge, bringing to life how clay pipes were made and even having all the answers when Mr B Senior unleashes a series of quickfire questions (we can only assume John was channelling his inner-Paxman interrogation technique). Producing pipes was an intricate process requiring much dexterity during a ten-hour shift. We are intrigued to learn about the different lengths that were made, from standard cutties to the long-stemmed churchwardens for which Southorn & Co were particularly renowned. Nick no doubt would have wanted the longest pipe possible, acting both as a status symbol and allowing further distance over which the smoke had chance to cool down. 

- 'Murkgate' in Madeley -
That genuinely fascinating visit is followed by a swift half in the Duke of York and an increasingly crowded return ride on the 8 (a game of sardines on a bus that seemed to be struggling with suspension problems). It's something of a relief to hop off at Madeley, especially when we can call into the Miner's Arms for some traditional Banks's hospitality. The Mild is on good form here as the two dreaded B words crop up in conversation (Brexit and Boris). We need an urgent distraction and the Foresters Arms does the trick with an intentionally cloudy Salopian brew called Paper Planes - the murky appearance and grapefruit aroma prompts much discussion, Ken gamely giving it a whirl. Supping up, we seek a bus back to Telford with the 2 eventually obliging by way of Sutton Hill, Dawley and Malinslee. The 18:31 train sees us homeward, and we consider our museum mission signed off successfully - those passport tickets really were excellent value!