Wednesday, July 31

WME Flickr Focus - July 2019

The weather can't seem to make its mind up at the moment, alternating between heatwave conditions and torrential downpours. The West Midlands Exploration photostream aims to be prepared for all eventualities, but will we be racing to the deckchairs or sprinting for shelter?

WME Wolverhampton has definitely adopted a sunny disposition with sandals and suncream at the ready. Sir Jack Hayward's statue down at the Molineux might not need any Factor 50 mind, and although there are blue skies at Pendeford and Tettenhall, the photos of Ryhope Walk and Tettenhall Pool are December offerings so soaring temperatures probably wouldn't apply. Aside from that, the usual diet of street signage applies courtesy of St Jude's Road and Sunbeam Street. 

Altogether more cautious is WME Staffordshire which has an umbrella on standby just in case. Photographic precipitation here arrives in the form of Seisdon Garage and a series from Stafford itself - a Sandon Road sequence comprising the Princess Royal, the Tap & Spile, the Hop Pole and the former Sandonia Cinema (most recently a snooker club complete with depictions of a youthful Jimmy White).

WME Dudley is also braced for a deluge that is duly supplied by Sedgley and Stourbridge. The former contributes the Conservative Club, the Swan and the Red Lion while the latter chips in with the Royal Exchange and a hint of Stourbridge Town railway station. A productive month for Dudley is rounded off with a Straits Green bus stop near Gornal Wood so we didn't get too drenched in the end!

A dash to the beach is out of the question for landlocked WME Birmingham but it nonetheless benefits from the rising mercury. A Shard End snippet - the Trident - is happily pocketed whereas the Stonehouse pub at California sadly came to a sticky end, demolished to make way for housing. WME Telford fancies a paddle but has to be content with a trio of Sutton Hill shots including a skipping mural and the local church.

The holiday season is threatening to pass the other WME galleries by almost unnoticed, although WME Sandwell (Bentley Bear outside Lightwoods House), WME Shropshire (the White Hart pub sign at Shifnal) and WME Warwickshire (a vintage tractor somewhere near Five Ways) all manage to register a solitary contribution. I hope to be back again in August with more pictures for your delectation, whatever the weather...

Sunday, July 21

Coach Trip to Cleveleys

Following on from our recent excursion to Southport, the Beardsmores and I are primed for another coach-based classic as the fun of the Fylde coast awaits. Our destination is the seaside town of Cleveleys, situated midway between Blackpool and Fleetwood, where we hope the fickle Lancashire weather will be kind to us...

- St Stephen's Primary -
Saturday 20th July 2019 and the sun is certainly out in Wolverhampton as I undertake an opening walk through Heath Town. The Harvest Temple is duly harvested photographically while Woden Road offers further items of interest, namely the local working men's club and various glimpses of St Stephen's Primary (a typical Victorian schoolhouse with separate boys and girls entrances). Meeting up with Stephen and John, we join the party setting forth from Holy Trinity Church at 8:30am sharp. 

- Mary's Shell -
The journey goes well, taking around two and a half hours before the coach drops us off by Cleveleys Promenade just on 11 o'clock. Whereas at Southport the tide seemed to be miles out, here the sea is hurrying in to the shore accompanied by a stiff breeze. A windswept wander along the beach means we can admire the public art trail, comprising sculptures such as an ogre's head and the metallic Mary's Shell, a very striking steely swirl. The promenade looks like it has benefited from considerable investment with stepped sea walls, cast concrete shelters and lighting shards - very impressive!

- Tram towards Fleetwood Ferry -
We walk as far as Rossall then turn back past the Jubilee Gardens to explore some of Cleveleys town centre. Victoria Road West is the main shopping street and contains a variety of stores from traditional holiday gift emporiums to cafes, takeaways and a few High Street names, all punctuated with pretty potted palm trees. We then pause at the tram stop, Cleveleys being a timing point on the famous Blackpool Tramway which runs between Starr Gate and Fleetwood Ferry. Unfortunately we didn't get chance to photo the heritage fleet whilst the modern tramcars look similar in design to those on the Midland Metro. 

- Victoria Hotel -
Continuing along Victoria Road West, we reach a landmark pub that we'd spotted from the coach earlier. Owned by Samuel Smith's of Tadcaster, the Victoria Hotel is a 1930s roadhouse with a regionally important interior - the large lounge makes quite a statement with Tudor-style fireplaces and bits of hanging tapestry. Brewery policy means the use of mobile phones and other electronic devices is strictly forbidden which seems a tad heavy-handed to me; we heed the warning however as we don't want to miss out on sampling some Old Brewery Bitter, a nice pint in a memorable setting. 

- Anchorsholme Artefact -
Lunch is obtained care of the Jolly Tars Wetherspoons, housed in a converted former Kwik Save supermarket and named after a performance troupe who used to entertain summer season holidaymakers back in the day. With brunches and gammon digested, we feel ready for another gusty bout of prom patrol by aiming for Anchorsholme. Blackpool Tower stands tall on the horizon as we spy a rusty anchor and inspect a shard sculpture commemorating Fylde shipwrecks over the centuries, among the most recent of which was the 'Riverdance' container ferry in January 2008. 

- Cleveleys Bus Station -
Returning to Cleveleys town centre, we happen upon the local bus station as positioned next to a B&M store and just over the road from the Royal British Legion. Regular routes calling at the interchange include the 7 (to St Anne's Square and Clifton Hospital) and the 9 (to Blackpool Queen Street via Bispham); the 24 meanwhile links Cleveleys with Fleetwood and Poulton-le-Fylde. Another feature to catch my eye nearby is Cleveleys WMC a.k.a. The Top Club with hints of Boddingtons branding. 

- A Dickens Drink -
Our choice for a closing drink is the Dickens, a sports bar that also overlooks the bus station. Here we can keep tabs on the Open Golf and the Netball World Cup while supping respective pints of Worthingtons, lemonade and blackcurrant or Timothy Tayor's Landlord; it's a lively place, busy more so with locals than with daytrippers. The coach is due to pick us up at 16:45 so there's still time for a final treat as we indulge in 'twist cone' ice creams apiece before the trundle home to Wolverhampton. The whole day had proved to be a perfect escape, you can't beat a bit of the seaside!

Monday, July 15

Lost Pubs from the WME Archives - Part Four

Having had my nerves shredded by the drama of England's eventual victory in the Cricket World Cup Final yesterday, I'm bringing myself back down to earth gently by rummaging once more in my photographic vaults looking for past pubs to ponder...

- The Commercial -
Let's begin this time around in the Bromley portion of Pensnett where the Commercial must have stood derelict for ten years or more - in fact I can't personally remember it being open, and the building suffered a gradual decay to become a longstanding eyesore. The Hansons signage holds a certain fascination for me as a reminder of a famous Dudley brewing name that became part of the Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries group (latterly Marston's). 

- The Marksman -
The June instalment of this mini-series featured the former Oddfellows at Carters Green so here's the establishment which was located just over the road. The Marksman never really appealed to me much although I suspect Mr D9 might have been tempted by the banner mentioning pints for £2! This place was more of a sports bar and could be found on the corner with John Street; it has since been turned into an Eastern European supermarket. 

- The Mill -
Sticking with Sandwell and here's a sad sight from the Charlemont Farm estate as photographed in August 2012. The Mill looked in a bad way back then, burnt out with most of the roof missing, so it came as no surprise to find out it had subsequently been demolished. In happier times this was an M&B box boozer that could be found on Beaconview Road, guarding one end of Wyndmill Crescent with the local shops for close company. 

- Coopers Arms -
Last but not least comes the Coopers Arms as a Birmingham discovery from 2006. I'd walked across Woodgate Valley Country Park to Sommerfield Road not expecting to find much so this came as a useful surprise, even though the drab brown appearance wasn't the most enticing (it did however match the surrounding housing stock quite well). After a spell as the Woodgate Valley Sports & Residents Club, this place too has bitten the dust with the site cleared to make way for housing.

Monday, July 8

NottingTram - The Sequel

Back in July 2016, Nick and I did an outing based on the Nottingham Express Transit (NET) system complete with visits to Hucknall, Clifton and Wilford Village. We'd always intended to do a follow up and now fully three years later we can finally stage our much anticipated sequel...

- The Malt Cross Caveman? -
Hold on a minute! Looking back through my blog archives I realise I never actually posted about the original 'NottingTram' trip so I'd better set the scene a little. Nick had picked up an ale trail leaflet based on the Nottingham tram network so we did a little tour, sampling ales and seeing where the two lines might take us. Probably the most memorable pub was the Malt Cross, a Victorian music hall building with sandstone caves down below, while the Newshouse enticed us as a Castle Rock outlet not far from the Broadmarsh Centre.

- Hucknall Terminus -
As for the trams, we rode out to Clifton South initially before venturing north of the city to the terminus at Hucknall - the stop there is located next door to the local railway station as served by the Robin Hood Line (Nottingham - Mansfield - Worksop). The Beer Shack supplied us with a Hucknall micropub interlude, after which we took to the tracks again Beeston-bound to finish off at the Star and the Cross, two Good Beer Guide boozers that met with a definite thumbs up. NET-wise we were impressed with the frequency of the service and the ability of the trams to negotiate tight corners!

- Class 170 train at Nottingham -
Bringing the story up to date, the 2019 instalment is all set for Friday 5th July. Nick and I reconvene aboard the 10:49 train from Birmingham New Street, but only after Nick has battled Banbury signalling problems that threatened to strand him at Warwick Parkway. Arriving at Nottingham by quarter past twelve, we purchase our £4 NET day tickets and take a short hop to the Lace Market. The old lacemaking quarter around St Mary's Church is where we happen upon the Kean's Head, named after a 19th century Shakespearean actor and setting for our opening half of Wylam's Macchiato Hazelnut Praline Coffee Porter - very moreish!

- Shipstone's Star Brewery -
Where next? How about Basford for some proper Nottingham brewing heritage. The former Shipstone's Star Brewery stands tall on the skyline off Radford Road and is nowadays partially used as the head office for John Pye Auctions. Close at hand is the Lion Inn, a New Basford landmark in its own right and an entry in the 2019 Good Beer Guide. Here we partake of Blue Monkey's Guerrilla Chocolate Amaretto Stout (another taste sensation) and take a peek into an old well which allows views of the cavernous cellars beneath our feet. 

- Poised at Phoenix Park -
The Shipstones name has latterly been revived so we hunt down some of their wares at the Fox & Crown, Old Basford. Nut Brown proves a nice drop while watching some ladies tennis from Wimbledon (Stephen would not approve); other discoveries in the area are the parish church of St Leodegarius, the White Swan Inn (alas converted to offices but the handsome tiled frontage has been retained) and a disused branch of Midland Bank. A quick jaunt to Phoenix Park gives us the third location in our tram terminus collection, this being a park and ride site next to a plumbing supplies compound.

- Bulwell Market -
Mid-afternoon sees us making tracks to Bulwell, a small market town on the River Leen. As with Hucknall, the rail and tram facilities are side by side for convenient interchange potential. Nick grapples with a wiry bull sculpture before we cross over to the Town Square where the market is starting to wind down after 4pm. A Wetherspoons tea comes courtesy of the William Peverel (taking its title from a Norman knight, hence the heraldic theme inside) and we check out the Bull's Well micropub to try the Millstone Hammerhead Stout - "golly that's powerful" being Nick's expert analysis!

- Toton Lane Terminus -
We've been keen throughout to visit the absolute extremities of the network whereby the only one still outstanding is Toton Lane. Getting there requires a cross-city jaunt so we break the journey at Gregory Street, seeking out the Johnson Arms as a traditional local serving the Lenton district of Nottingham. A long single file queue snaking out to the doorstep suggests this is a popular haunt (the Queen's Medical Centre and University of Nottingham are both nearby) but we get our halves of Lincoln Green's Fountain Dale eventually. The final tram stretch towards Toton Lane then carries us beyond Beeston via Chilwell Road and Eskdale Drive; the terminus isn't especially exciting but at least we can say we've done the whole system now.

- Papa Jangles Voodoo Stout -
Given the absence of any obvious pub possibilities in the immediate vicinity (the Magpie approaching Stapleford has apparently shut down), we reboard the tram back to Chilwell Road in anticipation of a Beeston-based nightcap. Totally Tapped does the trick as a micropub and bottle shop operated by Totally Brewed - their Papa Jangles Voodoo Stout is spot on with its coffee, raisin and biscuit flavours. As an added bonus we squeeze in a very swift half at the Victoria Hotel, a classic terracotta inn adjoining the northbound platform at Beeston railway station, with the 20:45 train bringing down the curtain on an epic East Midlands excursion. Cheers!

Tuesday, July 2

WME Flickr Focus - June 2019

In these days of Brexit uncertainty and leadership contests, what we need is a photostream you can trust. Ladies and gentleman, I present you with West Midlands Exploration, eager to earn your nomination with a raft of June announcements...

Chief spokesperson of course is WME Wolverhampton with a series of headline-grabbing pledges. Among the new policy commitments are the inclusion of Penn Fields war memorial, Molineux Alley, Oxley Food Store and Pendeford Lane. There are also some earnest references to bygone boozers as both the Staffordshire Volunteer and the Neachells have their pub signs duly documented. 

WME Staffordshire meanwhile gives you more... more Newcastle-under-Lyme (underpass welcome tiles and a Pepper Street mural), more Pattingham (the village hall), more Penn Common (the 18th tee on the local golf course) and more canals (Mops Farm Bridge). Not to be outdone, WME Birmingham promises boosts for the Jewellery Quarter (Legge Lane, the Newman Brothers Coffin Works) and Moor Pool (some hall lettering).

Out and about on the hustings roadshow are the combined talents of WME Dudley and WME Telford. Dudley unleashes its Ma Pardoe's trump card - Old Swan signage in Netherton - plus a Northway nugget from the Cabin, whereas Telford goes completely Quackers by enlisting the support of some Ironbridge-based ducks. It's always important to be totally sensible at times of political crisis so Natural Bee-uty and Dr Duck are just the characters we need!

Beavering away in the background trying to keep everything still running smoothly, let's not forget the efforts of WME Walsall (a Pool Hayes pub dartboard), WME Sandwell (Oldbury Lock No. 6 on the Titford Canal) and WME Worcestershire (the Golden Cross pub at Redditch). Our closing campaign statement is then delivered by WME Warwickshire with representation for the Rose at Nuneaton.

That then completes the photostream's June manifesto. I can't guarantee Brexit or resolve the Irish backstop issue but I can bring you further photos in July, so I urge you to vote for WME!