The end of August means that the six week holidays are almost over and thoughts will start turning to the new school year. As such, the West Midlands Exploration photostream has been getting itself ready for some educational endeavours...
Busy buying uniform is WME Wolverhampton, replenishing its wardrobe with a variety of new additions. These include street signs (Waterloo Road and a few from Whitmore Reans) and wolf sculptures (such as 'Old Gold' in the Wolves Museum), whereas Wolverhampton Art Gallery supplies some childhood nostalgia thanks to The Clangers and Button Moon. No blazers and ties here although Villiers Off Licence and Tettenhall Wood terminus help ensure things are still fully clothed.
Making sure its satchel is well stocked we have WME Staffordshire which has targeted Trysull and Trescott. The former contributes Union Lane scenery and a village mural while the latter hands in a warning sign for Trescott Ford, despite which some motorists still come a cropper in the Smestow Brook. Meanwhile in Stafford, WG Grace's statue at Victoria Park has quite a stern expression not dissimilar to the kind of look you might get from a disapproving teacher!
Besides pencil cases and packed lunches, WME Sandwell has dabbled with pub pictures. The Ivy House at West Smethwick enrols for another appearance and is joined on the register by the Kings Arms near Tipton and the former Cross Keys at West Bromwich (now a Ladbrokes betting shop). No sign of any gold stars mind but you can't have everything.
All of my other galleries have seemed reluctant to return to class so there may be a risk of detention come September. WME Walsall pipes up with the LB Parkes factory on Station Street (a proper industrial relic) which WME Birmingham counters with the ruins of Weoley Castle. Last but not least, WME Shropshire may have forgotten its PE kit so a Yardington Whitchurch street sign is offered by way of apology. My homework as ever will be to keep the photos ticking along, and for now it's a case of class dismissed.
Tuesday, August 27
Saturday 24th August 2019 and with Nick's next birthday less than 24 hours away, the Chip Foundation arrange an animal-related adventure by which to celebrate our resident royal's imminent transition from 60-something to 60-something-plus-one...
- Our destination awaits -
Age is but a number of course so there's plenty of childlike excitement as we gather in readiness for our visit to Dudley Zoological Gardens. The zoo first opened in 1937 and the iconic turnstile entrance on Castle Hill gives us our first example of Tecton architecture, fashioned in the Modernist style out of reinforced concrete. We hand over our admission fees (complete with gift aid donation) and plot our way amongst the enclosures for initial sightings of Chilean flamingoes, Colombian spider monkeys and gelada baboons.
- A Sprightly Sea Lion -
It's all set to be a scorching day so some of the animals are unsurprisingly taking it easy, including the Sumatran tiger who stays resolutely in the shade. The snow leopard is more lively, leaping from platform to platform in an impressive display of agility, although we momentarily lose track of Mr Beardsmore Senior when he gets waylaid by the Eurasian lynxes - the suggestion he'd been adopted by the howler monkeys was just a vicious rumour. Among the zoo's most adorable inhabitants are the sea lions, splashing about playfully in Tecton-designed pools symmetrically shaped to sit within the castle moat.
- A Tall Tale at the Giraffe House -
Being a taller person myself I have a natural affinity with the giraffes of this world so a look at their abode is essential. This turns out to be a rather fragrant experience (to put it mildly) although there is a certain cuteness watching the giraffes nibbling on the hay or taking a gangling parade around their yard. Other star attractions include the Humboldt penguins, some inquisitive otters, and a family of meerkats who thankfully didn't try to sell us any car insurance! A giant anteater meanwhile paces about sniffing for termites in a manner that mimics Stephen's expectant checking of Ashes cricket scores.
- Dudley Castle Ruins -
The zoo and gardens are arranged upon the hillside grounds of Dudley Castle, originally a Norman motte and bailey fortress that was later remodelled in stone and became home to the Lords of Dudley. The ruins you can see today comprise the keep, a gatehouse and the dramatic Sharrington Range, a group of high status domestic buildings with kitchen, chamber, chapel and Great Hall. The castle was a Royalist stronghold besieged by Parliamentary forces during the English Civil War and also has links to the ill-fated short reign of Lady Jane Grey.
- Adopting a Sunny Disposition -
Castle contemplations completed we switch focus back to the wildlife by seeking out the Asiatic lions, which are all seemingly shy or sleepy so we can only spot the slightest hint of a furry tail. The chimpanzees are more animated, sucking on large blocks of ice in order to keep cool, while the bactrian camels just have the hump (times two) with a zoo baby proudly part of their herd. Elsewhere, the 'Bear Ravine' Tecton enclosure currently hosts rheas and pygmy goats although there are plans to bring back brown bears by popular demand; in the meantime we make do with a Big Sleuth sculpture instead.
- The Waterfront -
After a sun-kissed couple of hours at the zoo, we bid farewell to its cast of creatures and press ahead with our afternoon activities. These begin with a ride on the number 6 bus down to the Waterfront, a flagship business and leisure development that stands on the banks of the Dudley No 1 Canal. Along with near neighbour the Merry Hill Centre, the complex is built on the site of the vast Round Oak Steelworks whereby the canal used to be surrounded by the sights and sounds of heavy industry. The steelworks closed in late 1982 with demolition taking place a couple of years thereafter.
- Grinning in the Garrison -
Besides the modern office spaces, the Waterfront is the setting for a selection of bars and restaurants. We check out two of them, starting with the Garrison as a saloon establishment with a Peaky Blinders theme - luckily I had my flat cap on hand for precisely this occasion. Titanic Plum Porter goes down well as Tommy Shelby looks on approvingly, then we decamp to the Waterfront Wetherspoons for additional sustenance. Here Mr B Senior shocks us by sticking to the Stella Artois rather than having his beloved John Smiths, while Ken and Nick undertake their own brand of detailed Brexit analysis.
- Delph Locks -
The canal is now calling to us and the weather is perfect for a stroll along the Embankment and down the Delph Locks. A floating market strives to tempt us with canine teatowels as we see the Merry Hill Centre sprawled out below, and we try to imagine the scale of the former steelworks in its heyday. The locks are presumably a much more sedate proposition these days and there are eight in total (originally nine) making up the flight. Our descent takes us towards Black Delph Junction - the Dudley No 1's meeting point with the Stourbridge Canal - noting overflow weirs as we go.
- A Black Country Classic -
It would have been severely remiss of us to have visited The Delph and not called into the Bull & Bladder, especially as Ken and John may not have been there before. The distinctive frontage features the Bathams bull emblem and a Shakespearean quotation "Blessing of your heart - you brew good ale" (from the Two Gentlemen of Verona); the Best Bitter more than lives up to that stellar billing! We duly partake, sitting in the timeless back room by the dartboard and pondering pictures of a 1913 works tea party. The number 8 bus (Wrens Nest to Wollaston Farm via Dudley) then connects us to Stourbridge for a closing tipple in the Red House Boutique, raising a glass to the birthday boy. Many happy returns Nick, cheers!
Sunday, August 18
Although we strike lucky with the weather more often than not, it is occasionally necessary for the Hub Marketing Board to rustle out their raincoats, most usually when we're visiting places beginning with W. Warley and West Bromwich have seen us dodging deluges during trips gone by and now we'll have to add Walsall Wood to that list...
- Commemorating Crabtrees -
Friday 16th August 2019 and the forecast is bordering on the abysmal with prolonged heavy rain due to set in for the entire afternoon. We are not to be deterred however so the Secretary makes his way to Walsall hoping to get a few pictures in the bank while things are still reasonably dry. Blue plaques allow for close-range photography accounting for Jerome K Jerome's Bradford Street birthplace and a Lyndon House Hotel homage to the founding of Crabtrees, a famous Walsall name specialising in electrical switch components.
- Bald spot bound for Aldridge -
Our meeting point is at Walsall Garage where the Chairman is ensconced in the Health & Safety Office, hopefully not interviewing people about traffic violations. Computer gremlins delay our start until about 1pm (cob penalty applied) but we quickly get down to business with a visit to the Desi Star, a basic Stafford Street boozer within a run of shops. One Worthingtons later and it's already bucketing down so a bus ride is the safest form of shelter, the 7A being on hand for a trundle towards Aldridge with a certain bald spot on the lookout for any particularly vicious puddles.
- 7A at Castlefort -
A White House Sizzling stop delivers a drop of Doom Bar before we continue to Castlefort, where the 7A terminates at the Link Road turning circle opposite the JMI School. The damp conditions make it difficult to fully appreciate our surroundings though so we press on to the next pub, namely the Brickmakers Arms on Salters Road. D9's cob forfeit is paid in full albeit the Secretary doles out extra punishment via the dartboard, WME Whirlwind sneaking into a 2-1 lead aided by some twinkling fairy lights.
- D9 Destroyer at the Drunken Duck -
When the weather is this bad you're better off in the pub so we drip our way along to a couple more Walsall Wood establishments which stand almost opposite each other on the High Street. The Boatmans Rest alludes to the proximity of the Daw End Canal while the Drunken Duck (scene of more darts as WME triumphs 5-3) was historically known as the Hawthorn Inn - both establishments might well have gained custom from local colliery workers when the pit was in its prime.
- Cuddling Colliery Characters -
Indeed, Walsall Wood's mining heritage is reflected in various pieces of public art from the sculptor Luke Perry. The Chairman therefore makes the acquaintance of the life-size figures arranged on the corner of Brookland Road - even Scruff the dog gets a mention. In between times we extract some silly songs: 'Bring Me Edelweiss' is frankly just bizarre whereas David Kossoff's version of 'When Father Papered The Parlour' combines music hall with a hint of Cockney comedy - oi!
- The Boy is Back! -
Picking up the pub thread again, we catch the 10 down to Rushall where we'd heard the Farmers Boy had reopened on Barns Lane. We'd feared for its future when we saw it all boarded up in April so this revival is something to celebrate, especially as it has been tastefully done out - cue some Banks's Mild to toast the new look. Also back open after a brief period of closure is Flan O'Brien's, an Irish-themed bar in Walsall town centre.
- A Palfrey Pint -
The rain is showing no sign of relenting as we proceed via Caldmore to Palfrey, hoping for a Milton Street nightcap. The Charles Napier gladly obliges although Chairman D9 does himself out of a discount by opting for Carling rather than the cheaper Brew XI. We've had our eye on the Napier for a long time, wondering if it survives given the lettering is all whitewashed over, and it had the feel of a slightly downtrodden haunt that's presumably popular on matchdays given the football scarf collection. Just up the road, the Bradford Arms is another source of long-term fascination but we only have time for the quickest of halves because the bus is due. With that our wet weather workout is complete, and this is one instance when rain definitely didn't stop play - cheers!
Saturday, August 10
Britain Beermat posed me a question on Twitter the other day, wondering how many of the Holden's boozers listed on a vintage beermat were still operational...
With a little help from the brewery themselves - thankyou @holdensbrewery - we calculated that seven of the pubs were no longer part of the Holden's estate, giving me an idea for another delve into the WME archives. Unfortunately I don't have anything to represent the Royal in Tipton (it stood on Bloomfield Road but was gone before I started taking pictures), although the other six are all covered one way or another.— Britainbeermat (@Britainbeermat) August 4, 2019
- Former Elephant & Castle -
First up is what was the Elephant & Castle which served the Bromley community between Pensnett and Brierley Hill. I never knew this place during its days as a watering hole so my photo shows the building in nursery mode circa 2010, meeting the needs of toddlers rather than drinkers.
- Old Bush -
Not the greatest of angles I'll admit but here regardless is a June 2006 shot of the Old Bush on Skidmore Road. I'm not sure if it was still trading at the time and it had definitely closed a couple of years later, as indeed have a couple of other Holden's outlets in the Coseley and Daisy Bank vicinity...
- Painters Arms -
Which brings us neatly to the Painter's Arms on Avenue Road, just up from Coseley Conservative Club. I've actually been in this one and recall it as a fairly standard local pub, friendly enough although always outshone by the New Inn and the brewery tap. Demolition was the ultimate fate here and houses now occupy the site.
- Prince of Wales -
A more recent disposal from the Holden's estate has been the Prince of Wales in Darlaston, something I do feel sad about having enjoyed my visits with D9 and the Chip Foundation over the years. At its best this was a proper traditional Black Country boozer; the last I heard is that it was being auctioned off so I'm not sure what has/will become of the building.
- The Britannia -
Coseley could count as a natural stronghold for Holden's being barely a mile or so from the brewery's base in Woodsetton. Another of their tied houses in the area was the Britannia on Hall Green Street, close to the Great Western and Daisy Bank Community Centre. I never had the pleasure of frequenting this place so I had to make do with getting this November 2008 snap when working a shift at the local library.
- The Swan (Jaspers) -
Finally, good old Jaspers at Cradley Heath (more properly known as the Swan). During the Twitter exchanges, Holden's commented that they were in the process of selling this establishment so I wonder what the future has in store while acknowledging that technically this might not be a lost pub at all (yet). Nonetheless I have happy memories of visits with Rog, Nick and D9 so I didn't want to miss it out.
Any post lamenting lost boozers will by nature strike a mournful tone but it really isn't all doom and gloom in this case. Yes Holden's have divested themselves of a few pubs but they have also added several others and their estate currently amounts to 19 tied houses. Among these are some of my absolute favourites - the Great Western in Wolverhampton, the Waterfall near Blackheath and the Trumpet at Bilston - so there's still plenty of opportunity to sample the delights of Black Country Mild, Special and Golden Glow. The only one of the nineteen I've yet to visit is the Red Cow at Ackleton so I must put that right as a matter of priority!
Sunday, August 4
After a little gap in proceedings during the last couple of months, the Hub Marketing Board return to action with our fourth Telford tour of duty (following on from episodes in 2011, 2012 and 2015). We've decided to compile a Wellington circuit this time around, stopping off at Dothill, Shawbirch and Admaston...
- Community Clock -
Even though we haven't attempted a Telford trip for almost exactly four years, some things never change hence the Chairman leaves himself a lung-bursting sprint to ensure he makes the train on time. The 12:07 departure from Wolverhampton is duly breathlessly caught and we arrive in Wellington just on half past twelve. Some familiar features greet us, including All Saints Parish Church and the bunting-laden Market Square (complete with community clock) although we hadn't visited the Dun Cow before. This traditional market town inn lies just off the main street and supplies some restorative Ein Stein ale (Lymestone Brewery) to go with the latest episode of 'Bargain Hunt'.
- Dothill Primary School -
Rumour has it that Mr D9 nobbled the Dun Cow's jukebox and it surely was suspicious to hear Foster & Allen and Chas & Dave in close succession. Either way, there's only so much Anita Manning we can cope with in one day so we're soon setting off on the outward leg of our walk. Dothill awaits as an area the Secretary has never photographed before - it's predominantly residential having been built up since the 1960s and local features include a Co-op store (off Tern Way), a primary school and a nature reserve (comprising two bodies of water - Dothill Pool and Tee Lake).
- Doomed on the dartboard? -
Navigating our way through the cul-de-sacs towards Whitchurch Road, there are a couple of modern pubs to account for. We can't get too excited about the Toby Carvery (a.k.a. the Apley Arms) so the Woolpack on Glade Way is more our thing. Here we can update ourselves on the Ashes action and stage a sporting contest of almost equal importance to the nation; yes it's D9 Destroyer vs WME Whirlwind on the oche again. Things are looking good for the Chairman when he takes the opening leg but the Whirlwind soon storms back to a 4-1 victory, no doubt inspired by Rory Burns's stoic efforts repelling the Aussie attack at Edgbaston.
- Spotted in Shawbirch -
The Woolpack is one of the defining features on the Shawbirch estate, whereby Glade Way wiggles its way around as the main route through the locality. Just across from the pub is a neighbourhood centre containing a Spar store and a doctor's surgery, plus a cashpoint that meant the bald spot was momentarily left unguarded. Two pools provide useful wildlife habitats as the Chairman refrains from his usual bout of goose-bothering, and the community hall plays host to the Little Chicks Pre-School group. As with Dothill, Secretary WME hadn't previously committed Shawbirch to camera so this is all proving very useful exploration.
- Admaston Green -
The discoveries continue as we proceed into Admaston, presumably an older settlement judging by the age of some of the cottages. The Pheasant Inn certainly looks like it's been around quite a while although the Secretary might be wishing we hadn't found it - £4 for two halves of Salopian Shropshire Gold seems a tad steep, at least we didn't opt for pints! Compensation arrives in photographic form thanks to Admaston Methodist Church (nestled away on Bratton Road) and Admaston Green, where we put the outdoor gym equipment to the test but our technique on the rowing machine requires urgent improvement!
- The Captain Webb -
As with all Hub Marketing exploits there are silly songs to consider. Dothill had earlier resounded to the tune of Goodbye-ee (Peter Cook & Dudley Moore) and Banana Rock (the Wombles) so Admaston is subjected to 'Fallout Shelter', an example of early 1960s nuclear nervousness from Mike and Bernie Winters. Our next watering hole soon appears on the horizon, the Captain Webb being named after Matthew Webb from Dawley who in 1875 became the first person to swim the English Channel without artificial aids. The pub is a fair tribute to these heroic deeds, a very presentable estate boozer where the £2.90 Wye Valley HPA is much more to the liking of the WME wallet.
- Wine list in the Walnut -
We've come full circle back to Wellington town centre ready for a couple of closing calls. The Smithfield by the Morrisons supermarket can't be one though - it got turned into a fish and chip shop a few years ago. Also potentially gone is the former Clifton Cinema, currently closed having most recently been utilised as a Dunelm outlet. The Wrekin is thankfully still trading, albeit in a relatively plain rock-oriented fashion, while the Walnut on Tan Bank is really a restaurant that happens to have a couple of ales. Saying that, the Lemon Dream is nice enough as we ponder the wine list, WME swotting up on the best bottles in case of victory at a cricket club quiz night.
- Wellington Station -
All of which means we land back up at Wellington railway station with twenty five minutes to spare before our train. The natural place to go is therefore the immediately adjacent Station Hotel, not perhaps the most salubrious of establishments but we can't knock the quality of the cobs. Wellington Station itself has always been one of the Secretary's favourites with a traditional appearance augmented by hints of sawtooth canopy, much more interesting than the bland box that is Telford Central. The 18:25 departure is our link home to Wolverhampton and it's job done for another Telford trek - cheers!