Monday, September 30

WME Flickr Focus - September 2019

As the Brexit saga rumbles on seemingly interminably, I'm pleased to report there have been no attempts made to prorogue progress on the West Midlands Exploration photostream. Here - minus any Supreme Court interventions - are September's movers and shakers...

Emerging from the shadows comes the resurgent Exploration Extra, powering back to prominence with pledges from Colwyn Bay, Crewe and Chester. Of those commitments, the Welsh angle is covered by cricket ground shots at Rhos-on-Sea plus an early morning visit to Deganwy railway station, whereas the English additions focus on Crewe's Borough Arms pub and a millennium walking trail in Chester.

Turning now to the traditional West Midlands heartlands, WME Wolverhampton has maintained its stance on regular photos for all. Street signs have been a staple contributor for a long time now and this month's examples include North Street and Rupert Street while the tempting facade of the Darlington Tavern offers much promise until you realise it's just a mock micropub. There are even references to popular culture with guest appearances from Mr T and the Spooks of Bottle Bay!

Elsewhere, WME Telford goes canvassing around Woodside (a solitary shot of the Elizabethan Inn's pub sign) and even WME Solihull has been stirred into action courtesy of the X2 bus at Solihull Station Interchange. Solihull's near neighbour WME Birmingham stakes its own claim with an evening call at the Yardley Arms during its days as a Flaming Grill establishment prior to going standard Greene King.

Our final slice of parliamentary poise comes from WME Worcestershire, newly replete with pictures of the First bus depot on Padmore Road. A Wetherspoons representative is acknowledged in the form of the Postal Order, handily located for Foregate Street station, and that's all for our dispatch box summary on this occasion. Maybe in October we'll finally get some Brexit clarity but at least there should be some photostream developments to look forward to!

Sunday, September 22

Pottering About Some More...

June 2015 was the last time the Hub Marketing Board set foot in Stoke-on-Trent so the Potteries area could certainly be considered ripe for a revisit. The Secretary has hastily cobbled together a plan involving Hanley and Longton, taking into account pubs, parks and pieces of industrial heritage - all we say is bring on the bald spot...

- The Doulton Fountain -
Friday 20th September 2019 is a day we'd originally reserved for a Wrexham outing, only for Stoke to step in as our contingency when the Wales idea had to be put on the back burner. After catching the 10:14 train up from Wolverhampton, we say hello to Josiah Wedgwood's statue and plot our way along College Road towards the city centre (i.e. Hanley). Some flagship green spaces soon entice us - the Cauldon Grounds are graced by the Doulton Fountain while Hanley Park is where we can admire a bandstand, pavilion and a stretch of the Caldon Canal, even though Chairman D9 gets most enthused about a 1960s toilet block!

- Good stuff this Bass -
There's no accounting for taste sometimes but one thing we definitely both approve of is the Victoria Lounge, a watering hole close to Hanley bus station. The Draught Bass is drinking very well here and there's a steady stream of folk flocking in to partake of lunchtime carveries, albeit we decide to stay out of the way of the diners by keeping the fishtank company. Elsewhere, a climate change protest is underway outside Hanley Town Hall and we note that the old bus interchange site has been cleared pending redevelopment. 

- Former Falcon Factory -
There are several other Hanley hostelries that might secure our custom but the Secretary is most keen to investigate the Woodman, lovingly restored by Caldmore Taverns. Apparently this place was shut for something like 10 years prior to reopening last October; the fact it has come back at all is worth celebrating so we avail ourselves of Churnet Valley IPA (Peakstones Rock Brewery) and gaze in wonder at the quality of the refurbishment - stunning! We now feel perfectly primed for some industrial relics so Old Town Road reveals the derelict Falcon Works where JH Weatherby & Sons used to produce earthen tableware.

- Bass Bait -
Old Town Road is also where we find the fantastic 'Bass Only' frontage of the Golden Cup in all its green glazed glory. The fascia is said to be unique and pays due deference to the famous red triangle; we understand the pub is currently undergoing renovation so a revisit may well be in order once complete. In the meantime, we ferret through the Hanley backstreets to happen upon the Rising Sun, itself boasting a fine facade dating from 1898. We decide to make this our darts stop although D9 Destroyer probably wishes we hadn't as he ends up on the wrong side of a resounding 5-1 scoreline. 

- Woolies as was -
The Chairman has time to lick his wounds when we proceed to Longton, catching the number 6 bus through Fenton in bumper-to-bumper Friday afternoon traffic. Longton is one of the six towns which became amalgamated to form Stoke-on-Trent in 1910, hence it has several notable landmarks including the Town Hall, the Gladstone Pottery Museum and the girder bridge that carries the North Staffordshire railway line. I'm not sure Woolworths would rank among the must-see local sights although we do get a reminder of the demise of a well-known High Street name.

- Walkers Nonsuch Toffee Manufacturers -
Secretary WME's last minute research continues to pay dividends when a trio of traditional boozers are discovered within short distance of each other. The Congress is probably our favourite of the three having consistently gained Good Beer Guide recognition in recent years - some Townhouse Barney's Stout is on top form for sure. The Sea Lion is quieter by contrast for a swift half of Worthington's, then the Signalman supplies Draught Bass as we watch the closing stages of D9's favourite daytime quiz show, 'Tipping Point'. The Secretary is less enamoured with giant slot machine antics so saves his excitement for the Walkers Nonsuch toffee factory instead.

- The bald spot on Longton lookout duty -
There is one more Longton pub we want to account for so the Tam O'Shanter is duly located on Normacot Road. This is where we make the acquaintance of Norman the gorilla perched at one end of the bar - any resemblance to the Chairman is purely coincidental! Uttoxeter Road leads us past Venables Carpets and St James the Less Church as we hope to intercept the 18:27 train back to Stoke. We make good time - even with an impromptu rendition of 'Spanish Eyes' - thus allowing Mr D9 to line up pictures from the steps of Longton Station, cue for a bald spot bonus.

- Hub antics at Staffordshire University -
Our Stoke swansong entails a hub photocall opportunity at the Staffordshire University campus followed by a final drink in the Terrace Inn, a student haunt on the A52 Leek Road. A pint of ShinDigger Grand Central IPA is more to D9's taste than WME's (give me Bass anyday) and the curtain comes down with the 19:26 train home. Considering we'd switched trips at the eleventh hour the day has been a remarkable success, adding neatly to our Potteries knowledge with plenty of room for future fact-finding - cheers!

Sunday, September 15

Lost Pubs from the WME Archives - Part Five

After last month's special post dedicated to former Holden's tied houses, normal service is resumed with this next quartet of pubs that have departed the West Midlands drinking scene...

- The White Lion -
Coseley cropped up a few times in that Holden's homage and it registers again here with due reference to the White Lion, a relatively plain Castle Street boozer next to Broadbent's butchers. The building is still standing having been turned into the 'Great Wall', a Chinese and Thai takeaway. 

- Champion Jockey -
There's not much hint of racing pedigree in this June 2008 shot of the Champion Jockey, an estate example that served the Donnington district of Telford. The pub was named after Gordon Richards, the famous jockey who was born locally in 1904. Following demolition, the Wrekin Drive site became home to a Netto supermarket which more recently has morphed into a Home Bargains store.

- Scarlet Pimpernel -
Harborne is an area that seems well-stocked with watering holes but one notable casualty has been the Scarlet Pimpernel, seen here as photographed in 2012 when I think it had already closed. Situated on Tennal Road near the War Lane/Northfield Road roundabout, this was a 1960s M&B number that has since made way for housing.

- George & Dragon -
Finally for this batch, an entry from Princes End where I'm almost spoiled for choice given the decimation of pub stock that has taken place there. The Lagoon and the Shepherds Cottage are two I could have featured but I've plumped for this 2007 snap of the George & Dragon, awaiting its fate on the corner of High Street and Upper Church Lane (the ultimate indignity, replaced by a Greggs outlet). That's all for my September selection but the archive is primed for further finds - cheers!

Sunday, September 8

Betws-y-Coed and Beaumaris

Saturday 7th September 2019 sees me joining the Beardsmores for another coach trip, this one being a Welsh wonder that takes us up into Snowdonia and over onto the Isle of Anglesey...

- Betws-y-Coed Station -
The coach departs Heath Town Holy Trinity at 8:30am sharp and our initial destination is the village of Betws-y-Coed in the Snowdonia National Park. Getting there involves an intrepid journey along the A5 trunk road past Shrewsbury and Oswestry then on through the picturesque towns of Llangollen and Corwen; some of the scenery once across the Welsh border is quite spectacular, whereby I'm particularly intrigued to catch sight of the famous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. A 'Dreamboats and Petticoats' soundtrack also adds to the entertainment before we set down outside Betws-y-Coed railway station just before 11 o'clock.

- Edith the bottletop rhinoceros -
Betws-y-Coed is a principal stop on the branch between Llandudno Junction and Blaenau Ffestiniog, a line Stephen and I memorably explored last year during our Colwyn Bay cricket getaway. The platform is presided over by Edith, a rhinoceros figure gradually being filled up with discarded bottletops, and Dr Sen the orangutan sculpture as fashioned out of beach litter. There's a small railway museum on the old goods yard with its own miniature steam train service - an unexpected whistle certainly makes me jump!

- River Rapids -
Betws-y-Coed has become a popular centre for outdoor activities and styles itself as the 'Gateway to Snowdonia'. Notable landmarks include a handful of coaching inns (such as Glan Aber and the Royal Oak Hotel), a village green that contains a football pitch, and St Mary's Parish Church (preparing for Sunday's male voice choir concert). Arguably the most enchanting feature of all is Pont Y Pair Bridge, spanning the River Llugwy courtesy of five stone arches - the name means 'Bridge of the Cauldron' which is not surprising when you see the surging waters below.

- Mr B on Beaumaris Pier -
There's a minor drama when Mr Beardsmore Senior momentarily boards the wrong coach but he is quickly retrieved much to Stephen's relief. The mountain views en route towards Anglesey make for a truly dramatic spectacle as we pass Swallow Falls and negotiate the twisty lanes through Capel Curig and Bethesda. Robert Stephenson's Britannia Bridge crosses the Menai Strait in carrying us onto Wales's largest island where more narrow roads precede our afternoon arrival in Beaumaris. The town has an attractive promenade and a small pier where crab-catching seems to be a favourite kiddies pastime. 

- Beaumaris Castle Gatehouse -
Lunch is our immediate priority so we focus in on Church Street and choose between contrasting pub options. The Bold Arms gets our vote as a welcoming Marston's establishment with a penchant for rugby league shirts whereas the George & Dragon directly opposite is a more pricey Robinson's place. Our menu musings result in all day breakfasts and a gammon for Stephen (with crinkle cut chips), not bad at all. We then seek out Beaumaris Gaol - or Carchar to use the Welsh terminology - wondering if they might accept Mr B Senior as their latest inmate. John is spared because it turns out the former prison is now preserved as a museum; it was originally constructed in 1829 but is a mere youngster compared to the 13th century provenance of Beaumaris Castle in all its moated magnificence.

- A Peasantry Pose? -
Beaumaris Castle was commissioned under the reign of Edward I but never actually reached a stage of full completion. We survey the inner ward where Mr B Senior grapples with some giant chess pieces before undertaking dressing-up duty in one of the towers - we think the peasant look rather suits him! There are various passageways and corridors as we try to find a staircase up onto the battlements. Eventually we clamber the right way and are rewarded with a breathtaking vista, the ruins illuminated in the sunshine with the sparkling sea for a backdrop. 

- Cheers to a monumental day out! -
The coach is due to pick us up at ten to five so we decamp to the Olde Bull's Head for a closing half (Timothy Taylor's Landlord for me, a good barometer beer that's up to standard in this instance). Charles Dickens and Dr Johnson are both said to have stayed here so we're in illustrious company it seems. Making sure John doesn't go astray again, we catch the coach without incident and the homeward journey makes use of the A55, M56 and M6 which naturally isn't quite as scenic as earlier. What a day in Wales that was!

Sunday, September 1

Edgbaston, Bournville and Kings Norton

Trip Log - Friday 30th August 2019: a solo Birmingham stroll taking me back to a few of my old University and Student Tutoring haunts, including a couple of places I hadn't visited for something like 15 years! Here are some selected highlights...

- Edgbaston Old Church -
The outing begins at Five Ways railway station but my first major target of the morning is Edgbaston Old Church, otherwise dedicated to St Bartholomew and situated opposite Priory School. I'd spotted the church previously when riding past on the number 1 bus but hadn't taken pictures of it before so this counts as a very welcome addition to my archive. 

- Chamberlain Hall -
Church Road next where I can reacquaint myself with The Vale, home to some of the University of Birmingham's main Halls of Residence. Names such as Shackleton, Mason and Chamberlain resonate from my student days although many of the facilities have been rebuilt since I last saw them. The lake remains a constant though and seems particularly peaceful despite the best efforts of some noisy waterfowl.

- Somerset Road Bridge -
The Worcester & Birmingham Canal used to feature as a regular bolthole for collecting my thoughts between lectures and formulating assignment plans while I traversed the towpath. Academic matters aren't on my mind this time around but it's good to see the old stretch from the Vale to the Bristol Road again, pausing for photos at Somerset Road and University Avenue.

- Selly Oak Fingerpost -
Selly Oak lies in wait with a large Sainsburys store to greet me once I've crossed the aqueduct over the bypass (this relief road is eight years old having first opened to traffic in August 2011). Touchbase Pears is a large multi-purpose centre that incorporates the relocated Selly Oak Library while the junction of Bristol Road and Oak Tree Lane has a heritage fingerpost I rather like the look of.

- Bournville Park -
Oak Tree Lane enables me to update myself on happenings at the former Selly Oak Hospital site, currently being transformed for housing. The main access to the hospital was on Raddlebarn Road where the former West Lodge dermatology clinic is getting converted into apartments. Continuing into Bournville Park, I note a little stream, some tennis courts and a children's play area.

- Hay Green Methodist Church -
Back in early 2004 I did a Student Tutoring stint helping out at a Bournville primary school, and part of my routine came to involve exploring the likes of Woodbrooke Road and Hay Green Lane. I used to have packed lunches by the local lake, a body of water which also plays host to the Bournville Radio Sailing and Model Boat Club. Elsewhere, Griffins Brook Lane has the impressive copper-topped Serbian Orthodox Church of St Lazar while the nearby Hay Green Methodist Church is altogether more understated.

- Rowheath Pavilion -
Heath Road is the location for the Rowheath Pavilion, a sports and community facility that originally opened in 1924 to meet the leisure needs of Cadburys workers. Now operated by Trinity Christian Centre, the pavilion continues to be a popular attraction with the playing fields well used on today's evidence. Selly Oak Road then takes me past Kings Norton Girls School which appears to be undergoing major building work to create a new Sixth Form block.

- Kings Norton Green -
A brief Cotteridge collision allows for snaps of the 1930s fire station before I seek refreshment in the Camp, a Greene King boozer that's very handy for the railway station. No cask ale on this showing so Carling will suffice, cooling me down as I taunt Mr D9 with my whereabouts. The walk resumes with a nod to the Triplex Sports Club on Eckersall Road - Cadbury Athletic play here in the Midland League - as I home in on Kings Norton Green, used for centuries for meetings, markets and fairs or so the notice says.

- Navigation No More! -
The usual Kings Norton landmarks apply so the Bulls Head, the Saracens Head and St Nicolas Church all take another turn in the spotlight. I am however saddened to see that the Navigation is fenced off - the pub fought a battle against proposed closure a few years ago but now looks doomed, a crying shame as it is undoubtedly a heritage asset to the area.

- Kings Norton Junction -
The bad news continues when I rejoin the Worcester & Birmingham Canal only to discover that the historic toll house at the junction with the Stratford Canal is likewise under threat, in this case after suffering significant fire damage in February. Bridge 72 demands its customary photograph and I close off by nipping across the playing fields, glimpsing the Bournville Warriors junior changing rooms en route back to Kings Norton railway station. A productive walk along memory lane I'd venture!