Thursday, November 28

WME Flickr Focus - November 2019

As election fever grinds the nation into submission, at least we have the West Midlands Exploration photostream to provide a welcome distraction from manifesto launches and frenetic campaigning. Here is what November provided by way of snapshot solace...

I can't claim to have covered the length and breadth of the country although Exploration Extra has offered some farther flung photography. The single Welsh representative is a platform running board from Tenby railway station whereas Leicestershire garners some Thorpe Acre wildflowers from the edges of Loughborough. Liverpool meanwhile has been left to its own devices, hence a visit to Ye Cracke Inn as a pub with links to the Beatles plus a penchant for vintage Bass and Boddingtons branding.

Closer to home, there is shock news from WME Coventry which has belatedly taken delivery of its first picture of the year - it only took me 11 months to arrange such an addition! The Brooklands pub in Coundon ensures any pictorial washout is deftly avoided, and there may yet be more Coventry contenders before the calendar crosses into 2020. It's worth noting at this point that neighbouring WME Warwickshire has also seen some activity, landing a shot of the number 10 bus at Rugby.

The busiest collections over the last few weeks have been WME Shropshire and WME Telford. Salop has benefited from some Bridgnorth bonuses (Foxall's Electricals, the Black Horse at Low Town, some reprises for the Shakespeare) and Albrighton arrivals (Beamish Lane with Upper Pepperhill Farm), whereas Telford pays another visit to Blists Hill Victorian Town. Here I present various bill posters, a New Inn luncheons advertising board and some enamel advertising for Reade's Head & Stomach Pills - I'm sure they are very efficacious! 

No such medication matters for WME Staffordshire although the 261 bus (pictured at Wombourne) did previously serve Russells Hall Hospital. WME Birmingham brandishes a bridge sign for Belmont Row on the Digbeth Branch Canal, then stops off at Stockland Green for a look at Brookvale Park's lake. WME Wolverhampton unusually finds itself bringing up the rear, something it does adeptly thanks to Bilston Bus Station letterings and a Bantock Park information board. Ah well, that escape from the election circus didn't last long and I guess in December our destiny will become clearer. Until then, enjoy the photos!

Sunday, November 17

Lost Pubs from the WME Archives - Part Seven

I'm rather enjoying these monthly mooches through my photo archive, even if there's a bittersweet edge to digging out pictures of pubs that have passed into history. Here are four November nuggets for your delectation...

- The Black Horse -
I was only in Oakengates just last week but one boozer I had absolutely no chance of frequenting was the Black Horse, long since gone I'm afraid. It stood on Market Street between the Leek United Building Society and Giles Opticians; this September 2010 shot shows it in a bad way having suffered extensive fire damage in 2007, the year after it ceased trading. Although the building has since been partially repaired, it still remains looking for a new lease of life.

- The Dry Dock -
It's not just the run of the mill watering holes that can fall by the wayside, sometimes some very well-known establishments expire too. One such example would be the Dry Dock at Windmill End, handily located by a prominent junction on the Dudley No. 2 Canal and close to Netherton Tunnel. This was for some years a Mad O'Rourke's outlet notable for having a narrowboat bow for a bar. I only had the pleasure of one visit before it got turned into flats although Peter Allen called in on a few occasions as evidenced here

- The Hailstone -
The Springfield area of Rowley Regis is where we find the Hailstone, a former Banks's number situated on the junction of Dudley Road and Springfield Close (opposite the local Social Club). It had shut down by the time of this March 2009 photo and latterly became a Bangladeshi restaurant that retains the old pub name. 

- The Joker -
Joaquin Phoenix is conspicuously absent from this picture of the Joker, which relates not to the recent film but rather a flat-roofed estate example that used to serve the residents of Hamstead. Seen here in April 2009 promoting Sky Sports coverage and a car wash facility, it now provides a different kind of community amenity by operating as a Tesco Express store.

Sunday, November 10

Ketley Bank and Wombridge

Sometimes the outings that take you completely by surprise turn out to be the best, and that was certainly true on Friday 8th November when circumstances put me in line for a Telford trip rather than the Cannock Chase adventure I'd intended...

- Do greyhounds like pizza? -
You can seldom guarantee the weather in November so I'm pleased to see bright blue skies as I set out from Telford Central railway station. A mysterious footpath leads me first into the Central Park business zone where there are offices for firms including Capgemini, Nock Deighton and Nicholas Tart. It's not far from here to the Greyhound Roundabout, taking its title from a bygone boozer which was turned into a Domino's pizza outlet sometime in the 1990s. 

- Second Avenue, Ketley Bank -
There is still an operational pub in the vicinity (the Hare & Hounds on Holyhead Road) but I'm keen to concentrate on Ketley Bank, an area that originally came to my attention over ten years ago - thanks to the number 23 bus - yet I've never got to grips with it photographically. I start to put that right with Greyhound Hill and an estate that comprises a sequence of numbered avenues. Among these, Fourth Avenue is home to Top Shop and Skyline Pizza while Sixth and Third Avenues converge near the Queenswood Primary School & Nursery complex.

- The Stafford Arms as was -
Some aspects of Ketley Bank are more familiar than others. I don't remember the playing fields off Bank Way at all (with recent rain this would be a squelchy place for a kickabout), but the Lord Hill is known to me after a Hub Marketing visit in 2012. Elsewhere along Main Road, I'm intrigued by an old community centre with little sign of life despite the presence of Abacus Childcare signage, plus I simply must pay homage to the former Stafford Arms as an ex-Burtonwood establishment latterly turned into flats. 

- Holy Trinity Church -
Another lost watering hole is next on my hitlist as Dukes Hill brings me out beside the Pear Tree Bridge Inn, transformed into apartments having at one time been a Wrekin Brewery tied house. Holyhead Road then introduces me to Holy Trinity, the Parish Church for Oakengates and Ketley Bank within the Diocese of Lichfield. Grade II listed, the church was built in 1855 to a design that incorporates lancet windows and a small bell tower. 

- Wombridge Parish Church -
Onwards I go towards Oakengates, passing Wellington Amateurs FC (based at the Fortis Stadium off School Grove) and the Maddocks Sports Club. I have a visit to Wrockwardine Wood in mind but get confused between New Road and New Street (easily done), the second of which results in an unexpected Wombridge incursion. As happy accidents go this is a belter, revealing a corner of Telford that is completely new to me. The local church here sits partially on the site of a dissolved medieval priory and is dedicated to St Mary & St Leonard.

- Wombridge Cemetery -
Wombridge Parish easily pre-dates any thought of Telford New Town developments as its population largely grew during the Victorian period, boosted by emerging employment opportunities among the nearby collieries and furnaces; the Wombridge Canal meanwhile was a tub-boat system operational from 1788 to 1921 and notable for an inclined plane at Trench. Back in the present day, the aforementioned church looks absolutely stunning surrounded by leaves of burnished gold and the adjacent cemetery makes for a pretty picture too.

- The Crown Inn, Oakengates -
Pleased about that haul of autumnal angles, I pick out a cycle path as a means of returning to Oakengates (via Stafford Road) and reward myself with a couple of pints. Oakengates is blessed by a trio of fine Market Street hostelries of which I have time to sample just two. The bright yellow vision that is the Crown beckons for some Hobson's Stout whereas the Old Fighting Cocks boasts a number of Rowton ales including Meteorite pale bitter (the name referencing an iron meteorite that landed in Rowton village during April 1876). Both beers prove to be top notch, adding the triumphant cherry on the cake of a trip that will go down as a terrific last minute change of plan - cheers!

Wednesday, November 6

Boldmere Bits and Sutton Park Pieces

The younger Mr Beardsmore had a birthday recently, a fact that did not go unnoticed in Chip Foundation circles. An outing in Stephen's honour was thus duly arranged with Boldmere and Sutton Coldfield selected to help us celebrate the auspicious occasion...

- Erdington Station Signage -
Episode 61 of the Chip Foundation Chronicles is confirmed for Monday 4th November 2019, a few days on from Mr B's actual date of birth but no matter. With the rest of the gang instructed to arrive at Chester Road by 11:30, I set out in advance of the main party in order to undertake some extra Erdington reconnaissance. I'm keen to concentrate on Gravelly Lane but stock up on station shots too, particularly focusing on bridge-based signage as the morning gets off to a fairly grey start.

- Goosemoor Lane -
The aforementioned Gravelly Lane offers some rather scruffy shopfronts when both a militaria store and a model railway business look like they've been abandoned for ages. It's nice to see Goosemoor Lane again, passing the Cookes furniture showroom and recalling those rides on the 66 bus that first introduced me to the area some 16 years ago. Erdington Court Bowls Club counts as a new discovery (Bowling Green Close being a helpful hint as to the club's location) whereas Perry Common bus terminus is very familiar with the 7 and 65 routes taking turns to lay over on Witton Lodge Road. 

- The Birthday Boy in the Boldmere Tap -
Court Lane and Chester Road combine in ensuring I'm on hand to greet my Chip Foundation colleagues at the allotted time, and there is immediate talk of Mastermind specialist subjects as we proceed via Sheffield Road - I'm not sure if pubs of the Black Country would be considered a suitably cerebral topic! Today's opening watering hole is the Boldmere Tap, a Joules establishment just down from Chester Road Baptist Church. A real fire and various breweriana bottles help to create a cosy atmosphere as we present Stephen with his birthday cards and sample the Moon Madness seasonal ale.

- Boldmere Bear -
Whenever Nick and Ken are about it's a surefire bet that the conversation will turn to politics, so there's a frisson of excitement at the prospect of another General Election and having a new Speaker in the House of Commons. We manage to avoid too much Brexit analysis and instead go on the hunt for one of the few Big Sleuth sculptures still on public display. Boldmere Bear is the specimen we seek, looking very much at home outside the Harvester having endeared himself to the local community. 

- A Brace of Boris Bulldogs -
Practically next door to the bear's abode is the Bishop Vesey, Boldmere's contribution to the Wetherspoons empire. As if to prove you can't escape political matters for long, Nick and I end up partaking of a Burton Bridge ale called 'Boris Bulldog', full bodied with a certain whiff to it (or is that just the Prime Minster?) As our lunchtime location this serves its purpose even though our meal is unceremoniously interrupted by drilling noises. Ken doses himself up on coffee refills and Stephen tries to work out who exactly Bishop Vesey was; it transpires that John Vesey (circa 1462 to 1554) was Bishop of Exeter and a close associate of Henry VIII in the Tudor court.

- Glimpses of Gold in Sutton Park -
It's turning into a rather nice afternoon weather-wise and some of the autumnal colours on show in Sutton Park are verging on the spectacular. Given that the park covers 2,400 acres, we concentrate on the south-eastern extremities by strolling from Boldmere Gate to Town Gate via Wyndley Pool. Carved totem poles and miniature golf centres are noted along the way as we debate whether the forthcoming election is likely to be the most unpredictable in generations. Nick almost declares an opinion but stops himself just in time, it simply can't do for a royal such as he to favour one party over another. 

- Poppy Patrol -
Exiting the park at Town Gate, we head up past the railway station into Sutton Coldfield town centre. Remembrance Sunday preparations are well underway and some giant commemorative poppies have been installed at Vesey Gardens overlooking the junction of Mill Street and Coleshill Street. The latter of those thoroughfares is where we find the Kings Arms, a mid-1930s building which replaced an earlier Mock Tudor-styled tavern. Here we can quaff Bombardier whilst watching the daytime quiz show 'Tenable', presented by Warwick Davis - unfortunately our knowledge of Spice Girls lyrics can't match our chemical element expertise so we'd have failed dismally had we been in the studio trying to win the jackpot!

- Brewhouse and Kitchen -
Evening is encroaching as we brave the bumper-to-bumper Birmingham Road in search of our final two hostelries. The Brewhouse & Kitchen has received Good Beer Guide recognition with their own ales produced on the premises; of these we sample The Cup Bitter (referencing the former name of the pub) and Shoestring ruby ale (a tribute to the 1970s detective series that starred locally-born Trevor Eve). The Craft Inn meanwhile sees us gatecrashing movie night to test out a Pointless board game - Stephen won - and encounter a very zingy Green Duck pale ale. Our homeward Cross City connection doesn't let us down, and 2019's entire Chip Foundation antics are thus chronicled with hopefully more to come in 2020. Cheers!

Sunday, November 3

Hub Marketing 2019 - Coventry

As soon as the season turns to autumn, there’s a certain place that becomes foremost in the minds of all Hub Marketing members - Coventry. Since our original sky blue excursion in 2012, we have completed seven annual pilgrimages to Godiva’s fair city with Friday 1st November 2019 having long been reserved as the designated date of number eight… 

- Pigeon fancying, Black Country style -
It's a drab and damp West Midlands morning as the Secretary attempts to get a few starter photos prior to meeting the Chairman. Mr WME's aim is to account for the Funny Things festival, a celebration of Black Country humour that has been taking place in Wolverhampton over the half term holidays. Combining a joke trail with a full programme of comedic performances, the event has also seen the creation of the 'Anthinaerium', a mechanical automata displayed in the Mander Centre which references pigeons, Noddy Holder, Bathams Brewery and the Dudley Bug. 

- Powering up at Coventry Station -
The Chairman is perfectly punctual for the recommended 08:45 rendezvous and we arrive in Coventry just after half past nine as intended. Mr D9 is immediately put to work testing a 'Human Power Station' set of outdoor exercise equipment, ensuring he's fully charged up for the ordeal fun that lies ahead. Bull Yard and Smithford Way allow us to admire some of Coventry's 1960s shopping architecture although there are improvement works underway in preparation for 2021 UK City of Culture status. 

- All kinds of everything inside -
The centrepiece of our morning ferret is a mooch around Coventry Market, a thriving emporium which prides itself on selling all kinds of everything. Thankfully we aren't inspired to break out into song (unlike the musical video which featured on Midlands Today and Harry Hill's Alien Fun Capsule), but we can grab a cuppa from the in-house cafe and enjoy the bustle and banter of a busy facility. The building is notable for having stalls arranged in the round and was officially opened in November 1958, meaning it will imminently reach its 61st birthday.

- Fargo Street Art -
Elsewhere in the City Centre, the Coventry University Campus supplies some hub photocall locations and we declare the silly songs of the day (Lieutenant Pigeon's instrumental version of 'I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen', and Bert Convy with 'The Monsters Hop', ideal for Halloween). The Phoenix is doing a brisk trade in student breakfasts to a backdrop of the New Zealand v Wales rugby match, then Far Gosford Street proves as quirky as ever with a plethora of eyecatching street art designs. 

- From the 2019 Quiff Catalogue -
The moment Mr D9 has been waiting for is now upon us when our first bus ride of the day coincides with the 2019 quiff unveiling. To great fanfare his latest masterpiece is revealed, lovingly crafted out of old garage rags stapled together with newspaper padding. The stage is thus set for a rock and roll singalong as the 13 powers its way down the Binley Road, passing the Biggin Hall to the tune of Blue Moon before subjecting Willenhall Lane to the sounds of Who Put The Bomp (extra rama-lama-ding-dongs are purely optional). 

- The bald spot admires the byways of Binley -
The 13 drops us off in prime position for a belated breakfast, the setting for which is the Standard Bearer on Santos Close. Roofs don't get much flatter than this as the pub/cafe combination adjoins the local supermarket; we partake of the £4.50 standard Full English from the comfort of the lounge, the egg and bacon helped down by John Smiths or copious cups of coffee. We're soon at liberty to burrow through the back alleys of Binley, the bald spot getting distracted by the council housing - perhaps the Chairman should have kept on wearing the quiff?

- The Glade, Willenhall -
Our next target is Willenhall, a place we visited briefly back in 2012 but haven't explored since. Quorn Way offers a closet conundrum (the Chairman thinks a hut now used as a taekwondo base might previously have been a public conveniences) and St James Lane keeps us heading in the right direction. The trusty pub radar is working well when Winnalthorpe coaxes us to the Glade, a proper M&B number with fixtures and fittings that look original from when it first opened in the mid-1960s. Here some darts can distract us from lunchtime news bulletins waffling on about Brexit; WME Whirlwind edges a closely-fought skirmish, prevailing by four legs to three after D9 Destroyer was allegedly put off by the sight of Nigel Farage on the tv screen.

- Willenhall Library -
The Glade is the only pub left on Willenhall these days because the Bear got converted into a shop a few years back. Turning our attentions to the centre of the estate, we reacquaint ourselves with Remembrance Road where the 13 and 21 routes both terminate outside the Haggard Community Centre. A Heron Foods outlet features among the local stores while a primary care facility, St John the Divine Church and the Willenhall Social Club require some photo action. Secretary WME also notes that the library has moved to be squeezed in at the rear of the Haggard complex, somewhat heavily fortified by the looks of it!

- Going potty in the Humber -
Catching the 21, we hope to land the Royal Oak at Whitley but it doesn't open until later in the afternoon. Instead we navigate through to the Humber Hotel via Acacia Avenue and Gosford Park Primary School, spotting a disused corner shop with vintage Coke advertising. The Humber is a lovely landmark which the Chairman appreciates even more having gained revenge for his earlier darts defeat by taking two tight frames of pool. Solace for the Secretary comes courtesy of the Twisted Barrel Brewery Tap back at Fargo Village, the Oatmeal Stout proving very nice indeed.

- Secretary in the Stag & Pheasant -
The remainder of the outing involves more riding on the 13 - this time towards Whitmore Park - and a dusky drink in Holbrooks (the New Parkgate Hotel being an excellent discovery we weren't previously aware of). Lockhurst Lane stakes a late claim thanks to the Stag & Pheasant, a lively Desi-type establishment near the former Courtaulds works. Widespread train delays threaten to play havoc with our journey home but we do just about have time for a Birmingham nightcap, hence a crafty call at Bonehead just off John Bright Street. So concludes another Coventry caper - cheers!