Tuesday, January 28

WME Flickr Focus - January 2020

Greetings everyone and welcome to the first of my potted photostream summaries for 2020. January has been a steady if unspectacular month so let's see which pictures and places presented themselves by way of a curtain raiser...

Stridently stealing a march on the competition is the lesser-spotted WME Worcestershire thanks to several giraffe-related arrivals. Worcester Stands Tall was a public art trail that took place in the summer of 2018 so sculptures including A Tall Order, Kneck-er Bocker Glory and Bones all amble into contention. Worcester's Fort Royal Park is also quick to declare its historical significance as the site of a Civil War battle while Droitwich quietly supplies another snap of the Raven Hotel.

Of the regular contributors within the West Midlands county, WME Birmingham has been the most active thus far. Comic book cricketers at Edgbaston therefore accompany some helpings from Harborne (the Hop Garden, the Vine and an old railway line now used as a walkway), not forgetting Gopsal Street in Eastside and Heeley Road in Selly Oak (the obligatory couple of street signs for you).

Staying close-ish to home, WME Dudley collects two Coseley Station bus stops and stakes a claim for Stone Street in Dudley town centre. WME Sandwell clocks in by catching a train at Smethwick Galton Bridge - one of the old Class 150 DMU fleet no longer used on the Stourbridge lines - whereas WME Wolverhampton admires some springtime blossom at East Park before taking a Grand Prix-related spin around the Goodyears estate play area.

Slightly further afield, WME Telford drops in on Doseley whilst WME Shropshire makes the acquaintance of a miniature gardener in Much Wenlock (in the Gaskell Arms's beer garden to be precise). The final word then goes to WME Staffordshire which garners some Gnosall action (a Shropshire Union mileage marker) and happens upon Hinksford for more waterways contemplation, this time involving the Staffs & Worcs Canal. That's about it for January although I'll try to rustle up some February additions in due course - until then, enjoy the pictures!

Saturday, January 18

Lost Pubs from the WME Archives: Part 9

2020's first raid on the West Midlands Exploration back catalogue unearths bygone boozers from Willenhall, Bournbrook, Hanley and Hartlebury...

- The Acorn -
I'll start off the new year of archive extractions with the Acorn at Willenhall, a Walsall Road free house with a hint of red Bass triangle. Situated on the junction with Fisher Street, the building was partially demolished and then scruffily rebuilt after closure - the result is a bit of an eyesore if I'm honest. The Old Oak directly opposite is still trading as far as I know. 

- The Gun Barrels -
A favourite with students at the University of Birmingham due to its proximity to the main Edgbaston campus, the Gun Barrels could be found on Bristol Road and hosted many a lively party night. The 1970s version of the pub replaced an earlier M&B roadhouse that had its own bowing green; the later incarnation then got demolished circa 2013 to make way for the university's Sports & Fitness Club, a £55 million facility that includes an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

- Jovial Foresters -
How's about this for a fascinating frontage? Lettering for Ind Coope's Burton Ales was still proudly on show at the Jovial Foresters when this picture was taken in June 2015, and how I'd have loved the chance to set foot inside. Alas this historic Hanley inn escaped my clutches and the last I heard it was still standing disused on Marsh Street awaiting whatever its fate might be. 

- The Talbot -
Another pub I'd have relished a proper rummage around was the Talbot in Hartlebury, a Grade II listed landmark on the Old Worcester Road just across from the village post office. Architecturally it boasted a 17th century timber frame structure but had already shut by the time of this May 2014 photo - the building has since been converted for residential use. 

Sunday, January 12

Larking about Leamington with Nick Turpin

Isn't it about time we caught up with our favourite Warwickshire highwayman? This January jaunt places Royal Leamington Spa squarely in our sights where none other than Nick Turpin is poised and primed for further pub plunderings...

- Looking out over the River Leam -
Saturday 11th January and my Chiltern carriage awaits, conveying me from Moor Street towards Oxford; engineering works mean no through service to Marylebone this weekend. Nick intercepts the train at Warwick Parkway and plots our initial walk around Leamington, his chosen riverside route allowing for a photographic raid upon 'Clubland' (so called because the Irish Centre, Sea Cadet and Canoe Club facilities are all located together). The River Leam looks muddy and swollen after recent rainfall but hasn't yet reached a height where it would burst its banks - the colour of the water makes us wonder whether a swamp monster might suddenly emerge out of the primordial soup.

- Grand Union Canal, Bridge 44 -
Spared any encounters with a creature from the deep, we cross Princes Drive and follow a trackway to reach the Grand Union Canal. I've never covered this precise section before so I pay close attention as Bridge 44 carries Myton Road over the cut. A Lidl supermarket and the wharfish modern apartments of Aragon Drive then accompany us to Bridge 43 near the Leamington Shopping Park. There are two fairly corporate canalside pubs here although the Moorings is more upmarket than the Waterside Inn; our highwayman hero is not best impressed with a sour half of Hobgoblin but the Purity UBU is happily more to his liking.

- Cushioned characters in the Pig & Fiddle -
Recommencing canal coverage, our next stretch of Grand Union gallivanting brings us into Old Town where we exit the towpath at Clemens Street (Bridge 40). There are a number of proper boozers in the vicinity so we try a couple, namely the Hope Tavern and the Pig & Fiddle. The former is a no frills establishment showing racing from Fairyhouse whereas the latter boasts a secluded walled garden populated by porcine-themed cushions. We're pleased to report that both pubs serve local cask ales, hence we contentedly quaff halves of Purity Pure Gold followed by Slaughterhouse Saddleback Bitter. 

- Mission Musings in Old Town -
The site of Leamington's original settlement, Old Town is positioned south of the river and has an earthier feel compared to the Georgian spa town expansion further north. There are still plenty of architectural gems to enjoy this side of the Leam, one such example being the former Mission on George Street. Now in use as a Seventh Day Adventist Church, the building really stands out with Ionic columns in Greek Revival style. Less striking but nonetheless noteworthy are the Town House (hosting a kiddies birthday party) and the Bowling Green, two more watering holes that might tickle our fancy.

- 'Mauled' by Candlelight -
As our sports correspondent Stephen checks in with news from Molineux (Wolves 1 Newcastle 1 final score), Nick's expert navigation has us bisecting the Jephson Gardens and pitching promptly along the Parade. The Cellar Club has caught his eye as a subterranean drinking den that showcases craft beer - you can even purchase a tab card and serve yourself should you wish. The vegan-friendly Dark Maule Oatmeal Stout really hits the spot while candlelight flickers around this new found lair - a perfect highwayman's hideaway!

- White Horse Hotel -
We now proceed to the only Good Beer Guide entrant we'll be doing today, the White Horse Hotel on Clarendon Avenue (Leamington does have other GBG haunts which we've sampled on previous occasions). As befits a historic coaching inn, this has an air of refinement to match the Little Critters Blonde Bear ale - Nick even finds a new steed on the courtyard although the quirky equine sculpture probably wouldn't be much use in a getaway situation. 

- Purity personified in the Star & Garter -
We therefore have to continue on foot to our final raid of the day, Warwick Street supplying the Star & Garter to complete our haul of hostelries. Staking a claim to be one of Leamington's longest-running licensed premises, this gastropub is situated close to the brook which divides the town from the neighbouring community of Milverton. We partake of Purity's Bunny Hop by way of a very fresh closing tipple then commandeer our homeward Chiltern connection and disappear into the night. Such larks!

Sunday, January 5

The First Hubs of 2020

The new year is merely a couple of days old and already the Hub Marketing Board are back in action. This trip has been specially convened following news that the Eagle & Tun in Birmingham's Eastside is due to close its doors forever, hence Chairman D9 wants to administer the last rites...

- Bilston, St Mary's -
The Christmas festivities are barely over when Friday 3rd January heralds the opening outing of 2020. As it's a lovely sunny morning, Secretary WME breaks his photographic duck for the year courtesy of a look around Loxdale near Bilston. Oxford Street offers side-by-side churches (St Mary's and Holy Trinity) with a hint of a former social club, then Chapel Street supplies snapshots of the local primary school, an educational establishment that originally opened in 1929.

- HS2 coming to Curzon Street -
At Bradley Lane, Chairman D9 maintains his custom for belated arrivals before we eventually get Birmingham-bound aboard the Midland Metro. Once in Brum we head straight into Eastside to catch up on the latest progress as regards the HS2 project, for which a new Curzon Street station is projected to be operational from 2026 onwards. Promotional hoardings surround the site at the moment, foretelling of fast journey times and the wider benefits that transforming the area will bring. 

- Goodbye to the Eagle & Tun -
The HS2 scheme is however the reason why the Eagle & Tun is being consigned to history, the pub having been subject to a compulsory purchase order that will result in imminent demolition. The last day of trading will be Saturday 4th January so we're 24 hours early with our goodbyes, but at least we can see the heritage interior (which famously appeared in UB40's 'Red Red Wine' video) one last time. We can't resist a mournful game of darts - WME Whirlwind winning 3-0 in subdued circumstances - while the Chairman rivals some Evening Mail journalists in trying to get as many pictures of the premises as possible. 

- The White Tower -
The Eagle & Tun's demise is such a shame but you can't stop the march of progress it seems. Needing to cheer ourselves up, we seek out one of Digbeth's newer bastions of beer by finding Kilder among the railway arches of Shaw's Passage. We're literally beneath Moor Street station here as we partake of 'Mint Choc-Chip Dairyfreak', a 5.2% Milk Ice Porter from Magic Rock - it's tarmac but not as we know it! The Chairman is however itching for some inner-city investigations so we take a punt on the White Tower (a.k.a. Moriarty's) as perched beside Lawley Middleway overlooking Curzon Circus. 

- Baldness beneath the arches -
The White Tower actually exceeds expectations with a friendly welcome and some lingering Christmas decorations to accompany our Carling, while Mr D9 can revel in getting his fix of Heartlands 'scenery' - Viaduct Street is particularly daunting with fly-tipping and shadowy recesses, not the kind of place an innocent bald spot should be seen parading around that's for sure. Garrison Lane Park puts us within a defensive hoof of St Andrews, giving us chance to boost our Bluenose boozer collection care of Bainsy's Bar. 

- Dead Wax in Digbeth -
Bainsy's must presumably get very busy on matchdays but on a quiet Friday mid-afternoon in January there's not a lot happening unless you're a fan of the tv quiz show 'Tenable'. Having failed abysmally to name London tube stations beginning with T, we lick our wounds in Digbeth where the Wagon & Horses has undergone a startling makeover and now calls itself Dead Wax. The change is quite dramatic - craft beer, distressed woodwork, creepy mannequins, subversive art - so it takes a bit of getting used to. Britain Beermat recently wrote about his Dead Wax visit and probably liked it more than we did. 

- D9 drives home -
Still recovering from that additional shock, we have to fall back on the Fountain for our desired dosage of old-fashioned Digbeth - this Alcester Street local does us nicely for a drop of Guinness among the Irish old boys. A quick check of the clock tells us we've time yet for some Highgate haunts, the upshot being a half apiece in both the Town Crier (about as basic as you can get) and the Charles Napier (surprisingly presentable). Sadly that really is all we have time for but we've certainly started 2020 in style - cheers!

Wednesday, January 1

The WME Review of the Year - 2019

Happy New Year one and all! Can you believe that 2020 is now upon us? The number always seemed so far into the future I can't quite fathom the fact it's actually here, but before I crash headlong into a new decade of exploration, let me pause to ponder the highlights from the twelve months just gone...

January: it turns out that 2019 was neatly bookended by canal walks, the year having started in style with a Curdworth and Minworth trek along the Birmingham & Fazeley. I followed that by taking the towpath to Tipton via spooky Coseley Tunnel, while the Hub Marketing Board quickly got down to business with one of our Desi Day adventures - the mixed grill in the Red Lion near West Bromwich was a thing of wonder! 

February: judging duties are usually to the fore in February so I had the pleasure of visiting Enville and Cradley Heath in swift succession, finding time to squeeze in a tour of the Timbertree estate. Mr D9 donned his paper periwig to help me assess Sedgley and Kingswinford whereas the Chip Foundation laced up their hiking boots ready for tackling Trysull and Wombourne - Bratch Locks never stood a chance. Brewood also entered the equation with the sun smiling down upon the Shropshire Union, magic moments indeed.

March: a month chockful of memories here, star billing perhaps going to the Chip Foundation's day in Hereford during which we admired the cathedral and caught glimpse of Edgar Street football ground. A solo stomp around Stafford likewise rates very highly, tracking down 'bod' at Weeping Cross after getting my first ever photos of Wildwood and Walton-on-the-Hill. Then again, how about the Rugeley Power Rangers blast when (after a bus garage breakfast) Mr D9's bald spot bade fond farewell to some landmark cooling towers? That's before I even mention the Rugby Beer Festival, Nick being on hand to join me in collecting the Crafty Banker and the Town & County Club.

April: no debate about the main event in April, it has to be Rail Rover Week which this time around involved the joys of Matlock, Oxford, Newtown and Gloucester - I especially enjoyed sampling some proper Welsh pubs although Gloucester Docks were fascinating too. Elsewhere, the Hub Marketing Board spent Good Friday riding around Redditch, surreptitiously seeking out flat-roofed establishments in Matchborough, Winyates and Woodrow, what a day that was! Earlier in the month D9 and I had already done a mini-Walsall trip focusing on Rushall where the Farmer's Boy was closed, thankfully not for good...

May: Nick Turpin's springtime special entailed a nudge around Northampton, calling in at the Albion Tap, the Pomfret Arms and even Long Buckby but definitely not Carlsberg - what a load of Cobblers! The Beardsmore award for the gammon dinner of 2019 goes to the Doctor Johnson pub in Netherstowe where we feasted most contentedly having surveyed Stowe Pool and the famous three spires of Lichfield Cathedral. In other news, I was back on the Birmingham beat with a wander around Woodgate Valley and Bartley Reservoir (Frankley Parish Church technically falling under Worcestershire jurisdiction) and supplemented that with an Inner Circle investigation, Mr D9 savouring the Bluenose boozers of Bordesley. 

June: Broseley was the destination for the WME birthday trip as the Chip Foundation pottered around the pipeworks, whereas a Father's Day flourish saw Dad and I descend upon Hagley to make the acquaintance of a certain King Arthur for bostin' Batham's. Bromsgrove was blessed with summer sunshine on the occasion of the town's beer festival and Stephen attempted to spot the sea at Southport, scene of a coach trip caper and several Silcock's enterprises. Mr B Junior was also an integral component of a week in York watching the mighty Warwickshire winning in a city that hadn't hosted first class cricket for over a century.

July: halfway through the year now and the thrills kept coming thick and fast. Take Nottingham for example with a tram-based extravaganza that meant Nick and I landed up in Basford, Bulwell and Beeston. The Shrewsbury Beer Festival was held in the spectacular setting of St Mary's Church, then there was Beatles sightseeing afoot during a family weekend in Liverpool - the Globe and the White Star stood out as classic Scouse watering holes. Further daytrip discoveries awaited with the Beardsmores in Cleveleys, John avoiding getting shipwrecked along the promenade, and I suppose I should mention the small matter of England winning the Cricket World Cup in one of the tightest finishes imaginable!

August: the height of summer brought the prospect of two Hub Marketing afternoons, one in Wellington and the other in Walsall Wood. The first of those gave us glass-snatching in Shawbirch, the latter had us dodging deluges in confirming the Farmer's Boy had reopened (hurrah!) - the Charles Napier in Palfrey stole the show that day though. My Hay Green Hike took me along memory lane where Edgbaston, Selly Oak and Bournville were concerned - all places I initially discovered whilst at university - albeit I'd have to go back to childhood for my previous encounters with Dudley Zoo, an attraction that enticed the Chip Foundation over the Bank Holiday weekend. Unfortunately Mr B Senior wasn't accepted as one of the exhibits so he was very much in attendance for the Garrison (Peaky Blinders theme) and the Bull & Bladder afterwards.

September: into autumn next with a double dose of Beardsmore coach tripping. Betws y Coed and Beaumaris were simply brilliant, clambering over castles and such like, then a Cleveleys revisit allowed for a slice of Fleetwood ferreting down by the ferry terminal. Nick, Ken and I survived an evening in Smethwick that was otherwise notable for a Red Cow curry, and the weather put paid to our Warwickshire cricketing finale so we ended up in Kings Norton and Stirchley instead. No such meteorological mischief for the Hub Marketing Board in the Potteries mind, just superb exploring focusing on Hanley and Longton with a bonus spot-the-difference in the Tam O'Shanter - trying to tell Mr D9 and Norman the gorilla apart was not easy!

October: a quieter month relatively speaking, the main component of which had me stepping into Solihull to tick the Bulls Head at Barston off my bucket list. Stephen came along on a Wyrley & Essington meander, traipsing the towpath between Coalpool and Pelsall Junction prior to quiz night challenges at Tettenhall. Team Bears had a pretty productive year actually, culminating in victory on our tenth anniversary showing - the picture rounds and anagrams often prove tricky and we always have to guard against any wipeout scenarios.

November: comedy quiffs are an essential feature of any Hub Marketing Coventry excursion and on this occasion Willenhall and Binley were 'treated' to the Chairman's latest coiffeured creation; Mr D9 would subsequently join forces with Nick and myself in partaking of the ever-excellent Dudley Winter Ales Fayre, an event we somehow combined with calling at Legends in Tipton (a bar Nick won't forget in a hurry). The Chip Foundation meanwhile bustled their way around Boldmere and Sutton Park then rain almost stopped play for the Beardsmore contingent in Rugeley, luckily the Red Lion came to our rescue complete with quality Banks's Mild. Nor should I forget my annual Telford tour for an instalment that conquered Ketley Bank and wiggled around Wombridge - good local knowledge there!

December: all of which leads us to the delights of December and the fun of a Festive Forage that happened upon Highgate and darted about Digbeth - there might have been the odd Guiness or two en route. Halesowen hosted the Hub Marketing Christmas do, a lively affair that resulted in Charles Pemberton Rowbottom delivering his presentations at Cradley Labour Club's Wilson Hall. The year ultimately came full circle back to the canals whereby the Stourbridge Sixteen proved to be my last trip of the decade, a fitting finale even if I say so myself.

That sprightly summary just goes to show that 2019 has been another special year, and once again I must acknowledge all the folk who made it happen. My sincere gratitude therefore goes to Andy (a.k.a. Mr D9), Nick, Stephen, John (a.k.a. Mr Beardsmore Senior), Ken, Dad and anybody else caught up in all the mayhem - here's to yet more of the same in 2020!!!