Thursday, April 30

WME Flickr Focus - April 2020

Lockdown is not without its advantages and here at WME Towers I have continued to make more photostream progress than would have been possible under normal circumstances. In fact, April has been one of those rare months when every single one of my constituent collections has been furnished with an update - here's a swift summary...
  • WME Wolverhampton takes a tentative tour of Tettenhall, collecting cricket ground scenes from Danescourt plus a mention for the Mitre Inn ex-pub at Lower Green. Tinacre Hill and Bradmore's Swanmore Close sensory garden have likewise landed.
  • WME Walsall registers its first arrivals of 2020 thanks to the Prince pub on Stafford Street, a Sutton Road street sign and a driveway glimpse of Bloxwich's King George V Playing Fields.
  • Elsewhere, WME Birmingham busies itself with the Arts Building at the University of Birmingham's Edgbaston Campus, bringing back a few memories from my student days. Woakes Bear makes a Big Sleuth appearance while the Clock pub at Balsall Heath clocks in for good measure.
  • Not too many deliveries for WME Dudley but I can report the requisitioning of Long Lane Library near Halesowen and the inclusion of Lock 14 on the Stourbridge Canal. 
  • WME Sandwell summons forth a Midland Metro tram at Black Lake, the Wing Wah buffet restaurant (formerly the Hen & Chickens roadhouse pub) at Causeway Green and a Victoria Park picture from Smethwick.
  • The number 2 bus rides its way onto WME Coventry where it is accompanied by some strangely-shaded sheep that were found at the Old Shepherd near Keresley.
  • The lesser-spotted WME Solihull hardly ever gets any content so April has bordered on being bounteous courtesy of beer festival tokens and Hockley Heath Bridge (No. 25 on the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal).
  • By contrast, WME Staffordshire seldom struggles for material. This time around it can boast the Eagle Inn at Eccleshall, The Close by Lichfield Cathedral and Stoke's China Hall by way of recent additions.
  • WM. Swift's Butchers is the main Cookley attraction on WME Worcestershire although the number 26 bus in Worcester itself is not to be ignored.
  • WME Telford tantalises us with some Town Park fishy business - what happens among the flowerbeds stays among the flowerbeds - and an airing for the Bulls Head at Dawley Bank.
  • Just one each for WME Warwickshire and WME Shropshire, namely Sand Farm Drawbridge (the Stratford Canal again) and Albrighton village clock respectively.
  • And bringing things to a crescendo comes Exploration Extra which has dived deep into my archives to untangle forgotten items from Louth (Robinson's Greengrocers), Ruabon (Bryn Melyn's number 5 route) and Swindon railway station's main entrance. 
The photostream is proving a most welcome distraction while many of my normal activities are on hold, so please enjoy the pictures and - until next time - stay safe...

Sunday, April 26

Blooming Typical!

Recent evidence would certainly suggest that Mother Nature has a cruel sense of humour, especially given how the lockdown period has coincided with day after day of glorious sunshine. Spring has well and truly sprung, and in normal circumstances I'd definitely have been out and about taking plenty of pictures. Social distancing means my photography has become more sporadic of late but I have enjoyed capturing some of the beautiful blossoms on show around Finchfield, Bradmore and Merry Hill...

- Bhylls Acre Blossom -
Force of habit means I still take my camera with me most times when I leave the house, even though I might only attempt one or two snaps per walk. Among that handful a few Wednesdays ago was this parade of pinkness outside Bhylls Acre Primary School.

- Coppice Road -
I've gradually pieced together a selection of short circular walks that take me about 45 minutes to an hour to complete, giving me a welcome break from my home working schedule. Coppice Road often features if I'm heading back from Trysull Road or Merry Hill.

- Cranford Road -
It's been great to witness the wonders of springtime appearing before my very eyes and nowhere was this more apparent than on Cranford Road - the street looked utterly spectacular with a magical mixture of cherry and apple shades adding fragrance and colour.

- Woodland Crescent -
I've really relished checking out some corners of suburbia I wouldn't usually get to see, including half-hidden alleyways and cul-de-sac curiosities. Woodland Crescent would be one of the latter, branching off from Woodland Road. 

- Oxbarn Avenue -
Barely a cloud in the sky for this example taken a couple of Sundays back. Oxbarn Avenue has a pretty sequence of blossom trees stretching from Critchley Hardware to the Coalway Road roundabout. 

- Brantley Avenue -
The blossoms are starting to wane now so I'm glad I saw them at their best. I'll close with this riot of petals as spotted off Brantley Avenue where a green patch faces towards Finchfield Library. Hopefully May will be bring more botanical delights for me to savour, and in the meantime please stay safe and look after yourselves.

Thursday, April 16

Hub Marketing - The Top Ten Trips...

The ongoing coronavirus lockdown situation means Hub Marketing activities have been on pause since Mr D9 went clubbing in Penn at the end of February. We're unlikely to be filing any new outings for a little while yet, so now seems as good a time as any to unleash a few Greatest Hits-style retrospectives looking back on memorable moments from the past nine years...

- Balding barnet in Kingstanding -

Let's start then with this summary of our all time Top Ten Trips, expertly curated by the Chairman himself. There have been 126 Hub Marketing outings in total thus far, ranging from blizzards to heatwaves and doorstep locals to farther flung adventures. This post counts down Mr D9's cherished choices in reverse order whilst also giving me an excuse to dig out some previously unseen pictures, such as the Kingstanding bald spot appearance shown above...

#10 >>> we enter the listing with our November 2018 visit to Dudley Winter Ales Fayre, an event Mr D9 cheekily refers to as the 'beard festival' given some of the facial hair on display. Besides our attendance at Dudley Town Hall, the day will be remembered for pepperpots, puppeteers and a Parkfields finale. We were tantalised by the Tivi-Ale micropub, chatted to a lady ventriloquist at a bus stop and completed our collection of Netherton Tunnel ventilation shafts

- Parade of the Pepperpots -

#9 >>> which obligingly brings us to number 9 and the original 'Getting Shafted' pepperpot chase from January 2013. After investigating the Brades Locks, we somehow scrambled up the side of Netherton Tunnel's north portal - the Chairman still has nightmares about this but thankfully he didn't go plop into the canal (arguably it came in as good practice for hurdling billboards at Hamstead a couple of years later). The Secretary was fooled by a rogue 20p glued to the floor of the Hope Tavern, while the cuddly shark toy we found dangling in a Tividale alleyway led to one of the classic calendar photo opportunities.

#8 >>> also firmly among our favourites is the Christmas 2011 caper, whereby Moseley, Ladywood and Smethwick set the benchmark for the seasonal shenanigans of subsequent years. It was a very wet day but we covered plenty of pubs (the Vine in Ladywood, the Merry Maid in Highgate and several Smethwick dives) plus accounted for a couple of Birmingham's cast iron urinals. 

- The Shawbirch Glass Snatcher -

#7 >>> the most recent member of the top ten is August 2019's Wellington Afternoon which gave us a half-day helping of summertime Shropshire. We treated Dothill to a singalong rendition* of 'Goodbye-ee' by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore before stopping off at Shawbirch so that Mr D9 could swipe himself a Sunbeam receptacle (said specimen now apparently resides in Skegness). Add in a bag of Emery and Star sand alongside contrasting pub experiences vis-a-vis the Wrekin versus the Walnut and you have a recipe for serious fun. 

* Note - our finest ever karaoke is undoubtedly warbling 'Spanish Eyes' around the backstreets of Longton last September. 

#6 >>> another 2019 entrant (and one of the Secretary's finest ever pieces of pubcrawl planning) comes in the form of a Redditch Good Friday. Yes, Easter found us in 'Estate Pub Heaven' with flat roofs in abundance and a new cast of characters to tickle the Chairman's imagination - Piggott and Putin were all present and correct with even a sighting of King Kong on the way home. I still can't quite believe we actually set foot in the Woodrow!

- A repeat airing for the wondrous Woodrow -

#5 >>> Mr D9 has been allowed some wriggle room with his selections so at number 5 we find East Birmingham in general. A mainstay of the Hub Marketing calendar, we've put together a whole series of these over the years (usually involving the Old Coventry Road one way or another, and occasionally straying into North Solihull too). Highlights include discovering the Albion Vaults in Saltley, mourning the Mountfort at Kingshurst and tucking into a Bedders fish supper at Hay Mills, complete with the all-important slices of pickled onion.

#4 >>> in a similar vein, the Chairman has opted for the entire Coventry Cats and Quiffs collection just outside the top three. And I quote "its hard to choose the best one of these, they are all good with a Metro Quiff, Cardboard Quiff, Laminated Quiff and a Cloth Quiff. The trips that stick out the most are the Lieutenant Pigeon homage with the Balls Hill music wall of fame, doing three cafes in one day. Always lots of Rock N Roll songs and recently found the Coventry Market". I need say no more, except that these are typically autumnal adventures staged sometime around Halloween, hence pictures like this...

- Spooky stuff in the Nursery Tavern -

#3 >>> Mr D9 is clearly a fan of our Wolverhampton Wanderings as they slot straight in at number 3. Duster attire and battered sausages have been noted when we've toured the likes of Penn, Warstones and Bradmore, while the Moreton Arms in Fordhouses has a special place in the Chairman's affections too. Elsewhere we've homaged industrial relics like the Sunbeam factory and the former Springfield Brewery, plus who could forget our cheapest ever Discount of the Day courtesy of £1 Boondoggle in Wednesfield's Pyle Cock. 

#2 >>> as well as pubs, photos and a general air of silliness, the Hub Marketing Board do like to indulge in some detailed urban exploration. A good example of this is the Golds Hill Good Friday trip of 2016 which saw us charting the course of the former Balls Hill canal branch. To a soundtrack of Bruce Forsyth's 'I'm Backing Britain', we ventured around scrapyards and disused railway crossings before pitching up at the Beehive, a ramshackle boozer next to the old Brickhouse Lane Bridge. 

 - Silly headgear always encouraged -

#1 >>> so - drum roll please - which exemplary excursion has claimed pole position? It is none other than our very first trip, Smethwick 2011 being where it all began for the Hub Marketing Board. The combination of terraced backstreets, Black Patch Park, the Booth Street Closet and M&B heritage was an instant hit, and all these years later we still rate this one most highly. The Soho Works Tavern was our inaugural pub although there's a certain poignancy in that some of the others we did that day - the Moilliet Arms, London Works Tavern and the Falcon (with the satellite dog) - have passed into history. We hope to bring you more Hub Marketing reflections and reminiscences in due course but for now please stay safe - cheers!

Sunday, April 12

Lost Pubs from the WME Archives: Part 10

One of the few benefits to being in lockdown is that I have more time on my hands with which to plunder the West Midlands Exploration photographic vaults. Most recently, I've clambered aboard my time machine and journeyed back to November 2009, finding this quintet of bygone boozers that were all captured on camera nearly eleven years ago...

- The Red Lion, Handsworth -
First off is this handsome and sadly lamented Soho Road landmark from Handsworth. The Red Lion was designed by the noted pub architects James and Lister Lea who were responsible for several of Birmingham's finest terracotta taverns. Standing near the junction with Boulton Road, the building is said to have an impressive heritage interior but has been disused since 2008 or thereabouts - the last I heard, there had been talk of converting it into a restaurant so we'll wait to see if anything comes of that.

- The Frighted Horse, Handsworth -
Also from the Soho Road comes this former M&B number, the Frighted Horse which used to occupy the corner with Stafford Road (just up from Handsworth Library). Bill posters were much in evidence in 2009, including one advertising a performance by David Essex, and the unit is now home to the JK Collection fashion store. Next door, Babber's Jewellers is still trading as far as I know. 

- The Woodman, Hockley -
Nearby in Hockley we come across another expired M&B establishment, namely the Woodman on Well Street. Rog and I actually went in this one, supping pints of Mild and chatting to the landlord about eBay auctions (as you do). I therefore remember it as a decent backstreet boozer although it has now been restyled into 'Sterling-K House' as the base of a wholesale jewellery company.

- The Station Inn, Horsehay -
To Telford next and a pub that always appealed to me because of its railway connections - Horsehay and Dawley Station is a short distance away having reopened in 1976 as part of the Telford Steam Railway preservation project. Sadly this November 2009 snapshot is the closest I ever came to sampling the Station Inn and it has latterly been converted into a private residence. 

- The Fitters Arms, Walsall -
A fitting finale perhaps (pardon the pun) is the Fitters Arms from Walsall, seen here boarded up awaiting demolition. It was located on Hatherton Street and its name refers to the process of fabricating and assembling mechanical parts, reflecting the type of industry that used to happen in the immediate vicinity. Pub names aren't what they used to be and neither is this corner of Walsall, transformed by the arrival of Jhoots Pharmacy and Walsall Housing Group (whg) office blocks. 

All of the above pictures were taken over the course of the same week and are a reminder of the types of pubs we've lost within relatively recent memory. As lockdown looks set to continue a while longer yet, I may get chance to unearth a few more archive gems but I'll close with the hope that our current pubs are able to survive the coronavirus crisis and be back to serve us when life returns to something approaching normality.

Sunday, April 5

Compton Park and Newbridge

The second of my socially distanced Wolverhampton strolls takes in a corner of the city that I hadn't really explored before (Compton Park) along with the more familiar features of Newbridge...

- The Westacres, Finchfield -
Like the vast majority of people across the country, I've been doing my bit in the battle against coronavirus by staying at home as much as possible. For the time being at least, we are still permitted to exercise outside so on Sunday 5th April 2020 I combine my daily allowance with a little bit of doorstep photography. I'm not taking anywhere near as many pictures as I normally would but having my camera with me is a release valve of sorts, and I start with a quick look at a Westacres pub completely devoid of activity.

- Compton vs Covid-19 -
Finchfield Hill leads me down onto Compton Road West where I soon pass the main entrance of Compton Hospice. These are obviously troubling times for any palliative care provider and banners here advise how the Compton Care charity is stepping up its fight against the Covid-19 outbreak; needless to say, I salute all NHS medics, support staff and community-based professionals who - along with many other key workers - are keeping the country going during the crisis. 

- Compton Park beckons -
Although I've wandered by on several occasions, I'd never previously had a proper look at Compton Park. The complex is home to the Wolverhampton Wanderers training ground (named in honour of former benefactor Sir Jack Hayward) although there aren't any Premier League players gracing the practice pitches at the moment. The Wolves Academy is based here too, providing youngsters with a footballing education through to under 18 and under 23 level.

- St Edmund's Catholic Academy -
Compton Park is also where we can find neighbouring schools of differing Christian demoninations. St Edmund's is a Catholic Academy situated on the site of a former University of Wolverhampton campus, whereas St Peter's is a Church of England Collegiate School that was founded in 1844. Gates at the far end prevent direct vehicular access from Newbridge Avenue but pedestrians can continue unhindered, meaning I'm clear to investigate one half of Newbridge Crescent by the Linden House function suite.

- A Halfway House Homage -
Time now for a Tettenhall Road taster as I pause to ponder the Halfway House, a landmark ex-boozer that has in latter years found a new guise as the Millstream Pharmacy (replacing pints with prescriptions you might say). Wolverhampton Girls High School and St Jude's Church are other prominent features as I begin to head homewards, while the Newbridge pub is a Stonehouse establishment that under normal circumstances would be specialising in carvery roast dinners and stone-baked pizzas.

- Wolverhampton Lawn Tennis & Squash Club -
The other half of Newbridge Crescent needs to be accounted for and there's a distinct air of exclusivity thanks to a posh Preparatory School. Next door is the very elegant Neville Lodge, headquarters of the Wolverhampton Lawn Tennis & Squash Club, and the sunny springtime skies have certainly helped to lift my spirits a little. My walk ultimately comes full circle back to Finchfield (via Linden Lea) and I'll have to see what else I can come up with by way of future doorstep discoveries. Until then, stay safe!