Friday, May 29

WME Flickr Focus - May 2020

Greetings once more as I report in during week ten and a bit of lockdown. Although the restrictions are gradually starting to ease, the country is continuing to prepare itself for whatever the 'new normal' will look like on the other side of the pandemic. Amidst all the uncertainty, the West Midlands Exploration photostream keeps plodding away with its monthly round of updates...
  • Hot off the blocks in May was WME Walsall which favoured a lock-by-lock investigation of the Walsall Canal up towards Birchills Junction. Numbers 2, 3, 4, 6 and 7 all made the grade this time around and are joined by a picture of the Pretty Bricks, a backstreet boozer seen prior to Black Country Ales ownership .
  • Matching Walsall in terms of new additions was Exploration Extra which grappled gamely with a couple of Hinckley buses before pocketing some Nottingham nuggets (the City Ground football stadium and Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem). We can also sprinkle in a Monty moment courtesy of Belan Locks near Welshpool and a pinch of Yorkshire, namely Northallerton's station sign.
  • Next up we have that tried and tested combination of Sandwell and Dudley. WME Dudley contributed a Black Country Living Museum pitwheel and a mournful look at the Struggling Man pub site, built over with housing opposite Buffery Park. WME Sandwell meanwhile dropped in on the ruins of Sandwell Priory before accounting once more for the Ivy Bush pub at West Smethwick.
  • By its usual standards WME Wolverhampton had a low-key few weeks but still found time to acknowledge Warstones Library, the Rocket Pools pub and Bushbury Hill Primary School. Perhaps the most intriguing arrival though is Hills Bridge, a fragment of the former Bentley Canal that now stands in splendid isolation among the grounds of Tata's steel factory.
  • May's stragglers are WME Worcestershire (a Shrub Hill platform view and Bromsgrove Rugby Club), WME Birmingham (Ward End Park) and WME Coventry (the Festival at Fenside). With a final shout out to Cannock Park on WME Staffordshire, I'll bid you farewell and get working on some stuff to bring you in June - cheers!

Sunday, May 24

Lockdown Log: WERGS

The gradual easing of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions means I can become more ambitious with my local walks, even if going anywhere on public transport is still out of the question for the time being. My most recent example of extended exercise put Wergs and Tettenhall to the socially-distanced test...

- Horticultural Hut -
Although this ongoing period of reduced horizons is undoubtedly frustrating, I can't deny I've enjoyed getting to see new aspects of familiar doorstep locations. Friday 22nd May 2020 is a case in point, commencing in Compton with a clamber up The Holloway before Ormes Lane has me bearing down on the Nuffield Hospital and Tettenhall College. Nursery Walk then presents some expertly-tended allotments complete with the Nissen hut-style base of the Tettenhall & District Horticultural Society (founded in 1915 to celebrate the cultivation of flowers, fruit and vegetables).

- Regis Road -
Limes Road appeals with traditional terraces and an MOT garage while Grange Road takes its name from The Grange, a former farmstead that became a desirable C19th townhouse. General street scene photography keeps me briefly occupied on Regis Road until Mancroft Road claims my attention with a corner shop. Further allotments await on Redhouse Road then the nearby Kings C of E School is missing some letters off its frontage sign - a job for the caretaker perhaps?

- Yew Tree Lane -
With a Wrekin Lane wiggle I emerge onto Yew Tree Lane and the edges of Wolverhampton suburbia, albeit I am only a few fields worth of separation from the sprawling Perton estate in South Staffordshire. Sticking within the West Midlands on this occasion, I proceed on past Westcroft Road to join the main A41 Wergs Road where there are signs for a local garden centre I remember visiting as a kid. There isn't much traffic about so I can see what's become of Wergs Garage, once a Kia dealership but now used partly as a solicitors office and partly as a funeral home.

- The Crown -
Another long-term Wergs landmark has to be the Crown pub as situated at the junction with Wergs Hall Road - Mr D9 has particularly painful memories of the beer prices here having been stung for an expensive round a few years ago! A revisit may be in order when the government gives the go ahead for hospitality venues to reopen, although I might have to be the one buying the drinks next time. Keepers Lane tries to tempt me towards Codsall with the promise of the Wergs Golf Club en route but I steadfastly keep to the main road, lured on by an intriguing piece of Wolverhampton history...

- A Fowler Feature -
'Woodthorne' was a large Victorian country house built by the politician and statesman Henry Hartley Fowler (1st Viscount Wolverhampton) who was the borough's Liberal MP between 1880 and 1908. The site subsequently became used for government offices (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, later DEFRA) before more recently being redeveloped for residential use by David Wilson Homes. As a tribute to the location's heritage, a Henry Hartley Fowler motif now stands next to the driveway entrance.

- Thank you from the Dog & Gun -
From Woodthorne I weave my way through a couple of cul-de-sacs to reach Wrottesley Road and thence Tettenhall Green. The Dog & Gun is closed during the Coronavirus pandemic but nonetheless declares its gratitude to the NHS, a sentiment I'm very happy to echo. After a quick glance at Tettenhall Library, I descend Old Hill and The Rock with Henwood Road finally ensuring the walk comes full circle back to Compton. As ever, it was nice to get a few miles - and pictures - under my belt so I'll keep chipping away as best I can. Until next time, stay safe!

Sunday, May 17

Lost Pubs from the WME Archives: Part 11

The creaking door to the WME vaults has been prised open again as we blow the dust off some more bygone boozers you may or may not remember...

- The Kings Arms -
We'll begin this eleventh edition with another helping from Harborne. This series has already accounted for the demise of the Scarlet Pimpernel and now we pay homage to the Kings Arms, an Outer Circle landmark that oversaw the bottleneck junction where Harborne High Street meets Harborne Park Road. For a while this place was also known as the Huntsman but it suffered fire damage in 2013 and was subsequently demolished.

- The Lord Raglan -
From the wilds of Wolverhampton (or rather the fringes of the city's Ring Road) I bring you the Lord Raglan, a box boozer that sat on the corner of Raglan Street and Great Brickkiln Street. This establishment used to be well-known on the local music scene but has since been swept away to be replaced by a Sainsbury's supermarket and petrol garage.

- The Cavalcade -
One of two pubs serving the Lodge Farm estate near Willenhall, the Cavalcade could be found at the Sandbeds Road end of Stroud Avenue. If I remember rightly, this picture was taken in the summer of 2007 and the building got flattened sometime in 2010, the site then remaining empty for several years and becoming a target for fly tipping. The other Lodge Farm local - the Homestead - was still going strong pre-lockdown.

- Thomas Telford -
Keeping with the estate examples a while longer, we check in next with the Thomas Telford at Leegomery which was already facing the final curtain at the time of this October 2007 snapshot. A former Greenall's establishment, it was pulled down as part of a project to redevelop the adjacent neighbourhood shopping centre.

- The Royal Exchange -
Last but not least, we journey to Loxdale near Bilston and a basic backstreet number that would have been handy for the nearby tram stop. The Royal Exchange could be found on Chapel Street (just up from the Mission Hall Apostolic Church) and was all set to be a Hub Marketing haunt but for the fact it ceased trading prior to us paying our intended visit. Until next time... cheers!

Wednesday, May 13

Hub Marketing: Pick of the Pubs - Part One

Having cast a critical eye over Hub Marketing history when considering his Top Ten Trips last month, Chairman D9 has since been tasked with pondering the best and worst pubs from those we've frequented over the past nine and a bit years. He has contemplatively compiled two Top 20 charts for our delectation so I'll start today by revealing what made positions 20 to 11 in the Best Pubs category...

- Charlemont Bowling Club -

Before we commence the main countdown, let's pause to consider a club climber. D9 and I do like to visit the occasional social club should a suitable opportunity arise, and during June 2015 we were delighted to sample the Charlemont Bowling Club on the Charlemont Farm estate near West Bromwich. It was a case of Dark Mild in the Function Room as the Chairman considered himself transported back in time to the 1980s. 

#20 >>> the chart proper begins with another throwback kind of place, the Charles Napier in Palfrey. We weren't even sure it was still trading so August 2019 saw us dropping lucky for a pint of Brew XI amidst the Milton Street terraces. The public bar here was decked out with an array of football scarves (British and continental) although a Walsall FC allegiance was definitely apparent.

- The Timbertree -

#19 >>> straight in at number 19 is the Timbertree near Cradley Heath. A typical estate boozer, it was located on Valley Road close to the local shops and was for many years a regular haunt of the Chairman's Uncle Les. We included it as part of our June 2012 Cradley Circuit, experiencing some John Smith's bleach in the spartan front bar. Sadly the pub has since been demolished to make way for housing.

#18 >>> another pub to have subsequently fallen on hard times is the Happy Wanderer on the Stowlawn estate, which nonetheless registers at number 18. Two trips spring to mind here, a Yew Tree and Bilston circuit in March 2012 followed by CSI West Bromwich in May 2016, both occasions being a no-nonsense experience. It was fun playing darts and making the acquaintance of the resident mannequin (Mr D9 could do with her blonde wig to cover up his bald spot), while a display of Wolverhampton Wanderers ticket stubs was very much to the Secretary's liking. 

#17 >>> next up is an Edwardian establishment that harks back to the heyday of Coventry's automotive industry. The Humber Hotel is a handsome Arts & Crafts landmark that for many years had car factories for close company. We've called by a couple of times without ever quite managing to get in a game of bagatelle, the Humber being one of the very few pubs that retained a table as part of the Coventry Bagatelle League (is that still going?)

- The Old Sticky Wicket -

#16 >>> just from the choices thus far you'll have gathered that D9 has a certain fondness for the most memorable 'ordinary' pubs. That's not to say we don't appreciate the absolute classic real ale establishments (we still love the Beacon Hotel and the Bull & Bladder for example), but the hallmark of Hub Marketing days out is getting around those flat-roofed specials the Chairman so enthuses about. And let's face it, roofs don't come much flatter than that at the Old Sticky Wicket in Matchborough, scene of some darts exploits during last year's Redditch Good Friday extravaganza. 

#15 - also firmly ensconced in the Chairman's affections is the Wonder at Tividale, which for a while was one of his local pubs when he lived around Regent Road. One of our earliest Hub haunts, it featured during the March 2011 Oldbury outing when we admired the traditional hand-painted signage and supped quality Marston's Pedigree. The Wonder also made an impression in January 2013 when we scrambled up the side of Netherton Tunnel (the north portal of which is directly to the rear of the pub) in search of pepperpot ventilation shafts. 

- The North Star -

#14 >>> there had to be some Birmingham stuff somewhere on the listing and sure enough we now declare the North Star at Stechford as number 14. The Secretary remembers taking pictures of this when it was the Star Members Club and never thought he'd be brave enough to one day set foot inside. Fast forward a few years and that unexpected moment came to pass as part of our Outer Circle endeavours in March 2017 - I was pleasantly surprised to discover a welcoming interior and a decent drop of M&B Mild.

#13 >>> sticking with Birmingham we switch our attention to Sparkhill where the Bear has been a long-time bastion of the Stratford Road. This proved a highly appropriate target during the September 2017 Big Sleuth trail which had seen us spotting bear sculptures at NEC Resorts World and in Solihull. The Carling in here could have come with a 99 flake such was the ice cream-like peak of froth atop our respective glasses. 

- The Bear -

#12 >>> three Brummie boozers in a row it seems as the much-lamented Eagle & Tun parks itself at number 12. Mr D9 adored the musical heritage here (UB40 more so than Ed Sheeran admittedly) and the terracotta trappings were also impressive so it's a real shame that the place is set to become a casualty of the HS2 project. March 2016 gave us an initial taste of what is due to be flattened, but it was in January 2020 that we made a special journey to say goodbye just a few hours before it closed for good. Here's the bald spot paying its own little tribute...

- An Eagle & Tun Bald Spot -

#11 >>> so which unlucky contender finds itself perched just outside the higher echelons of the chart? Missing the top ten by a whisker is the Weighbridge at Alvechurch, a canalside cracker that we savoured both in September 2013 (the South Birmingham Rovers day) and February 2015 (when a certain Nick Esq was also in attendance en route to the Redditch Beer Festival). The rest of the rundown will be revealed in due course...

Wednesday, May 6

Lockdown Log: LOWER PENN

Picking up again on my penchant for socially distanced Sunday morning strolls, here's a little circuit I completed on 3rd May 2020 that saw me taking a few photos around Lower Penn...

- A feminine face -
A steady start sees me joining the Smestow Valley Railway Walk down through Castlecroft, beyond which this footpath following the course of a disused branch line becomes known as the South Staffordshire Railway Walk. I've commented on the street art at Market Lane Bridge before but the current designs are especially eye-catching, featuring exotic ladies on one side and a cast of canines on the other.

- Penn Halt -
Penn Halt platform was only operational for seven years or so (1925 to 1932) and never generated much patronage, probably on account of having to rely on nearby small settlements for any passenger uptake. The location of the halt is marked by a plank sign and a couple of picnic tables although I can't see much in terms of platform footing remains. An earthen slope leads up to Greyhound Lane where I bear left for Lower Penn, Dimmingsdale being the alternative had I decided to turn right instead. 

- Greyhound Lane -
Hedgerows guide me into the centre of Lower Penn, marked by the Greyhound pub with the Victory Hall next door - both venues are currently closed in accordance with coronavirus guidelines. The Greyhound therefore keeps silent watch over the crossroads where Market Lane, Dene Road and Springhill Lane all intersect, and there's a traditional fingerpost sign pointing variously towards Claverley, Wombourne, Wightwick or Sedgley. 

- St Anne's Church -
Springhill Lane reveals more of Lower Penn's gentle character - a few barns, a hint of an old forge cottage and then St Anne's Church (originally founded in July 1888). Sunday services here would ordinarily include family worship at 11:45am with St Anne's operating as the sister church to St Bartholomew's in Upper Penn. Just up the road is what effectively amounts to the village green, a landscaped bench area at the junction with Dirtyfoot Lane. 

- View from Dirtyfoot Lane -
Something about the name 'Dirtyfoot Lane' has me all intrigued so I simply must investigate. My feet admittedly remain remarkably clean as I wander down past farms to join a public footpath over the fields, the trail in places being marked out between electric fences. I emerge onto Drive Fields but carry straight over along another path, this one flanking a little brook around the back of Highfields School. Strathfield Walk confirms I've returned to Wolverhampton territory amidst the Merry Hill estates and from there it's but a short stroll home. A useful bit of exercise that!

- A message of hope -
I'll leave the final word on this occasion to an optimistic outlook from the Greyhound pub... "Better days are ahead" - I certainly hope so!