Sunday, June 28

Lockdown Log: PERTON

I cannot emphasise enough how important my little local explorations have been in helping me cope with the lockdown situation. The chance to get out of the house and take a few pictures has done me the power of good by offering a sense of normality during uncertain times, and I've relished the challenge of trying to put a new photographic spin on familiar places. The latest example from my doorstep repertoire involved Perton on Friday 26th June...

- Wightwick Windmill -
I shan't detain you with too much Castlecroft detail and instead pick up the story by mentioning one of Wightwick's historic former windmills. Damage caused by a gas explosion had threatened the future of this Windmill Lane mainstay but I'm pleased to see the building has successfully been repaired, hopefully ensuring its landmark status for generations to come. Down the hill I go to Bridgnorth Road from where Torvale Road takes me towards Tettenhall Wood.

- Woodcote Road -
My camera has already collected Covid-era pictures of School Road and Tettenhall Wood Institute, so by way of something different I seek out Foley Avenue which leads to a Midland Heart care home. An alleyway then offers a route past Christ Church Junior School where its lovely to hear the sound of laughter emanating from the playground again. The sun comes out just in time to present Woodcote Road at its best, some of the gardens here look absolutely immaculate (their lawns being watered by recent thunderstorms presumably helps).

- Penk Rise Open Space -
I can't fully remember whether I've covered Cornwall Road before but it has a series of short offshoots where the houses are arranged into sort of quadrangles. Emerging onto Woodhouse Road, I'd earmarked the Massalla Club as a prime photo target only to discover the car park has been commandeered for utilities roadworks - the restaurant building was previously the Kingswood pub (ex-Ansell's). Not to worry, I can investigate Regina Crescent and Kinfare Drive as a protracted means of getting to Penk Rise play area, an area of open space that has partially been left to grow wild as a natural habitat.

- Rock of Remembrance -
Crossing into South Staffordshire, I speculate that the Dippons Lane footpath might be a remnant of Perton's airfield heritage (the RAF had operations here during both World Wars but the site was abandoned in between). A lasting tribute to the area's military past is provided in the form of a memorial boulder that stands where the airbase's main runway used to be. The stone has become a focal point for local acts of remembrance and has latterly been joined by some Thankyou NHS painted pebbles. 

- Socially Distanced Shopping -
I've now reached the Anders Square precinct at the heart of Perton where I'm reminded of the surreal effect Covid-19 is having on our lives. The queue of shoppers waiting to get into Sainsbury's involves people patiently observing 1 metre distances as store staff carefully monitor the amount they allow inside. Thankfully I'm sorted as regards grocery provisions so I can concentrate on the nearby lake where the geese probably wonder what all the fuss is about. 

- Wrottesley Arms -
Plans are afoot at the Wrottesley Arms now that the Government has given the green light for pubs to reopen from the 4th July. A one-way system might need to be implemented along with table service and potential use of apps to minimise direct contact; as much as I miss pubs, I don't think I'll be rushing out for a pint any time soon, preferring to see how things pan out for a bit first. I get the necessary pictures, add in a shot or two of the library and then head home via Richmond Drive, Long Lake Avenue and The Holloway. A great stroll in near sweltering sunshine!

Sunday, June 21

Lost Pubs from the WME Archives: Part 12

Those semi-forgotten recesses of the West Midlands Exploration archive are waiting again as we rummage once more through the filing cabinet drawer marked 'Bygone Boozers'. Here are another five perished pubs that wish to be remembered...

- The Red Lion -
To Telford first of all this month and a mention for the Red Lion at Little Dawley. Situated on Holly Road just up from the Unicorn (which at time of writing is still trading), this was a cottage-style establishment that would have been handy for the nearby pools. The building was demolished in 2018 and the site has since been transformed into the Gilbert Place supported housing scheme. 

- The Londonderry -
A sprawling Smethwick roadhouse that first opened in 1930, the Londonderry stood on the junction of Basons Lane and Queens Road. With a bowling green out the back, this would have been a noteworthy place in its Mitchells & Butlers heyday but sadly declined in later years, ultimately getting flattened to make way for housing. 

- The Waggon & Horses (as was) -
Next up we head across to Long Lane where the Waggon & Horses is seen being stripped out ready to meet its fate. A typical wedge-shaped Banks's number, this was not to be confused with Halesowen's other Waggon & Horses (the highly rated Black Country Ales place nearer the town centre). As seems to be a theme for this batch of lost pubs, houses now occupy the site. 

- The Bulls Head -
One pub that has thus far avoided the housing curse is the Bulls Head at Lye, which was at least still standing last time I checked - albeit disused for some time and latterly boarded up. Perched on the A4036 Pedmore Road it had both the Shovel and the Fox (Green Lane) for close company, and seems to mainly have been used for car parking since it shut. 

- The Manhattan -
With some high rise tower blocks for a backdrop, the Manhattan goes down in history as a Heath Town haunt that was originally called the Shoemaker. It also happens to be the only one of the quintet that I've actually been in, Mr D9 insisting on sampling the 'experience', for better or worse! I can well recall our pre-Christmas pints here in December 2016, gatecrashing a reggae disco and supping Carling, something we'll never be able to repeat now that the place has been pulled down. Until next time, cheers!

Sunday, June 14


The weeks seem to tick by more slowly during lockdown, or perhaps that's just how it feels with one day melding imperceptibly into the next. Sunday morning has however rolled around once more so I dust off my walking boots and step forth into South Staffordshire...

- NHS Rainbow at Smestow School -
Commencing in Castlecroft, I'm pleased to see that both of the educational establishments on Windmill Crescent are showing their appreciation for the NHS. The primary school has attached laminated hearts and leaves to its railings whereas Smestow Secondary has adorned a window with a colourful rainbow. These are just a couple of the many uplifting NHS tributes I've spotted locally over the past few months, one of the most positive aspects of life under lockdown. 

- A Bouncy Bee -
Passing Castlecroft Medical Practice, I notice the Windmill Centre youth base where a children's play area is out of commission due to Covid-19 - I still get a snap of a bouncing bee spring from an appropriate distance. A carved owl keeps watch over a couple of benches as I in turn eye up the bus terminus at the top of Castlecroft Avenue; given my long-term interest in all things public transport, it's strange to think I haven't caught a bus or train for almost exactly three months now. 

- Pool Hall Fisheries -
My travel pass will have to remain in hibernation a while longer as this trip continues on foot, making use of the bridleway down to Mops Farm Bridge. The canal here is overlooked by Pool Hall, a large residence that gives its name to the nearby fisheries (notable for their carp stocks or so I'm told). The fisheries driveway emerges onto Furnace Grange Road near Trescott although I bear left towards Seisdon rather than tackling the notorious ford on this occasion.

- Don't Frighten the Horses! -
The lane narrows slightly as I approach Furnace Grange Farm - in theory there is a public footpath through the farmyard that I could use but a bridle track across a cabbage field tempts me instead. I have to be careful when entering a horse paddock but the resident steeds seem docile enough and ignore me completely. Ebstree Road awaits after I've negotiated another two latch gates, then I reach the junction with Trysull Holloway for a quick glance at Old Smithy Farm and its stable block.

- The Hollybush -
A short distance away up a gentle incline is the Hollybush pub, last photographed by me in February 2017. Despite the offer of Nepalese cuisine, it appears that the intervening years haven't been too kind and the building now looks sadly overgrown with concrete barricades protecting the car park. This could of course be a temporary situation exacerbated by the pandemic so fingers crossed the current closure doesn't prove terminal. 

- Furnace Grange Road -
A few yards back along Ebstree Road from the Hollybush, I locate the southern end of Furnace Grange Road as flanked by a rusty white fence. After the initial unchartered stretch up to the farm, it's simple enough for me to retrace my earlier footsteps past Pool Hall and on into Castlecroft just as the sun belatedly puts in an appearance. It may have been an overcast outing but the combination of country lanes and brassica-strewn bridleways made for a relaxing walk, just what you want on a Sunday morning - cheers!

Saturday, June 6

Hub Marketing: Pick of the Pubs - Part Two

Like an EastEnders cliffhanger, I've kept you all in suspense while waiting to reveal which other prized pubs feature among Mr D9's all-time Hub Marketing favourites. The last we heard, the Weighbridge at Alvechurch had been consigned to 11th place so I will tease you no longer - here come the Top Ten...

- Cheylesmore Social Club -

Well I say that but the Chairman has only gone and nominated another 'Club Climber' so we must hold fire on the main chart business just a moment longer. In all fairness, the Cheylesmore Social Club definitely deserves a mention after welcoming us with Ansells Mild, horse racing and a bagatelle table back in October 2017. 

#10 >>> the top ten gets properly going with an Old Hill offering tucked away down an alleyway off Halesowen Road (the actual address is Mossvale Close, to the rear of Old Hill Primary School). The Riddins Tavern is almost the very definition of backstreet Banks's then, striking a chord with a dartboard held in position by yellow wedges and the Mild was good too!

- The Riddins Tavern -

#9 >>> anyone who studied the first half of our chart will have detected a predisposition towards estate establishments, so it won't be a shock to see a Brummie box boozer at number 9. The Balmoral at Kitwell had the Chairman in raptures when we dropped in for Doom Bar during our West Birmingham tour of November 2013. Mr D9 actually won our darts match here but hasn't been victorious too many times since.

#8 >>> the estate angle holds true for number 8 as well, albeit this pub is sadly no longer with us. The Bull Terrier on Surfeit Hill Road near Cradley Heath won us over with a distinct doggy theme whereby the extensive gallery of canine portraits unsurprisingly majored on Staffies as the favoured breed. We visited in June 2012 and a few years later it had been turned into a Family Shopper convenience store.

- The Samuel Hall -

#7 >>> if the last two choices were fairly predictable, you might be surprised to see a Wetherspoons landing in seventh position. To be honest, we don't often sample JDW outlets on Hub Marketing adventures so the Samuel Hall in Sherwood was an exception, enticing us due to its previous life as a bus garage. A highlight from our Hoodwinked day of Nottingham robin-spotting in August 2018, we celebrated the transport connection over a pint of Bus Stop Bitter. 

#6 >>> finding itself just outside of the top five is possibly Birmingham's oldest pub. The Old Crown in Digbeth claims to date back to circa 1368 although we didn't test its ancient credentials until February 2012 by which stage it was already a venerable 600+ years old (allegedly). A lunchtime call during the inaugural East Birmingham bash, we felt the full force of a 'Dirty Tackle' Six Nations-inspired beer.

- The Old Chapel -

#5 >>> things are getting interesting now as we enter the fantastic five with another 'old' item, this time from lovely Smethwick. The Old Chapel can be found right next door to the church that inspired its name, part of a pocket of Smethwick that feels unexpectedly village-like. A cottagey M&B number, we partook of Guinness here on the very first Hub trip (February 2011). 

#4 >>> Smethwick secures itself consecutive high placings as the London Works Tavern checks in at number four. One of Mr D9's original sleeve successes, this place stunned the Secretary during that selfsame first ever Hub excursion - something about the plum-toned traditional frontage made it an instant WME favourite. Sadly all of that is mere history now, the pub having been flattened to make way for the Midland Metropolitan superhospital. 

- The Blue Bell -

#3 >>> to the podium positions we go and a well-earned third is awarded to the Blue Bell near Hockley Heath. Its inclusion must mean that the Secretary has finally been forgiven for insisting upon the extended hike it took us to get here, whereby we arrived as two parched pilgrims in urgent need of restorative cider. A pint of something resembling liquid rust set us up well for the subsequent foray into Cheswick Green.

#2 >>> so close to the top spot but having to settle for second, our runner-up is the Old Bush Revived at Blackheath. A Black Country cracker, this Powke Lane freehouse was a shrine to Laurel & Hardy when we happened by in May 2011 - from what we recall, the Jennings Cocker Hoop was on fine form and the house pies were going down a storm with Stan and Ollie looking on approvingly.

- The Albion Vaults -

#1 >>> and now the moment you've surely all been longing for as our champion Hub Marketing haunt is crowned. After much deliberation, Mr D9 has awarded the title to... the Albion Vaults at Saltley! Perhaps it's a touch of the Christmas spirit that sees this M&B contender triumph - the festive streamers were certainly apparent in December 2012 - while the Chairman took great delight in recalling the heydays of the former gasworks and cokeworks which used to be nearby. That makes it very much a worthy winner in D9 eyes, so until next time - cheers!

Monday, June 1

Lockdown Log: ALDERSLEY

You know the drill by now: keeping things local but still squeezing out some pandemic-era photography whilst getting to know Wolverhampton a little better in the process. Whitsun Week saw me enjoying a break from work which I put to good use with another of my doorstep walks...

- Tettenhall Transport Heritage Centre -
The Smestow Valley/South Staffordshire Railway Walk has been a lynchpin of my lockdown explorations and it comes to the fore again as I follow the old line towards Aldersley. Along the way I pass Compton Halt and Tettenhall's former railway station, latterly used as the 'Cupcake Lane' tearooms. As is custom whenever I'm in the area, the GWR Goods Shed attracts a flurry of pictures with its painted lettering particularly prominent.

- Hordern Road Bridge -
Beyond Tettenhall, the disused railway passes the railings of St Michael's School and then the Hills Coaches depot before reaching Hordern Road Bridge, the metalwork of which is riveted in regimental patterns. The line then continues up to Aldersley Stadium where the leisure centre facility has been repurposed as Wolverhampton Council's central hub for emergency food parcel deliveries. Anybody wishing to enter the site is having their temperature checked by security, yet another reminder of the strange times we're currently living in.

- End of the Trail -
The Covid patrol team permit me to proceed with my transport heritage brief as the trail passes beneath an overgrown bridge near a basketball court. The path then gets ever narrower before ultimately terminating just short of an Oxley Sidings buffer stop - this is the spot where the Wombourne Branch historically joined the Wolverhampton to Shrewsbury main line. From here I can shimmy down the side of a viaduct to briefly join the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, pausing to account for Aldersley Junction on the outer fringes of the Birmingham Canal Navigations.

- Blakeley Green Allotments -
The second half of my stroll involves a residential rummage around Blakeley Green, Claregate and Aldersley, seeking out streets that had hitherto eluded me. The Pilot pub on Green Lane certainly has photo previous but I'd never knowingly investigated Macrome Road, setting for some industrial units (Fern Plastics, Rothley Hardware Components etc) and the incongruous entrance to Blakeley Green Allotments - I didn't know they existed! Pendeford Avenue is home to a sequence of shops including a Co-op store, Roma Wines and a Compton Care charity outlet.

- Claregate Primary School -
After gazing wistfully at Hail to the Ale - one of my nominations in Britain Beermat's recent poll to name the Midlands best micropub - I dart along Blackburn Avenue in order to find Claregate Primary School, tucked away at the end of the Chester Avenue cul-de-sac. A snap or two of the eerily quiet school gates precedes a Derby Avenue/Crossland Crescent combination for a real slice of suburbia. 

- King Edward VIII Postbox -
Emerging from Lynton Avenue onto Aldersley Road, I'm keen to track down a somewhat unheralded Wolverhampton curiosity. The LifeStyle Express store on the corner with Burland Avenue isn't in itself especially interesting, but it does have outside a rare Edward VIII pillar box - said to be one of only 161 erected during the Duke of Windsor's brief reign prior to his 1936 abdication. With that duly documented, I rejoin the railway walk at Tettenhall and head homewards - cheers!