Sunday, February 28

WME Flickr Focus - February 2021

Back in the early days of the WME blog I seemed to be reporting on photographic milestones with unbridled regularity - 50 pictures here, 200 pictures there, Fotopic-hosted moments that feel like ancient history now. I've been less concerned about calculator-crunching since moving over to Flickr because everything just goes on one single photostream, but February 2021 did see me hit the heady heights of 5,000 published images so I couldn't let that pass without celebration. Here are the recent additions that enabled me to reach such a notable number...

First off, a shout-out to WME Walsall for some sterling efforts over the last few weeks. Palfrey and Pelsall can both claim some bragging rights, the former thanks to Dale Street, the local primary school and a Royal Oak lamp, the latter with reference to the Railway pub and Victoria Road. Mossley reminded us that the Eagle pub has been closed for more years than I care to remember whilst Moxley dropped in on All Saints Parish Church.

Another collection with a lot to say for itself has been WME Wolverhampton, telling tales of Northwood Park snowfall and Mander Centre murals. Lothians Road, New Hampton Road West and Bamford Road (Penn Fields) supply our staple diet of street signs - some tiled, some plain - whereas the purplish Marston's branding at the Merry Boys also gets an airing. I should likewise mention a couple of Lobos Wolves depictions of Portuguese playmaker Joao Moutinho, I've enjoyed spotting their paste-ups around town since Nuno become the manager at Molineux.

Elsewhere, Exploration Extra has embraced the soapbox stage, excitedly regaling us with news from Seacombe (especially concerning a ferry terminal penguin character), Southport (the pier, a golf kiosk and the Victoria leisure centre) and Poppleton (Chantry Green and a community centre). Throw in a Powis Castle courtyard scene plus a Marshall Street memento from Sherwood and there's certainly plenty to discuss!

Not to be kept quiet, image-related murmurings have been detectable from the unusual pairing of WME Birmingham and WME Telford. Brum boasts of arrivals representing St John's Church Perry Barr, the Boars Head and the Newman Brothers Coffin Works; a lament for the passing of Poolway Shopping Centre at Kents Moat near Garretts Green merits inclusion too. Telford meanwhile provides some Oakengates oratory (Slaney Street and the Coalport Tavern) before proclaiming the attendance of Priorslee Pharmacy. 

Avoiding any accusations of silence are those remaining collections which might have been less vocal of late but still muster up some useful announcements. WME Sandwell declares the procurement of Parkway boulders over in Wednesbury; WME Dudley discloses some Wheelie Thirsty beermat activity for Lye, plus a pointer towards Mushroom Green; WME Staffordshire divulges more canine graffiti from Lower Penn; and finally, good old WME Worcestershire gets all excited about community art on the Matchborough estate in Redditch. That's all I need to communicate this time around, and I'll get started on submitting my next 5,000 pictures!

Tuesday, February 23

Lost Pubs from the WME Archives: Part 19

With every month of lockdown that ticks by, I wonder how many more pubs might be lost forever, their financial plight made ever more perilous by the ongoing pandemic. Public health concerns are rightly paramount of course and further closures must sadly be inevitable, although these five establishments had already met their fate long before Covid became a factor...

- The Borough Arms -
February's haul begins in Bilston where the Borough Arms once stood proudly on Bunkers Hill Lane; I remember passing the pub several times as a kid when Dad and I made our way to nearby Queen Street to watch Bilston Town FC in non league footie action - come on you Steelmen! This sizeable roadhouse with separate Lounge Bar and Games Bar was bulldozed circa 2009 and the site has remained wasteland ever since. 

- The Stamford Arms -
Staying with Wolverhampton, we can pop over to Penn Fields for a peek at the Stamford Arms which was very much a backstreet Banks's number among the terraces off Lea Road. I recall nervously photographing this during one of my early library lunchtime walks, intrigued by hints of period tiles and well-worn doorsteps. The building still exists but has been turned into flats with the distinctive corner entrance now bricked up. 

- The Red Lion -
Next up is this Stourbridge offering that could be found close to the town's concrete collar of a ring road. The Red Lion occupied the fork where Green Street meets Lion Street (on the way to Rog's house) and was a relatively unassuming Banks's example. I think we played pool here the once, no doubt with Metallica or similar on the jukebox, although it now goes down as another pub given over to residential conversion.

- Hare & Hounds -
Rog trip pedigree was also the case for the Hare & Hounds on Stowheath Lane (near Bilston), a flat-roofed boozer that was handy if visiting East Park. Mr SBI and I called by in June 2005 when my tipple of choice used to be Strongbow - I hadn't been fully converted to the charms of cask ale by that stage. The pub closed down a couple of years later and was subsequently cleared to make way for houses plus the Larkspur Close cul-de-sac. 

- The Anchor -
February's finale hails from the outskirts of Lichfield where the Anchor has ceased trading as Streethay's local watering hole. The A5127 Burton Road was the location for this one when I photographed it back in April 2010, making it one of my Rail Rover discoveries following a stroll out from Lichfield Trent Valley station. After a few years of decay the building has been refurbished to provide flats and a retail business premises. 

Thursday, February 18

Spotlight on Smethwick - Ten Years On

February 18th 2011: a date that has become enshrined in Hub Marketing history, being the momentous day when Mr D9 and I staged our first ever outing. The Smethwick session we attempted back then became an instant classic, effectively setting the template for all of the mayhem that would follow. Now ten years later, we had intended to mark the anniversary by recreating that inaugural adventure only for a certain pandemic to intervene. A Smethwick special is still on the cards for sometime in 2021 but in the interim let's revisit the original blogpost from the trip that started it all...


Sometimes it’s great to go really local and build up an intimate portrait of a locality by spending a few hours there delving deeper into its character. Friday 18th February was one such occasion as Mr Lunn and I placed the focus firmly on Smethwick with a tour of its public houses... 

I was due to meet Andy at West Bromwich around about 10:30ish, giving me scope beforehand for some solo exploration. My initial destination was therefore Dartmouth Street, tempted by the prospect of some tram shots and the chance to track down local pubs such as the Vine and the Railway. 

A random wiggle through the estates eventually leads me to Albion Road and an inviting new addition to my burgeoning canal collection. Pudding Green Junction is where the Wednesbury Old branch meets the New Main Line and is marked by a rather desolate turnover footbridge akin to the example at Deepfields. It’s fairly bleak and industrial to be honest with Izon and Albion Bridges also adding their tuppennyworths.

- Pudding Green Junction -

A wander up Oak Road garners glances at the Yew Tree pub and Oak House Museum, the latter a beguiling timber-framed former yeoman’s residence. Construction of an altogether more contemporary vintage is taking place on the Lyng where a considerable regeneration project is bringing about the rebirth of the former estate. The current scene sees impressive buildings like the new health centre situated alongside building sites, earthworks and piles of rubble - the very definition of a work in progress. 

To West Bromwich Central and its time to meet Mr Lunn himself. Soon he emerges from the bus station and the outing proper can get underway. First on our hitlist is The Hawthorns, slightly unnerving with it being so close to the Black Country derby. Making a sharp exit we track down an old corner market store before surveying the hideous blue exterior of the crumbling Waggon and Horses pub, a Halford Lane landmark that is quickly becoming a gaudy eyesore.

- The Waggon & Horses, Halfords Lane -

Lewisham Road next, bringing back a few memories for Andy, specifically of one drunken Christmas at the New Navigation when he apparently got taken home by a pick-up truck. This is another pub in a sorry state but it still seems appropriate for Andy to pose there, just for old time’s sake… Industrial decay awaits us on Cornwall Road in the form of a half-demolished factory then Andy gets remarkably excited when I introduce him to the old gents beneath Booth Street – definitely ‘one for the blog’. [In fact, this discovery has a lot to answer for as Mr D9 has been obsessed with finding disused public toilets on Hub Marketing trips ever since]

- Bladder call at Booth Street -

A loop around Black Patch features a brief detour into Winson Green and then a tour of the park itself, which sadly seemed littered and neglected. At least the Soho Foundry is still an impressive sight, especially the gatehouse arch with its ornate lettering and Avery logos. 

Directly opposite of course is the Soho Foundry Tavern, and having worked up a thirst it’s time to head inside. The front bar area retains pleasing elements of tradition with a wooden counter and a dimpled copper bar-top surface. Beerwise it has to be M&B Mild, an appropriate choice in the brewery’s old heartlands, and the pint provides a welcome distraction from the perils of the daytime TV tripe showing on the big TV. [The Soho Foundry Tavern thereby cemented its place in Hub Marketing legend as our very first pub in a total that now exceeds 1,100 establishments...]

One pub down but plenty more await. Rabone Lane beckons for a steady walk into Smethwick, admiring more industrial sights including graffiti for £29 beds. A number of former pubs entice us along Rolfe Street, including the Staffordshire Knot and the Crown & Anchor. 

True to form, Andy’s sensitive bladder has sprung into life and we suddenly need to find the next pub rather urgently. The Falcon was a curious place where our Guinness came in cans and we had to wait for staffing reinforcements and the float to arrive before we could pay for them – how bizarre? In the meantime a dog sporting a large surgical collar provided the entertainment and we also spotted some murals depicting lakeside scenes that looked more like Coniston than Cape Hill! [The Falcon became our earliest candidate for the D9 Dives phenomenon, a series which has had plenty of subsequent ammunition!! The pub was on its last legs so we did well to sample it before it disappeared forever]

- Cheers in the Moilliet -

Next up is the Moilliet Arms, albeit only after a Mission Impossible style quest to get into the building – did they want anyone to know that they were actually open? Having gained access we then felt like we’d entered the kind of Monty Python-esque sketch last seen in the Angel in Bewdley; working our way along the bar we were told that virtually everything was unavailable apart from the lager and some Bass Bitter. Despite these somewhat alarming first impressions I still ended up liking the place, won over by further hints of tradition and the fact I'd satisfied another of those little curiosities. 

Andy throws me a curveball for our next port of call as we visit a pub that hadn’t previously registered on the Paul pub radar. Lurking in a sidestreet just behind the Moilliet is the London Works Tavern, a cracking find with a purplish corner frontage. On our way in we get chatting to a seasoned regular who bemoans the changing face of Smethwick and it’s pubs; he’s a veritable mine of local information even if he does resemble Roger fast-forwarded 20 years. A quick John Smith’s in the side lounge does us nicely, and it’s sad to hear that the pub is being threatened by a proposed superhospital development that might take up lots of the surrounding land too. [Even in 2021 - over 120+ trips later(!) - the London Works Tavern still rates as one of the Chairman's finest sleeve successes]

- The London Works Tavern -

Four pubs and counting, it’s time to concentrate on Cape Hill. Andy again plays tour guide to point out the site of the old Windmill Precinct (now just an empty patch with a few scattered railings) and the Red Lion, but his expert commentary is cut short when the bladder kicks in again and finding the next pub becomes a matter of critical importance. 

That next pub is The Robin, historically known as the Robinson Crusoe, and a place that was a pleasant surprise with some more Smethwick characters creating a lively and friendly atmosphere. We get served by a chap in an Albion shirt and I’m back on the M&B Mild. Some chaps are having a chat whilst others quietly read the paper or do a crossword, so it’s a pub I could even consider visiting on my own. 

With Andy no longer doing contortional bladder gymnastics it’s safe to continue into the centre of Cape Hill in search of food. There didn’t seem to be any menus in the Seven Stars or the Sampson Lloyd although we did at least stop in the latter for a quick half of Worthington’s. Andy says this place used to be a Wetherspoon’s and it does have that kind of feel – it’s certainly popular here, although I’m not sure having Countdown on the big screen is part of the attraction. 

- Secretary in the Shireland -

Greggs finally sorts the bellies out and then it’s down Shireland Road for a further swift half. The Shireland is another impressive M&B building that helped the brewery mark out their territory in years gone by. Internally it wasn’t my favourite of the day, although the bar still had a traditional appearance with some nice stained glass friezes Whisky, Rum etc. The visit is also memorable for seeing Noel Edmonds presenting Deal or No Deal in a hideous Rocky Horror style costume, yuk! 

Heading towards the evening and we’ve hardly been on the bus yet. Famous last words those as we seek out the 87 and Andy fires up the old D9 – luckily for me we’re only going a couple of stops, just long enough to get a couple of bruises from the dodgy steering. The Old Chapel was one of my favourite Smethwick discoveries of 2010 and I was particularly keen to see if its external charm would be mirrored inside – I’m delighted to say it does. The lounge was healthily busy with friendly locals creating a relaxed ambience, and we enjoyed a refreshing pint of Guinness each sitting in the window watching various 89s going past, none of which were remotely running on time! [The Chairman's unreliable bus timetables are arguably one of the few things which have remained a constant between 2011 and 2021...]

- The D9 does Smethwick High Street for the first time since 1968 -

It was a shame to tear ourselves away but needs must so on we went. Waiting for an 89 would have been a thankless task so we turned to the reliability of the 87, which soon appeared after a little trek down to the Red Cow. Taking residence on the back seat, Andy was able to let the D9 fully loose at last with the slog down to Oldbury providing the cue for a bit of videoing and several tortuous gear changes! 

Oldbury was our final destination as I was eager to sample the Jolly Collier, an entrant in the 2011 Good Beer Guide. Situated on Junction Street, the pub looks inviting all lit up in the dark. Heading inside it’s a really nice local with a choice of real ales from which I select Dorothy Goodbody’s Country Ale, and very nice it was too. An excellent setting for our final pint and then sadly it’s time to say our farewells. It had been an absolutely cracking outing sampling good honest local pubs and investigating some of Sandwell’s industrial heritage. I relished the chance to explore Smethwick in more detail and I will definitely have more affection for the area as a result. 


A decade later, it's worth reflecting on how things might have changed. Andy probably has even less hair and we're both slightly bulkier than we used to be. Smethwick is due to become home to the Midland Metropolitan University Hospital even though construction has been beset by delays; the creation of the superhospital resulted in the loss of the London Works Tavern while the Moilliet Arms (flats) and the Falcon (demolished) have also passed into pub history - it of course remains to be seen how many of the others will survive the pandemic. The Hub Marketing Board have compiled 128 trips as things stand but the Smethwick original will always be that extra little bit special - here's hoping that there are many more adventures ahead over the next ten years and beyond...

Saturday, February 13

The Trysull Trek 2021

It's one of those quirks of my exploration history that Trysull usually seems to crop up as a February destination, with both 2017 and 2019 having seen me staging wintertime visits to that particular corner of South Staffordshire. Whether by fluke or design, 2021 has contrived to maintain that pattern thanks to this example of lockdown exercise...

- A Railway Walk Starter -
Friday 12th February is the designated date and the walk will inevitably have an air of familiarity, although it should still be interesting to see what might have changed since I last set foot in the Trysull area. Starting out on the South Staffordshire Railway Walk from Castlecroft, I aim towards Penn Halt and note that any footpath mud is frozen solid - at least my boots won't get caked in dirt today! The odd icy patch aside, these are good walking conditions and the weather is bitter but sunny. 

- Ebstree Lock -
Greyhound Lane is my prompt to leave the former railway line as I briefly overlap on January's Dimmingsdale wander. I can confirm that the local garden centre has reopened as Dimmingsdale Bridge brings me once more onto the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal; this time around I bear south, homing in on Ebstree Lock complete with its gushing overflow weir. I tentatively tiptoe over a narrow footplate in order to get snaps of the wooden lock sign and balance beam ends.

- Awbridge Farm -
The next location on from Ebstree is my old friend Awbridge where I've taken countless photos since first visiting in March 2005. 2021's archive additions here focus on Lock 26 and the adjacent cottage before I take Union Lane past Awbridge Farm - I'm spared the cow welcoming committee on this occasion and snaffle a cheeky shot of the farm's milk churn entrance marker. A stile-based shortcut over some pasture in turn connects me to Bell Road for Trysull village. 

- The Plough has perished! -
Sadly the Bell - pub centrepiece of Trysull trips past - is unable to offer any liquid refreshment due to the lockdown situation but I do hope it won't be too long until I can sample Holden's hospitality again. The Bell should reopen in time but the situation is altogether more terminal for the Plough on School Road; Tatton Hall Homes have converted the property for residential use and are now in the process of constructing further houses on the surrounding land. 

- Wombourne Wildlife? -
With a nod to All Saints Church and the quaint thatched cottage on the corner of The Holloway, I retrace my steps to Awbridge and intend to continue through to Orton. Flash Lane however is impassable below the railway bridge - it is liable to flood here anyway but the ice makes things particularly precarious - so I rejoin the Railway Walk for my approach into Wombourne, noting that the cafe in the former station building is doing a decent takeaway-only trade during lockdown. Ounsdale Road Bridge then presents some bird-related artistry, depicting a kingfisher if I'm not mistaken.

- Dale Medical Practice -
Wombourne Leisure Centre is bookended by educational establishments (Westfield Primary to one side, Wombourne High to the other) as I top up my pub pictures care of the Mount Pleasant. An entry for the bygone boozers file awaits on Planks Lane, the Dale having been turned into a medical practice several years ago; the pharmacy next door is part of a parade of stores that also includes Gordon Beddow's fishing tackle shop. With that my trek has terminated and I get my lift home as planned, so presumably Trysull will be in line for a revisit come February 2023???

Friday, February 5

WME Flickr Focus - January 2021

After 2020 proved a bumper twelve months for the WME photostream (largely because the pandemic meant I had more spare time at home to use constructively), my challenge now is to maintain reasonable progress throughout 2021. January has therefore got the year off to a gluttonous start with an array of tasty new arrivals...

The main item on the menu this time around is Exploration Extra which has really piled on the pictures of late. Northampton has found itself particularly well fed thanks to dishes such as Drum Lane, the Double Top Club and the Old Bank, whilst Nottingham has tucked into Park Row and the old Shipstone's Brewery site. Oxford meanwhile made room for All Souls College combined with the Old Bookbinders pub in Jericho, leaving peckish Poppleton free to polish off some level crossing content from the edges of York. 

Another collection gorging on the feast has to be WME Birmingham, eagerly devouring courses comprising Kings Norton (Thomas the Tank Engine and Wharf Road), Kingstanding (Lambeth Road plus the local Leisure Centre) and lovely Ladywood (Great Tindal Street). A 'Big Hoot' owl swoops into position as Bob the Bat takes up his prime perch at Gas Street Basin whereas Stan's Cafe at Handsworth is definitely one for the greasy spoon aficionado. 

Not to be outdone, WME Staffordshire displays a ravenous appetite when guzzling down several helpings of Hanley - these include the Tontine, the Woodman, Dyke Street and Cauldon Park. Elsewhere, St Leonard's School in Stafford serves up some springtime blossoms before Lichfield delivers dessert courtesy of the Guildhall and Market Street, not forgetting a few sprigs of marjoram as garnered from Erasmus Darwin's herb garden!

We now move onto those more restrained collections that have opted for smaller pictorial portions. WME Wolverhampton is usually quite hungry but only accounts for two street signs (Jeffcock Road, King Street) and some Heath Town Irn Bru branding this month; WME Dudley chomps on a Hawne Tavern lamp near Halesowen washed down with a Hurst Hill bus stop, then that fussiest of eaters WME Solihull shocks us all by munching some choice cuts from Hampton in Arden (the High Street sign, a wild flower garden and a library inscription). 

Finally, nibbling on the remaining scraps are WME Sandwell (the Vine pub and Roebuck Street near Kenrick Park), WME Telford (a Hare & Hounds shot from the vicinity of Oakengates), WME Worcestershire (Bromsgrove's Ladybird pub bringing back memories of railway hikes with Roger) and WME Warwickshire (pretty Leamington crocuses). All that remains is for us to pay the bill and the kitchen will now get to work rustling up some February fodder - cheers!