Tuesday, March 30

WME Flickr Focus - March 2021

Inching our way ever deeper into 2021, we're starting to see real progress in the fight against Covid although there are bound to be further bumps in the road towards normality. The West Midlands Exploration photostream has been burbling along as usual, maintaining a steady ripple of new material - let's see which pictures floated into contention during March...

This month's digest starts with a veritable deluge on WME Shropshire, not usually the most free-flowing of my galleries but it can't be accused of drying up this time around. Shifnal opened the floodgates initially, pouring through with shots of Church Street Garage, the Old Corn Mill and the White Hart's dartboard. Similar surges have likewise been evident from Shrewsbury thanks to Grope Lane, Milk Street, St Mary's Place and Charles Darwin's statue.

Also keeping the tap firmly turned on is WME Staffordshire where the Shropshire Union Canal near Brewood has been making something of a splash. Several bridges have gamely dived in, supplemented by arrivals from Rugeley (Power Station signage, the Rusty Barrel, a Bass lamp at the Vine Inn), Shelton (Queen Anne Street) and Burton (Shobnall Road near the Marston's Brewery). 

Exploration Extra and WME Walsall have been liberal with their respective watering cans, showering us with additions near and far. The near is represented by Rushall courtesy of the Manor Arms, the Farmers Boy and Radley Road, not forgetting a handful of locks on the Rushall Canal. The far sees Exploration Extra pooling pictures from Welshpool (the Raven, Brooks Cycles showroom), Weymouth (two more bus running day exhibits) and York City's former Bootham Crescent home ground. 

Elsewhere, WMEs Warwickshire and Dudley have managed to top up their tanks too. WME Warwickshire raids its reservoir of Rugby goodies to account for the Crafty Banker micropub, the Wheeltapper and a Stagecoach bus depot snap, whilst WME Dudley drops in on Sedgley for another look at the Sarah Hughes Brewery. All Saints Church, the Swan pub and Setton Drive similarly help to swell the Sedgley set. 

Things are altogether less gushing where WMEs Wolverhampton, Birmingham and Sandwell are concerned. Rayleigh Road and a Rakegate bus stop plop neatly into position on WME Wolverhampton whereas WME Birmingham squirts in some samples from Selly Oak, namely the new(ish) Sainsbury's store and a tree-themed peek at Selly Oak Park. Brum also leaks through two more Big Sleuth bears (with greetings from The Bear That Cares outside the Children's Hospital), leaving WME Sandwell to drench itself with Ryders Green Locks and some Desi Pub beermats from Smethwick. 

We finish with those galleries that have generated nothing more than a trickle of late, although any new pictures at all still count as progress of sorts. WME Telford supplies a solitary splosh (the Toby Carvery at Shawbirch), as does WME Solihull thanks to Malvern Park. That just leaves WME Worcestershire popping in the plughole with a Redditch trio involving St Stephen's Church and the Mayfly estate pub - and that's everything drained for this month.

Sunday, March 28

Tunnel Vision with Mr D9

Fresh from the Hub Marketing Board's opening 2021 adventure two weeks ago, the Chairman and the Secretary have arranged a quickfire socially-distanced sequel. As with our Ocker Hill Occurrence, canals will again be the centrepiece of the outing as we attempt a circuit of Bradley and Coseley...

- The Demise of Beatties -
Launchpad for Trip Log Friday 26th March is Wolverhampton City Centre where the Secretary sombrely surveys a very sad sight. Beatties is a retail name that echoes through Wulfrunian generations, an iconic department store with frontages along both Victoria Street and Darlington Street; the company was founded in 1877 and became a mainstay of the town, although in recent years House of Fraser were unable to arrest the decline. Having succumbed to closure, the building seems set for conversion into high end apartments. 

- Bradley Baldness -
Catching the Midland Metro to Loxdale, the Secretary is running ahead of schedule so a Moxley detour seems to work nicely (spotting the Kendrick Newsagents and Charnwood Close in the process). Bradley Lane is our official meeting point come midday and Mr D9 is soon parading his bald spot around the wider Bradley area. Slim Avenue gives us cause to admonish our waistlines before we ponder the Triangle Snooker Club, housed in the former Queen's cinema on the corner of Bank Street and Highfields Road - it stopped showing films in 1964 but these days seems to specialise in Indian BBQ cuisine. 

- The Bradley Canal Arm -
To waterways matters then whereby we join the Bradley Canal Arm at Pothouse Bridge and aim for Deepfields Junction. This line is the surviving segment of the Wednesbury Oak Loop which used to be a BCN through route but was curtailed to currently terminate at Bradley Workshop. The Chairman enjoys undertaking regular exercise around here so he's already familiar with the scenery, albeit nowadays there are only a couple of factories to represent the heavy industry that used to dominate the area. Much of the land is being reclaimed by the ongoing Bilston Urban Village project, a major brownfield housing development.

- Inside Coseley Tunnel -
Reaching Deepfields Junction as planned, we realise part of the Birmingham Main Line towpath is closed off due to safety issues. An Anchor Lane reshuffle takes us past the tip and Mr D9 even gets chance to lie down by Barnshaws Section Benders on Meadow Lane. In fairness, he needed to recharge his batteries in readiness for an intrepid hike through Coseley Tunnel (360 yards long, watch out for the occasional drip). The tunnel burrows its way below Ivyhouse Lane to resurface beyond School Street; the Secretary had explored it previously but for our illustrious Chairman this was a new and slightly nerve-wracking experience. 

- Even More Exercise! -
Clambering up some steep steps into the heart of Coseley, we pause for lunch and put our chart knowledge to the test by playing Popmaster (with spectacularly unsuccessful results). Silver Jubilee Park demands our attention because of its 'Healthy Hub' billing - part of Dudley Council's concept for encouraging outdoor recreational activity. Mr D9 is only too happy to boost his fitness by grappling with some gym equipment, demonstrating bald spot bench pressing and other energetic manoeuvres. Flanking the Birmingham New Road and Mason Street, the park opened in 1936 to celebrate King George V's 25 years on the throne. 

- St Chad's Dedication Stone -
The southern edge of Silver Jubilee Park is bordered by Oak Street which has a couple of surprises up its sleeve. Firstly we catch glimpse of a whitewashed windmill, said to date from around 1780. The mill is located next door to St Chad's Church, a place of worship that had somehow managed to avoid the Secretary's gaze despite his many Coseley visits over the years. The foundation stone here was laid on St Chad's feast day in March 1882 with full consecration bestowed the following year. Nearby, Chad Road presumably takes its name from the church/saint and connects with Park Road for photographs of the Bramford Shopping Parade (including a hardware store and the Golden City Chinese takeaway).

- A Weddell Wynd Wave -
Going full circle back towards Bradley, we bypass Woodsetton courtesy of Rosalind Avenue (it was school hometime so we wanted to dodge the throng) and then similarly flirt with the fringes of Wallbrook (Central Drive isn't much fun in a hailstorm). A momentary homage to Coseley Baths precedes a path through to Batmanshill Road so that the Chairman can stage a Weddell Wynd wander complete with Manhattan Transfer singalong - Chanson D'amour has never sounded worse! The earthworks among the Weddell Wynd open spaces are where the Wednesbury Oak Loop used to continue after Bradley Workshop, and with that we're back where we started. A proper Coseley caper - cheers!

Friday, March 19

Lost Pubs from the WME Archives: Part 20

The stockroom door is prised ajar once more as I plot another pub-themed raid on the West Midlands Exploration photographic archives. My monthly-ish series recalling bygone boozers has now reached its twentieth episode (with potentially more to come) so let's see what this post has unearthed...

- The Golden Eagle -
The most common new uses for former pub buildings tend to be either residential or retail in nature, with flat conversions or convenience stores particularly to the fore. The Golden Eagle in Whitmore Reans bucked that trend by becoming a mosque (albeit apparently without the required planning permission) when it switched purposes back in 2010. I'm not sure if the building is currently in active use but it still stands on the corner of Hordern Road and Court Road, complete with a distinctive 1928 date panel featuring an eagle emblem. 

- The Mountfort -
It's a rare pub indeed that enters Hub Marketing legend without the Chairman and I having ever set foot inside, yet the Mountfort in Kingshurst managed precisely that feat in early 2014. Having set his heart on sampling the place, Mr D9 was distressed to discover it had been demolished and all he could do was pose forlornly with a bottle of Domestos thinking of the bleach he'd missed out on. Very much an estate pub, the Mountfort stood on Over Green Drive close to the local shopping parade and Kingshurst Library. 

- The Swan Inn -
The Swan Village portion of Woodsetton used to have three establishments in close proximity - the Park Inn (Holden's flagship brewery tap, still going strong), the Summerhouse (bulldozed and replaced by a Co-op store) and the Swan Inn, which looked appealingly homely yet I never quite managed a pint-supping visit. After ceasing to trade, the premises was taken on as the offices for Edwards Technical, an electrical and mechanical contracting firm. 

- The Greyhound -
The Staffordshire version of Swindon (as opposed to the much larger Wiltshire counterpart) used to have three pubs to its name - the Green Man, the Old Bush and the Greyhound. The latter of those was a handsome Grade II-listed Georgian-styled property where High Street meets Wombourne Road, and was owned for many years by Banks's (Marston's). The main building has been adapted into apartments while several houses have sprung up on the car park and the previously extensive beer garden. 

- The Mitre -
The WME archives are littered with pubs I wish I'd sampled only for the golden chance to elude me but there are some for which the sense of regret is particularly keenly felt. A case in point is the Mitre Inn at Tettenhall which had an enviable setting overlooking leafy Lower Green. The black and white hints of Brewers Tudor here blended in nicely with the wider streetscape, an appearance that has been retained despite the dreaded turned-into-flats fate. 

Saturday, March 13

An Ocker Hill Occurrence

Hiatus is a word that has become all too familiar in Hub Marketing dispatches over the last year or so, with the latest lockdown meaning we haven't attempted any outings since before Christmas. Falling Covid infection rates and successful vaccination rollouts suggest there is light at the end of the tunnel, and the fact that we are now permitted some outdoor recreation prompted the first Hub meeting of 2021...

- The Bradley Arm at Loxdale -
Friday 12th March 2021 sees the action begin at Loxdale where the Secretary prepares for a D9 rendezvous by revisiting a stretch of the Bradley Canal Arm. Accessing the towpath at Pothouse Bridge near Latif's Cash & Carry, there are photo pickings to be snapped up from Loxdale Sidings although the Canal & River Trust's workshop at Bradley Lane is out of bounds. Mervyn Road offers reminders of some Lower Bradley local shops (including the Singh for your Supper fish bar) then all members are present and correct for the allotted 12 noon official start time.

- Moorcroft Wood -
Our illustrious Chairman is mainly in charge of today's agenda and prescribes an initial mooch around Moorcroft Wood, a Moxley-based nature reserve which was historically mined to supply the Moorcroft Ironworks. Managing to escape the worst of the mud, we admire a large pool and hurdle some fallen trees although most of Mr D9's excitement is focused upon a rust-damaged 1970s Gulf oilcan. Reaching the far corner of the woodland, we exit onto the Walsall Canal at Moorcroft Junction where we hope that one day the Bradley Locks Branch will be fully restored to navigable use. 

- Pointing out the Gospel Oak Branch -
Having covered the Walsall Canal towards Darlaston and Pleck in December, this time around we aim south-easterly in the direction of Ocker Hill and Great Bridge. Willingsworth Hall Bridge and Monway Bridge are both modern (1990s) structures that don't really evoke any Patent Shaft heritage but we do pause to point out the Gospel Oak Branch, stretching off between Charlotte Road and Weston Drive. After Leabrook Road we enter territory that used to be occupied by the Ocker Hill Power Station, a major electricity-generating facility that had three landmark cooling towers. 

- Tame Valley (Doe Bank) Junction -
The power station was operational from 1902 until March 1977, dominating the skyline and still fondly remembered by older local residents. Parts of the site remained disused well into the 1980s with the cooling towers finally demolished in 1985; the houses of Addenbrook Way and Narraway Grove are a far cry from how it all used to look. We leave the canal at Doe Bank Bridge right next to where the largest tower would have been located. Bayleys Lane takes us over a private moorings arm and out to Toll End Road, passing the Dew Drop Inn and the Western Power Distribution offices. 

- A Golds Hill Power Grab? -
Our Toll End interlude is only a fleeting one as we soon rejoin the Walsall Canal at the concrete lump that is Moors Mill Bridge. Returning to Doe Bank, we switch our focus to the Tame Valley Canal which proceeds in remorselessly straight fashion to Golds Hill and beyond (in fact the whole of this waterway is notable for its lack of characterful curves). Golds Hill Crossing itself is being upgraded as part of the Midland Metro extension project, which will utilise the mothballed South Staffordshire railway line from Wednesbury to Dudley before continuing to Brierley Hill. Mr D9 meanwhile spies a cheeky graffiti photo call as we say goodbye to the canal and prepare for some serious cross country ferreting... 

- The (Not So) Jolly Collier -
Indeed, the Chairman's sixth sense for industrial wastelands goes well and truly into overdrive when he instructs us to follow a mysterious gravel track below a series of pylons. With the Wednesbury Asphalt Plant on the horizon, the River Tame keeps us company as we encounter burnt-out cars and even a stricken motor submerged in a pool. Eventually emerging to the rear of the Midland Metro's tram depot, we scramble out to the Black Country New Road and get some bearings by the Monks & Crane works. Next up is Leabrook Road for heavy duty hints of Patent Shaft (two sizeable casting fragments presumably retained for ornamental purposes) and the sad sight of the Jolly Collier, gone for good?

- St Mark's Church -
Having homaged the power station earlier, we finish off back at Ocker Hill for a bite to eat and a glimpse of St Mark's Parish Church. Mr D9 laments the loss of the Crown & Cushion pub, a large roundabout-ruling roadhouse that was replaced by the Veronica Lodge nursing home; the little shop that used to be on the opposite corner of Gospel Oak Road is likewise acknowledged, and that's pretty much that. Not your usual Hub Marketing fare we must admit - no closets, no bald spots, no D9 drives and no pubs - but it'll tide us over until things inch closer to pre-Covid normality. Cheers!

Monday, March 1

Lockdown Log: PENN

Now that the Prime Minster has announced his roadmap for the lifting of Covid restrictions, I'm hoping that my 'Lockdown Log' series of posts can soon be dispensed with in favour of wider exploration. The proposals set out a gradual easing in stages from March through to June, after which we may return to something approaching normality (whatever that is!), but for now I'm sticking with the doorstep theme by scooping up another slice of suburbia...

- Beautiful Bantock -
I've taken several bites out of Wolverhampton's photographic platter during the lockdown period and this latest wedge is primed for consumption on Friday 26th February. Cloudless skies mean Bantock Park is looking delightful as early spring has almost sprung, even though the daffodils haven't quite reached full flower just yet. The residential estates of Bradmore have a similarly sunkissed appeal so I account for crocuses on Skidmore Avenue before investigating Walford Avenue, a quiet thoroughfare that is thankfully devoid of any EastEnders-style slanging matches!

- Penn Fields Shops -
Nipping across Jeffcock Road, I pick out some familiar Penn Fields targets in the form of the Acropolis Fish Bar (signage intact but the shop fittings have been totally stripped out) and the Bruford Arms (a backstreet boozer I've only ever been in once, a 'Pintathlon' call with Mr D9 in 2012). Burleigh Road meets Bamford Road at the Wolves Mini Market corner shop albeit the main local stores are arranged on the Lea Road/Birches Barn/Jeffcock Road roundabout; these include a pharmacy, Jimmy Trim's barbers, Net's Nosh cafe and Pennfields Plaice. 

- Westbourne Road -
After taking a repeat Poplar Road look at Wolverhampton's Carmelite Monastery (established in 1922), I cross the A449 Penn Road into Goldthorn Hill near the Anville Court Nursing Home. Goldthorn Avenue is a street I seldom get to see, purple bins out in force awaiting refuse collectors who are busily engaged on Birchwood Road for the moment. The Battle of Britain used to be the local pub here but is becoming an ever-distant memory, replaced by shard-like houses near Sandringham Road that are probably getting on for ten years old. Westbourne Road then conjures up a pleasant suburban scene stretching down towards the Mount Tavern.

- Wakeley Hill Stores -
I'm closing in on the heart of Penn now, weaving along Mount Road for glimpses of mulchy allotments or the local cricket pitch (barriered off until fixtures resume). Manor Road teases me with the Penn Bowling & Social Club where I don't think I've ever noticed the alleyway beside the main green before. This in turn emerges onto Swan Bank so I make a loop of it, adding in Butts Road and Wakeley Hill for good measure - the latter has a small shopping parade comprising Salon 27 hairdressers, a Daily Telegraph-branded newsagents and the Wakeley Hill Stores for general convenience provisions. 

- St Bartholomew's Church -
Brenton Road and Church Hill combine to assist me in my pursuit of St Bartholomew's, undeniably the definitive landmark in Penn's historic village centre. The present day church has elements dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries although it is said that the site was being used for worship prior to the Norman Conquest, and there are the remains of two ancient crosses in the churchyard. The church's associated primary school and nursery can be found on nearby Sedgley Road while the Old Stags Head is another notable feature. 

- Reedham Gardens -
Vicarage Road conveys me down past Penn Cemetery to the Hollybush junction from whence I can gently make my way home via Warstones. Just when I think I've covered every inch of west Wolverhampton, I stumble across uncharted territory in the form of Oakley Grove and Reedham Gardens which are connected together by a secretive footpath. I nearly lose my bearings amidst some rather offputting garages but safely exit onto Pinfold Lane; Warstones Drive and Finchfield Lane are the remaining obstacles and then another tour of lockdown duty can be satisfactorily signed off as complete - cheers!