Blog Surfer

Thursday, 20 April 2017

#219 Leigh Arms, Little Leigh, Cheshire : 2000 to 2016

The Leigh Arms is probably the only pub that we've visited from different waterways on each occasion.

Our first visit there was on the evening of Sunday 3rd September 2000 on our return from a long trip to Manchester.
By the time we'd moored up it was almost 8pm and, with it being a Sunday, we were expecting it to be a close run thing as to whether we'd be able to get any food. As it turned out, the food had just closed for the night when we arrived, but the chef was willing to prepare us a Chilli Con Carne as there was still some left - so, what could have been a disaster turned into a very pleasant evening!

On that occasion we'd been travelling along the Trent & Mersey Canal heading south, back towards the Midlands.

Our most recent visit was on the evening of Sunday 14th August 2016 and this time we were travelling along the River Weaver having moored at Acton Bridge.
Although we were earlier in the evening this time (about 7pm) the food service had stopped at 6pm, which seems to be quite common these days on a Sunday. So, we had a pint, discovered that the Riverside Inn was a short walk away and, with it being a Marston's pub, was serving food until 9pm. We decamped and spent the rest of the evening in the Riverside Inn.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

In the Footsteps of Phyllis...(Part 1)

This entry doesn't exactly fall within the usual remit of this blog, but it's near enough for me. I first discovered the photos by Phyllis Nicklin a few years ago, initially, via the BrumPic website and was immediately fascinated by these pictures of a Birmingham in the 50's and 60's from a time before I came to the city. 

A brief biography of Phyllis Nicklin can be found here on the BrumPic website.

The initial photos had been digitised and stored at Birmingham University, but a couple of years ago Dave Oram of BrumPic discovered another set of photos at the university leading to the exhibition 'Nicklin Unseen'.

I had thought about seeking out some of the locations and taking contemporary photos, but decided that it was far too big an undertaking. I did however use a picture of The Great Stone pub in Northfield for this blog entry - #158.

However, that's as far as it went until I recently became aware that The Grid Project had decided to take on the job and invite participation from Birmingham's photographers. I jumped at the chance and I've now submitted my first six pictures.

Dave Allen (no relation) is curating the project and has limited everyone to six pictures initially so that everyone gets a fair crack of the whip. My six included five canal locations...and The Great Stone!

So, I set off for deepest, darkest Northfield to take a picture of The Great Stone - this is the scene that greeted me.
One of the banes of my photographic life - the big white van! I've lost count of the number of times that a delivery van or lorry has spoiled a potentially great photo. It also wasn't the best time of day for the light and so I decided to return another day (the next day as it turned out!).
© Peter Allen (2017) for The Birmingham Photographic Grid Project 2017
Amazingly, roadworks had appeared overnight, but at least the white vans were much less conspicuous. 
Phyllis Nicklin (1953) © The University of Birmingham
This was Phyllis' photo - not too much has changed in 64 years.

As I returned to my car someone asked me if I knew where The Great Stone was. "The pub is just over the road" I replied, but he was actually looking for The Great Stone. It is to be found in the village pound behind the gate to the right of the pub. His reaction was one of underwhelmment; it isn't a massive boulder and he was concerned that his brother and wife would not be impressed when they visit from Leicestershire. I made sympathetic noises and departed.

My next location was way over the other side of town in the shadow of Spaghetti Junction. This was the one picture that I had really wanted to attempt.
Phyllis Nicklin (1968) © The University of Birmingham
The title of this one is Hockley Brook, Salford, Birmingham and I couldn't immediately place it. The map location given was also incorrect, so I was intrigued to track down the actual location. I realised that it was on the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal just before it meets the Tame Valley Canal and the Grand Union Canal at Salford Junction. We've sailed over this aqueduct many times, but I had never seen it from this perspective.
© Peter Allen (2017) for The Birmingham Photographic Grid Project 2017
This is how it looks now - almost everything around the waterways has changed, but the canal, River Tame (flowing from right to left under the canal) and Hockley Brook (running parallel to the canal) follow the same course.

My next location was only a few yards away on the Tame Valley Canal. I knew exactly where this one was because we'd traversed this section of canal last June.
Phyllis Nicklin (1968) © The University of Birmingham
© Peter Allen (2017) for The Birmingham Photographic Grid Project 2017
All that remains is the canal and the toll island, everything else has been consumed by Spaghetti Junction. I was quite surprised to see a boat approaching, as the Tame Valley Canal isn't one of the busiest waterways (although it is well worth a visit!). The people on the boat had just bought it from Walsall and were taking it to Market Harborough - perfect boating weather!

Onwards! My next destination was Farmer's Bridge. This time I knew exactly where I was going.
Phyllis Nicklin (1953) © The University of Birmingham
© Peter Allen (2017) for The Birmingham Photographic Grid Project 2017
This is the start of the descent of the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal through the thirteen Farmer's Bridge Locks. Back in 1953 the canal arm to the right extended much further than it does today; now it is known as Cambrian Wharf which is overlooked by the Flapper pub (unseen to the right).

As I was strolling by the locks after taking this picture I met a chap who'd known the pub as Noah's Ark back when he was a student in the 80's and he was marvelling at how it had all changed since those days.

This is one of my favourite views of the canals in Birmingham and here's one of my Photo Digital Art pictures that I took last summer.
© Photo Digital Art 2017
 My final destination was Gas Street Basin. At first glance, I thought that I'd been given the same two pictures, but on closer inspection, the photos were taken seven years apart, from the same location.
Phyllis Nicklin (1961) © The University of Birmingham

© Peter Allen (2017) for The Birmingham Photographic Grid Project 2017
Phyllis Nicklin (1968) © The University of Birmingham

© Peter Allen (2017) for The Birmingham Photographic Grid Project 2017
It is interesting to note the subtle differences between 1961 and 1968 and the not-so-subtle changes since. I do remember the days before the footbridge was built and back to a time when just about the only access to the canals in Birmingham was at Gas Street Basin.

I had a long chat with a couple of Canal & River Trust fund raisers who were valiantly (but in vain, whilst I was there) trying to sign up new 'Friends' of the CRT. One is a fellow boater and her boat is moored at Calf Heath on the Staffs & Worcs Canal and the other is an archaeology student at Birmingham University (perhaps she might get involved in the project).

So, there you have it, my experiences on my first Birmingham Grid Project outing. These photos won't be uploaded to the project website for a few days, but once it gets into full swing you'll be able to see just how much Birmingham has changed since Phyllis Nicklin took to the streets with her camera. I can't wait to see the other photos (and get out to do some more myself!).

Monday, 3 April 2017

# 218 The Plaza, Rugeley, Staffordshire : 1999 to 2016

Rugeley has always been something of an enigma, to put it politely. The Trent & Mersey Canal runs through the centre of the town and with good moorings offers access to all the shopping you'd need on a boating trip. There are quite a few pubs in the town, but there aren't many GOOD pubs! Places to eat in the evening are also few and far between.

I do remember the first time we visited The Plaza in Rugeley, though. In the early days I wasn't a fan of Wetherspoons pubs, but I was 'blown away' with the interior of The Plaza when I first walked in. The whole wall, where the screen would have been was now glass, from floor to ceiling.
 This was at lunchtime on Tuesday 31st August 1999.

We didn't return to The Plaza for a few years and when we did this is what we found.
 This was another lunchtime stop on Tuesday 5th September 2006. As we all know, Wetherspoons pubs never change...or do they? The free standing sign has been replaced, together with the signs either side of the entrance and flowers have appeared on the canopy over the entrance as well as in hanging baskets.

It was again quite a few years before we ventured back to The Plaza.
This was on the evening of Monday 6th April 2015. Again, the exterior signage had been replaced and the hanging baskets were still in place, but it was a little too early in the years for them to bloom. Interestingly, the Council have removed the railings which has allowed the pub to build a little outdoor enclave, presumably for the smokers.

Our most recent visit occurred almost exactly a year later on the evening of Monday 28th March 2016.
 Not much had changed in a year, but there are now tables and chairs in the smoking enclaves (it is now possible to see that these outdoor areas are both sides of the entrance.

For the second year running, we ate in The Plaza as it was the best option we could find in the town. I must admit that, over the years, I've warmed up more to Wetherspoons pubs. I think that they've become somewhat more 'pubby' than in the early days and the bar service is now pretty good. I don't think that they'll ever become my 'go to' choice except in places like Ellesmere Port, Bingley and Rugeley!

Monday, 27 March 2017

#217 Red Lion, Market Drayton, Shropshire : 2000 to 2016

Although the town centre is quite a stroll from the Shropshire Union Canal, Market Drayton is one of my favourite places to stop as it still boasts a good number of largely unspoilt pubs.

It took us a good few years to actually discover the Red Lion our first visit being on the evening of Tuesday 5th September 2000 on our way back home following our first canal visit to Manchester.
I seem to recall that it was a pleasant, fairly basic pub, worthy of future visits.

Our next stop was on the evening of Monday 29th August 2005 on our way back from a trip to Chester.
The outside had undergone a complete transformation and inside, I seem to remember that it had also been refurbished, but that it now wasn't as cosy as before (but it was a quiet Monday night which never helps with atmosphere!).

We were back again a couple of years later on the evening of Monday 27th August 2007, this time on the way to Llangollen.
No discernible changes in the intervening 2 years.

It was a good few years before we sought out the Red Lion again...and what a transformation!
This was at lunchtime on Monday 8th August 2016 and in the intervening 9 years it had become the brewery tap for the revived Joules Brewery. Inside has also been extended at the back and completely transformed in traditional style. Despite it being lunchtime, I 'forced' myself to have a couple (or three) pints of the local ales...and very nice they were too!

For more details about the Red Lion and Joules follow this link.

In an era when pubs continue to close and disappear from our landscape it it good to be able to report on the revival of a traditional English beer and their commitment to having their own pubs.

I also couldn't resist giving the Red Lion the Photo Digital Art treatment!
© Photo Digital Art 2016

Monday, 20 March 2017

#216 Stanley Arms, Anderton, Cheshire : 1991 to 2016

The stretch of the Trent & Mersey Canal to the north of Middlewich is a section of the waterways that we only rarely traverse. My first ever encounter with the Stanley Arms was in 1981 when we had a brief stop to have a look at the, then defunct, Anderton Boat Lift. We were only stopped for half an hour and I don't recall whether we went in the pub or not.

The next time I was passing was on the journey to move Emma Jane from Wigan to the Southern Grand Union Canal.
This was a lunchtime stop on Tuesday 23rd July 1991. Back in those days it was a Greenall's pub that did good food.

Although we were up that way again in 2000, we didn't stop at the pub until the lunchtime of Friday 1st September 2006, prior to taking Emma Jane on her first trip (and ours) down on the Anderton Boat Lift.
Unfortunately, this view doesn't really show off any changes to the pub. It was no longer a Greenall's pub, but it still did good food!

Our most recent visit was at lunchtime on Monday 15th August 2016 and the changes from 1991 are much more apparent  from this view.
The basic layout of the pub is unchanged, apart from the porch added to the front entrance. Windows have been replaced, one chimney has been reduced in height and a 'smokers hut' has been built in the garden. Inside it was still welcoming and serving good food.

This visit also coincided with trips up and down on the Anderton Boat Lift (first time for the new boat Peggy Ellen) and we popped into the pub whilst waiting for our slot to return from the River Weaver.
Anderton Boat Lift

Monday, 13 March 2017

#215 The Junction, Norbury, Staffordshire : 2002 to 2016

The Shropshire Union is one of my favourite canals, but it does have one serious drawback; there are many long stretches without any pubs! This has been exacerbated in recent years, so a trip along this canal takes some 'serious planning' to avoid dry lunchtimes or evenings.

Norbury Junction is where the now defunct Shrewsbury Canal joined the main line of what is now the Shropshire Union. It is an attractive location with boat hire, all boating facilities and a pub - The Junction.

Having given it the big build up, I was surprised that our first ever visit to The Junction was at lunchtime on Tuesday 19th September 2002 - just the 22 years since my first narrowboat excursion!
The Junction has all the services that we require - food and drink - but it isn't ever going to make my list of favourite pubs. It is set up to sell lots of good, basic pub food, but has never felt like a cosy local.

Our next visit was on the evening of Thursday 4th September 2007.

At first glance the pub looks to be unchanged, but the wooden gazebo has gone and flower trays have appeared on the balcony railing. Despite it being a midweek evening, the pub was pretty full as evidenced by the full car park.

Our most recent stop off at The Junction was on the evening of Sunday 7th August 2016. (Picture taken next morning.)
Again, it looks to be mostly unchanged, but exterior woodwork has appeared with the low fence bordering the outdoor seating and a sort of gazebo for the smokers (I assume). The railings (and flowers) have gone from the roof over the extension. Inside, the pub has hardly changed. We had a good meal and a few pints, so we were happy!

Thursday, 2 March 2017

#214 The Bull's Head, Bishopsgate Street, Birmingham : 1950's to 2017

Breaking one of my own rules we start off with a picture not taken by me and in all probability it was taken before I was born...just!
The photo was taken in the 1950's by Birmingham City Council Public Works Dept and can be found here along with a few other Birmingham pubs then and now.

It is a classic James & Lister Lea pub that in all my years in Birmingham had been known as the City Tavern. Also interesting to note that it was an Ansell's pub back in the 50's.

This is another picture not taken by me - I've purloined it from the Images of England website - it was taken on Saturday 21st August 1999 by Mr Peter Garratt. This was a year after it had been Grade II listed, but was looking in a pretty sorry state. During this closure it was rumoured that the interior fixtures, including the classic bar had been stolen.

Just four years later and I finally make a visit to The City Tavern as part of a canal trip on the evening of Wednesday 27th August 2003. Inside, it was just as I'd hoped, a proper old school Birmingham pub with the bar either replaced with a look-a-like or it maybe hadn't been stolen after all. (I'm sure someone will know the truth of the matter.) From the outside, all of the upstairs windows had been replaced, but the downstairs look like the originals are still in place. Attractive lanterns had also been added. In the intervening four years, the sites either side of the pub had been fully redeveloped.

 I frequently go past the pub for various networking meetings and took this picture on the morning of Tuesday 12th August 2014.
In the passing years the signage has changed with the name Davenports appearing and the downstairs windows having been replaced.

Moving on to the present day and momentous changes have occurred.
I took this photo on the afternoon of Friday 24th February 2017. The name had reverted back to The Bull's Head and it is now, officially, a Davenports pub. Interestingly, the downstairs windows have been changed again and there's a hanging sign on the corner. A full description of the refurbishment and resurrection of the Davenports brewery can be found here on their website.

In the interests of completeness, I actually went inside the pub and had a half of the Davenports Imperial IPA!
I would have sampled the Original Bitter, but it had run out. They also had some Dares beers on offer (details here), but of more interest, to at least one of my friends, is the resurrection of Highgate Old Ale and Dark Mild. The manager explained that Davenports had bought the rights to these beers and were making them to the original recipe.

For those of us who like lager, there was a fine selection with the taps on the back wall of the bar in the tiled area visible in the photo.

The interior of the pub is just as it was all those years ago when I'd last visited and hopefully it will have a great future as a proper pub.

It wouldn't surprise me if the newly revamped Bull's Head found it's way into the Good Beer Guide within the next few years.

© Photo Digital Art 2017
Well, I couldn't resist!