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Wednesday, 30 May 2012

#070 The Rainbow, Digbeth : 1998 to 2011

How fitting that The Rainbow is the thirty-third and FINAL installment in my 'Birmingham Eastside' series. Back in 1998 when I started this project I expected there to be some closures, but I thought it was going to be because of great new developments in the area, not just as part of the general demise of the British pub.

The Rainbow is a survivor, though. In 1998 I'd never been inside, but it looked like a typical street corner pub.

As we move on to 2011, I was surprised to find that The Rainbow had survived and is thriving. However, it's success is mostly down to it now being a prominent Digbeth music venue as well as being a pub. This success hasn't been easy; there has been a constant battle in recent years with the 'johnny-come-lately' residents who have moved into the newly built flats nearby and don't like the noise!
The outside has been completely redecorated, but the original sign remains on the first floor on the corner. And, as I write, now in 2012, I've still not been inside The Rainbow! For the Jubilee weekend it will host several music events.

Now that I've come to the end of the Birmingham Eastside pubs it's time to reflect on the changes that have occurred in this area.

Of the 33 pubs I originally photographed in 1998, one has re-opened (The Old Crown), but twelve are now closed, two of which have been demolished. One has been converted into a Shisha Lounge (Carpenters Arms), one (Billy's Bar) is now a backpackers hostel and many have turned to music as a means of staying alive.

There are only a handful which I would say are still just pubs/boozers - The Fountain (#054), The White Swan (#061), The Anchor (#025), The Spotted Dog (#042), Sir Charles Napier (#044), Town Crier (#062), Forge Tavern (#012), Big Bull's Head (#038), Cleary's (#036) and The Old Crown (#016). You can still get a drink in all of the rest, but they are all multi-use venues now.

The Digbeth area is a microcosm of the general trend in pub decline/rebirth that is currently going on across the country. I follow The Pub Curmudgeon's excellent blog and he has, quite rightly, highlighted two of the main factors in recent pub decline - the smoking ban and the cheap booze available from supermarkets. These have definitely hastened the demise of many establishments, but I wonder if these are just the symptoms of a greater trend - namely that the pub as I grew up with just isn't fit for purpose any more.

I'm no historian (Pete Brown is; and his blog is always interesting), but from what I've gleaned over the years, the pub as we know it really came into being in Victorian times when there was a vast 'explosion' of new (then unlicensed) drinking establishments. These greatly outnumbered the old inns and taverns that had existed for many years previously. Even after licensing became compulsory and opening times were imposed (during World War 1) these pubs thrived.

These pubs were successful mainly because there was no real competition. Cheap booze at home was not widely available and they offered an escape from the 'drudgery' of the home - a place to meet friends (and make new ones) and generally get away from the stresses of life albeit temporarily. And it was also a place men went to get away from the wife and kids!

Now, in the 21st Century, virtually all of the factors that made pubs such a success have disappeared. I believe that the pub is in terminal decline and cannot compete with the attractions of the modern world. Many have closed and more will follow, but a lot are adapting. In Digbeth, music appears to be the salvation of many pubs, in the countryside the gastropub seems to be taking over. 

I am hopeful that the 'essence' of the British Pub will survive, but we should all recognise that the 'Golden Age of the Pub' has passed and embrace the new era - however difficult that is for us 'old codgers'.  

Friday, 25 May 2012

#069 Clifford Arms, Great Haywood, Staffs : 1991 to 2011

Our first visit to the Clifford Arms in Great Haywood was on our 1991 canal trip taking our boat Emma Jane 'down south' after she'd spent a few years moored near to Wigan.
This was taken on Saturday 27th July 1991. At the time it was a welcome find, a nice pub that did good food. We probably did a bit of a pub crawl around the village once we'd eaten!

Our next visit wasn't until Sunday 24th August 2003 during a trip that had taken us to Leicester. Looking at our boating log tells me that we actually stopped at Little Haywood, but I have a feeling that there was no food available there on a Sunday so we took the short stroll to Great Haywood.
Surprisingly, the Clifford Arms was almost completely unchanged in the intervening 12 years.

Next visit was on the evening of Tuesday 6th June 2006 on one of our frequent trips taking in the Midlands north of Birmingham.
This time, the 'Bass' sign has gone, but apart from that it was unchanged.

The next time we were passing Great Haywood was on Tuesday 1st June 2010 on a repeat of the 2006 trip.
From this angle you can see that, in addition to the removal of the 'Bass' sign, the 'Clifford Arms' sign has been replaced with a smaller version.

Our most recent visit was last year on Monday 29th August 2011 on our way up to the Caldon Canal.
This was our first ever lunchtime visit to the Clifford Arms and, although it was a Bank Holiday, the service and food quality was as good as ever. No apparent changes in the year since our last visit. The Clifford Arms now has its own website.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

#068 Horan's Tavern/Floodgate Tavern, Digbeth : 1998 to 2011 (RIP)

Horan's Tavern, as it was called in 1998, was a new discovery for me as I was touring around Digbeth.
A typical street corner, back-street boozer is how it appeared in 1998 and I've never set foot inside.

Moving forward to 2011 and it has changed it's name to the Floodgate Tavern and was very much closed.
Obviously it had been completely redecorated on the outside in the intervening years, but seemingly to no avail. They have even painted over the Little Ann Street sign and the Floodgate Street sign has disappeared.

I was passing by recently (sadly without my camera!) and it looked as though it had been reopened and then closed again since I took this photo. I wouldn't expect anyone to be able to make a go of this pub, mainly because of it's location. It is well off the beaten track (even for Digbeth) and I think it must have relied on daytime/early evening trade from factory workers nearby to have a pint and a fag (probably!).

This is the thirty-second in my 'Birmingham Eastside' series.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

#067 Fosters Yard Hotel, Polesworth, Warks : 1998 to 2011

Polesworth is a large village on the Coventry Canal in North Warwickshire. Until 1998 it was a place we'd rarely stopped at on our canal trips. The first time we visited the Fosters Yard was on the evening of Monday 22nd June 1998.
To me it is very reminiscent, from the outside, of a typical Australian pub with the verandah, but there the similarity ends. Inside it was a fairly basic village local, but with an Indian Restaurant round the back as part of the hotel. This is the main reason for most of our subsequent visits as it was the only viable place in Polesworth to eat later on in the evening.

Our next visit was on the evening of Wednesday 31st May 2000
This photo is from the other side of the pub. Over the years we have stopped in Polesworth several times and have usually ended the evening in Fosters Yard, chiefly to eat in the Indian restaurant.

Monday 30th August 2004 on our way back from Oxford.

Saturday 20th August 2005, on our way to Chester having picked up Emma Jane from a boatyard in Nuneaton.

Sunday 27th May 2007 - finally a photo in daylight!

Wednesday 1st June 2011 and an extremely rare lunchtime visit to Fosters Yard! We ended up here because the other pubs in the village weren't serving food at lunchtime. 

Over the years, Fosters Yard has hardly changed at all apart from some minor signage alterations. This may be in some part because it is a Grade II listed building, which is about the only useful information that I gleaned from their website.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

#066 The Mercat, Digbeth : 1998 to 2011

I'm pretty sure I've never been in The Mercat or The Mercat Cross as it was known when I was a student in the late 70's. It has always been (in my experience) a rather unattractive building, but maybe there was an older pub there before the Wholesale Markets were rebuilt in the early 70's.

I'm not sure when it dropped the 'Cross' from its name, but by 1998 it was just The Mercat.

When I came back in 2011 I wasn't sure if it was even open, but I still took the photo.
Obviously it is no longer an Ansell's pub, but beyond it's 'oirishification' I can't add much more about it! (Better class of car driving by, though!)

However, as was reported on the Digbeth is Good blog, it is now open for business again as The New Mercat Bar & Grill. I wish them well in the currently difficult climate for pubs.

This is the thirty-first in my 'Birmingham Eastside' series.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

#065 The Plum Pudding, Armitage, Staffs : 2000 to 2011

Considering how many times we've travelled along this stretch of the Trent & Mersey Canal it is quite surprising how few times we've been into The Plum Pudding at Armitage. Actually, we've only been inside once and that was on the evening of Monday 28th August 2000.
This was a Bank Holiday Monday and we were in the early stages of our trip to Manchester, which is quite a feat to achieve in two weeks (there and back) from south of Birmingham. To keep on schedule, we needed to be well beyond Fradley Junction, but we didn't want to spend a night in Rugeley because previous visits there had been less than wonderful.

From the outside, The Plum Pudding always looks inviting and inside it didn't disappoint. In those days it was a country pub that did good food. So, we went in, ordered a pint and perused the menu. We chose our food, had another pint and waited.  As I recall, the meal came quite quickly and was very good...and we had another pint.

Then we decided to stretch our legs and sample the delights of the Spode Cottage pub which was just across the road. As we were halfway down the path we heard a voice behind us saying, "Er, haven't you fogotten something lads?"

Yes, we'd done a runner and not even realised it! The manager was very understanding and we paid up rather embarrasedly and went on our way. How could experienced drinkers like us make such a textbook error? Quite easily as it turned out! They didn't take for the food when we ordered it, but we did pay for more beer and just assumed that we'd paid! ...And we've never been back, but as we were cruising by last year I took this shot, for old times sake.
This photo was taken on Monday 29th August 2011 as I was steering Emma Jane on the way to Stoke and the Caldon Canal. As you can see it has been completely re done on the outside and it is now a fully fledged gastropub - you only need to take a quick look at their website to see that. The one saving grace is that it's no longer an Ansell's pub anymore!!