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Wednesday, 28 June 2017

#225 The Cheshire Cheese, Middlewich, Cheshire : 1999 to 2016

Although we'd visited Middlewich on previous occasions, our first visit to The Cheshire Cheese was at lunchtime on Sunday 5th September 1999.
Finding The Cheshire Cheese was pure serendipity! Having left Wheelock heading north on the Trent & Mersey Canal our boat, Emma Jane, broke down above Lock 67, just short of Middlewich. It was a Sunday, but a phone call to the Middlewich Narrowboats office was answered and a mechanic came straight out to us. He got us going quite quickly, but asked us to pull into the boatyard once we got to Middlewich to give it a final check over.

Everything was OK and, as I recall, our saviour mechanic refused any payment, so we insisted on buying him a pint, at least, for his efforts. That ended up being two or three pints and a great session in The Cheshire Cheese which is just round the back of the boatyard.

We were next in The Cheshire Cheese on the evening of Thursday 25th August 2005 on a trip that would take us to Chester.
The pub had undergone a complete external transformation with new signage and a low wall to separate the pub patrons from the footpath.

We were back again on the evening of Thursday 31st August 2006.
At first glance it looks to be little changed in a year, but the 'Beer Garden at Rear' sign has been moved, the main hanging sign was now present nad a new sign had also appeared.

Our most recent visit was on the evening of Friday 12th August 2016.
Although we'd moored by the Big Lock, we purposely sought out The Cheshire Cheese to see how it had changed over the passing 10 years. Externally it had undergone another complete makeover, but inside it felt a little tired and not quite as welcoming as on previous visits. However, it was good to see that it had survived and is still thriving as a proper boozer.

Monday, 19 June 2017

#224 Bridge Inn, Brewood, Staffordshire : 1987 to 2016

No article on the village of Brewood should start without the obligatory, "How do you pronounce that?" question. The answer is; Brewood is pronounced 'Brood'.

Brewood is a great village for canal trips. It stands on the Shropshire Union canal and there are lots of mooring places and plenty of pubs, but for us it has proved to be an awkward location, particularly when heading back to Lapworth as the next viable pub stop is about five hours away in Wolverhampton.

Our first visit to Brewood and the Bridge Inn was on the evening of Wednesday 8th July 1987.
As I recall it has always been quite a cosy pub that does proper pub grub. Note, in 1987 it was an Ansell's pub.

Our next visit was a lunchtime stop on Wednesday 4th September 1996 on the way back from our first ever canal trip to Llangollen.
Externally the pub had undergone a full refurb, I assume when it was taken over by Burtonwood. Inside was still as cosy as before. 

For the record, it took us 4 hours 15 minutes to get to Wolverhampton Top Lock!

Our next visit was on the evening of Wednesday 6th September 2000 on our way back from Manchester.
The pub appeared largely unchanged apart from the now hardly noticeable hanging baskets and the main door has gone back to black.

This time the journey to the top of the Wolverhampton flight of locks took 5 hours 10 minutes!

That journey time almost certainly explains why we didn't revisit Brewood until the evening of Wednesday 8th September 2010, again returning from Manchester.

No longer a Burtonwood pub, the Bridge Inn had become a free house with all of the external signage replaced/removed. However, despite the external changes, it maintained it's original character.

Trip to Wolverhampton Top Lock - 5 hrs 10 mins...again!

Our most recent visit was at lunchtime on Sunday 7th August 2016.
Our first non-Wednesday visit because the new boat Peggy Ellen is moored at Kings Bromley and so Brewood again becomes a more attractive stopping off point as there is no need to go through Wolverhampton.

What has now become subtly apparent is that the Bridge Inn is now a Marston's pub as evidenced by the small sign on the chimney breast. We had a very pleasant Sunday lunch in a pub that, although it has changed hands over the 29 years, has maintained it's character. 

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

#223 The Beehive, Northwich, Cheshire : 2006 to 2016 (RIP)

On our first ever boating trip to Northwich, we discovered this great little town centre pub, The Beehive Inn.
This was on the evening of Saturday 2nd September 2006 and we had something of a pub crawl around Northwich with The Beehive being the most memorable of the hostelries we visited.

We were next in Northwich on the evening of Sunday 5th September 2010. This time we were on the Trent & Mersey Canal on our way home after a trip to Manchester. We were late mooring at the Old Broken Cross (#213), missed the food and so ventured into Northwich in search of sustenance.
This was late on in the evening and it was difficult to tell whether it had been open earlier, or not.

Our most recent visit to Northwich (via the River Weaver) was on the evening of Saturday 13th August 2016 and this is the sad sight that we found.
The Beehive Inn is no more, but at least the estate agents who are now located there have retained (as much as possible) the frontage of the old pub. 

Thursday, 25 May 2017

#222 Pig & Bell, Rugeley, Staffordshire : 1999 to 2016 (RIP)

For reaching 'Double Nelson' you might have expected me to choose a special pub, but no, you get the now defunct Pig & Bell from that underwhelming (from a pub perspective) town of Rugeley.

We first encountered the Pig & Bell at lunchtime on Tuesday 31st August 1999.
As I recall, it was a modern style pub (for those days!) trying to be like a Firkin or Hogshead pub.

Our next encounter was at lunchtime on Tuesday 5th September 2006.
There was no discernible difference inside or out; it may have been repainted during those seven years.

Fast forward to the evening of Sunday 20th March 2016.
I can't say that this was a complete shock to me, but it is always sad to see a pub disappear. We didn't sample the delights of The Rugeley Spice, but no doubt, one day, we will probably be tempted inside!

Thursday, 18 May 2017

#221 The Badger Inn, Church Minshull, Cheshire : 1987 to 2016

The village of Church Minshull is set some way away from the canal and so it is always a bit of a walk to the pub. The stretch of canal in question is the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal that links Middlewich to the Shropshire Union! Over the years we've ventured along this section of canal somewhat infrequently and often been caught by surprise by it's length (11 miles) and the very deep locks.

Our first stop at Church Minshull was at lunchtime on Saturday 11th July 1987.
As I recall The Badger Inn was a very pleasant country pub that did good food.

It was many years later that we returned at lunchtime on Thursday 12th September 2002.
 We'd been planning a trip to Chester, but we'd got as far as Bunbury when we were informed that Beeston Iron Lock had had a gate "blow out" so the canal would be closed for several days. So we turned around and decided to head for Leek on the Caldon Canal instead.

Amazingly, after 15 years, the pub was almost completely unchanged!

We were passing by again at lunchtime on Thursday 31st August 2006 only to find that The Badger Inn was closed. Unfortunately, I didn't take a photo.

By the time we were passing again, I knew that the pub had reopened, and this is what we found at lunchtime on Monday 22nd August 2016.
At first glance it looks as though not too much has changed apart from the replacement windows. I also thought that it was amazing that the old hanging sign had remained, but on closer inspection you can see that they have produced a replica sign, but this time the badgers are headed in opposite directions!

Inside, the pub (or should I say restaurant) was completely modernised and extended, serving very good food. Hopefully it will continue to thrive and, if you're passing by do pop in - The Badger Inn website is here.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

In the Footsteps of Phyllis...(Part 2)

The Grid Project featuring the photos of Phyllis Nicklin will run until the end of 2017 and if I can contribute half-a-dozen photos each month 'til then, I'll be happy.

This month I decided to venture into Handsworth as, at that stage, no-one else had selected any of the locations. I'm not sure why this was, perhaps none of the volunteers live in that part of town or maybe not many fancy going to a part of town with a 'dodgy' reputation. Nonetheless, I set off and this is what I found.

Although I'm showing this picture first, it was actually the last one I shot.

Phyllis Nicklin (1968) © The University of Birmingham
 This photo was taken on 8th March 1968 just a few weeks before Enoch Powell gave his infamous "Rivers of Blood" speech at the Midland Hotel in Birmingham. Since then, there have been several Handsworth riots at least two of which have centred on the Villa Cross pub at the centre of the picture.

On my first visit to Handsworth to take photos I was unable to park nearby so I decided not to risk having to walk a significant distance with a fairly expensive camera in my hand! Someone taking part in this project has already been robbed of their camera equipment, so security is always of concern. I returned the next day and got a parking spot just a few yards from where I took this photo.
© Peter Allen (2017) for The Birmingham Photographic Grid Project 2017
The scene in 2017 is remarkably little changed, at first glance, from 1968 - more cars, more street lights and fewer shops as the far right hand side buildings are now residential. Along the left hand side a part of the row has obviously been demolished and replaced by a less tall construction. The Villa Cross is no longer a pub!

Cities like Birmingham are also full of amazing juxtapositions - if you bear left by the Villa Cross, then take the next left and then a right you will find yourself here...just a five minute walk away.
Phyllis Nicklin (1968) © The University of Birmingham

© Peter Allen (2017) for The Birmingham Photographic Grid Project 2017
Suddenly, you're in a beautiful, leafy suburb which is a world away from the hustle and bustle of Villa Road. The scene is pretty much unchanged from 1968, just a little more overgrown. The original road sign remains, just somewhat obscured, sadly.

Then it was on to Soho Road for the next three photos.
Phyllis Nicklin (1968) © The University of Birmingham

© Peter Allen (2017) for The Birmingham Photographic Grid Project 2017
Back in 1968 this was the Handsworth School Clinic on Soho Hill, but now it seems to be owned by a furnishers. The building seems to be reasonably intact apart from the loss of the feature in the centre of the roof!

Next I headed further out of town along Soho Road, first to the junction with Grove Lane.
Phyllis Nicklin (1968) © The University of Birmingham

© Peter Allen (2017) for The Birmingham Photographic Grid Project 2017
Nearly 40 years later and the scene is remarkably similar; albeit with fewer people crossing the road. The bank is still a bank, but no longer Birmingham Municipal Bank and the buses are a different colour!

When I selected by final Handsworth shot I was convinced, sitting at home, that I knew exactly where to find Handsworth Market. Further research showed up my error - it had closed down in 2003 and burned down around 2008!

As I was taking the picture above, I saw an older woman crossing the road and asked her where the market used to be. She told me that she'd been a regular visitor to it and pointed me in the right direction. It was closer than I'd originally thought.
Phyllis Nicklin (1968) © The University of Birmingham

© Peter Allen (2017) for The Birmingham Photographic Grid Project 2017
Now it has been replaced by a bright, shiny, new health centre but, amazingly, (and I didn't notice this till I was looking at the photos back at home) the black wooden gates to the right are unchanged!

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted only five photos so far. My sixth was a little nearer to home. I chose this one as it is the closest of all Phyllis Nicklin's photos to where I live.

Phyllis Nicklin (1968) © The University of Birmingham

© Peter Allen (2017) for The Birmingham Photographic Grid Project 2017
Back in 1968 the photo must have been taken from what was then Cadbury's wharf which is now a housing estate. I was expecting this to be an easier photo to capture, but I hadn't realised/noticed how many changes there have been to the buildings in Cadbury's factory.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

#220 Plough & Harrow, Fazeley, Staffordshire : 1996 to 2016

Fazeley sits on the junction of the Coventry Canal with the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal just on the edge of Tamworth. It is a regular stopping place for us as there are several pubs in a small area.

Our first visit to the Plough & Harrow was on the evening of Thursday 30th May 1996.
We were back again, two years later at lunchtime on Monday 22nd June 1998.
This view gives a much better view of the pub, which was unchanged from our previous visit. This is one of those pubs that exhibits the 'reverse TARDIS' effect, being smaller on the inside than you'd expect from the outside! It is a pub that I've never quite warmed to, but it served beer and food so, what's not to like?

We returned a year later at lunchtime on Monday 30th August 1999.
Seemingly, no changes apart from the disappearance of the hanging basket and the three lights from above the wall sign have also gone.

There was a bit of a gap to our next visit, another lunchtime stop on Tuesday 31st August 2004.
A complete makeover had taken place both inside and out - neither had been an improvement! The pub was no longer an M&B house. Despite the changes, food was available so all was well!

We were back again a year later, again at lunchtime, on Sunday 21st August 2005.
No changes from the previous year.

During this period we seemingly couldn't keep away from the Plough & Harrow as we returned for more lunchtime shenanigans on Wednesday 6th September 2006.
  Again it was largely unchanged, but the bench seats outside had disappeared.

We left it for a few years and revisited the Plough & Harrow for a rare evening stop in Fazeley on Wednesday 2nd June 2010.
Another complete makeover with the extra addition of a large outside seating area - partly inspired, I believe, by the smoking ban, but also, I suspect, because the pub is so small inside this was the only way to maximise income.

These changes weren't enough to make us rush back, though, and we didn't return until lunchtime on Monday 15th June 2015.
A five year gap and not only has it undergone another complete transformation, but the name had also changed to simply, The Plough.

We were back again at lunchtime on Monday 13th June 2016.
Quite surprisingly, the doors and window frames had been repainted, but almost everything else was the same as before.
One other thing of note is the change to the building next door to the pub which has added a front door sometime between 2006 and 2010!

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

UPDATE: #023 O'Neills, Curzon Street, Birmingham : 1998 to 2017 (RIP)

Back in 2011 when I first wrote this entry, I didn't know what was going to happen with this site. Below, you can see the final fate of this junction.
When I toured around the Digbeth area of Birmingham, O'Neills was a completely new place to me and, to be honest didn't look too appealing. This is the tenth in my 'Birmingham Eastside' series.
 However, as I've been doing some background research I've discovered that, in a previous life, this was the Old Railway, a popular music venue. More information is to be found here.

Moving on to 2011, and the title gives it away somewhat, this was the scene that presented itself to me.

Gone completely, yet the Give Way and street signs remain in exactly the same places! This was the sort of scene I expected to find when I set out on this project, but it is still quite a shock to find no trace of the pub. The building on the left, in the distance, is Moby Dick's which will feature later on in this series.

What the future holds for this area is still unsure. To the left of where the picture was taken is the Thinktank and behind me is the now defunct Curzon Street Station. If the HS2 High Speed Rail ever gets built, the Birmingham branch will terminate at Curzon Street, so maybe there will be more pubs opened/reopened in the environs. Well, we can hope!
So, here we are in 2017 and this is the current view of the corner of Curzon Street and Cardigan Street.
Now the Curzon Building of Birmingham City University stands proudly where once stood The Old Railway pub/O'Neills - I suppose that's progress!
Much work is still ongoing and I can report good news regarding Moby Dick's that was visible in 2011 from this position. It has survived and is now the student union bar. I couldn't get a photo as there is still a lot of construction work going on around it.
Progress has also been made on the HS2 Project and the new station will be directly behind where I was standing for this photo

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!).