The Pub is one of the few great cultural icons of Britain. We are currently in a phase where the future of the pub is in doubt. This blog shows how pubs have changed (or not) over the past 10+ years. I first started taking pictures of pubs in 1986 and have amassed quite a collection. Most of these pubs are within easy walking distance of the English Canals and most are based in the Midlands. Apart from a (very) few, I have drunk in every pub pictured (and sometimes been drunk in them!)
This is something of a sad tale. When Birmingham woke up to the potential of the canals in the city in the 1980's Gas Street Basin was one of the first parts to be opened up and developed. Part of this development was the James Brindley, a brand new pub on two levels with a nice airy feel. It was named after the first of Britain's great canal engineers.
James Brindley built the very first British canal, the Bridgewater Canal in 1761. He then went on to the Trent & Mersey Canal including the feat of constructing Harecastle Tunnel which opened in 1777. In all he was responsible for building 365 miles of canals and also for the design of the narrow lock that is the feature of many canals. He also built the original main line canal from Birmingham to Wolverhampton. The pub was built at the staring point of this canal. I'm not sure exactly when it opened, but our first canal visit was in 1986.
This photo was taken on 31st July near the end of our journey from Earlswood to Nottingham and back.
We were back again in 1987 on our summer trip that took us to Worcester, Market Drayton, Middlewich and back to Earlswood.
This was taken on 16th July and shows the view from Bridge Street rather than the canalside perspective.
Our next visit to the James Brindley was in 1995 as we passed through Birmingham near the end our trip from Winkwell on the Grand Union canal to Emma Jane's new (and current) home at Lapworth.
This was from 6th September and best shows what a great canalside setting the James Brindley has. At this time the pub was still thriving, but soon the competition from the Broad Street area would take its toll.
This again shows the street entry view and was taken on 26th May 2001. I remember being surprised by how quiet it was on a Saturday night when the 'pubs' along Broad Street were so busy. Obviously the revellers want loud music and cheap 'shots' rather than a normal pub!
EDIT - 12th Feb 2012.
As I was searching through my photos for more pubs I came across this photo from 2006 that I'd missed in my collection!
This was taken on 7th September 2006 and the pub appears to be thriving at that time!
And so we move on to 2011 and this is the scene that presented itself on 6th September.
I'm not sure how long it has been boarded up, but it is sad to see a pub that has been open less than 30 years in such a state. Unless it turns itself into a 'nightclub' style venue I don't see too much hope for it judging by the way Broad Street has gone!
The Old Wharf in Digbeth is a small back street pub and, to be honest, I wasn't sure it would have survived. This is the twelfth in my 'Birmingham Eastside' series.
When I took this photo in 1998 I'd never been inside, but subsequently I've visited once on a Saturday evening mini pub crawl a few years later. All I really remember was that it was too loud! This pub has survived because, like many others in this area, it does live music and incorporates the GO Club.
From the outside little has really changed. The ground level paintwork has made the place more attractive, but it doesn't look as though the 'Old Wharf' on the corner wall has been touched since 1998! All in all, another success story, but another example of a pub surviving because it is a music venue...not because its a good pub!
The first time I visited the Fleur-de-Lys was sometime in the 1980's and made occasional visits subsequently by car as it was a very good country pub. It is also the original home of the Fleur-de-Lys pie, but the rights were sold on many years ago. Once we had moved our boat back down to the Midlands the Fleur-de-Lys became a regular stop on our annual canal trip to Stratford. The first of these was in 1996 (Thursday evening 4th April)
As we've visited almost every year since it would be fair to say that externally, little has changed, but it has gone from being a country pub that did good meals to become, essentially a restaurant that serves beer!
Here it is in 2000 - lunchtime Easter Sunday (23rd April).
Below is from 2002. This year I do remember! We visited at lunchtime on Easter Monday (1st April) and they'd run out of bread, so we couldn't get a sandwich! We caught a taxi to Henley-in-Arden instead! It was also around this time that it became a completely non-smoking establishment, long before the nationwide ban came into force.
This shows the view of the pub garden from the canal.
Next we move on to 2006 (Easter Monday 17th April; lunchtime). Not much has changed apart from the exotic plantation at the front!
We visit every year on our trip to Stratford and back, not because we love the place (far from it) but because there are only a limited number of pubs along the way and the food is good, if a bit pricey!
Here it is in 2011(Monday 2nd May - this year we travelled a little later to take advantage of the Royal Wedding Bank Holiday!), both as the original photo I took and as converted into 'art'!
It is interesting to note that the exotic plantation is looking a bit threadbare with only the mini palm tree surviving.
The Anchor in Digbeth is a success story in a world where proper pubs are disappearing, this pub is thriving. This is the eleventh in my 'Birmingham Eastside' series.
Here it is in 1998 and at this time I'd never been inside. This is another example of a pub built by James & Lister Lea and it is a Grade II listed building. Since taking the photo I have visited and found it to be a great place and 'unspoilt by progress'.
Here we are in 2011 and from the outside very little has changed. Even the lamp post is still the same one, although it has been painted in the intervening years! The inside is listed on the National Inventory of Pub Interiors which is run by CAMRA and shows pictures of the various rooms. The Anchor website is fairly extensive and also has plenty of useful information. If you find yourself in Birmingham (especially if you're at the Coach Station), The Anchor is well worth a visit.
My first experience of this pub was in 1991 on our journey from Wigan to Lapworth. In those days it was called The Trumpet and was a proper pub although I don't really remember too much about it.
This photo was taken at lunchtime on Sunday 28th July 1991. All I really remember about the visit was that, when we left, the boat wouldn't start and I thought we were going to be stranded there. Mysteriously, though, the engine finally sprang into life and we didn't have any more problems with it on that trip!
It wasn't until 2003 that we made a return visit only to find that it was now called The Radford Bank Inn and that it had become a carvery pub. In many ways this wasn't a problem, except that it was a lunchtime visit and we only wanted a sandwich which they were unable/unwilling to serve.
Photo taken Monday 25th August 2003.
Our next visit was this year and the picture was taken on Sunday 4th September. The place is now called, simply, Radford Bank and is part of the Crown Carvery chain.
Since 2003 it has obviously had a lot of money spent on it to bring it up to standard. As this was a Sunday and one of the few nice days of our holiday the place was packed. This time we were prepared and were happy to eat a carvery which was reasonably good and good value for money. I'm not a great fan of carveries as the food tends to be quite good at best, but they do seem to be very, very popular!!
After finishing our meal in a very crowded downstairs area I discovered a very pleasant bar upstairs (at road level). It was well decorated, clean, modern and you could almost imagine that you were in a proper pub!
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 right 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!
The first time I visited this pub was back in August 1982 on only my third canal trip, but to be honest I can't remember too much about it other than it seemed to be in the middle of nowhere between Atherstone and Nuneaton on the Coventry Canal, but it was a decent stop off for the night.
The next time we stopped there was in 2000.
This photo was taken on 31st May during a lunchtime stop. It is difficult to get a good shot of the pub as it is right by the bridge over the canal and, over the years, the road has been built up to smooth out the humpback bridge leaving the pub a bit obscured.
Our next stop was in 2004, again a lunchtime visit on 30th August.
Very little appears to have changed. I'm not sure why we haven't stopped at the Anchor more often, but I suspect that it is the fear that it may have closed and we'd be stuck in the middle of nowhere without food and, more importantly, drink!
We did visit there again in 2011 and this time it was an evening stop on 31st May (again!).
The exterior has obviously been redecorated and new signage added. They have also taken the trouble to clear out the vegetation making it a more attractive prospect for passers by. The pub has a large garden at the back and inside it is quite cosy, feeling like a proper canalside pub. The food was 'interesting' and it serves Everards beer. This is the Anchor Inn website.
On the night we were there I didn't have a completely wonderful experience, but some of it was my fault! Firstly the food - I ordered Fish & Chips with Mushy Peas. Except they weren't Mushy Peas, they were Puréed Peas! What's the difference I hear you ask? Mushy Peas are made with Marrowfat Peas that are, essentially overcooked until they go mushy. Often they come out of a tin and have a synthetic green colour. I like Mushy Peas. What I got instead were garden peas that had been through a blender with cream! Not nice...and NOT mushy peas!
The faux pas I made with the drink was largely my fault, though. At the other side of the bar I saw someone get a pint of bitter that was straw coloured similar to lager, so I asked the barmaid what it was. "Sunchaser" came the reply. The barmaid then pointed to a hand pump on my side of the bar and I obviously missed most of what she said, but I did hear "special offer" and assumed that was the same beer. So I asked for a pint of that...and got a standard looking bitter...which wasn't what I wanted! I tried to discuss it with the barmaid, but she'd served what I'd ordered and it really was my mistake (getting deaf in my old age!) so I paid for it and drank it. It was only £2.00 and tasted OK, so not really the end of the world! Next pint I did get the Sunchaser which was much better! In the end we had a pleasant evening and it was a very short walk 'home'!
Back in 1998 it was The White Swan a seemingly typical street corner pub, just outside the city centre.
Now in 2011 it is the Eden Bar, one of the newer additions to the Gay Scene in Birmingham.
Since I began this project, the Gay Scene in Birmingham and 'come out' so that there are now a number of gay venues that are 'loud and proud'. The Eden Bar is no longer a traditional pub, but you can probably just pop in for a drink.
From the outside The White Swan has been changed quite extensively and the Eden Bar certainly stands out more. Just up the road is the Village Inn which is a completely new 'pub' and another gay venue.