Blog Surfer

Friday, 30 December 2011

#042 The Spotted Dog, Digbeth : 1998 to 2011

There were two Spotted Dog pubs in Digbeth and I've been in both of them. This one is on the corner of Alcester Street and Warwick Street...and is still open.

This is how it looked in 1998, but at that time I'd never been inside.

However, in 2007 I had the opportunity to visit some pubs that we'd never been in on any of our canal trips before. So we did a mini pub crawl through Digbeth and started at The Spotted Dog. This photo was taken on the evening of 24th August 2007.
In the intervening 9 years there are few changes apart from a lick of paint and some greenery added to the outside. Inside I remember it as being a nice, cosy Irish pub with a friendly atmosphere. Our friends were already there and had stationed themselves in the quite substantial garden/patio area. Inside the pub was a fantastic map of Digbeth from the 1800's that showed all of the pubs within about a quarter of a mile. Out of the approximately 20 pubs shown, only 3 or 4 were still in existence! The only downside was that the only lager available was Carlsberg which, in those days, was almost undrinkable (but that didn't stop me!!)

And here we are in 2011! Another lick of paint and the greenery on the corner appears to have grown unchecked! Like many pubs in the area, The Spotted Dog is also a venue for live music. It is also one of the establishments at the forefront of the campaign to keep live music in Digbeth. Over the past few years, more and more people now live nearby in the new developments and some of them don't like the sound of music at night. So they complain and the council have to investigate, resulting in the potential for any of these venues to be closed down. Very frustrating for the pubs that were there and playing music long before the influx of new residents. So far the resistance has been successful.

This is the nineteenth in my 'Birmingham Eastside' series.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

UPDATE : #027 The Old Wharf, Digbeth : 1998 to 2011 (RIP?)

Sad to report that, since I took my photos in August, The Old Wharf closed on 5th December as reported here. It seems that my optimism from October was unfounded. 

Here is another link, to a eulogy for The Old Wharf giving a first hand perspective on the good times had there.

Anyway, here's a picture just to remind you what a striking appearance it had.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

#041 The Fountain Inn, Tipton : 2003 to 2011

This is a pub I wish I'd visited before 2003. The Fountain Inn has a long history and survived when the Tipton Green area was substantially redeveloped in the late 1970's. Now the pub stands, almost alone, amidst buildings that are less than 20 years old.
Our first visit was at lunchtime on 27th August 2003 on our way back from a canal trip that had taken us to Leicester. As I remember, it was a pleasant pub that served very good pub food at very reasonable prices.

Four years later and we make another lunchtime stop on 6th September 2007 on our way back from our second trip along the Llangollen Canal.
Very little had changed...fortunately.

And so to our most recent visit. Again lunchtime on 6th September 2011, this time on our return from a trip along the Caldon Canal.
Very little has changed, but the vegetation is now in hanging baskets and the signage on the side of the pub is more restrained. Inside it was still the same, but there was one aspect that I've not encountered for a long while. The barmaid was young and gorgeous, far more attractive than you would expect to find in a small backstreet boozer and she was very good at her job (usually ability seems to be in inverse proportion to attractiveness!). This set me to thinking that you don't often find young, attractive barmaids in fairly bog standard pubs any more. I'm sure it used to be a more common phenomenon, but maybe I'm just getting old and developing 'rose tinted' glasses!

The main reason that I wish I'd visited The Fountain Inn sooner is it's history. The pub sign depicts a boxer which, at first sight, seems to be somewhat incongruous with the name. But, as the sign by the door and the statue by where we moored indicate, this was the training base for William Perry, the Tipton Slasher. He was a bare knuckle boxer and was Champion of England from 1850 - 1857. His nickname derived from his style of fighting.
He was originally a canal boatman but became famous as a fighter in his teens. Ultimately he ended up back in poverty after betting everything on his disastrous last fight. Amazing how things don't seem to have changed for boxers in the intervening 150 years!

Friday, 16 December 2011

#040 Moby Dick's : 1998 to 2011 (RIP?)

Back in 1998 Moby Dick's was a completely new discovery for me down a side street I'd never been on before.
A typical street corner pub, similar to several others in the area. Needless to say, I never made it back there for a drink.

Onwards to 2011 and it is closed, boarded up and, by all accounts, ready for demolition to make way for the Eastside Locks Development. This is a new concept to me, but looks very good on paper, but whether there will ever be the money to complete the project is doubtful in this economic climate. 
Moby Dick's featured, in the distance, in #023 O'Neill's earlier in my blog.
This is the eighteenth in my 'Birmingham Eastside' series.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

#039 Saracen's Head, Weston, Staffs : 1987 to 2011

The first time we visited the Saracen's Head in Weston was in 1987. We'd passed through in 1981, but were on a tight schedule and didn't stop there. It was a lunchtime stop and the pub is as close to the Trent & Mersey Canal as you can get without being on the bank!
 I don't really remember too much about it other than there must have been food on offer as we stopped for lunch on Tuesday 14th July 1987.

I found it difficult to believe that the next time we stopped at Weston was in 1999!
This was an evening stop on Tuesday 31st August 1999 on our way to the Caldon Canal. Apart from the new signage there was a conservatory added to the back. When inside you can see that this feature has been added to give a more substantial eating area making the Saracens Head more of a restaurant than a pub.

We returned again in 2000, this time on the way up to Manchester.
This was lunchtime on Tuesday 29th August 2000.

Next visit was an evening stop on Monday 16th September 2002 on our way back from the Caldon Canal.
It's interesting to note that although seemingly exactly the same, there are subtle changes over the 3 years - mainly in the outdoor seating and the hanging baskets.

It wasn't until this year that we stopped in Weston again...on our way back from the Caldon Canal!
This was on the evening of Saturday 3rd September 2011. Now we can see a lot of changes on the outside - gone are the Bass Worthington signs, gone is the picture of a Saracen's Head and it's frame. The standard of cars in the car park is also somewhat higher than when we first visited here in 1987!

We didn't eat here on this visit (we haven't eaten here since 1999!) but we did pop in for a couple of pints and, inside, it is pretty much the same as I remember it from the last visit.

I'm not sure who owns it these days, but judging from the Saracens Head website it looks as though it is a free house, but it could be owned by a pubco!

Monday, 5 December 2011

#038 Big Bulls Head, Digbeth : 1998 to 2011

I'm not sure if I've ever been in the Big Bulls Head in Digbeth. Certainly in 1998 when I took this photo I'd never set foot inside the pub.
It looks like a typical street corner boozer and, although I've done a few pub crawls around Digbeth, I seem to recall that whenever we passed by it was always busy and so we kept on walking.

As the Big Bulls Head is on the main drag through Digbeth I wasn't surprised to see it is still thriving in 2011.
From a physical point of view it has hardly changed in 13 years, but it has obviously been painted and well maintained. The Big Bulls Head has its own website extolling the virtues of its pub food (looks good - proper pub food!!) and their Bed & Breakfast facilities.
This is the seventeenth in my 'Birmingham Eastside' series.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

#037 Tame Otter, Hopwas, Staffs : 1986 to 2011

The first time I visited The Chequers (as it was known in those days) was by car in the early 1980's. Our first canal stop was on Thursday 11th August 1983 and I seem to remember us making a dash to get there before the shops closed for the night.

Next time we visited was on the evening of Tuesday 29th July 1986. I remember it as a fairly basic local with a nice lounge, but don't recall too much else. It was one of the few non Ansells, non M&B pubs aroound in the Midlands!

On our subsequent canal trips we passed through Hopwas many times, but we didn't stop there again until 2002...and what a change! It was no longer a village local, but it had been converted into a 'Vintage Inn' which is part of the M&B group. It had also been renamed the Tame Otter.
 This was a lunchtime stop on Thursday 19th July 2002. Outside, the pub was pretty much the same apart from the new signage, but inside it was totally different. The pub had become a restaurant where you could get a pint.

Again, in the intervening years, we passed through Hopwas without stopping several times (often because the moorings outside the pub were full) until lunchtime on Sunday 28th August 2011.
Inside it is a typical Vintage Inn and was very busy. I'm not keen on the Vintage Inn brand, but it does seem to be popular and the food is generally good...although the sandwich selection isn't great. Here is the website for the Tame Otter. (Interestingly, the website refers to the canal as the Birmingham & Fazeley whereas it is, in fact, the Coventry Canal. They are not completely wrong as this stretch of canal was actually built by the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal Company along the proposed route of the Coventry Canal. The Coventry Canal Company subsequently bought this section of the canal.)

Sunday, 27 November 2011

#036 Brewer's Arms/Cleary's, Digbeth : 1998 to 2011

Back in 1998 this pub was called the Brewer's Arms. It's not a place I'd ever visited, but looked typical of the many back street pubs in Birmingham.
Fast forward to 2011 and it has been transformed into the Yellow and Green establishment that is now Cleary's!
Unfortunately, beacuse of the building works behind me, I wasn't able to get far enough back to give the same view as in 1998. I've still not been in the building and I'm assuming that it is run by the same people who ran the Cleary's that took over from the Pall Mall which was #011 in this series.

It would appear that it is a successful establishment by the number of friends on their Facebook page. This is the sixteenth in my 'Birmingham Eastside' series.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

#035 Rose & Castle, Ansty, Warks : 2000 to 2011

When I reviewed our canal trips and my photos I was amazed to find that the first time we ever stopped at Ansty was in 2000, on a week long trip that took us to Coventry. We'd passed by many times but lunchtime on Tuesday 30th May 2000 was the first time we set foot in the Rose & Castle.
As I recall, it was a pub that served very good food, but beyond that I don't remember much else.

Our next visit was another lunchtime stop on Friday 27th August 2004. Again we visited Coventry, but this trip also took us along the Ashby Canal for only our second time.
Now the Rose & Castle was under new management and was more of a restaurant than a pub, but the food was still very good. The exterior had been painted and a new sign was evident.

Tuesday 29th May 2007 (Lunchtime)

Monday 25th May 2009 (Evening)

Tuesday 31st May 2011 (Lunchtime)

On this latest visit we just managed to get there before 2:30 pm and they were happy to serve us food despite being close to the end of their lunchtime period. Many places are not so accommodating! The food again was very good and they manage to strike the right balance between the modern and more traditional styles of British food.

The pub has remained largely unchanged since 2004 and is well worth a visit if you want to eat well.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

#034 Billy's Bar, Digbeth : 1998 to 2011 (RIP)

This bar was a new discovery for me in 1998 when I photographed it. I never set foot in the place and probably never will now!
This was the scene in 1998.

Fast forward to 2011 and it is now the Birmingham Central Backpackers hostel!
Another pub gone, but at least it is being put to good use.

This is the fifteenth in my 'Birmingham Eastside' series.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

#033 Dirty Duck/Black Swan, Stratford-upon-Avon : 1996 to 2011

Here's a pub that has not changed in all the years I've been visiting it! I first encountered the Dirty Duck in Stratford in the early 80's, long before our canal trips took us to Stratford.

For those of you unfamiliar with Stratford-upon-Avon, the pub is a two minute walk away from the Royal Shakespeare Company's Swan Theatre and one room is decorated with pictures of many of the thespians who have passed through the doors. However, in all our visits, the only famous person I've seen there was Rodney Bewes (from "The Likely Lads" for our younger and/or overseas readers!) in the 1980's on a summer's evening on the terrace.
Since we've been visiting on the canal at Easter time, I've not seen any more famous people.

Here are the picures: -
6th April 1996

29th March 1997

3rd April 1999 (note new pub sign!)

21st April 2000

10th April 2004

11th April 2009 (compare with 1999 - almost exactly the same!)

30th April 2011

Although it isn't a proper pub it is definitely worth a visit and is usually full. The bar we normally go in is a proper bar, but it is very small so it easily fills up. Although we've not seen anyone famous on our recent visits, a barman told us one night that, when Sean Bean was at Stratford he was actually a member of the Dirty Duck pool team for the duration of his stay!

These aren't all of the photos I've taken, but I think its enough to give a flavour of the place.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

#032 Eagle & Tun, Digbeth : 1998 to 2011 (RIP??)

When I first took a picture of this pub in 1998 it was called the Cauliflower Ear and I'd never seen nor heard of it before.

Then, in 2002, we stopped in Birmingham on the penultimate night of our trip that was to have taken us to Chester, but ended up with us visiting Leek. In my quest to venture into pubs that we'd not previously visited on our canal trips, we took a stroll into Digbeth and the Eagle & Tun was one of our stops. It was Thursday 19th September and as I recall, we had a great time in there and the place was packed. Notice how it has changed from being an Ansell's pub to a Free House, but inside it was beautifully tiled.

Next time I visited was a few years later, but it was very quiet even though it was a Saturday night. So now we move on to 2011 and it is closed. Apparently it shut its doors in 2008 and there's no real sign of it reopening.
If you panned back from this picture you'd see that there is very little left standing around here. About 100 yards behind me is the Woodman pub which is still open. I think the best bet for the Eagle & Tun is the new High Speed (HS2) Rail project which is planned to terminate at Curzon Street Station which is to the right of where I'm standing in this shot.

You can get a flavour for the interior of the Eagle & Tun here in the video for UB40's "Red Red Wine" which was shot in the pub in the early 1980's. Hopefully it won't be demolished, but I'm not holding my breath.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

#031 The Harvester, Long Itchington, Warks : 1997 to 2011

We visit Long Itchington many times on our canal trips, but usually we stop at the Two Boats which is on the bank of the Grand Union Canal and we can moor up right outside. However, this weekend we stopped in the evening and, with the clocks going back an hour, we had more time to kill than normal. So, we wandered into the village for the first time since 1997!

Long Itchington is a relatively small village, but it has SIX pubs! We managed a pint in FIVE of them! My first subject, though is the Harvester. In 1997, this was the pub we ate in and, as I remember, it was very good.
Sadly, it's not the best picture. I do remember that it was a small friendly pub and we just managed to get there in time for the last orders for food. This was the evening of 24th August 1997.

Fourteen years later and we're back in the village on the evening of 5th November 2011. We'd had a pint in the Duck on the Pond and the Buck and Bell (which I don't remember being there in 1997, but it probably was! Late Edit: No it wasn't open in 1997 - closed in 1980's and reopened in 2005. Website here) and were ready to eat. The outside of the pub has changed little over the years and the inside seemed to be about the same as before.
The pub part of the Harvester was quite busy, but the restaurant was quite quiet. This was possibly because of the Bonfire Party at the nearby Green Man. 

And then it went downhill!! The ONLY lager available was Budweiser Budvar in Light, Dark or Half & Half. This was not ideal, but not the end of the world...until...our pints of this premium lager were served in Wye Valley Bitter glasses. These don't have the nucleation on the bottom and so the lager goes flat very quickly and it doesn't taste as good.

The landlord's first response was sarcasm, suggesting that it would be a disaster if it tasted like Wye Valley Bitter because it was in one of their glasses. Then, when that fell flat, he passed us proper Budweiser Budvar glasses and suggested that we pour it into them!! I told him that wouldn't work as this would over froth the lager and 'kill' it completely.

Needless to say, because of the landlord's attitude he lost out on our patronage for a meal and, probably, several more pints! When will these people learn that poor customer service costs a business money?

LATE ADDENDUM: I contacted The Harvester and sent details of this blog to them. They replied promptly and have apologised for the glasses. So, I'm now a happier bunny. This is how customer service should work!

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

UPDATE : #008 Navigation Inn, Lapworth : 1986 to 2011

Just been out on our boat for the weekend and our first port of call was going to be the Navigation, but it was closed! I was shocked as it has always been one of our favourite haunts when we are on our boat, but according to the 'Towpath Telegraph' the current owners have gone bust - something to do with food hygiene and subsequent loss of business, I was told.

Hopefully it will be bought and reopened soon as it really is a lovely pub. Here's a picture of it from my 'arty' collection.

Monday, 7 November 2011

#030 Catherine O'Donovan, Highgate : 1998 to 2011

Back in 1998 when I took this photo the pub was called the Pig & Whistle.
 It is a pub I'd not been in then...and I still haven't in 2011!

I was somewhat surprised to see that it was still open thirteen years later, seemingly thriving under the new name of the Catherine O'Donovan.
It is quite remarkable that it has changed so little from the outside. I assume that it has been redecorated since 1998, but the owners/tenants have kept to the same colour scheme.
This is the thirteenth in my 'Birmingham Eastside' series.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

#029 The Star, Stone, Staffs : 1987 to 2011

When I first visited The Star Inn at Stone it was a proper canalside pub that had the perfect location, right beside the bottom lock at Stone. Unfortunately because the road bridge is so close it is difficult to get a good photo, but here they are anyway!
This first visit was an evening stop on  Monday 13th July 1987 and, judging from my photo album it was the only pub we visited that night! I don't remember anything about the night, but I do remember that it was a good pub.

 Our next stop was in 1999 when, miraculously the Star Inn had become, simply, The Star and was now a Banks's pub (previously a Bass establishment).
This was a lunchtime stop on Wednesday 1st September on the way to our first trip along the Caldon Canal. I do remember that the upper part of the pub had been opened out somewhat and turned into an eating area, but the traditional 'end' was largely 'unspoilt by progress'!

This year we were recreating our 1999 journey and we stopped on the way up to navigate the Caldon canal once more. The Star is now a Marston's pub and is supposedly in the Guinness Book of Records for having the most levels of any pub!
We visited on the evening of Monday 28th August, but only stayed for one pint. The oldest part of the pub was still the same (but nowhere to sit) and the newer part just a soulless eating area. It has an ideal location and is obviously doing well, but we were looking for a bit of a pub crawl and so we spent the rest of the evening exploring the further delights of Stone!

One final fact, which I was unaware of until very recently - although The Star is so close to the bottom lock of the Stone flight on the Trent & Mersey Canal, it wasn't built for the canal. In fact it predates the canal by about 100 years! The Trent & Mersey Canal was James Brindley's final triumph and, although he didn't live to see it completed one thing is fairly certain, he would have had an occasional drink in The Star Inn during planning of the waterway.

Here's another view of The Star taken as we came back on the return journey.

Friday, 28 October 2011

#028 James Brindley, Birmingham : 1986 to 2011

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 Thursday 31st July 1986 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 Thursday 16th July 1987 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 Wednesday 6th September 1995 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 Saturday 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 Thursday 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 Tuesday 6th September 2011.
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!