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Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Sunny Selly Oak under Shutdown

Since the 'lockdown' started, I've grasped the opportunity to take pictures during my permitted daily exercise. 

Selly Oak is probably my next nearest suburb with pubs (Bournville is nearer, but publess!). I've also recently updated the previous Selly Oak pub entries on this blog.

So here we go with a wider view of Studentville Selly Oak.
Bristol Road, Selly Oak - April 2020
This is the classic picture postcard view of Selly Oak from the middle of the Bristol Road outside Selly Oak Station. It was about 2pm and you can see how little traffic there was, enabling me to get exactly the view I wanted (without much chance of getting run over!). Sadly, in reality, the bridge is sporting lots of grafitti that I've 'painted over' to give the view as it should be.

As I'm not a regular visitor, pretty much all of what I know about Selly Oak is the pubs, three of which I've reported on earlier.

Bristol Pear, Selly Oak - April 2020
This is the view from under Selly Oak Railway Bridge and shows the last pub I had a pint in before the lockdown. The Bristol Pear is a pub we pop into on the odd occasions when we're having a few drinks in Selly Oak, but it was on our last visit when I noticed this, directly opposite the pub, for the very first time!
Selly Oak Library - April 2020
Selly Oak Library (currently closed) is a replica of Stirchley Library (operational before the lockdown) and was built in 1909 (four years after Stirchley's). It is a Carnegie Library, has it's own Wikipedia entry and is Grade II listed.

Moving further down the Bristol Road towards town, we come across a 'new' pub that we had the chance on our most recent visit of going into for a pint, but we decided against!
The S'oak, Bristol Road - April 2020
Back in the late 70's when I was a student this was a row of shops, one of which was a very good secondhand bookshop. When The S'oak first opened (and I don't remember exactly when that was!) it only really occupied the corner part of the building, but has expanded over the years to occupy the whole ground floor.

As I was searching for details about the history of the pub, I came across this review on Pubs Galore by the late, pubman extraordinaire, Alan Winfield: -

"The S'oak looks like a modern pub that is housed in an old building,this was one of my Sons locals when he was at Birmingham University a few years back.
Once inside there is a very large single room with the bar in the middle area,the floor is bare boarded,the seating is tall tables and chairs and normal tables and chairs,there is a pool table to the rear right,the TVs were showing the FA Cup Final.
There were two real ales on the bar,i had a drink of Daleside G&P which went down well,the other real ale was GK Radio X Amplified.
I thought this was a decent enough pub to have a drink in."

Next door is the third of the 'student' pubs on the main drag of the Bristol Road.
Goose at the OVT, Selly Oak - April 2020
In the years that I've known this pub it has had four names (Bournbrook Hotel, Farce & Firkin, Old Varsity Tavern, Goose at the OVT) and been transformed, from a quite rambling multiroom pub, into something of a 'beer barn', originally, as M&B's answer to Wetherspoon's.

There is just one more pub on the Bristol Road and it is in the other direction. The Bear & Staff has an interesting back story!
Bear & Staff, Selly Oak - April 2020
Back in the day, near the junction of Bristol Road and Oak Tree Lane stood The Oak pub which was demolished in 1983 to make way for road widening. It was replaced by the Great Oak in 1985. A shiny new pub which I visited on the opening night. Less than 10 years later it was demolished to make way for Sainsbury's to expand their carpark in 1994! (see details here on this and the rest of Selly Oak's lost pubs!)

This was when the Bear & Staff came into existence, about 100 yards from where the Great Oak stood. It wasn't a new build. Much to our frustration this was, apparently, one of the best Italian restaurants in Birmingham (according to a taxi driver we met who regularly ferried people from BBC Pebble Mill to the restaurant!). Right on our doorstep and we never knew!

It is now a fairly bog-standard Marston's pub which was recently refurbished.

Finally, we come to the one Selly Oak entry not on the Bristol Road...and no prizes for guessing which pub it is...I give you the Country Girl!
Country Girl, Raddlebarn Road - April 2020
I've written plenty about what is, essentially, my local. So, I'll leave you with an image of it on a bright, sunny, early Spring day during the lockdown of 2020.  

Friday, 24 April 2020

#003 Goose at the OVT, Selly Oak : 1996 to 2020 (Revisited)

The lockdown continues and you find me, still in Selly Oak, with another pub that has changed it's name, several times, over the years. This is what I wrote in 2011: -

This is a strange one! When I first visited this pub as a student in the late 70's it was called The Bournbrook Hotel. It was usually full of students (no surprise) and was made up of several different rooms. It was a long time ago and I don't remember it too clearly!

Some years later it was refurbished (keeping many of the interior features) and renamed the Old Varsity Tavern. It was still popular with students and usually quite busy. Then (and I don't know when) it became the Farce & Firkin at the same time as quite a few other Birmingham pubs were rebranded as Firkin pubs. This picture is from 1996 as we did a pub crawl of Selly Oak on one of our canal trips!
At some stage it became the Farce & Firkin at the OVT, but this isn't shown on the pub in this picture.

As I live not too far away, I occasionally enter this establishment, but I can't say it is one of my favourite venues. Sometime later (again, I don't know when) it was refurbished and rebranded as the Goose at the OVT which is Mitchells & Butlers attempt to match Wetherspoon's. The pub is now a 'beer barn' selling cheap beer to any and all who can't afford to pay the inflated prices in other pubs!
This is how it looks now. Like many, it looks pretty much the same as ever on the outside, but inside its very different from 'the good old days'! I don't think they make use of the two upper floors (which is a waste) and notice the buddleia growing in the upstairs window. Still, I shouldn't complain too much at least it has survived the 'cull' of Selly Oak pubs which has taken away The Brook, Dog & Partridge, Great Oak and others that I never really knew!
(Since 2011, The Gunbarrels has also bitten the dust!)

The Goose at the OVT still isn't a place we visit very often, but here is how it looked in June 2014.
In the intervening years it had undergone a subtle exterior refurbishment, probably the first as a Stonegate pub (part of a deal that saw 333 pubs sold by Mitchells & Butlers in 2010). This has revealed the original embossed stonework saying 'Holt Brewery Co Ltd' and 'BOURNBROOK HOTEL' over the entrance.

And so we move on to my recent stroll up and down the Bristol Road in Selly Oak (April 2020).
It has undergone another exterior redecoration in one of the typical (for this current era) pastel shades, which I prefer to the previous scheme. For the first time in a while I was accosted whilst taking the photo by a man who crossed the road to ask what I was taking pictures of and why! It was the pub gaffer, who just happened to be returning home, and he was happy when I explained what I do.

It is a magnificent building and I do hope it survives as a pub for many years to come.

Sunday, 19 April 2020

#005 Bristol Pear, Selly Oak : 1996 to 2020 (Revisited)

I don't visit the Bristol Pear frequently, but this hostelry has the dubious honour of being the last pub I drank in before the current lockdown!

I have made occasional visits over the past few years, but this is what I wrote in 2011: -

I first visited The Station in the late 70's when I was a student. My vague recollection is that it was a pub for locals and full of 'old' people (at a guess, about the age I am now!) so I wasn't a frequent visitor.

As I lived in the area, over the years I visited a few more times and it was completely refurbished some years later. During this period, The Station was a regular stop off for a pint whilst our Chinese takeaway was being prepared on a Saturday evening. During this phase of its existence it was reasonably welcoming and catered for all ages. 

The picture below is from 1996 when I was visiting close to the end of our canal trip to Llangollen and Chester on the evening of Thursday 5th September 1996.

Not many years after this the pub was completely revamped into an 'It's a Scream' pub and renamed the Bristol Pear. This was Mitchells & Butlers way of making student friendly pubs, which seemed to work. On the odd occasions we visited it was full and loud, but strangely the layout was the same as before! The picture below is from the evening of Thursday 3rd June 2004 at the end of a short trip exploring some of the hidden canals in Birmingham.

Finally we come to the afternoon of Thursday 21st July 2011. I'm still an infrequent visitor, but it survives by being apparently what the students want, so who am I to argue?

It's a funny thing; when I was young this pub was full of old people, but now I'm 'old' it's full of young people so it has never been one of my favourite pubs...oh for a time machine.

I'm not sure if The Station was one of The Pub Curmudgeon's haunts when he too was a student in Brum, but I would like to take this opportunity to thank him for his help and encouragement with this blog and I'll finish with a story that will not help his blood pressure!

The last time I was in the Bristol Pear was on a Saturday evening and we were served our lager in plastic pints. We were told that this rule had come in after some trouble (unspecified at that time) and plastics must be used for beer after 7pm in all pubs in Selly Oak! The next pub we went to was The S'oak (a new establishment) where again we were served our pints in plastics. This time we found out the cause - in separate incidents someone had been glassed and someone had been badly cut after falling onto a broken glass. So maybe the precautions were warranted...except...the person had been glassed with a Coke glass and the person who'd fallen fell onto a wine glass. Neither of these types of glass had been banned!
I don't know if these restrictions are still in place as I've no real desire to go back and drink out of plastic!

I can confirm that the practice of drinking out of 'plastics' was a thankfully, short-lived phenomenon!

The next time I took photos was on the afternoon of Friday 6th June 2014.

As it happens, very little had changed in the passing three years.

Moving on to the time of Covid-19 and the first lockdown, I took these photos on my permitted exercise on the afternoon of Wednesday 8th April 2020.
 That is quite a refurbishment! The 'Scream!' pubs were bought by Stonegate (from Mitchells & Butlers) in 2010, but they ran them in a similar fashion for several years. The Bristol Pear is now part of the 'Common Room' brand within Stonegate (other brands include Slug & Lettuce, Walkabout, Yates to name a few). I do like the new look, but to my mind, you can't beat the classic décor from 1996 when it was still The Station!

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

#009 Country Girl, Selly Oak : 1996 to 2020 (Revisited)

This is primarily a pub blog but, as we're now in 'lockdown' and practicing social isolation, my only recourse (other than to open the 'archives' as many other bloggers are doing) is to update some of my more local pubs that are within walking distance!
The nearest of these is the Country Girl and this is what I wrote in 2011: -

This is the pub which, over the years, I've spent most drinking time in! My first visit to the Country Girl was back in my student days when it was a proper pub, but it was a bit off my 'beaten track' so I was never a regular in those days.
Following my move to Stirchley in 1983 I became a more regular visitor to the Country Girl as it is only a 15 minute walk away. However, in those days I would go out on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, often into Birmingham, but going 'local' was an infrequent occurrence! 

As I've grown older, the number of nights I go out drinking has dwindled (now just Friday and Saturday!), and I've become less adventurous and so the Country Girl has become, by default, my local!

It has undergone several expansions and refurbishments and when these first two pictures were taken it was still a proper pub with a Bar and a Lounge.
This photo is from 1996 and is the earliest picture that I've taken of the Country Girl.

Now it is 1998 and very little has changed. I do remember watching the second half of the 1999 Champions League Final in the Bar. Just over a year later and the Country Girl was changed beyond all recognition. Whilst the refurbishment was going on we had to visit several other establishments and became regulars at the Bell in Harborne for a while.

Then the Country Girl reopened as an Ember Inn...and I was there on opening night. As with all Ember Inns it became a one room pub done out more like a wine bar than a proper pub, but still an acceptable place to drink and chat. I don't have any photos from the early Ember days, but more recently I've taken some.

This is from 2009. The distinctive Country Girl sign has gone and the M&B sign has disappeared from the pub. Other than those changes, the outside seems to be largely untouched. Unfortunately, because of its position, it is difficult to get a good shot of the pub from the front.

Now it is 2011 and the place is still pretty much the same as before. Shortly it is due to become an Ember Pub and Dining establishment. I'll reserve judgement until I've been into one, but from a drinkers perspective I don't think this is such a good move. However, as a quiz master (not at the Country Girl) I'm thankful that the new re-branded pubs will still be including quiz nights as part of their strategy. Watch this space!

Fortunately for all concerned the Country Girl never went down the route of Ember Pub & Dining. As I understand it, after quite a few of the pubs had been upgraded to the newer format it was discovered that the expected rise in takings didn't occur and so they didn't convert any more pubs.

Since 2011, though, the Country Girl has undergone another refurb and the exterior now looks like this.
The typical Ember Inn pastel green décor, but little else has changed. No meal/drinks offers on the main sign as befits the lockdown era (and no cars in the carpark).

I'm a less frequent visitor to the Country Girl these days, but it is still, probably, the pub I visit most for pleasure. By and large it has changed little in terms of atmosphere and service (still pretty good for both!) and with nearby the Selly Oak Hospital site being converted into housing (similarly with the nurses former accommodation), the Country Girl should have a rosy future...once this nonsense is over! 

Friday, 10 April 2020

Stirchley in The Time of Coronavirus - Part 5

This will be my final pictorial report on Stirchley during the 2020 lockdown (but there may yet be 2021 reports to come...who knows?).

It took me many years of living in Stirchley to discover our very own park, hidden away by the side of the Co-op (soon to be Morrison's).
Stirchley Park - 25th March 2020
Stirchley Park - 11th January 2013
 The street art changes fairly regularly, partly because it gets vandalised quite often. The extra path has been added so that you can do a circuit of the park and more, small trees have been planted.

Also backing onto the park is Stirchley Library, which at the moment is shrouded in scaffolding.

Stirchley Library - 27th March 2020
Stirchley Library - 11th January 2013

Since I last reported on Stirchley, in 2013, the future of the library has been in jeopardy, but the scaffolding is a good sign that it will endure for a while longer.

Another Stirchley stalwart is the British Oak pub which has changed little in the intervening years.
British Oak - 25th March 2020
British Oak - 11th January 2013
Before the lockdown, the British Oak seemed to be doing quite nicely and I hope that it makes a success of the return...whenever that is. It is Grade II* so hopefully it will be back soon.

Whatever happened to Drums International?
Drums International - 4th April 2020
Drums International - 11th January 2013

This was one of the quirky shops along the Pershore Road, but unfortunately it closed down in August 2018. It was another of those 'Aladdin's Cave' type shops, but for drummers...every High Street should have one...sadly in these times it just didn't work out.

Oulsnam Estate Agents - 4th April 2020
Laing Estate Agents -11th January 2013
It wasn't long after the 2013 picture was taken that Laing were bought out by Oulsnam and another local firm had been consumed into a larger chain.

Before I sign off there are a couple of places that I didn't photograph in 2013. The first is an example of discovering something new that, really, I should have noticed long before!
The Central Bakery -5th April 2020
Until the other day I hadn't realised that this was originally the site of the bakery for the whole of the Midlands Co-op Society. The blue plaque, which was installed in 2018, is in honour of Mary Ellen Cottrell who has an impressive list of firsts.

Finally, as this is supposed to be a blog about pubs, we have the Wildcat.
Wildcat - 5th April 2020
This micropub was originally in smaller premises further along the Pershore Road and, because of its success, the owner decided to move to these, larger, premises. They reopened in June 2019 and promptly ran out of beer as they were so much busier than anticipated...hopefully, when this is all over, they'll have the same problem again!

Two doors down from the Wildcat is Alicia's Micro Bakehouse, Stirchley's very own artisan pizza place. Last time I was by there it was takeaway only which looks as though it will continue for the foreseeable future.

Another two doors down is Cork 'n' Cage, another micro bar/eatery which was also thriving before the lockdown. I do hope that they're able to weather the storm otherwise there's a good chance of losing the vibrant variety that these places had brought to old Stirchley Village!

Monday, 6 April 2020

Stirchley in The Time of Coronavirus - Part 4

On my strolls along the Pershore Road, or Stirchley High Street as it is more colloquially known, I'm reminded as to why is such a wonderful place and why, 37 years after I first moved here, it is finally starting to fulfil it's potential as an up-and-coming suburb!

One of the first to show the potential of Stirchley was Stirchley Wines & Spirits.
Stirchley Wines & Spirits - 31st March 2020
Stirchley Wines & Spirits - 11th January 2013

Unfortunately, in these difficult times, the off licence has decided to stay closed on safety grounds even thogh they are allowed to open. Hopefully they will return once the crisis is over and continue to provide such a wide range of drinks.

Further down this row of shops you can just see the blue awning of Stirchley's finest (and longest lasting) greengrocer, Wards.
Wards Potato - 31st March 2020
Wards Potato - 11th January 2013
 This is a proper 'old school' greengrocers which has not changed (apart from a lick of paint) in the years I've been living here. It is my go-to place for Maris Piper potatoes which make far superior chips compared to supermarket Maris Pipers!

Halfway between Wards and Stirchley Wines, on the other side of the road, stands my doctor's surgery next door to the pharmacy.
Ash Tree Pharmacy + Medical Centre - 31st March 2020
Ash Tree Pharmacy + Medical Centre - 11th January 2013
Very little external change over the years, but the Ashtree Medical Practice has now merged with one in Kings Norton which does give more options for appointments. Ash Tree Pharmacy is not actually linked to the Medical Centre, but is my go-to place form y regular pills and potions. As I took this picture I was curious about the people standing in the alleyway. At first I thought that they were having a fag, but upon reading the note on the pharmacy door, I now know that they were in the queue for the side door as that's the only way in during the crisis!

Heading back towards town and on the other side of the road we find more shops.
Myrtle Villas - 5th April 2020
Myrtle Villas - 11th January 2013
This image nicely depicts the turnover of shop ownership here in Stirchley (and many other parts of the country). Interestingly, what was Joshuaa Shaun is now Iron Oxide (a specialist, bespoke lighting manufacturer) and what was Bits & Pieces is now Joshuaa Shaun hairdressing. I have no idea what Shop! is! Just out of picture (on the left) Vac Clinic is still going (pandemic pending) and is another Stirchley stalwart.

Finally for today, a shop that I've never set foot in, but one that I do hope survives this current crisis - P Browell, Tobacconist.
P Browell, Tobacconist - 31st March 2020
P Browell, Tobacconist - 11th January 2013
Established in 1924, whenever I've looked through the window it looks like a proper old school tobacconist and it would be sad for such an historic shop to disappear.

So, there you have it, another stroll through Stirchley in search of the quirky and unique.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Stirchley in The Time of Coronavirus - Part 3

Still taking my exercise locally, albeit not every day, and I'm still discovering things that have changed in the past seven years that I hadn't noticed from the comfort of my car (nor in the dark staggering from pub to bar to restaurant!)
This is the welcome you get to Stirchley as you come from Birmingham City Centre, although there is another, older Stirchley sign a few hundred yards closer to town!

'Welcome to Stirchley Village' - 31st March 2020
'Welcome to Stirchley Village' - 13th January 2013
Not a lot has really changed with this view; the 'Welcome' sign has faded, there's a new bus shelter and the buses are in a new livery, but in The Time of Coronavirus there's no-one at the bus stop and it drives on by.
Moving further into the village we come to a row of shops, Stirchley's very own mini-park and what has to be the world's most ridiculously short 20mph zone!
Stirchley Mini Park - 27th March 2020
Stirchley Mini Park - 13th January 2013
In the intervening years, both Printigo and Venture Bikes have moved out, but Santi Pizza & Grill House has moved into the formerly vacant premises inbetween. Also along this row is the Rainbow Garden Cantonese Takeaway which is my go-to for Chicken & Mushroom Curry! Strangely, during the 'lockdown' the pizza place is open, but the Chinese is closed.
That row of shops is 70 yards long (well, 70 of my paces) with a right angle bend at the far end where it joins the Pershore Road. The powers that be deemed it necessary to instal 20mph signs at the start of this stretch of road! I'm not sure if any vehicle could attain more that 20mph and safely negotiate either right angle bend!
To the right of these shops is the Perfection Snooker Lounge.
Perfection Snooker - 27th March 2020
Perfection Snooker - 14th January 2013
 Sadly it is closed for the duration of the current crisis, but will hopefully reopen once restrictions have lifted. It looks like the signage hasn't been changed in the past 7 years. However, the front area underwent considerable work when local flood defences were enhanced a few years ago. That whole area was dug up producing a massive hole as part of the project to reduce flooding in that area. The final appearance is more appealing than previously, but there's no room for cars.
A little further along the Pershore Road and we encounter the vastly differing fortunes of two rival Balti Restaurants.
Balti Bazaar - 27th March 2020
Balti Bazaar - 13th January 2013
Before I'd taken these pictures, if you'd asked me, I'd have said that Balti Bazaar was completely unchanged in the past 7 years...and then I noticed the lack of chimneys and the new roof!
I don't remember exactly when Balti Bazaar opened in Stirchley, but I'd guess at the early 1990's. In all that time I've eaten there once (in the very early days), but as it wasn't quite as good as Yasser's across the road I never returned.
Yasser's opened in 1987 and for well over 20 years was my go-to Balti restaurant...anywhere! Towards the end, the quality drifted as the old guard left and the next generation took over. Then, over the last five years (or so) it has been renamed and relaunched so often that I can't remember most of the new names. It's current guise is Tiffin Lounge.
Tiffin Lounge - 31st March 2020
Yasser Tandoori - 13th January 2013
I've never been into Tiffin Lounge and probably never will. Possibly the final, but certainly the most ignominious, chapter in this tale occurred only a few days ago with a serious fire in the cannabis farm that the premises had, allegedly, become! What the future holds for the site is unknown, but I suspect that the current owners are in deep do-do!