Blog Surfer

Wednesday, 27 January 2021

#034 Billy's Bar, Digbeth, Birmingham : 1998 to 2021 (RIP)

 Continuing onwards with the depressing pub closures in Digbeth over the past 23 years we come to Billy's which had already closed and been converted to a Backpackers Hostel by the time of my 2011 visit. Here's what I wrote then: -

"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!

Central Birmingham Backpackers
Another pub gone, but at least it is being put to good use."
So, onto the view in 2021.
From this picture it would appear that the Backpackers Hostel is closed, however, when I searched on the internet I found this! According to their website, you can still book rooms there via! It looks very closed to me! (Obviously, I'll have to take a look later in the year when restrictions are lifted.)

Monday, 25 January 2021

#032 Eagle & Tun, Digbeth, Birmingham : 1998 to 2021 (RIP)

 This will be my third and final report on the fate of the Eagle & Tun pub. This is from my 2016 write up: -

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

Eagle & Tun pub

Then 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 the evening of Thursday 19th September 2002 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 Monday 15th August 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.
That's what I wrote back in 2011, but late last year I got a comment on the blog that the Eagle & Tun was back in business. Well, it's taken me a few weeks to get around to it, but here's the picture from Friday 5th February 2016!

I didn't go inside, but with smokers outside the door, it seemed to be doing OK. Hopefully this will be a long term going concern and survive into the 'brave new' era of HS2."
Since then I made one more visit to the Eagle & Tun, on the afternoon of Wednesday 11th July 2018, as part of one of the Proper Pubs Days Out - report here 

In the original plans for HS2, this pub was going to be preserved and become part of the new entranceway to the station. Unfortunately, as often seems to happen with modern developments, the preservation of old older architecture seems to fall by the wayside as plans get revised.
So, now we're in 2021, this is the scene that I found on the afternoon of Saturday 16th January 2021.
The Eagle & Tun was finally demolished in October 2020...another sad loss amongst so many others!

Friday, 22 January 2021

#023 O'Neills, Curzon Street, Birmingham : 1998 to 2021 (RIP)

 This is another pub that was demolished long before my 2011 revisit, but this shows the final resting place of O'Neills (previously the Old Railway). But first, this is what I wrote back in 2011: -

"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!"

Before I move on to 2021; Moby Dick's is still there, resurrected as the Eagle & Ball (see my write up - here); HS2 has got the go-ahead and work is ongoing on that project; my optimism that more pubs might reopen in the future seems sadly misplaced!

Back in 2011, I was unaware as to what was going to fill this large empty space, but I can now reveal the vista that now presents itself.

Curzon Building, Birmingham City University 2021

This is the quite spectacular Curzon Building of Birmingham City University which also included the refurbishment of the Eagle & Ball pub - details here.

So, 23 years on and everything has changed, the pub has gone forever, the road signs replaced and even the road junction has been remodelled for the modern era.

Tuesday, 19 January 2021

#011 Pall Mall, Cheapside, Birmingham : 1998 to 2021 (RIP)

I know what you're thinking - no entries for over a month and then three come along in quick succession - what is going on? Well, with lockdown ongoing, I thought it was time to catch up on some of my previous Birmingham pubs. As there are quite a few to get through I need to increase my output! 

Just down the road from The Fountain (on the next street corner), the fate of the Pall Mall will come as no surprise, as it had already been demolished by the time I reported on it back in 2011. Ten years later and you can see what has been done to the site. Firstly, though, here is what I wrote in 2011: -

"Back in 1998 I went around the Digbeth/Deritend/Highgate area of Birmingham taking photos of all the pubs I could find. It was my intention to return in 10 years to see how the Birmingham Eastside development had affected these pubs. I didn't find the time in 2008 and so, finally, I revisited the area this year with my camera and these are the results. 
This is the second in my 'Eastside' series.

As I toured the streets of Digbeth in 1998 I came across a few pubs that I never knew existed; the Pall Mall was one of them. I don't think I've been in it, but I've done one or two pub crawls around the area, so I might have!

Here we are in 2011 and I'll never have the chance to drink here! This is the sort of shot I was envisaging in 1998 when I started out on this project, but it is still depressing to be confronted with the reality. Interestingly, the street sign, street light, junction box and road sign are untouched!"
I did return in 2018 and this was the extent of the development.
Hardly a startling amount of progress in seven years, still there were some signs of activity! (but the junction box and controlled parking sign both remain.)

Moving on to 2021 and this was the visage. At least the controlled parking sign is still present even though the road is closed!
Finally, almost TEN years after the Pall Mall had been demolished the replacement building is almost finished. This reinforces a question about property development that has bugged me for years - why are developers so quick to knock old buildings down and then so slow to construct the replacements? 
(Answers in the comments section below!)

Sunday, 17 January 2021

#054 The Fountain, Cheapside, Birmingham : 1998 to 2021 (RIP)

 During the first lockdown in 2020 I brought you fine bright pictures of Stirchley, Selly Oak and Harborne. For this new, winter lockdown I'm going to update my Birmingham Eastside (mostly Digbeth) pubs to show how they have fared since my first foray into the area in 1998.

We start with The Fountain and this is what I wrote back in 2011: -

"The Fountain is a small street corner pub in Digbeth that in 1998 I'd never been in, but was on my route home from work so I passed it almost every day.

This is not to be confused with The Fountain Inn which is a gay pub in Highgate less than a mile away.

Since taking this picture in 1998 I've visited the pub a couple of times on pub crawls through Digbeth. Inside it is pretty much as you'd expect; a small basic bar with friendly locals and staff. In short, a proper pub!

As I went around the area in 2011 I was pleased to see that The Fountain was still there and largely unchanged.
Obviously, it has been repainted, but the M&B sign remains! The pub continues, I assume, as it is part of the strong Irish community in this part of Digbeth and because there is still industry here. I'm not sure whether the new residential developments nearby are a positive factor - do the people that live in these new apartments go to the local pub? I don't know, but I suspect not.

This is the twenty-fifth in my 'Birmingham Eastside' series."
As part of my periodic reviews of the area I took this photo in 2018.
It was pleasing to see that it was still open and, presumably, thriving.

Unfortunately, my optimism was soon crushed as, some weeks ago, I first noticed that it had become boarded up and surrounded by scaffolding. This is how it looks in early 2021.
The site is going to be converted into 40+ flats with the pub building being kept and extra building work added on either side - details here.

The Fountain is not a victim of the pandemic as it was failing back in 2018 when the first steps in this conversion took place. Sadly, there appears to be no need for basic, street corner boozers in the 21st Century in this part of Birmingham.

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

#283 Boat Inn, Birdingbury Wharf, Warwickshire : 1998 to 2020

In these dark days of a winter lockdown it is hard to remain optimistic and upbeat about pubs in the knowledge/expectation that many will not survive into the post apocalyptic pandemic future.

However, I still have a few new pubs left to report on, so I'll start off the new year with the Boat Inn on the Grand Union Canal. It is a pub we'd passed on many occasions until lunchtime on Thursday 25th June 1998.

I have little recollection about the interior except that I vaguely remember it being quite cosy and having part of a narrowboat hull as the bar counter.

Our next stop was almost two years later on the evening of Sunday 28th May 2000.

Although it was only a couple of years, the Bass sign had disappeared, no doubt as part of the exterior redecoration.

Another nine years had gone by before I took this photo of the Boat Inn as we cruised by on the afternoon of Sunday 24th May 2009 on our way to Braunston for our evening stop.

This was post the 2007 Smoking Ban so there were many more tables outside. Also the pub name had reappeared on the signage.

Another couple of years drifted by and we passed the Boat Inn, again, on the afternoon of Sunday 29th May 2011, headed for Napton (having lunched at the Two Boats in Long Itchington!)

Fewer outdoor tables and the pub sign had changed to just The Boat in a style evocative of the Bass sign that was previously there.

Along this stretch of the Grand Union Canal, our preferred stop is at the Two Boats in Long Itchington, leaving both the Blue Lias and Boat Inn as under visited establishments.

Our next cruise by was on the morning of Wednesday 12th June 2019 being too early to stop for lunch having left Wigrams Turn Marina only 90 minutes earlier.

Yet again the main sign has changed, reverting back to the Boat Inn and there are now gazebos above the outdoor seating.

Our final vist was, in fact, an actual stop at the pub at lunchtime on Saturday 22nd August 2020. This time we'd been a little later leaving the marina!

The signage was unaltered and we had a pleasant lunch despite not having booked in advance, they managed to squeeze us in after other customers had finished.
As a pub with little natural footfall, it will be interesting to see whether it survives the pandemic.