A New Year Dawns on the Oldswinford Pub Scene
We went for a drink in
Oldswinford recently and I half typed up
report but didn't get around to finishing it off. However, I did make
a reference to this trip on my post regarding the Fountain at
Stourbridge so rather than dump it I'll post what I did write.......
After a hard week’s slog at work, me and Emma chose to unwind a little
on Saturday with a meander around the pubs of
Oldswinford. Jumping on
a bus to take us to the area proved problematic as the National
Express website was listing routes they no longer operate; these less
profitable routes no doubt being dumped on Diamond Buses, a company
whose slogan could be a rearrangement of the words “brewery, organise,
couldn’t, a, in, a piss-up.”
Ironically, I had to endure a trip on one of Diamond's filthy
contraptions the previous night. When another customer complained that
the bus was late, the driver responded that it “was very late”, a
result of him having to try three buses before he could find one in
which he could start the engine. At least he could communicate in
English, unlike the East European driver who simply stared at us when
asked “if the bus went to Pedmore?” Unlike the BNP and hard-right
Tories, I’m all for people being able to travel and migrate in order
to find work and a better life. However, I do think that being able to
speak English is a prerequisite for a bus driver who also acts as a
front line employee for the company. It would help if the bus
operators continued to offer decent wages and conditions - it would
appear ipso facto that the reduced status and remuneration package of
the modern bus driver is only attractive to new migrants.
Diamond also seem to think that they can get away with a quick revamp
of a decrepit jalopy by spraying it in black paint and calling it a
Black Diamond Bus. Our conveyance may have looked sleek on the outside
but, once aboard, you are hit by the stench of diesel, chewing gum on
the seats, chip wrappers dumped in the baggage rack and the ubiquitous
cans and bottles rolling around the floor. Lord Adonis or any recent
incumbent of the office of Secretary of State for Transport should be
forced to ride a Diamond bus for a day and maybe, just maybe, they’d
realise that their rhetoric on public transport is not aligned to any
kind of reality. Jump on a Diamond bus and you enter either a] the
real world or b] the twilight zone. OK, rant over it’s time for a
We jumped off the bus at Stourbridge Junction Station so this is
perhaps the more sensible approach for those wanting to venture around
Oldswinford. The Seven Stars is close to the railway station but this
once magnificent building was looking in a very sorry state. The
windows were whitewashed and a handwritten note stuck up proclaiming
that the pub was “Temporey Closed.” I mean, really, you have to worry
about the standards within the licensed trade when such spelling
howlers are posted on pub frontages for all to read and fall about
The front door of the pub was open so I stuck my head inside where it
appeared that some sort of staff meeting was taking place. However,
when this pub opens again is a mystery. And when it does, what a task
it will be to restore its fortunes. It was the Dickinson family who
made this pub the place to be during the 1990’s when it was hard to
find a vacant seat. Moving from the Fountain Inn at Clent, Michael
Dickinson acquired this Edwardian boozer in 1987. Together with his
partner June and son Andrew, he made the Seven Stars a tremendously
successful business. With the pub enjoying a booming turnover, they
sold the Seven Stars in 2001 to brothers Graham and Terry Robertson.
The sale was at a time when there was a shift of trade from
Stourbridge town centre, a vogue that continues today.
The younger crowd converge on the trendy bars in the town where once
the Seven Stars and Labour in Vain mopped up everyone’s disposable
income with gusto. Despite appointing Dominic Gill as manager [he had
previously worked at The Dog in Harvington] the fortunes of the Seven
Stars waned and customers slowly drifted away. The Seven Stars was
purchased by Ian Bullocks in 2004 but it would appear that those
halcyon days of the Dickinson family are an ever-distant memory.
We ventured inside the aforementioned Labour in Vain, the interior of
which has been refurbished for the Ikea generation so, consequently,
it looks like, well, most large chain-operated outlets. I guess
something had to be done to the Banks’s Tap House interior which was
starting to look terribly battered, though some would argue that that
was the whole point of the W&D contrived tap house interiors of the
1980’s and 1990’s. Back then, the Labour in Vain, an historic building
formerly known as the Malt Shovel, was packed to the rafters with the
target market of 18-35 year-old drinkers and the place had quite a
student campus vibe. We wandered into the bar just as the Ukraine vs.
England game was about to be screened, the first game that was
exclusively broadcast via the Internet. A bloke, whom I assume was the
gaffer, had wired up a laptop to the large screen but he had clearly
left it all a bit last minute dot com because, with seconds to go
before kick-off, he was struggling to get any sound out of the
loudspeakers which looked a tad small for the job. We didn’t hang
around to see if the punters were getting restless with the publican’s
IT situation. Besides, the all-male crowd in the bar isn’t the most
conducive environment to enjoy a quiet conversation with your nearest-and-dearest. I did notice that Wychwood Hobgoblin and Jennings Little
Gem were on sale so a return visit is on the cards.
We headed for The Crabmill by walking along the picturesque Church
Road. Immediately on the right are No's 6-16, a charming row of old
cottages which all feature late Georgian lancet-pointed windows. On
the left is The Castle, an early 19th century partly-castellated
structure which was originally built in the Tudor style but has
received several hotch-potch rebuilds. A much older building stood on
the site and is marked on a map dated 1699. This is thought to be a
timber-framed building which came into the ownership of the Hickman
family who were closely associated with Stourbridge's cloth trade.
Edward Hickman began adding the castellations to the building after he
gained the freehold in 1782. The rectory is a fine five-bay red brick
house dating from around 1700. The Church of Saint Mary has a history
dating back to the 13th century. The present Robert Ebbles-designed
19th century red sandstone building still features a tower dating back
to the 14th century. The nave of the church was rebuilt in 1842 and a
chancel added in 1898. A thorough restoration was led in 1938 by Sir
Charles Scott who also designed the gateway and church walls. The
building enjoyed a spire for almost two centuries - it was erected in
1809/10 but, after being deemed 'unsafe', it was dismantled in 1985.
Until recent times, The Crabmill used to be known as The Oldswinford.
The building was bought by Hardy’s and Hanson’s in January 2001 and
this brought the welcome sight of Nottinghamshire beers in North
Worcestershire. However, the takeover of this brewery by Greene King
has resulted in the more familiar beers from Bury St Edmunds. The
Crabmill may not be an historic pub but is located in an imposing
building of Georgian design that was once the home of the local
doctor. The original Crabmill stood on what is now the car park on the
corner of the road junction. The former Smith’s brewery pub was
demolished in 1970 and the licence transferred to this house.
The pub's name was changed to The Old Swinford Lodge in the early
1990's before it was was renamed The Oldswinford in 1997, a time when
it was operated as a Yate’s Wine Lodge. The pub has no traditional bar
or lounge but is divided into five sections in which the ambience is
rather genteel. The house speciality is sausages but, as we hadn’t yet
had a beer in
Oldswinford we headed for the counter. We ordered the
Greene King IPA but were told it was off. The barman gave the handpull
a draw to confirm the well was indeed dry. A pub with no beer -
incredible. He didn’t seem too fussed about the fact that it was
Saturday evening and the cellar was empty. We headed for the door.
Three pubs down and we had yet to have a beer!
And that was as far as I got on my report. However, things got better
after this. Briefly.... we walked to Pedmore for an enjoyable guest
ale and a bit of nosh. Not bad, despite the place having hardly any
staff. Even the cabbage mechanic had jacked. But the Ember Inns fodder
can be heated up by just about anyone who has grown up with a
microwave. We actually went there to see if they, like the Birmingham
M&B Ember chain, were stocking Purity Ales - sadly, this seems
confined to the Brum area outlets.
The Crown had the usual five or six beers amid a convivial setting - I
have reviewed this pub recently and it remains a nice little boozer.
The big surprise of the evening was The Retreat wine bar and
restaurant - they were selling Wye Valley beer and it was wonderful.
Nice vibe and a decent-looking veggie menu so we're planning to go
The Cross Sports Bar wasn't as bad as I imagined it would be and they
were selling Jennings beer which was in good condition. We finished
with some Holden's beer in the Shrubbery Cottage. We had the monthly
guest thing, the name of which I cannot remember. However, I do recall
it was pretty good so we stayed for another.
If you really want to keep going you can walk down to the Plough and
Harrow at Norton before calling in at the Enville tap house of the
Waggon and Horses close to the Stourbridge ring road. However, we'd
had enough and walked back into town along the Hagley Road witnessing
the remarkable queue outside the Swan. For years this pub had been struggling for custom. Honestly,
you just couldn't get people in there. Well, it would appear that it
is now one of Stourbridge's hottest tickets. It looked awful inside
and the booming sound system was rattling dentures in Lye. However,
what was really amazing was the sight of a long queue down the street
with people waiting to get in. Bouncers were guarding the door and it
looked like it had reached a one-in, one-out system. Standing in the
freezing cold waiting to get into the warm were scantily clad women with goose bumps
the size of wheel nuts on an Eddie Stobart lorry. incredible!
Overall, we didn't get beer where we imagined it would be available
and we found good beer in places where we thought it would be simply a
fizzy lager outlet. Just goes to show that you have to stick your head
in - the sort of "got to be in it to win it" philosophy.
29th December 2009
► I'm amazed that you've never considered entering the realms of book writing
Kieron as you are a darn fine story teller!
Just a couple of additions to update your stroll here.
The Seven Stars is now open, Speckled Hen - pure vinegar ("We've only just had
it in" - yeah, right), Deuchar's IPA - half vinegar & Old Peculiar - just
about drinkable, so I suspect the new folks won't be around long.
We do have a CAMRA Branch 'claim to fame' with this place as, about four years ago, we
managed to get the interior "listed" in less than 3 weeks to save the
magnificent bar and surround from destruction. The then incumbents buggered
off sulking apparently!
I'm not surprised about The Crabmill, I won't drink GK beers on principal
after the shoddy way the axed the workers at Hardy's and Hanson's in Christmas week a few
years back, beers are crap anyway!
I think that the Foley has Enville as their "Locale" and I agree that the
quality has been pretty reasonable of late. Whatever happened to the annual
Ember Ale Festivals in October?
I just wonder how long The Cross will keep going as they seem intent on
annoying the Council as much as possible with their illegal marquee in the
car park [see also Prince of Wales and Royal Oak - yes, it's the same folks!]
The Waggon and Horses is now owned by Eddie Morton of Katie Fitzgerald's fame
supposedly shutting for a few weeks [months?] on New Year's Day for a total
refurbishment. He plans to have live acoustic stuff [close to residential property] when it
re-opens. I've not been in but I've heard that the beer quality and choice has
been good. I know Dave at the Plough/Duke is looking forward to the prospect
as he feels it can only be good for the town centre - here's hoping.
John Midwood 30th December 2009