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The Whitley at Halesowen

Euclidean Geometry Forms in Halesowen
The Whitley at Halesowen has recently re-opened as part of Black Country Ales empire. In addition to their Gornal beers, they are selling guest ales. This boozer now forms a real ale triangle with the Hawne Tavern and Waggon and Horses. Better still, I hear that the former Huntingtree [Button Factory] up the hill from Tesco's is now selling four real ales so you can make a diagram from all four locations.
Kieron McMahon 3rd May 2010

We visited The Whitley at Halesowen last night. They had 10 beers on sale. We tried 5. All were perfectly OK but couldn't help thinking they'd be trumped by a well-kept pint of Banks's Bitter. The beer board is good because it clearly shows what type of beer and colour it is - saves me asking for a dark one! The pub has been fitted out in Black Country Ales fashion, quite cosy. There was a pleasant girl behind the counter who gave samples of beers as a "buy before you try." Didn't need Heart FM on the telly however. Somebody was singing an awful cover version of Jackson 5's "I'll Be There". Still, not a bad pub experience and we would go back again.
Kieron McMahon 5th May 2010


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The Seven Stars at Oldswinford

The Labour in Vain at Oldswinford

The Crabmill at Oldswinford

The Foley Arms at Pedmore

The Retreat at Oldswinford

The Bird in Hand at Oldswinford

 

The Cross at Oldswinford

A New Year Dawns on the Oldswinford Pub Scene
We went for a drink in Oldswinford recently and I half typed up a 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 drink..... 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 laughing. 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 Oldswinford to 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 back. 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.
Kieron McMahon 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 and is 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

The Royal Exchange at Stourbridge

The Duke William at Stourbridge

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The Enville Run Renaissance
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Some of the best times of my life have been spent in a pub. In my opinion, few things are better than relaxing with a nice beer and enjoying banter with friends and strangers. The latter arguably become less strange the more beer is ordered, though the completely eccentric imbibers will remain on the fringe of normality forevermore. Believe me, the twits are better left out there. Strike up a conversation with the pub nutter and your evening can suddenly go all pear-shaped. Thankfully, no such bizarre encounters marred what was a great night out before Christmas. The worst of times was the weather, one of the most bitterly cold nights of the year - just the ticket for a saunter along one of the famous drinking routes of yesteryear. The so-called Enville Street run from Wollaston to Stourbridge is something of misnomer, on account of much of the route being on Bridgnorth Road. Indeed, if you wind the clock back far enough you'd have spent some of the amble on Beauty Bank, a name referring to the road and area around Katie Fitzgerald's. However, talk to most locals about the Enville Run and they'll know exactly what you are talking about. Starting off in Wollaston, you call in for a beer in every pub lining the route from the urban fringe into the town centre of Stourbridge. Pub closures over the decades have made this a less daunting task for the modern drinker. Moreover, you are officially dubbed a lightweight if you start off in Wollaston village rather than being a true completist and making the journey up to The Ridge and beginning your session in the Forester's Arms. Preferring to embark on our mission during early doors we had the slight problem of the Forester's Arms and The Plough being shut. On a Friday? Come on, let's have the latch off a bit earlier folks. Consequently, me and Emma met up with old drinking pals Tony and Bridget Skirving in the Gate Hangs Well. Nothing lightweight about me. With filming of the remake of "Ice Station Zebra" taking place outside the pub, combined with us re-enacting "The March of the Penguins," I was wearing more layers of clothing than Pen Hadow on a polar expedition. The sheer weight of my garments meant that, if I'd fallen over on the slippery pavement, my drinking companions would have required lifting tackle to get me back to my feet. Of course, such protection against the elements means spending five minutes getting dressed and undressed when venturing from one pub to another. This is a source of some amusement to local regulars who view 'Enville Runners' as something of a novelty these days. The burgeoning Stourbridge nightlife scene has seen the popularity of the Enville Run wane in recent years. And with stag parties and the like heading to more exotic overseas locations, the local pub crawl has become something of an anachronism, an antiquated tradition being upheld by real ale drinkers and a few die-hard miscreants. However, the ephemeral nature of the pursuit can be a pleasurable experience during which a wide variety of beers can be enjoyed. Built around 1806, the Gate Hangs Well is Wollaston's oldest public house and, on this evening, was serving Enville Ale and Banks's Mild, the latter being a good introductory ale for an extended drinking session. Very well kept beer it was too. Despite the interior being spoiled somewhat, the Gate remains a fairly decent pub and one that seems to be a hardcore darts venue amid the homage to the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. However, the volume of the Billy Joel music made it hard to enjoy conversation, never mind the fact that it was Billy Joel. With the onslaught of Mel and Kim's Christmas video, we made our way around the corner into The Unicorn where Droitwich-born ex-Navy man John Freeman keeps perfect Batham's beer. The pub was rammed to the rafters but we found some seats in the tiny snug bit of the pub where Tony announced his forthcoming retirement. Now he can drink 24-7! Of course, one of the great advantages of being an elderly beer monster is that there is diminishing peer pressure, with one's adversary's having fallen by the wayside in seeking more lightweight leisure activity. Tony is quite a model for supping statesmanship. Some locals told us that the beer was £3 a pint in The Princess so we moved on to Wollaston's new pub - Graham's Place, formerly the Cottage Spring. Apparently, this pub has been bought by Webster's Florists around the corner in the High Street and we heard that they intend to open a garden centre on the site. It is true that the site is extensive as the Cottage Spring once had a bowling green. However, I have no idea if they intend to close the pub or run the two businesses side-by-side. It would seem odd to re-brand the Cottage Spring and then close it so perhaps there is a long-term plan for the pub. I didn't like the 'contemporary' interior but you couldn't fault the beer choice - Skinner's Heligan Honey, Abbeydale Absolution, Exmoor Gold, Salopian Hop Twister, Rooster's Ginger Ale and another from Hopback Brewery. Now that's a pretty good selection by anyone's standards. Quality wasn't too bad either and we stayed in order to try the range whilst launching a boys versus girls quiz with a pile of Trivial Pursuit cards I'd brought along - a compact and convenient way to get the evening into silly mode. After a few beers, one card of questions can take an age as the subjects provoke further offshoot conversation and general nonsense. In our case, it is largely claptrap and baloney. Next up was Katie Fitzgerald's where we were confronted by a flashing pump clip from Highgate Brewery. Stocking Filler I think it was called. However, I went for the Morrissey and Fox Mulled Ale which was pretty good. I like this pub - there's a nice affable vibe and the bar staff are friendly. In one of those "you had to be there" moments, Tony floored the entire pub with a hilarious answer to a quiz question. I ought to come back to this pub when I'm sober as the building leans almost as much as the Crooked House but inside, bizarrely, everything seems pretty much on a level plane, unlike the interior of my cranium which, by now, was less irregular. Essential stodge and fodder was provided by the chippy next to the Somerset House where they sell proper Black Country chips and, for tonight at least, a free chocolate out of the tin. Good stuff. The Royal Exchange was the busiest I have ever seen it - not even room for a stick insect in the bar. We found room in the back lounge where me and Tony struggled to match the girls in the quiz we had been playing en-route. As seasoned lags in the drinking world, we have mangled our brains with too many ales. We struggle to remember our own names never mind the answer that was Mike Gatting. With a load of trashy-looking youths hanging around The Cottage, most of whom were wearing twenty six layers of clothing less than us, we moved on into the town to try out the newly-refurbished Duke William. This has been taken over Dave Craddock, the chap who has the lease on the Plough and Harrow at nearby Norton. I think he has taken on the freehold of this pub and, consequently, is offering three regular ales and five guest beers. I can't remember what was being sold on the night as I was past making observations by this point. I do know that Tony had a Wye Valley beer and I was on a strong Stout from the Windsor Castle Brewery of Lye. Nice vibe in the pub and it looks like it could be a winner. I hope so because Stourbridge really does need a good town centre pub. I woke up in the morning with a terrible headache - was it the mix of beer or the chemicals used by some of the brewers these days? I wish everyone was like Purity Ales who use only water, hops and barley. I somehow retained the mental composure to figure out that it is now possible to drink more than twenty different ales along the entire town to country route. The number of taverns may have reduced but beer choice has greatly improved over the years, perhaps a reflection of the wider state of affairs within the pub sector.
Kieron McMahon 22nd December 2009

Chaos at Stourbridge

Councillor Brands Stourbridge Pub an "Absolute Pig Sty"
Designed by the eminent architect A. T. Butler and erected as a prestigious flagship building for Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries, the Bell Hotel in Stourbridge had an impressive red brick and stone facade in keeping with many of its Tudor features. However, following its conversion to a gay club called Chaos, the new owners have painted the building with white emulsion causing much anger in the town. Deputy Dudley Council leader Les Jones said the work was "not in keeping" and that "it looks like an absolute pig sty." Alex Waldron, manager of Chaos, told the newspapers that "it was a private building and we can do what we like." Do you think Alex Waldron is right and that they can do what they like? Or do you think this is vandalism of an historic building? Post your thoughts here.
Kieron McMahon 31st October 2009

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