June 3rd - I’ve often thought that one of the most attractive things in a person - male or female - is if they don’t realise just how attractive they are. As I’ve got older, I’ve begun to realise this applies to places too.
One of the reasons Walsall is such a gem architecturally - and it is, despite the abuse of it’s more conventional historic assets - is that it doesn’t realise just what a wealth of diverse riches it has. Stop in any suburb or part of town. Look around. Somewhere, close by, there will be something remarkable - not necessarily beautiful, but always engaging. And the town as a whole doesn’t really know.
I came into Walsall from Aldridge and took a route through Highgate. This house caught my eye while I waited for a reversing driver to complete their manoeuvre - just study it; take it in. Possibly not at it’s best, but from the chimney pots down to the front wall the detail is incredible. A fantastic roofline and gables, and the detail in the window arches.
There are treats like this all over this town, and Walsall just doesn’t know about them.
May 15th - Today, I found myself in Droitwich, which is a place I used to go a lot, but rarely visit these days. A bright, sunny and warm day, it was a pleasure to be there.
There’s just one bit of Droitwich that really, really irritates me: just off the island at the top of Salwarpe Road, there’s a modern newbuild housing development. Some muppet in the design office decided they were going to make the new block of apartments look old, by building in false bricked up windows and bolting on very, very artificial architectural ironwork aping S brackets and circular tie plates. The effect fools nobody, and is visually and conceptually abhorrent.
Whoever designed and executed this dogs dinner really needs a crash course in good taste. It ruins an otherwise reasonable building.
April 9th - I found myself in Aston, exploring the underbelly of Spaghetti Junction, and the bizarre number of other arteries it conceals - a rail junction, a river, and four canals. I spun around Aston, and spotted the Britannia, a classic, over-the-top Brum boozer, like the Bartons Arms, now marooned in a sea of modernity. It had been a couple of decades since I’d been this way, but little has changed. Some of the street art on the flood channel walls along the Tame is nearly 30 years old.
March 24th - It was a sunny morning, but cold. But it’s the cold, clear days when Darlaston really shines. Passing through, I still love the place. So many architectural gems in such a quiet, unassuming little town.
A real jewel in the Black Country.
March 4th - I came through Acocks Green today, a place I haven’t visited for a while. I love the sleepy, suburban Metroland feel to the backstreets, the Art-Deco townhouse terraces mingling with much older cottages from a more bucolic history. On the corner verge, a roadside flowerbed, planted with polyanthus and miniature daffodils.
I’m sure there’s an aspidistra in one of these front rooms. I hope they keep flying it.
February 9th - The day was pretty grey, really, but had it’s moments. Fed up of the mud and slurry of recent haunts, I cycled down into Lichfield to pick up some shopping, and I returned via the back lanes around Wall.
The winter panorama of Hammerwich was stunning, but the wind was evil, and it blew me down Pipehill at a fearsome speed. Passing through Sandfields, I stopped to look at the Pumping Station, an architectural gem marooned in a sea of modern mundanity. I wish the preservation campaign every success.
At Wall, as the sun was beginning to set, I found my first snowdrops of the year growing in the churchyard.
Spring will come, I can feel it now. It wasn’t dark until gone 5:30pm..
January 11th - Burntwood Church is lovely, although arguably, it’s not in Burntwood itself, but Fulfen. Built in 1819 by Joseph Potter of Lichfield, it’s a very square, squat design in very red red brick. It’s in a lovely spot, overlooking open countryside, and within sight of the thatched Fulfen Cottage.
Also nearby in the centre of the road junction Christ Church overlooks, Princes Park, said to be the smallest park in the world.
Burntwood is a place it’s easy to pass through without looking. But stopping and taking time to see the place really rewards the inquisitive.
January 3rd - I was back in Telford today, only the weather wasn’t quite as nice. I was fortunate really, as I expected us have much more rain than we did, and the winds here weren’t as bad as forecast either. I caught a short, heavy shower as I arrived at Telford, and sat it out for five minutes on the covered walkway that forms the station bridge and connects it to the town centre. I could see light on the horizon, and the downpour soon lightened.
The geometry of that walkway fascinates me; it’s very 1980s, but also very solid. Dingy at night, it could do with better lighting, but it’s not a bad piece of urban design, really.
December 18th - I passed through Chesterfield, the sleepy little hamlet midway between Shenstone and Wall. There isn’t a single ugly house here, they are all gorgeous, and I’m sure there’s history here; after all, the workhouse was just 50 yards around the corner for years.
It’s nice to see that after a period of being empty, someone has bought - and invested no little time or money - in the old Grange Farmhouse. It’s been sad to see it languishing empty for so long, and this really is a lovely, quiet spot, even on dull, overcast days like this.
November 10th - Remembrance. I called in at Hopwas to get a shot of the War Memorial here (there is none at Wall, to my surprise). It was darkening as I arrived, and having forgotten my tripod, I struggled. But this is a beautiful building and a delightful place, especially on an autumn evening.
Hopwas is the most curious, lovely church in all of Staffordshire. There, I said it.Yet what gazetteer or guide breathes it’s name? Who ever mentions this delightful country church?
Sitting in the shadow of Hopwas Hays Wood, high on the hillside, it gives the air of a country farmhouse, with white and timber gables, chimney and leaded pocket windows. Built in 1881 and designed by John Douglas of Cheshire, it’s a building that, to the best of my knowledge, is unique, and in a beautiful spot.
I was glad to see a wreath from the local Scouts, and several crosses. This is a fine place to be remembered.
October 14th - I was in Darlaston, and had to nip into Wednesbury, so I shot over King’s Hill on the way home. It’s a funny area, combining a post industriaair with pockets of modern commercial units and surprisingly beautiful old buildings. This one - the former Kings Hill Methodist Church is one such lovely old building. Sat on the edge of the glorious King George park, it sits unused. It was up for auction on the 5th October - wonder if anyone bought it? It would convert into a lovely home to someone with the imagination (and budget) to do so.
August 22nd - Off into the Peak District for the day on a long ride. It’s sometimes said that the best bits of Derbyshire are in Staffordhire, and Ilam is no exception. The border between the two counties runs down the river at Dovedale, and everything to the west is in Staffordshire, including this picturesque little village at the foot of the Manifold Valley. Superb architecturally, the village monument has just been refurbished.
More pictures from this ride are on my main blog.
August 18th - I passed through West Hill in Cannock on the way to Pye Green. I always come this way if I’m heading to the west of the Chase, but the hills are punishing. Today, I stopped to take a drink and noticed West Hill Primary School. What a fine bit of Victorian, municipal architecture it is. Huge windows, fantastically detailed in execution, the brickwork around the gables and eaves is a joy to behold, as are the decorative ironwork - just look at the floral finials. Good job they chose regular numbers and not Roman for the date inscription, that gable would have to have been a lot wider…
Then, as I moved on a little, I spotted what must have been the original school house; plainer, simpler, but again with lovely arched end windows and imposing chimneys.
This is a fine school indeed.
July 25th - Architectural perspective. I’d been to the night market at Walsall, and I came back down the Bridge. Walsall’s architecture is actually glorious in parts, and very, very handsome, but few ever look upwards and notice it. It’s also impossible to photograph without lens distortion and addled geometry, as you can’t get far enough away for a decent angle.
Later on, passing through Walsall Wood, I noticed two thirds of the old St. Johns school, derelict as long as I can remember, still being carried to dust by the elements, wet rot, fungal deterioration and vandalism. Meanwhile, the recently refurbished southern gable is still a lovely looking home.
Never have worked that one out.
July 24th - The love affair with Acocks Green and it’s homely, suburban architecture continues. They have a fine, red terracotta police station, in the Birmingham style, and behind it, an ex-fire station worthy of Trumpton.
There can’t be many cop shops with cupolas, can there?