March 3rd - I’d had a grim day. Most of the day the weather was beautiful, but I was stuck working and couldn’t get out to enjoy it, and I felt lousy, too. When I finally got free, at dusk, it was cold and the coming darkness uninspiring. I shot up Brownhills, then up to Walsall Wood, but the subject I though of didn’t make a good night picture. I had to pick some essentials up, so I skipped into the Tesco Express at Streets Corner in Walsall Wood. Open a couple of years now, it’s seen off the independent newsagent next door, and given other local shops a tough time. Tables could be turning, though, as a new Co-op is due to open opposite it and I’ll certainly use it in preference to these robber barons.
January 12th - I returned to Brownhills to pop to Tesco - never a great experience.
Heading back, I looked over the old market site, and up Pier Street to the High Street past the site of the old clinic. This land was once the site of a pub called The Pier, or Fortune of War; latterly, it hosted a busy market. Now, it sits derelict, set aside for a new Tesco development that never came. It has been empty, deserted and neglected for years now, and looks set to remain that way for a long time to come.
Local occasional blogger and Jack-the-lad Brownhills Barry recently speculated there were ghosts here. There are none. All that stalks here are the shadows of the past and it’s promises, and the darkness of lost horizons.
Sometimes, the tale you tell is lost in the one you left untold.
December 15th - There’s nothing like being prepared. Parked up outside Tesco, Brownhills in the wonderfully impractical bike racks, I came out to find another steed sensibly locked to the trolley store. The bike was a fairly nondescript Apollo (Halfords) bike-shaped object, but was absolutely loaded with panniers and bags. In the water bottle cage, a can of Wilkinson own-brand WD40.
There’s nothing like being prepared…
December 8th - Brownhills isn’t beautiful by any stretch of the imagination, but it can be rather striking, particularly at night. I’ve always been fascinated by the view from the Pier Street Bridge of the canal at night. There’s something about the combination of lights and water that’s rather wonderful. The whole area of the bridge is quite enchanting in the darkness. It’s proof that even the most unprepossessing area can be strikingly beautiful when you least expect it.
December 8th - I was stuck in doing paperwork most of the day, but skipped out late to do some shopping and take the air. Stopping at the dreaded Tesco in Brownhills for my fix of posh doughnuts, I noted I wasn’t the only occupant of the bike rack. There was a rather fine Mongoose hybrid parked up, with traditional Caradice long flap saddlebag and a rather splendid Brooks B33 fully sprung saddle. Man, that thing is the equivalent of a sofa. That really is being kind to your bum. Whoever owns this steed is very fond of it and loves traditional British cycling gear. And to whoever they are, I doff my hat… Chapeau, sir!
November 10th - I didn’t get out until nightfall. It was cold, and clear, and I was all set. Then I discovered my camera had not charged from the night before. I carried on with my ride, then returned home, got a fresh cell, and nipped out to Brownhills. It was around 7pm, and the High Street was quiet. I looked in Ravens Court, the battered, all but derelict shopping precinct. A typical design of the period, it was further bastardised by a hideous facelift in the 1990s. It’s now down to a couple of tenants, and stands, unloved, steadily decaying. Tesco were to demolish this and build a new superstore, but they got cold feet and have left the community in limbo. this desolation is our gift from the retail behemoth that destroyed our town. At night it’s grim, desolate and forbidding.
In daytime, it’s worse.
Further towards home, I traversed the Black Path, the cycleway and footpath that heads up through Holland Park to the A5 and Newtown. That too was dark and hostile. I don’t know what it is about Brownhills at night these days, but the quality of darkness seems to be getting more malevolent. Perhaps it’s just the mood I’m in…
29th September - A evening spin to Chasewater, and the golden hour was beautiful. Autumn’s coming on apace, now. Great sunset views at Anglesey Basin, Chasewater and, of all places, Tesco car park. Maybe the season isn’t so bad, after all.
July 27th - This is the old Walkways youth centre in Littleton Street, Walsall. Standing near the access to the new Tesco superstore in Walsall, it’s now so out of place that one might think it had been beamed down from a spaceship. I have no idea what this building was originally, but it’s clearly old, and if studied closely, is actually rather handsome. Now on the market after abandonment by its last owners, Walsall Council, it’s being pitched as a ‘Development Opportunity’. In the local arson sweepstakes (this week seeing the loss of the BOAK building in Station Street). I reckon this sad, apparently doomed old building is probably on even odds with the former Workhouse Guardian’s Office in a similarly marooned position over at the Manor Hospital.
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April 14th - It was starting to rain as I pottered about by the ‘marina’ in Brownhills, just off Silver Street. I don’t know why, but it’s compulsory that any development ever passing near a waterway has to have one, and Brownhills in the 1980s was no exception. When the current stores were built here - then a Hillards supermarket and a Great Mills DIY store, they paved a section of canal bank, put in a few hitching posts and called it a marina. I once joked that it was named after the famous Leyland car, and was horrified to hear someone take that seriously and recount the tale in seriousness. It’s not a bad feature these days - the blossom and trees are pleasant, and now we have the Canoe Centre at one end, boats do moor here from time to time. It could do with a bit of love, though.
January 22nd - Tesco may not care much for Brownhills, but it has us in a stranglehold. The same company that operate our scruffy, down at heel supermarket are also one of the town’s biggest employers. Tesco own the One Stop group, operators of small community stores, which they bought up from T&S Stores a decade ago. Large numbers of folk are employed at the warehouse here, and there’s a constant flow of traffic and wagons into and out of the site. Tonight, it seemed quiet, but I could hear engines revving somewhere in the distance.
In Brownhills Tesco will get you, one way or another.
January 20th - Like most folk in Brownhills, I use the local Tesco from time to time. I hate doing it, but there are few easy alternatives. The store has no cycle provision whatsoever. It is housed in one of the grimmest 80’s sheds I’ve ever come across, with no natural light. It’s impression is tatty, untidy and gives the feeling of careless grubbiness which makes products you buy there feel secondhand and mauled. It is, however, usually rammed with people, and this Friday was no exception.
Tesco promise to change all this - we are, we are assured, soon to get a new Tesco, built on the site of Brownhills’ now derelict shopping precinct. However, having prevaricated for years, and clearly getting a good return out of the old store, one can but wonder if the retail behemoth will not bother now their share price and profits have taken a pounding. A new CHP power plant was recently installed on the roof, and the toilets have just been refurbished. A company as sharp as this don’t throw money at buildings they plan to demolish.
Tesco destroyed this town. It could at least look like it cares for us.
December 21st - At the heart of Brownhills, and its malaise, sits Ravens Court. This privately owned shopping precinct, built in the late 60’s, was never beautiful. Exhibiting all the worst architectural features of the period, combined with shoddy, cheap construction, it focusses the depression and desolation of Brownhills into itself like a black hole. As the number of occupied units tends to zero, the residents of the town await the development that is slated to sweep the majority (but not all, naturally) of it away - a new Tesco superstore, which the retail behemoth may start building in late 2012, if they can be bothered. Meanwhile, the soul of the town I love grows darker by the day. Lets hope Tesco’s architecture and vision are more enduring. Frankly, I’m not optimistic.
November 12th - A short ride round Brownhills and over the common followed a day of work and fiddling. I’m certainly getting lots of practice with night photography - hopefully I’ll be cycling in daylight again sometime soon. Brownhills ‘marina’ - a few mooring points in a weed-strewn hardstanding - does look good at night. I hope it gets some love when the Tesco reconstruction show rolls into town - but I’m not optimistic.
August 12th - Ravens Court - named after Ravenseft, the developers - is the derelict, decaying shopping precinct that forms the focal point of Brownhills High Street. Now almost empty, we’re stuck with it until at least late 2012, when Tesco might, if they get round to it, demolish it and build a new superstore behind. Rather than integrate with the town centre, they plan to build a couple of shop units in the gap, effectively closing the High Street off to the new store.
Meanwhile, the old precinct - once a hive of business and activity - gently decays, a memorial to lost commercial horizons.
August 3rd - Walsall Council seem surprised that the new Tesco hypermarket on Wisemore isn’t leading a regeneration of the town, and instead, seems to be sucking the life out of it. It’s obvious really. As this view from in front of the bus station shows, Tesco couldn’t give a toss about the town. The entire store has been built to face the new ring road, helpfully constructed by the council to deliver shoppers to the retail behemoth and take them away again without ever having to interact with the rest of the town. They haven’t even been bothered enough to put a sign on the rear of the building. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a development where contempt for the host community has ever been so wilfully incorporated in the design.
Presumably, the planning committee looked at the design and thought ‘Yeah, that looks OK.’. Bewildering.