February 10th - I came home in the early afternoon, just as the rain was clearing. I’d had to call in at Aldridge, so found myself in the hinterlands between Walsall Wood, Leighswood and Stubbers Green. This is a very scarred landscape, mainly from brick marl extraction. The geology of the former quarries here is perfect for landfill, and for decades, as a site is abandoned by the brickmakers, it is adopted by the refuse industry.
Now at the capping and landscaping stage, Vigo Utopia was a massive hole in the ground when I was a child, but now stands high above the surrounding area. Bulkheads tap off the methane and pipe it to a generator plant. Eventually, this mound will be a public open space, but that’s some way off yet.
Of course, the brickworks are still busy, and there’s still marl to be extracted, and there will therefore be further space for landfill. A vicious cycle of blight and nuisance, it renders this landscape hostile, ugly and barren, particularly on a dark, wet and blustery February Monday afternoon.
January 5th - It was a thoroughly horrid afternoon. Windy, wet, dark. I went out with a heavy heart, and didn’t find much of interest in the immediate area, so I spun out to Shenstone down the very wet and muddy backlanes.
Visiting the church, I was again reminded what a gothic, ugly edifice it is. I’ve never liked it; it’s a perfectly competent architectural design, it’s just not to my taste. I find the dark grey sandstone, and heavy Victoriana dismal. Even the gargoyles look desperately unhappy.
Compare St. Johns, Shenstone with any other local church, say Hopwas. Hopwas is a place you’d feel happy to give praise in, to wed, to christen; Shenstone looks like a place to go and endure, repent and suffer - it’s full of foreboding.
More interesting to me is the old tower in the churchyard; crumbling, it’s the remains of an earlier church. Perhaps it would have been better left.
Down in the village,I headed to the Lammas Land - a strip of parkland along the Footherley Brook. On the way, I passed The Plough In, busy, bright, inviting. Newly reopened, it’s good to see. It had been derelict for a few years.
March 30th - Off to work early, and a return via Slowloaf in Mellish Road. Rushall Parish Chuch - that of St. Michael the Archangel - is fittingly made from local limestone, and is a handsome, Francophile church with an imposing, tall broach spire. It has a long history, although this incarnation is Victorian. History hereabouts of the village, the hall and environs go back to the Domesday book. All of which are somewhat impressive.
Reflecting on this, whatever aberrant demon possessed the architect of the modern hall, bizarrely erected in the churchyard really needs to be expunged. Sadly, the exorcism wasn’t undertaken quickly enough and similar architectural defecations occurred at many Lichfield Diocese churches in the 80s and 90s; Brownhills, Pelsall, Walsall Wood, Canwell.
They make me think distinctly unholy thoughts.
November 29th - While we’re on the subject of architectural disasters, the new Premier Inn on the waterfront development near the art gallery looks better at night - mainly because it’s grim black colour and peculiar yellow window frames are muted by the darkness. Nearly ready to open, the lights were on and made for an interesting shot or two over the canal basin. Over a decade since development here began, the basin is still overlooked by derelict and unoccupied buildings. Not a great success story, it has to be said.
October 13th - As if to hammer home my point, Town Wharf, across the basin from the New Art Gallery. This is a new hotel. It looks like something thrown up in Tito’s Yugoslavia. It’s hideous, cheap and nasty. It opens in a couple of weeks - why not come and stay? Affording excellent views of the derelict and burnt out factory over the water, it’s sure to be a big tourist draw…
Walsall deserves so much better than this shit.
November 13th - Canwell Church. A beautiful, light stone design by Temple Moore, elegant in it’s plain simplicity - dedicated in 1911. Sat beautifully in a surprisingly quiet spot, just off the A38, for 80 years… Then some idiot wrecks it in the 1990’s by cursing it with that disease of many churches in the Lichfield Diocese, a wholly unsuitable extension. Pelsall, Brownhills, Walsall Wood have all befallen this malaise. You’d think a landlord with so many historic, beautiful properties would understand aesthetics of architecture… whoever approved this should be ashamed of themselves.
August 11th - Walsall Wood church of St. John is an imposing, typically industrial red-brick church, sadly vandalised by a thoroughly unsympathetic extension, an affliction meted out surprisingly frequently to local churches by the Lichfield Diocese, who seem to have about as much understanding of ecclesiastical aesthetics as I do of brain survey. Both Pelsall and Brownhills churches were similarly debased; it’s particularly sad in this case as the church itself has a beautiful, devotional interior and didn’t deserve this treatment.
July 25th - possibly the ugliest building I’ve ever seen, this industrial unit near South Wigston station is, frankly, hideous. I don’t know who had it built or why, but it has no windows whatsoever, and seems to consist of precast concrete ribs bolted together. The worst part is that it faces, on the other side of the street, a pleasant housing estate who must have been looking out on this architectural aberration for decades. Now used as a self-storage depot, I hope the owners see sense and demolish it…
July 5th - St. James Church is the parish church of Brownhills. Designed by architect G.T. Robinson, it has stood in the quiet heart of Brownhills since 1850. A cruciform design, it is built out of red sandstone blocks and features a distinctive, odd-looking spire. Sadly, like many churches in the Lichfield Diocese, it has suffered the indignity of having a hideous, unsympathetic extension bolted onto it. Whoever was responsible for this aberration must surely feel remorse.
Funny thing, though; up until I took the photograph I could have sworn the church had a clock. It clearly does not. Funny how you mind plays tricks.