Category Archives: History

Traps, Tunnels, Terra Firma And Tara. 5th March

Black Country Museum to Owen Street Bridge, Tipton

After booking ourselves onto the midday tunnel trip we walked back into the Black Country Museum. There were places we’d not looked at yesterday. The first to catch our eye was the Trap Shop.

Open today

Here a very knowledgeable chap talked us through the history of trap making. From men sitting hammering shapes, to fly wheel presses churning out parts to a gas powered engine that turned the presses. Sidebotham’s sold animal traps around the world even after they were banned in England. Not the nicest of things they were designed to hold their victim until the hunter came along to release them!

Inside the trap shop

The building was originally ran along the back wall of Sainsburys in Wednesfield, well before the supermarket was there. It was dismantled kept in storage and took four years to build back to how it had been.

The Pawnbrokers

We called in at the Pawnbrokers, Tipton in the day had forty such shops, for such a small town this just showed how most of the inhabitants lived from day to day hand to mouth, or not even managing that.

Bottles of stuff, whether they did you any good was a different matter they just looked the business

The chap in the Chemist was full of the new street plans further up the hill. The first building to be erected will be a pub from Wolverhampton. Around 30 million has been raised to create the new street and after many years of planning things are starting to happen. The aim is for the new street to be fully open in two years time, sadly our years pass won’t cover that, but maybe there will be something new before the end of the year for us to look at.

Helter Skelter being dismantled
Trolleybus!!!!

Then Mick spotted a trolley bus. Would it get us up the hill and back down in time for our trip into Dudley Tunnel? We walked up to catch it, but with no passengers waiting for it it headed back up the hill. So instead we walked back down to the lime kilns to see if we could work out which of the sunken boats was an Ampton. Below the surface hulls lurked.

There’s an Ampton down there somewhere!

Oleanna is 26 paces long and 58ft 6″. So we needed to find a hull that was around 35 paces long. We think we found two, both very well submerged.

Dudley Canal Trust was heaving with young kids who’d all been on a trip into the tunnel. They were full of it. One lad almost gave us a guided tour without being in the tunnel, he said it was quite ‘Bumpy’. Our boat was far quieter, only six of us. We donned hard hats and sat on the benches. The chap at the helm gave us a running commentary and another fella kept an eye on us and untied the boat ready for the tunnel.

Hard hatted and ready

Limestone mines in Castle Hill necessitated a tunnel system to help extricate the limestone. Lord Ward had the tunnels and canals built under the hill, work started in 1775 a year before the Act of Parliament was passed for both tunnel and canal. The work was completed in 1778. The tunnel gave access to the other side of the hill, 3 miles underground, the second longest in the country.

One of the caverns without it’s roof and two tunnels ahead

Large caverns and various tunnels fill the hill. Today the first two caverns have no roof and are open to the sky, then our boat dipped into the black of the tunnels. Now lined with concrete and areas oversprayed the first section is very round, but this soon becomes more rock like. Opening out into a larger cavern we were shown a film explaining how the limestone was created, then the hills pushed up creating fault lines.

Pixel par illuminations

On further and another cavern, more film showing how the limestone was mined and how the Victorians used the tunnels for excursions, coming in by boat and listening to bands, having picnics. Today there is a stage where performances can happen, people get married and concerts are performed.

Formations

We backed out through a different tunnel, this one lined with handmade bricks. The original method for boats to come through the tunnel was to be legged. Two volunteers took to a plank in the middle of the boat and they started to leg us along. The tunnel being only one boats width meant one way traffic and boats would queue up at either end to await their turn. One chap could leg three boats joined together on his own, meaning he made more money than the normal pairs of leggers.

Once through the main tunnel the boat would enter the big cavern where numerous tunnels headed off, which one was the right way? A lamp hangs in what would have been dusty air to guide you through. They say this is where the term ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ comes from. However our guide didn’t explain how the leggers got the boats across the wide cavern, presumably the boats were poled across here.

The light at the end

Passage through the hill was much easier through Netherton Tunnel, opened in 1858, which was wide and had a towpath on both sides. So by 1959 Dudley tunnel was more or less disused and British Waterways were going to close it, despite protests it finally closed in 1962. Much work was done by determined enthusiasts and it reopened in 1973. In the late 80’s more work was done to open up links between the caverns. Now visitors can go inside in the electric powered boats to see the sights. No diesel engines are allowed in the tunnel due to lack of ventilation and most modern boats don’t have a low enough profile to manage the journey. A very interesting tour, well worth the drips and getting very cold.

No bread to buy other than in a pudding

Mick still wanted a ride on the trolleybus so we headed back into the museum, but it seemed that the driver must be at lunch, so we joined the queue for a sneaky bag of chips between us before we left.

Tara for now

Time to head onwards. We winded with the bow under the bridge into the museum then pulled up at the services. Water topped up and yellow water disposed of we pushed off and headed to Tipton.

We pulled in behind a couple of boats moored on the off side by the Medical Centre,walked down into the shuttered town centre to find the Co-op to stock up on a few items.

Back at Oleanna we decided that our second mate should be trusted with some outside time, she most probably wouldn’t like it. Chaperoned for a while she nosed at the people in the doctors waiting room and checked under the friendly cover, but no one was around to play with.

At bloomin last!!!

A short whole after 4pm a visitor arrived. Heather, Mrs Bleasdale, was in the area and had spotted we were too, so she called in for a cuppa, a hot cross bun and a very good boaty catch up. NB Bleasdale is currently stuck down on the Great Ouse due to high river levels and delayed maintenance. Last year we had a catch up in Weedon, so there was plenty to talk about. The subject turned to the Irish waterways, this is the second person who’s brought the idea up. Costs need to be looked into, but it’s an idea, I might need to do extra work for us to be able to afford it, but it is an idea!

Mad O’Roukes Pie Factory

Heather headed off to catch a train and we headed off to walk through Tipton to Mad O’Roukes Pie Factory. We’ve heard mention of this pub by several bloggers but never been. This being our last night on the Birmingham plateau we decided to treat ourselves and managed to time it with Thursday Pie for a fiver night.

The interior of the pub is very much an old style boozer, no modernisation here, just tables and benches to pack in the masses. We managed to find one of only two free tables, ordered our pies and drinks.

Pies and more chips!

Their gluten free menu had five pies for me to choose from. I was excited, it’s not often I get to enjoy a pie. The only shame was that my puff pastry top was only just browned on top. Gluten free things always take longer than normal and I suspect my pie had been put in the oven at the same time as Mick’s. His crust had bubbled up wonderfully, but mine was doing the chewy under cooked gluten free thing that I now avoid by making my own pastry. Such a shame as I’d been so looking forward to a good pie. The filling was very tasty beef and my gluten free battered chips were tastier than Mick’s.

All gone despite the crust

0 locks, 0.54 miles, 1 wind, 1 straight, 0 trolley bus, 1 trap shop, 2 horses, 1 new street all the talk, 1 year and 1 week, 1 sneaky bag, 76 of each, 6 on a boat, 9 million bricks and counting, 1 text message underground, 2 leggers, 1 lamp, 1 Heather, 1 hour shore leave, 2 boxes wine, 2 pies and chips, 1 pint, 1 glass wine, 2 boaters in need of veg.

Day 7.

Things are doing well, I’ll give it a day longer, but start keeping the discard for some pancakes. Fed twice today and bubbling nicely.

Three Types Of Each. 4th March

The Black Country Living Museum

The back gate

With our entrance tickets bought from the Dudley Canal Trust we walked up through the buildings towards the bus stop in the museum. Despite the time tabel suggesting there would be a bus every 15 minutes we decided to walk up the hill to the main entrance. We soon saw the bus and an old car bipping it’s horn at everyone it saw, both were heading to where we’d come from.

Beep beep!

First thing was to change our paper receipt for an annual pass. We can now visit as many times as we like for no extra cost. This may only end up being once more, but you never know.

Quick catch that bus!

It was a touch damp now outside so we caught the double decker back down the hill to have a walk round. We first visited the museum about eight years ago when we were moving our shareboat NB Winding Down down the country. We had a very good day, but wished we’d had longer. This time we’d go down the mine and have fish and chips!

Hobbs and Sons or the Chippy

Once the chippy opened we checked out the claims from the website. The claims were correct and we could place an order for later, but we were expecting company and had no idea what time we’d like our lunch, so we would risk there being a long queue.

Still fills up with petrol on the main road once a week

As midday got closer we caught the bus back up the hill to meet up with Marion (Mick’s sister) and John who were coming for a day trip from Eastbourne. As they had train tickets they could do the Days out two for one.

One of the houses

With winter hours being a little bit tight we chose to head back down the hill again, by bus to the thick of the buildings. There is a large area being redeveloped, if that’s what you can call it when the buildings will all be 1940’s to 60’s that already exist. Sadly this means the mine and funfair are closed at the moment.

Fires blazing away in kitchens

Lines of school kids zigzagged through the streets following their period dressed guides. Huddles of them stood in dimly lit shops listening to the proprietors talking about what they sold and what it would have been like there in the 20’s and 30’s, some even earlier.

The radio workshop kept John busy for a while and ladies sat in their kitchens kept warm by their ranges, no cooking going on today. A school mistress taught a class speaking very slowly and awarding two pupils a certificate.

The Gentleman’s Outfitters

The tailor didn’t have quite what John was after but was very well stocked with Peeky Blinder caps and waistcoats.

Mum’s chosen
brands

The tobacconists would have kept my Mum stocked up with her favourite brands and I’m sure my Dad would have found suitable tobacco to make his own mix from.

1920’s living room with fantastic wallpaper

A 1920’s living room with very smart fan wallpaper had a rug on the floor. I was asked why I thought there were two round marks on it. Was it because something had been placed there and the pile had flattened. No it was a fashion to have rugs which had a pattern, not in colour but in the texture, shag pile and short pile. I’d once aimed to shave one from some carpet for a show, but had run out of time.

Frying full time

By now we were a little bit peckish so joined the queue in Hobbs. Luckily it wasn’t too long, there’s a sign outside where you can sit to while away the half hour before getting served! Our orders were placed. 2 vegetarian, cooked in sunflower oil. 1 gluten free. 1 standard, everything cooked in beef dripping. We found a space to sit and wait, jumping whenever any of the ladies said anything. It didn’t take long, lashings of salt and vinegar were poured into the cones of paper. I have to say it’s the first time I’ve not noticed a difference with gluten free fish. The batter was wonderful and crisp with chunky cod inside. We all wolfed them up whilst inhaling the vinegar fumes.

They were very very good

Lower down on the site a chap demonstrated a beetle Demon and talked about the wallpaper trimming machine in the hardware shop.

Wallpaper was sold with edges that needed trimming, either with scissors or on one of these, at a cost!!

The greengrocers was manned by a lady who told us the history of the shop and the lady who’d run it whilst her husband was away in the 1st world war, he had to retrain when he got home as she wasn’t going to hand it back over to him.

Hardware shop front

The cinema sat silent awaiting the next showing. A chap hammered away in the dark of his workshop whilst it rained outside, presumably making nails.

Nail maker working away in the dark

We timed a visit to the more industrial end very well with a chain making demonstration about to happen. The metal was heated up to white hot, bent round and then bent further with a hammer. Linked to the previous link the ends were flattened and reheated. We were asked to move back, he them gave the two ends a very big whack to weld them together showering sparks. The link was then reshaped with the help of a hammer operated by his foot. The chain makers had to make so many links a day, 200 and something before they would get paid. For some it took six hours others a lot longer.

Chain making

We then took a walk up to the Workers Institute where a guided tour was due. The lady we’d seen in the schoolhouse was ready and waiting. Due to the rain we started off indoors. We were on a bit of a tight time frame due to return trains to the south coast, the lady imparted her knowledge, pointed out important people in the photographs, handed round photographs of chain makers, more photos of people, they just kept coming, was she going to give us the life history on everyone in the group photos?

So of it’s time

Time was ticking, there was still the tat in the shop to look at and still more photos were handed round. We made our excuses , did a quick flit up the stairs and back down as the tour were about to go that way. I’m sure the tour would have been very interesting, but we simply didn’t have the time.

They managed to get a better rate of pay through the unions

Up the hill in the rain for a purchase or two before heading back down to be through the bottom gates before they closed at 3:45pm. Time for a quick cuppa and warm up back at the boat before Marion and John headed off to return southwards. A very good day.

The Chemist waiting for customers

0 locks, 0 miles, 12 month passes, 40’s 50’s 60’s coming soon, 2 day trippers, 2 veggie of each, 1 gluten free of each, 1 full everything of each please, 1 school, 1 institute life time, 3 bus rides, 1 link, 0 horses, 17 radios, 1 rug, 1 cinema, 2 visitors, 1 living and breathing museum, 0 shore leave yet again!

Day 6, Morning

It’s been bubbling overnight and then deflated.

Day 6 Night

About three hours after feeding. There is hope of sour dough bread this weekend

Urban Oasis. 2nd March

Lane Head Bridge to Urban Moorings, Lycetts Basin Bridge

A day full of sunshine. We soon passed where Vernon (Production Manager in Vienna) used to play as a child on the Short Heath Branch. His grandmothers cottage apparently was demolished and replaced by the current houses in the 1930’s and she moved to a council house. His Grandfather was night watchman on the arm and his uncles were day boat men delivering coal to Wolverhampton till the early 1960s.

Short Heath Branch

Today NB Senior Moment was occupied both by humans and several Pekineses. Maybe they’d just come back from a cruise or were preparing for one.

Mini Woofers and woofer gang plank

We pootled onwards, the canal seeming far cleaner than it had done a month ago. In the bottom of someones garden I spied a curled up mass of fur, could it be alive? It opened it’s eyes to check us out as we passed. A couple of hundred yards later another battered and torn fox walked along the canal edge. They both looked like they’d been in a fight and had seen better days.

Foxy fox

Approaching Rockery Bridge I got ready to hop off and see if this Sainsburys might have some arrowroot. I wizzed round the store and found some with baking powder and baking soda, I just hope my starter perks itself up in the next day or two!

Stop for a cuppa

Mick carried on and moored up on the first set of bollards, lunchtime. As we ate a boat came past, the first boat we’ve seen moving since we left Brindley Place! yes we did see some heads on Tividale Aqueduct, but not the actual boat.

Boat!!!!

Onwards, picking up a big branch which necessitated reversing and changing course before we continued much further. Our original plan had been to head for the offside moorings in Wolverhampton, hopefully stopping at Urban Moorings for some coal on the way.

Urban Moorings

As we came under Swan Garden Bridge we could see the end of the arm where Urban Moorings sits. A bench looks down the canal with Fender Fred watching for boats.

Fred with his cuppa and pipe

Could we see anyone? We slowed and crept our way along. Towards the end was a mooring, by some new looking sheds. A lady was stood by a door and said hello. We asked if they had any coal and if so, what variety. ‘Excell 20kg bags, £10 a bag’. Yes please. We pulled in as more and more people appeared from the sheds all wearing high-vis.

What a welcome, help to moor up too. Conversations about where we were heading turned to them saying that they had a visitors mooring £8 including electric a night. Mick and I were having a similar conversation at different ends of the boat, him saying we’d have a chat about it, me saying ‘We’ll be staying the night then’ images of the washing machine going round round in both our heads.

The gardens made from anything and everything that floats on by

Once tied up we were given guided tours of the moorings. Neither of us had realised just how big the site was. Originally Commercial Wharf the arm and land around it, there were Lime Kilns a wharf and slipway where boats were maintained. The boats, Ampton boats, were used for transporting coal along the flat Wolverhampton level and Wyrely and Essington Canal, no need to descend any locks so they were built longer and a touch wider, their holds could carry 45 to 50 tons of coal.

The site was used as a boat yard until 1992 when the last boat left the dock. Several boats had been restored here including NB Tench.

Miss Scotland had been down to help with the weeding today

Urban Moorings CIC are a group of boaters who are wanting to create mooring sites that boaters actually want, integrating history, ecology, art and volunteering. They redevelop moorings very slowly ‘Slow Regeneration’ without having to spend millions of pounds doing so. The moorers live on site, their aim is to turn derelict and unprofitable sites owned by C&RT into self managed boater run moorings.

These very friendly ladies have been here for three years, built moorings, brought electric and water onto site, made gardens for nature to inhabit where lime kilns used to be. They must have spent years clearing away buddleia and now sheds seem to be taking over. An office, a workshop, a bits and bobs exchange, more moorings planned. Recently they advertised on facebook that they were now selling coal and gas. Today they received 100 bags of Excell and moved their gas cage into position. There had also been a volunteer day to kick start the creation of a community garden. What an Oasis.

Four/five dogs inhabit the area, but they offered to put them all away if Tilly wanted some shore leave. We both looked around. She would absolutely love it here if the scent of woofers wasn’t too much for her. But we decided that the look of underneath the decking on our mooring would be far too interesting and it would be a very soggy and painful extrication for both her and us. Another day kept inside, Saturday isn’t that far off!

Work in progress, coal cage and recycling next to one of the sheds

After all the chatting, oh Kate Saffin was also here having volunteered for the day, we eventually managed to get hooked up, washing machine on, yellow water disposed of. If our solids container had been more advanced it could have been emptied here too. That is something we’ll think about, if we can store our solids during the first stage of composting and deposit it when next we pass then we’ll be using our toilet as fully intended.

They do seem to have thought of everything one could want and have plans for even more here. All profits go back into the project, so any support either through volunteering or purchases will be used to improve what they have to offer. Good luck to them, we’ll certainly be putting them on our map as a good stopping place. More information here Urban Moorings CIC

0 locks, 4.44 miles, 90grams arrowroot, 2 foxes, 5 footballs, 2 coconuts, 1 moving boat, 1 unexpected mooring, 4 bags coal, 3 loads washing, 1 Kate, 0 shore leave, 1 Miss Scotland, 2 possible openings, 1 offer, 1 oasis in Wolverhampton.

Day 4.

Not much to show today, two feeds and no bubbles, no rise. I’ll keep going for a few more days to see if it comes back. 😦

Currier To Saddler To Badger To Peace And Quiet. 28th February

Walsall Town Basin to C&RT Operational Mooring, Walsall

This week is Real Bread Week, I’ve been meaning to get a sour dough starter going again after my few failed attempts before Christmas, so this week I was determined to get one going again. I’d stocked up on Sorghum flour a while ago, so I decided to use this as a base. Some research brought me to yet another guide to making a sour dough starter. They are all pretty similar ingredients wise, but some have you stirring several times a day, others feed once a day, others three times a day, some with the help of grapes, others red cabbage.

I decided to follow Fresh is Real as the loaf of bread Chantel makes at the end of it looked really tasty and involves no eggs, so might be a little bit less like cooked batter, hopefully we’ll see! I decided to add a leaf from a red cabbage to help kick start it, these have natural yeasts on their leaves. I’ve also bought myself a set of cups so that I can add my ingredients by volume rather than weight, along with a bigger jar.

I’ll keep you posted as to how it goes through photos, like I do with TV signal thumbs up/down/sideways. First photo from this morning at the end of todays post.

The Leather Museum

Windy and sleety this morning so we headed up to The Leather Museum just a short walk past Tescos. Housed in a Victorian factory the museum opened in 1988 after being renovated by the council. It follows the towns story from a small market town to an internationally renowned saddle making centre.

Saddle

Here in Walsall, the town of a hundred trades, saddlers and harness makers had excellent supplies of horse bits, stirrups and buckles. During the 19th Century the demand for saddlery grew enormously. In 1801 there were 29 saddle and harness makers, a hundred years later this had risen to 6830. During the 1st WW huge quantities of saddles were made in this factory for the army. Then cars took over and many of the saddlers had to diversify,here they took to making hand bags supplying Marks and Spencers.

Part of the workshop display

The area was plagued with the aftermath of mining for limestone and subsidence meant that most of the surrounding buildings had to be demolished. But the museum buildings were deemed to be fine examples of Victorian Industrial Architecture so the mines underneath the buildings were pumped full of concrete.

Colourful

We arrived shortly after a coach party, they were being shown round which might have been interesting to be with a guide, but we could take our time instead. A room full of skins, large small, pig, cow, goat, alligator. Some soft, some thick and stiff, others embossed to look like snake skin. Yellow, black, brown.

The real thing and imitation

Skins need to be processed to stop them from rotting, tanning. Oil, oak bark, smoke, bone marrow even brains have been used for this process in the past. The softer the leather the more smelly the process seemed to be, using pigeon droppings and dog excrement! Once tanned it is taken by Curriers and worked with tools to make it into all types of leather. Thick, thin, stretchy, shiney all sorts.

Different patterns and textures

Modernisation was brought in, chrome salts were used to speed up the tanning of the hide meaning it took days rather than months to react. Splitting machines were used cutting down on the amount of leather that was wasted.

Spikey spur

Leather workers then took over, working the hides into saddles and harnesses, attaching stirrups, stuffing saddles with wool and straw. In 1922 unions came to an agreement with the factory owners with regards to pay, no one had even thought of the Gender pay gap then and children worked along side their parents helping to keep the costs down.

Thats quite a Gender pay gap

By 1900 the economic boom had brought great wealth to the town, the population grew and factories were built on the back of lucrative army contracts. But with the invention of motorised transport brought this to an end.The government sold off it’s ex-army stock flooding the market with cheap goods. The factories needed to diversify.

Goggles
Eeeeww!

By 1931 light leather goods were being made, purses, wallets and accessories. Some of these companies still make goods in the town today. Launer and Ettinger hold Royal Warrants for their luxury items, the Queen owns over 200 Launer handbags. The cheapest handbag on their website £750, a clutch bag, but the majority are well over £1000 if not £2000.

Ornate locks
The smallest of padlocks

The Museum also has exhibits of other goods made in Walsall. Locks, metal tea sets, light switches.

Also quite a timely exhibit on Spanish flu when 500 million were infected world wide. We wondered if Formamint was still available.

A leather makers workshop was filled with wooden clamps that would hold the leather together so that it could be sewn, a stirrup used to keep them closed. There were stamp machines similar to those in the Jewelry Quarter and saddles in various states of completion.

A clamp with stirrup to keep it tight shut

The chap who’d been in the shop asked us if we wanted to make a keyring, he’d get someone to show us. But we weren’t bothered, unless a keyring has a float on it it’s not much use to us and I’m reluctant to give Tilly her own set of keys!

Stamps
A Tilly keyring

An interesting museum, just a shame that there were no volunteers about today to do demonstrations.

Cottons
Saddles in the making

A quick look around the charity shops I’d missed yesterday on my costume hunt. It’s really hard to know if something should be bought at this stage, would I just be settling for something that would do, or wasting money when something much better shows itself in weeks to come. I bought nothing and joined Mick in Tescos for some food supplies.

Stamping out leather shapes

We successfully made it back to the boat without falling into the basin. There are signs everywhere warning of deep water. Last October four people walked straight into the water on three occasions. To our knowledge there are no ladders and no life buoys in view.

Don’t be stupid and fall in

The basin is quite a nice place to be, but Bar 10 does play music outside. It’s no where near as annoying as the car show room in Oldbury but we decided to move with it being Friday night. Just before Walsall Junction we’d seen a pontoon on the off side. A sign pointed to one end suggesting it was for the use of C&RT operational boats, but in small print it invited us to moor there if empty after 5pm. So we took them up on their offer, no access to land but that was fine, we’d be away from Friday night drinkers and music.

0 locks, 0.26 miles, 1 wind, lots of wind, 1 museum, 7000 leather workers, 200 handbags for the Queen, 1 canvas one for me, 1 sleety day, 7th April production meeting, 0 costumes, 1 pack of sausages, 3 packs of blueberries, 1 joint of lamb, 1 very bored cat, 5pm free, 1 Jorge on his way!

Day 1 morning.

Sorghum floor, water and a red cabbage leaf.

Hole In The Wall. 27th February

Walsall Town Basin

The nearest building to us was the first to be built in the basin regeneration. At first it looks like a Costa, well it is, but if you walk just a little bit round the building you find that it is a whole lot more. The New Art Gallery Walsall with it’s four floors of artworks and activities.

Designed by Peter St John and Adam Caruso the building opened it’s doors in February 2000. Built from concrete with exposed joists, clad with pale terracotta tiles and blocks of stainless steel. Douglas Fir clads many walls inside and leather wraps itself around handrails, a reference to the leather trade of the area, all leads to a very warm welcoming building.

Garman Ryan Collection

It was built to house the Garman Ryan Collection which takes up the first and second floors in small rooms replicating a house. The feel of these rooms reminded me very much of my family home in York, designed and built by my Dad. Wood and large windows, exposed brick and render. I felt at home here. The other exhibition spaces tower above the viewer with much larger rooms in every direction.

Garman and Ryan both by Epstein

The Garman Ryan Collection was put together by Lady Kathleen Epstein (nee Garman), widow of sculptor Jacob Epstein, and her very close friend Sally Ryan a sculpture in her own right. After Epsteins death in 1959 the two ladies collected 365 works of art. Some by friends and family (Lucian Freud, Epstein, Theo Garman) others in the collection by renowned artists such as Constable, Degas, Picasso, Matisse and Monet, which all sit alongside artefacts from around the world. The collection, donated in 1973 to the Borough of Walsall, is laid out thematically in rooms.

Children, Trees, Occupations, each room a selection through art history.

Nathaniel

Many of Epstein’s sculptures sit on wooden plinths and watch you as you peruse the art works, but I have to say I preferred Sally Ryan’s pieces, my favourite of a young lad Nathaniel with his head slightly bowed.

Men with Mice and Birds

Epstein’s Men with Mice and Birds had a somewhat comic feel to it.

Renoir

Elaborate frames twice the size of a Renoir landscape was just as interesting as the painting.

Theo Garman

Thoedore Garman’s flower paintings reminded me somewhat of a certain boater, Kath from NB Herbie, and her watercolours and embroidery.

Guides were on hand to talk to you about the collection and the family connections that hung around the rooms. They were very enthusiastic and knowledgeable.

Epstein Archiev gallery

One room was being a touch noisy in the calm of the collection. This was Bob and Roberta Smith‘s Epstein Archive Gallery. Between 2009 and 2011 the two artists worked their way through the Epstein archive which had laid hidden away in the basement and they breathed new life into it. It holds papers of Epstein’s life, about his two wives and three children, two (Theo and Ester) who both died in their 20’s in 1954. Short films have been made about the stories uncovered in the archive which shout out across the gallery along with visual shouts of painted quotes. A fun room to spend sometime in ad I think Epstein was partial to jam.

On the top floor is an exhibition, Too Rich a Soil bringing three photographers together exploring cultural identity.

Top floor gallery

The other exhibition marks the twentieth anniversary of the gallery with a collection of works from the last two decades. Those that stood out were drawings by Andrew Tift who’s detailed drawings astound in their detail.

Andrew Tift

Jungle Queen II by Hew Locke, made from toys, feather marabou, all sorts.

A fluffy Queen

Then my particular favourite Hole in the Wall by Mark Power. This photograph of a Walsall urban landscape has texture, painting, human interest, nature, decay and a mural which blurs into the building it was painted on. The mural is now hidden behind a new building.

My favourite

Back at the boat for lunch I was looking out charity shops in the area. on the map I came across Hole in the Wall a haberdashery fabric shop. So on my way round town I made a beeline to see what they might have to offer.

What colour would you like?

Walking in through the door there were ribbons, yarn, buttons all sorts, then a room of dress fabrics. Nothing hugely exciting but I did find some fabric that might be useful in my costume for a Jay, as in the bird.

Perfect for a Jay costume

An arrow pointed upstairs to Upholstery fabric. A long corridor of a room where you coud select fabric and have made to measure curtains led to another room. Here plain upholstery fabric rolls stood by the walls along with about 30 different types of leatherette. Another doorway led through to a room filled with tassles and tie backs. Now hang on what was in the next room? Hundreds of rolls all in colour order!

I was asked if I needed any help. Maybe a chair to sit down, I hadn’t expected so much fabric in one place, it’s a long time since I’ve seen so much all in one building, or should I say buildings as it seems to me that they’ve knocked shops together and created a block of a shop.

Blues

The Garden set could most probably do with some of this fabric, but right now without having coloured my model up I’m not sure what I would want.

How much braid?

Linings and braid filled two more rooms and another lady asked if she could help. All she did was add to my astoundedness and point me in the direction of their bargain basement! Here the walls were lined with racks full of fabric. Piles four, five, six foot high filled the floor. Just what did I need? I walked round in a textile daze.

Blimey!

The lady upstairs gave me a card and their website address so that I could look on line. But it may well be worth a return visit when I know what I’m after. All this from going to the art gallery and looking at one photograph, I like it even more now.

One major fabric shop

0 locks, 0 miles, 1 art gallery, 0 time for the museum, 1 homely house, 1 giant fluffy queen, 1 dribbling tattoo, 1 jolly lift, 1 bored cat, 1 photograph, 1 block of textiles, 245673543 fabrics, 1 charity shop visited, 0 costumes as yet.

Bumping Into The M5. 22nd February

New Inns Road Bridge to Titford Pools to New Inns Road Bridge

Langley High Street

From our mooring we walked to Langley High Street where a length of shops greeted us. A Londis and Post Office which both looked like convenience stores, we were after our Saturday newspaper and some longer dated blueberries. There were few papers in Londis and the smell of disinfectant a touch too much trying to mask the bad smell at the back of the shop! The Post Office had a sweeter aroma but only copies of The Sun to be had. So much for trying to support the local shops!

Lamp shades, dog beds, rollers
Art department

One of those stuffed full hardware shops caught our eye, here you squeezed between the stuff for sale, on the floor, shelves, walls and ducked the goods suspended above. Everything from paint rollers, felt tip pens, dog chews, to large tasseled lamp shades. There was only one thing missing, a collapsible bucket. We’ll have to wait for a chandlers.

A walk further up the canal to Asda and Aldi. Here there were three copies of our newspaper but none had the good bits making it worth buying. So we left empty handed and underwhelmed with Asda as usual, but glad Aldi are still selling stove top fans. Facebook boaters pages will be kept happy for weeks.

In Aldi now

The wind wasn’t too bad, but by now it was too late in the day to head very far. One thing we could do though was wind ready for departure in the morning.

Slow the only option

We’d been warned at how shallow the canal was and where to take extra care so as not to go aground. So we took it steady, managing to ride over the lumpy bottom of the canal on several occasions. After a very narrow bit Oleanna refused to be steered setting her own course, suggesting the depth was very very shallow, but shortly afterwards she responded.

The Rock Driller

Just after Jarvis Bridge the torso of a man high up on a precarious ladder signalled our arrival at Titford Pools.

The pools were constructed in 1773-4 by James Brindley, originally designed as a reservoir to help feed the Smethwick Summit Level of the Old Main Line. In the early 20th Century they became a place for leisure activities attracting fishermen and parties to enjoy one of the prettiest spots in the Midlands.

We could go that way, or that way

During the 1st WW it fell into disuse but come 1933 it was reopened as Titford Pleasure Park. The lakes were restocked with fish, a buffet built along with a bowling green, 18 hole putting green and a shooting range to go with boat hire. It proved a popular spot until the 2nd WW came along. Hard to think of it being a tranquil mecca, as now the M5 passes right over the top on concrete legs which dip into the pools. Yet birds flock here. We surprised a vast gaggle of geese and pigeons and gulls swirled over our heads.

Under the M5

There are two pools one on the far side of the M5. To reach there you need to hold your concentration as despite the pools having recently being dredged, under the motorway is very very narrow as we discovered! We headed to the far end before winding with ease in the large triangular pool to head back.

Spinning around

The pools had become so silted up from run off from the M5 that the Highways Agency has recently dredged them. A thin L shaped island gives you a route that once you had to back out of, but now with greater depth you can glide round in a full circle back into the large pool by the motorway.

Back under the M5

In 1889, 21 year old Joseph Harvey, a horse driver, and 20 year old Lizzie Bates committed suicide by drowning themselves in the pool. At the inquest, Lizzie’s sister explained that the pair had visited Stourbridge on the Sunday and returned that night, she’d left them both downstairs in the family house. The next morning Lizzie was missing and her father found a note which read

Lots of trees have been felled some carved into toadstools

‘Dear Father, you must not grieve over me, for I have done this with Joe, because he could not have me in life, so I thought he should have me in death. He said that he should never see me again in life when he left me, so I thought I would go with him; and, Father, when you find us, please bury us as close together as you can. Give my love to all my friends, and tell what has caused it, through having a miserable life at home, and for the one I love. So good night, and God bless you all. Be kind to the children.’

Turning off the thin long side of the L into the main pool

A second note to Joseph’s father was also read out. ‘July 21st, 1889. Dear Father, I leave you forever on earth, so now you will see what has been done by trying to keep me from Lizzie, the only one I could love, and I hope you will learn a lesson from this, and when you find my body you will find a glass pipe in my jacket pocket. Please give it to William James, my fellow workmate; and I wish to be buried me and Lizzie together, and I wish for my brother James to have all that belongs to me. You will find some money in the box upstairs – give it to Jim; and the pair of braces that Lizzie made me, give them to Joseph Stanfield. So I give you my best love, father and brothers, and all enquiring friends.’

Turning in

The couple had been courting for three years but Joseph’s father had objected to their marriage suggesting his son should find someone who would do him good. The lovers bodies were found tied together.

On a lighter theme in 1938 a tale of a monster in the pools was banded about, most probably a stunt for Oldbury Carnival. The scientist investigating the Loch Ness Monster was to fly down from Inverness to try to capture the monster and return with it to Scotland.

We didn’t manage 50 mph round the bend

The sculpture by Luke Perry (my how he gets about), The Rock Driller, depicts a miner drilling by hand at one of the thick seams. A hard gritty life stood on top of a ladder in pre-mechanised mining days. Down the side of the ladder there is an inscription.

Birdies

“The Devil made coal. Made it black like his heart and hid it in the deepest recesses of the earth that he would drive man mad in the finding of it.”

Towpath freedom

We returned to our mooring taking our time and once tied up the cat health and safety committee convened. Today being Saturday the car park alongside was deemed to be safe, so Tilly was granted a couple of hours shore leave to explore.

Free blueberry muffins

0 locks, 1.16ish miles, 0 magazine and food supplement, 0 newspaper, 1 hr 20 minutes pootle, 1 bump, 2 pools, 3562 birds, 3 toad stools, M5, 2 hours shore leave, 1 happy cat, 12 blueberry and yogurt muffins.

The Menace. 15th February

BUMingham

Dennis to us is an inconvenience, to others a very serious worry. Whilst others around the country today have been preparing for their houses to flood for the second time this month, boat owners are wondering if their homes will remain floating and the army are out extending incomplete flood defences, we can’t head off to where we’d planned. Well we could but Dennis has brought stronger winds and more rain than Ciara last weekend.

So today was a perfect day to head to the Library for me. I stood in line on the escalators behind some Japanese tourists who were obviously there for the views, following them up to Level 2. Here I headed in a different direction, I was actually going to use the library for what it was intended, reading!!!

Up into the library

Last night I’d had a look on the internet to check that the book I wanted was held by the library and was on the shelves. I was in luck, they had two copies. The website also gave me the Level of the library and the Dewey Number. When I was at school I was a librarian, a good way of not having to go outside when it was raining, so I understood how to find the book I was after.

822.9 AYC

A few of the 84 plays Alan has written

A line of Ayckbourn scripts ready for the reading. I picked up the play I was after and took a seat in the window looking in the approximate direction of the Farmers Bridge flight. Outside it was miserable, inside a touch damp along the way from my seat where a line of buckets caught drips.

A couple of weeks ago I’d been asked if I thought one of Sir Alan’s plays would fit on the stage in Vienna. Other designers have said the stage is too small as the said play requires quite a few doors, a balcony and a bathroom to be in view. If you know your Ayckbourn then you may be able to narrow the play down. A few more clues, a dominatrix, 2 wives and time travel.

I’m not alone in my opinion of Schoenberg!

I’ve seen the play at the SJT after I finished working there full time and it was in rehearsals for it’s London premiere when I was asked to go along to meet Alan in 1995, he was getting a bit twitchy about all the new staff coming to work at the new theatre. So I was aware of the basic story and how it had been staged in the round, today I took notes and got to know the play better, hearing the actresses I’d seen in Scarborough speaking the words in my head.

Shhhhh!!!!!

First thoughts, maybe it’ll fit. But I’ll need to get a scale rule out and look at their plans before I add my verdict to those given previously and I’m sure I know one of those designers, so I’m not holding my breath.

Our plan for today had been to head out along the new main line, hang a right at Smethwick Junction, up the three locks, then a left at Spon Lane followed by another left and up the six Oldbury Locks to find a mooring at Tat Bank so that we could go to the theatre this evening. But due to the Menace we caught the number 13 bus instead, which only took around half an hour and dropped us off at the end of Engine Street.

Titford Pump House during storm Dennis

At the far end a group of cars then a C&RT sign signalled that we were in the right place. Through the car park we then wondered where to go. A large door was open as the rain came at us sideways, but this was the C&RT services. We tried up some stairs, no joy there. Then a group of people came who looked like they knew where they were heading, the far end of the building, Titford Pump House.

Tonight we had come to see Alarum Theatre Company and their show Acts of Abandon. Alarum is made up of Kate Saffin a playwright, performer and amongst may other things a doyen of waterless toilets (composting toilets) and Heather Wastie, a poet, song writer and performer. Back in 2017 they toured their Idle Women show around the network with NB Tench recreating the journeys of the women who worked the boats did during WW2.

Tonights show had limited numbers (about 50) so we’d had to reserve our place during the week, this was due to the size of the room inside the pump house. This is where the Birmingham Canal Navigation Society meets, it used to house an old beam engine but now an electric pump does the job of pumping water back up the flight. We hope to get here during daylight hours soon and when it isn’t blowing a hoolie to be able to look round properly.

BCNS HQ

‘The Muck and Shovel Brigade‘ is a mixture of poetry, song and the history of the Droitwich Canals. How an act of parliament closed the navigation and a team of volunteers dug the canal back into life again after it had been abandoned. A programme is essential so that you can join in with the songs.

After a glass of wine in the interval, Kate took to the stage to recount the tale of ‘The Mary Rose, a boat of ill-repute’. A one woman show she plays all the parts from the two ladies who move onto an old work boat in Wolvercote on the Oxford Canal to the local landowners, police and punters following WW2. No-one had got round to repealing an 18th Century law that allowed a brothel to be on a boat. Armed with her trusty tea chest and an armful of costumes Kate tells a lively tale.

Heather and Kate at the end of tonights show

A very fun evening in an historic setting during Storm Dennis. If you fancy seeing the show then head to Tipton Green Methodist Church Hall on the 25th February after you’ve had your pancakes. They will be touring the show more, but in small chunks.

If we’d have gone by boat we’d have stayed for a drink but with one bus back an hour we headed to the bus stop and waited in the rain. Back at Sheepcote Street Bridge the level looked like it had come up, but Tilly had been keeping an eye on everything and all was well on board.

0 locks, 1 spotted in the dark, 0 miles, 822.9, 46th play, 4 doors, 1 bathroom, 1 balcony, 3 times, 2 buses, 2 shows, 1 tea chest, 1 windlass, 1 squeeze box, 1 glass of wine, 50 including 2 dogs.

What I’d come to read, Communicating Doors