She seemed to be quite pleased with it, it looked a touch boring to me, no good crunchy bits at body temperature. She and Tom decided to have a cooked breakfast and with that I was told I had 8 and a half hours. Woo Hoo!! Brilliant!
Blimey it’s squelchy this outside! Last night it had rained and it kept trying to today, but that didn’t matter I was too busy to notice. I decided I’d have a treat dingding too, so went off to see who was around in the sideways trees.
It took a while but I managed to have a first and second course for morning dingding, a snack late morning too. She wouldn’t let me stock pile though, I’m not allowed to bring friends home and not allowed to leave them on the roof for later, Pah! What happens if we tie up BUMingham again!?
Tom spent sometime trying to find the lady up our chimney. He took everything out of the stove. Cleaned the glass so much that it disappeared!
Put the in/outy bit back together with the hope that he’d be able to tickle the lady out. He then prodded the big brush down from outside. That didn’t work either, so he tried the vacuum cleaner!
Still nothing, he eventually lit the fire again. Either she’d vanished over night or Tom would smoke her out. At least she’s stopped whistling.
She is very unhappy with my paw hygiene. I was told I had to come home every now and then to show myself, so I did, several times. I get some Dreamies too, which I just managed to squeeze into my tummy. Lets face it there’s always room for Dreamies.
She blamed me for the table getting all dirty. She blamed me for making the cushions all muddy. She blamed me for a filthy floor.
Then when I sit down to have a good wash I’m instructed to make sure I wash between my toes and to sing a song whilst doing it. I’d rather recite poetry. The first verse is all you need though!
I decided to create a painting. She wasn’t happy with that either! Little does she know I did one on the bathroom window too!
An hour before my curfew we all settled down in front of the stove to see what was to be said today on the TV. More about social distancing and kids not having to go to school anymore. Have to say I’m not doing too well on the social distancing bit, it is so hard as my friends are just far too tasty!
Having exhausted my friends and myself, I decided to take it easy for the rest of the day. She finished making a lasagne for their dingding. She was quite proud of it, all made from scratch. She says she doesn’t need pasta from the shops anymore. What she does need is flour that isn’t flour and that apparently is in short supply too.
As much as my dingding smelt nice I was just a touch too full to enjoy it.
0 locks, 0 miles, 0 aviator shades, 2 boats gone, 3 friends, shhh it was 5 really, 1 long sideways tree, 1 squelchy outside, 0 lady up the chimney, 1 loaf bread, 1 lasagne, 15,000 and something in Ocado queue, 1 well deserved Mrs Tilly Stamp of Approval.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 tailor didn’t have quite what John was after but was very well stocked with Peeky Blinder caps and waistcoats.
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.
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.
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.
Lower down on the site a chap demonstrated a beetle Demon and talked about the wallpaper trimming machine in the hardware shop.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 Moorings to The Black Country Museum, Dudley No 1 Canal
Everyone talks about how slow water points are around the network, Hillmorton and Cambrian Wharf being especially known for it. Well we now know where the slowest one is. The ladies at Urban Moorings had warned us yesterday, there is a leak in the supply, luckily on the other side of their water meter, but this reduces the pressure, a lot.
Mick set the hose up whilst we had breakfast, the tank carried on filling whilst we did various chores. We handed over spare oil containers for reuse and added our recycling to theirs. Not quite a full tank of water but it would do us.
Time to say thank you and be on our way. Elbow nudges all round, no-one is shaking hands or hugging at the moment. We left them to continue work on their pumpkin patch and a bench with a glass bottle base. Photos on their facebook page.
Just a short distance to Horseley Fields Junction where we turned southwards and meandered our way. From out of nowhere came this rather odd noise, I remembered hearing it around this area before. Was it an alarm or a bird call? Looking in the overgrown offside vegetation, Friendly cover! I spotted two birds swimming around. Not Coots or Moorhens, they had orangey brown cheeks and were a touch smaller than other waterbirds. Hunting through Google I came to the conclusion that they were Dabchicks. I’ll keep an eye open when we pass later in the week and try to get a better photo.
By a new housing estate a damn has been erected with buoys around it’s edge. We feel the wrong sign has been put up. Also beware as the white tarpaulin looks like it is quite happily floating around almost mid cut, just waiting to get entangled around an unsuspecting prop.
As we had sneaked an extra load of washing in this morning we decided that the Bradley Arm/ Wednesbury Oak Loop would have to wait for the next time we’re up this way, so we sailed on past at Deepfields Junction, through Coseley Tunnel. I was fine inside even though She has put my Escape Pod away!Then at Factory Junction we turned right missing out on the locks.
Through Tipton we made note of moorings, all free at the moment and continued onwards. At Tipton Junction we stayed straight, onto the Dudley No 1 Canal, what there is that you can navigate on your own boat before reaching Dudley Tunnel. Not far till we reached our destination joining a couple of other boats on the moorings outside The Black Country Museum.
A black corrugated fence surrounds the museum, not much for Tilly. A quick check on the situation deemed it sadly unsuitable. The trees that she would naturally be drawn to are far too close to the busy road, no shore leave again.
Taking a walk down to the back gate of the museum we planned on crossing over the new swing bridge (well new to us along with the new visitor centre since we were last here on NB Lillyanne) to make use of the boaters facilities on the other side. Except the bridge was swung open to boat traffic, the old route over the top of the tunnel entrance was blocked off, so we’d have to walk all the way round. Through the gate with our key of power, up over the bridge, along the road to the main entrance to the Dudley Canal Trust. All just to go for a pee! We then tried to come back via the swing bridge but were told it was closed now so we’d have to walk round. Good job they weren’t too keen on closing the gates at 4pm!
There is most probably a reason for them closing the bridge to pedestrians, but it didn’t make sense to us. Out of hours it means that to reach the service block we would have to go by boat as the bridge is padlocked. We walked all the way back round!
I have perseveared with what I thought was a lost cause of my sour dough starter today, adding in an extra feed to try to pep it back up. I think I have sussed what was wrong. The instructions say to drain off any liquid that forms on the surface, hooch. This I’ve been doing, but because of this it has all become quite thick. So this morning I just stirred it back in, an option given on the full youtube instructions. I then spooned off some to discard and fed it. By late lunchtime it was bubbly again, another feed and things are definitely not dead.
0 locks, 5.47 miles, 1 load washing, 4 elbow bumps, 1 slooooow tap, 1 left, 2 straights, 1 right, 1 tunnel, 0 mysterons, 1 tarp lurking, 1 bridge closed, 0 shore leave, 1 thinner starter rising again, 1 possible solution for Vienna, 2 boaters waiting for the museum to open.
Operational Mooring, Walsall to Lane Head Bridge, Wyrley and Essington Canal
We’d survived the night and got some sleep. Being moored up to a floating pontoon in a storm has it’s benefits, if the water level rises so do you. But it also has it’s down sides, even though securely moored to the cleats on the pontoon this doesn’t mean that you won’t move. Oleanna and the pontoon were as one in the gusts, bumping around.
This morning the wind was still with us but the waves on the canal were half the size. Decision made we’d head for the locks and hope that we had been sat in a wind tunnel and just around the bend all would be calm or at least calmer.
The covers took a bit to roll back as they whipped round in the wind. I stayed at the bow ready to hop off once we had turned at the junction. It didn’t seem any less windy as Oleanna spun round to face north and the locks but at least the sun was out.
All bar one of the locks were in our favour, hooray! But the top gates gave us problems!
The first lock was fine apart from the rubbish. I’d list the items in the lock to Mick and we’d see how many he could spot , hopefully not around the prop. Second lock by an old flour mill had a for sale sign in it plus plenty of other rubbish. Once up I opened the gate, except it stopped short. A few open and closes usually gets things dislodged or out of the way, but not this time. Mick brought Oleanna forward but there wasn’t enough room for her to get through. Time to prod about to see what could be moved in the murky deep.
Boat hook didn’t do any good so the pole came out. The gate moved in and out and Mick tried to identify where the problem was. Poking and prodding, digging away at what ever lay down there. Eventually the gate moved just a few more inches, would it be enough? It was just.
Paul (Waterway Routes) had told us to look out for a different gate arrangement on one of the locks. Here at Lock 6 there were double gates, the rest as on much of the BCN have single gates. Now why would this be?
A single gate means the lock has to be longer. Double gates save water and length. It had to be something to do with the pound below. There was an arched bridge to what had been the entrance to a wharf, could it be that for a full length boat 70ft 11″ to get in through the bridge the throat of the lock had to be further away from it so as to give enough room to be able to swing round. There is no widening of the pound here to assist with this. Maybe a double gate reduces the length of the lock throat too.
Looking at Google earth later it looked like a full length boat wouldn’t have been able to wind here, so if they’d come down the locks and gone under the bridge they would have to reverse out and remain facing downhill. If coming up the locks they would have to reverse through the bridge and remain facing uphill. Are we correct Paul?
The next few locks filled, emptying the pounds above from being on the weir to a good few inches below, we only had one pound that was shallow. This along with a traffic cone and a bread crate made for slow progress into the lock, but we got there in the end. Coasting in, steadily filling it and then coasting out. I don’t know whether it was us or another boat that had put a ragged hole in the traffic cone, at least it wasn’t around our prop.
Bright sunshine was intermixed with gusts of wind and hail. Flying high in a garden was a sheet attached to a tree. At the back of someone’s garden the wall had collapsed due tothe amount of rubbish piled up against it. Maybe they think that if they give the pile just a little push every now and then that the contents will eventually become someone elses problem.
As I walked up to Lock 2, I spied a cat in the friendly cover. It soon turned it’s head so I could see that it wasn’t Tilly. A Tuxedo cat with a white nose. But not just any Tuxedo cat, this was a member of the Tilly Tail Gang, it’s white tip flicked round in annoyance at being disturbed looking for friends. I left it to it and carried on up hill to fill the next lock.
Deja Vu. The top gate stopped short of opening fully. The gap not wide enough. More digging around in the depths with the pole, gate swung open and closed, more digging. This felt like something really solid down there and it wasn’t shifting. If only we had a long handled Keb, but we didn’t. Only one thing for it call C&RT out.
It took a while for the person on the end of the phone to work out where we were, ‘not Ryders Green, Walsall Locks’, ‘No 2, second from the top’. Could we reverse out of the flight, yes, but that seemed pointless to us when we just needed someone to clear one gate and we were better off just sitting in the lock.
Eventually Mick got put through to a chap called Keith. Ahh! His Sunday team were out helping a stuck boat at Hatton, they wouldn’t be free for at least a couple of hours. He chatted through about what it might be, not the collar the gate was otherwise moving freely.
We nudged Oleanna back so that she was clear of the cill and Mick continued digging away. Keith rang back, his team would be at Hatton for another three to four hours, but he had called someone in who wasn’t working today to come out to us, they’d be an hour.
More digging. Maybe if both of us pushed on the gate? The combination of all our efforts and most probably our joint body weight on the beam got it to open just a few more inches. Was it enough? Mick brought Oleanna forward and managed to clear the gates, we were free.
A call to Keith before we got to the top lock, he said they’d still send someone to clear behind the gate.
The top lock was full with a paddle up and gate wide open. Up we rose and some eager gongoozlers loitered to open the gate for us. We then realised we’d need to be in the lock to top up the water tank, so their help wasn’t needed just yet.
Two hoses and poor water pressure. So I walked up to see what the moorings ahead were like compared to the Visitors Mooring above the lock. I also wanted to see if Sainsburys had any arrowroot. I returned as Mick was packing away after chatting to the C&RT chaps, no arrowroot but a possible mooring where Tilly could stretch her legs and climb trees.
We pushed on and pulled into the side, well not quite. The rings were awkwardly placed and there was something keeping us from getting into the edge. Sorry Tilly. Pah!!!!
Another hour or so cruise to the next mooring. Back onto the Curley Wurley we compared notes on rubbish levels. Both the Walsall and Curley Wurley have a long way to go before reaching Green Flag status! Both are revolting in parts. Vandelism is worst on the Walsall with trolleys, trees and graffiti.
But wanton fly tipping on parts of the Curley and Wurley look more like landfill than a place to relax and enjoy. You wonder what the people in the house right alongside think, or maybe it is caused by them. However Walsall itself has been worth the trip.
Soon we arrived at The United Kingdom Inn, here the kids playground was busy as adults watched sport and drank. Not suitable for Tilly sadly and she may be cabin bound for a few more days yet, we will make it up to her soon.
Sat behind our locked gate I slow cooked a breast of lamb, braised the remainder of the red cabbage and we listened to people come and go from the pubs either side of the bridge until late.
8 locks, 4.25 miles, 2 canals, 2 coconuts, 1 fire extinguisher, 2 problematic gates, 2 spoons less, 1 cup more, 1 less successful day, 0 arrowroot, 1 full water tank, 6 hail storms, 1 less windy day.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
An interesting museum, just a shame that there were no volunteers about today to do demonstrations.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Epstein’s Men with Mice and Birds had a somewhat comic feel to it.
Elaborate frames twice the size of a Renoir landscape was just as interesting as the painting.
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.
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.
Jungle Queen II by Hew Locke, made from toys, feather marabou, all sorts.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.