Sunday 26 October 2014

The Bond Autumn Market

The Bond Autumn Market
October 2014

The Bond in Digbeth played host to its third quarterly Market on Saturday.

This event originally attracted us due to its proximity to the Grand Union Canal with its two boat basin still intact, that and its proximity to the Edible Eastside site. Its a foodie event which we initially attended in the craft hall in the spring, then with The Jam Butty in the summer and now back into the hall as the weather cools off.

I have to admit that I rather like this event, its so different from the sort of thing we usually attend. It is run by a group of young people for young people with a taste for street food. The star attraction were the original Patti Men - winners of the Burger category in the national Street Food Awards. They attracted huge queues as punters (and hungry stallholders) who were prepared to wait 30 minutes and pay £7.50 for one of the tastiest things I have ever found under a bun.

The interesting thing is to see this event developing. It started as a foodie core and a craft market on the side but increasingly the food dimension is spreading into the craft hall. Last weekend half the hall was taken up with interesting food stalls including:

Artisan bread, specialty cheese, posh pies, organic veg, Greek food, hand made chocolate and of course preserves.

Out in the basin there were two trade boats : The Home Brew Boat and Da Vinci Crafts.

This event has a really good vibe to it and is one not to be missed. 

Don't worry if you overlooked this one, there will be a Winter Market on Sat 6th December.

Sunday 19 October 2014

Walsall Wood Coal Seams

Walsall Wood Coal Seams
Daw End Canal
October 2014

I keep an eye on a number of local historical sites, one of which is Brownhills Bob Brownhills Blog which is linked to the Aldridge Historical Society's Facebook page.

A recent post included a map of one of the Walsall Wood Colliery's coal seams (there were more than one) which was overlaid on a Google Earth image. The thing which caught my eye was the Daw End canal which cuts through the image just south of Catshill Junction.

I have often travelled along this stretch of canal and noted the extreme depth of water, a situation attributed to mining subsidence. This image reveals the exact extent of the mine workings on one level and was produced on a six foot long sheet of velum for the benefit of the railway engineers.

The mine was closed in 1961 and was never mechanised, with the abandoned shafts filled with industrial waste in the 1960's and 70's.

A word of caution as you try to orientate the above image:  North is to the right with the Angelsey Arm exiting at the extreme bottom right of the image.

Tuesday 7 October 2014

Parkhead Boat Gathering

Parkhead Boat Gathering
October 2014

After my last post about Banbury Canal Day I am now jumping back in time to the Parkhead Boat Gathering which took place two weeks previously.

 Parkhead 2014

Parkhead takes place every two years, following two weeks after the Black Country Boating Festival which takes place a few miles along the Dudley No2 at Netherton. Given the proximity of the two events we decided against taking the boats back to Calf Heath so we accepted the kind offer of the guys at Hawne Basin and left both boats in their tender care.

Work commitments meant that I had to be in the office on Friday morning and we finally made it to Halesowen for a 1.30pm departure, arriving at a crowded Parkhead at about 4.00pm and was helped into the lock by the crew of All Things Spanish and Charlie from Felonious Mongoose. The festival team had a good crew on the locks and I had little to do apart from steer the boats and answer questions about the butty.

The basin at the top of the locks was interesting. Most of the working boats had arrived and my challenge was to wind immediately above the top lock and then reverse up the arm towards the tunnel portal and our mooring, three boats back next to The Home Brew Boat.

Winding the butty is a challenge at any time but reversing the two boats is pretty much an impossibility and this maneuver was conducted under the watchful scrutiny of a whole host of working boat experts. In the event the wind went well and both boats ended up in the right position  and the move back was achieved with the aid of another boater who took the stern rope from the butty and bow (or stern) hauled us in.

Parkhead is a compact site and boats were always three abreast and at times the congestion was such that boats spent the night rafted up from one side to the other.

The BCBF and Parkhead may only be 4 miles apart but the nature of the events couldnt be more different. BCBF is one huge community event attracting tens of thousands of visitors whilst Parkhead is lower key and is primarily an event for boaters and particularly for historic boat enthusiasts. As well as boat movements we had butty legging in the tunnel and perhaps the highlight for me was horse boating a BCN day boat up and down the locks. 

With President fired up, a steam showman's engine fired up and plenty of boat chimneys smoking away the site was shrouded on smoke which offered an extra dimension of authenticity to life in the Black Country 150 year ago.

For all its attractions, the event is not so well known in the local community. Its a very porous site with many entrances but my guess it that it attracted perhaps 5,000 plus external visitors over the two days. But size isn't everything and all four trade boats did steady business and provided scope to get ashore and enjoy the attractions more than usual.

All in all a special boating event put on by boaters for boaters.

Monday 6 October 2014

Banbury Canal Day

Banbury Canal Day
October 2014

For us the Banbury Canal day, held on the first Sunday in October, represents the last outdoor trading event of the season.

A bit of history

We would dearly love to attend on our boat but as any boater will tell you, Banbury is two big watersheds away from our base on the Staffs and Worcester and is therefore too far away to be a credible destination for a one day event. Maybe one for the future...

 And some pomp

So for now its an event we attend in the car and if I am honest its one of the easiest, even if it is an hour's drive from home. The dawn trip down the M40 is almost a joy and when we arrive we can pull up alongside a pre erected stall and hey presto all the stock is ready for sale.

The crowds show up

Banbury has just celebrated its 11th anniversary under the leadership of the local town council, ably supported by a management committee made up of all the interested parties. The end result is a well organised and well attended event attracting over 35 boats, 110 stalls and an estimated 20,000 visitors. This year Nutfield and Raymond were in show adding an extra depth to the boating dimension, which was great.

But of course its not just the boats which make events like this special. Banbury gives us an opportunity to see old friends who live south of Braunston. People like the Hebie's, Maffi, Bones to name just a few and then there are the repeat customers who come and see us year after year.


However, all is not entirely rosy in the garden and there is often some rough to balance out the smooth. This year the downs included the stinky drains which were so bad that customers complained, and then the inexorable rise of the charity stall which destroys the interest factor of the market as surely as they do on the high street. And then there was the enthusiastic outcry approach from a young helper at the next door stall - "four tickets for a pound, sweets a pound a bag" she screeched out every 15 seconds for a straight two hours. The amazing thing was that this technique actually drove customers from their stall, and ours. My guess is it cost us 10% of sales.... Grr.But tat said the other traders saw sales down a bit  of fine weather. Hey, that's the way it goes sometimes.

It takes all sorts!

So that's it for outdoor trading season - Droitwich to Banbury in five months with a lot of fun along the way. See you all next year.

Saturday 4 October 2014

Black Country Boating Festival 2014

Black Country Boating Festival 2014
September 2014

Our journey to the Black Country Festival was kind of circuitous, involving that memorable trip to Napton and involved a relief crew to get motor and butty back to Birmingham from Warwick. 

In the end we picked the boats up from a friend's mooring in Symphony Court, incurring the ire of the NCP staff as I unloaded the car beside the Symphony Hall visitor moorings. The central Birmingham starting point was convenient and allowed us to reach the festival site in mid afternoon, slotting into our tightly measured space outside the visitor centre. Adrian - how could I ever doubt your measuring skills?

In the event I saw little of the festival. We set up the butty on Friday evening and ate with Barry and Sandra (Homebrew Boat) but when the starting gun was fired our feet never touched the ground. The weather was glorious and the crowds flocked out in their thousands, many being repeat customers eager for another jammy fix. In the end we broke all our sales records on the Saturday and even the Sunday, usually a quieter day, we matched our previous record. The end result was a much denuded stall as we struggled to field a field a credible display. As we packed away there was a sad little pile of full boxes in the butty, barely enough to need to think about balancing the trim.

With all that frenetic activity our time in the beer tent was limited in the extreme, in fact we spent more time in the tent attending the church service than we did whilst the bar was open for its given purpose and apart from the liberal supply of Barry's homebrew, we only managed to consume two pints of Bumblehole on Sunday afternoon.

We slunk out of the festival site at 6.00pm, closely followed by Areandare, finding a slot in Hawne Basin in the last fading glimmer of twilight, out temporary home for two weeks before the Park Head rally.

Oh how I love the Black Country Boating Festival - a real community event. Our booking is in for the 30th Anniversary festival in September 2015.

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Stourbridge Extenston Canal Part 3 - to Standhills

Stourbridge Extension Canal
Part 3 - Bromley Bridge to Standhills
September 2014

The Stourbridge Extension Canal has near legendary status in the annals of lost waterway hunting.  From Bromley Lane Bridge north the pickings get increasingly thin.

Standhills Branch from 1902 OS - Godfrey

For a start they inconveniently built a housing estate in the canal line in the early 1980's, so rather that clambering through one hundred back gardens I opted for the more socially acceptable proxy of walking the adjoining abandoned railway track of which one set of rails is still in place. There was something slightly surreal about walking between the platforms of a long abandoned station (the ones you can see on the picture with the canal to the left.). 

 North of Bromley Bridge 1955

The same area in 2014

It was also very remote with no access point for 1/2 a mile. Having met a very strange chap at Bromley Junction I was glad not to run into any undesirables on this  lonely section.

Eventually you can feel as much as see the railway bending to the right, cutting a corner where the canal drifts away a couple of hundred feet. Its here the Standhills Branch left and obligingly there is an access path into Tunstall Road, which lies on the path of the canal.

Canal Bed at Standhills Branch Junction

The 3/4 mile Standhills Branch snaked north west to within 100 yards of the Western Boundary Fault, being built in 1840 when there was no pre existing industrial activity along its route. 

The course of the canal is ill defined, with the entire area being regraded before the estate was built. To track its course you really need a copy of the 1903 OS map and overlay this on the modern A-Z using the few reference points available to you. As far as I can tell it crossed open space between Lapwood Avenue and Vernier Avenue, went beneath Alder Road and then commenced a sweeping 90 degree clockwise arc under the sports field of The Crestwood School. It exited at the north west corner, passing under a bridge which used to carry an extended Ketley Road at Standhills House

Crestwood School sports field - canal exited top right

The bridge was removed to the BCLM for safe keeping,but photos remain with a constriction date on 1838 cast into the side and it has since been re erected on the Stourbridge Town Arm near the Bonded Warehouse.

The now demolished bridge on Ketley Lane

It was from here on that I expected I would find a couple of hundred yards of well preserved channel as it wound round the back of the Ketley Brick Works. Sadly, whilst it was there when Langford did his exploration in 1992, and still present on the current Google Earth images, I seem to be a year too late! The Brickworks area has just been flattened with an impenetrable fence erected round its perimeter.

The final few hundred yards!

I walked round to Green Lane / Ketley Road and found what appeared to be the canal crossing point. There were even some bricks in the ground which may nave been part of the canal edging but beyond its just featureless public open space with no trace of the terminal basin. its wharves or lime kilns, all submerged in waste from the Horton Colliery in the first few years of the 20th century. I guess it means its all under there somewhere.

As was the case at Bromley, the mines were closed by 1880, with Standhills Colliery being briefly reopened during WW2, but by then the canal was long gone.

Ketley Brickworks occupied a busy site at the far end of the canal and latterly the factory element was removed to allow access to the Old Hill (Etruria) Marl which was trucked for processing at the extant brickworks on Dreadnought Road, Tansey Green a little further along the old line of the canal. The site is now being leveled and presumably restored to agriculture and or housing.

With about 2/3rd of the canal line explored you would be forgiven for expecting another couple of posts as we track the route to Stallings  at Gornalwood. Sadly, the fate meted out to the end of the Standhills Branch is repeated along the rest of the course. The once mighty Corbyn's Hall Ironworks and Shutt End Ironworks both died a death and were completely redeveloped at the Pensnett Trading Estate. I could show you photos of First Avenue which lies over the course of the canal, but its all rather depressing and dull with the final basin sitting beneath what is now the Ibstock Brickyard. 

I guess its some compensation that the brick industry which used coal from the canal has survived and thrived, with modern technology managing to dig ever bigger holes  in the ground for clay. What's the guessing that in years to come fuel will be in such short supply that coal shafts are sunk way beyond the Western Boundary Fault, or maybe the area is ripe for a spot of fracking.....

Well, that's it for the Stourbridge Extension.