We have it on an off-the-record tip that a number of Brum's closed pubs won't re-open, and some that are now open have the odds stacked well against them to remain so. Cheerful stuff, right? And at the risk of adding yet another voice to the chorus, if you can, please do go to your local. As Joni Mitchell once sang, 'Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you got till it's gone?'. All those pubs could soon become nothing but big yellow taxis.
No, hang on... that's not right at all.
Anyway, 150 years from now your favourite inn could appear on — a by then very wrinkly — Kevin Thomas's Lost Pubs tour. Here's just five boozers that feature on his fascinating historical walk of the JQ's now long-gone watering holes. May history serve as a warning.
THE DUKE OF YORK
Previously located: Hockley Hill When was it a pub? 1820 Kevin says: “This was a Georgian Grade II listed pub, with a fantastic Victorian bar. It was a huge place for rock and roll, but perhaps most interestingly it was where boxer Johnny ‘PlayBoy’ Prescott used to train. He trained above the pub. Have a look at this poster I found. He fought Henry Cooper for the British Heavyweight Championship, at St Andrew’s stadium, June 15, 1965. Rumour has it that after his boxing career he became an associate to the Fewtrell family who, it is written, had run-ins with The Krays. There’s nothing where the Duke used to be now, sadly. After it closed, thieves broke in and stole the beautiful bar — it looked a bit like the Hare & Hounds in Kings Heath — and it had a weakened structure. There was a thunderstorm that shook the building so much it collapsed. So, the first place we visit on the tour is an empty car park. Fancy, right?”
Previously located: Barr Street When was it a pub? 1880 Kevin says: “I have a book by Fred Pearce called the Birmingham Pub Guide 1976. He wasn’t a beer guy, he was a pub guy. He travelled Birmingham giving pubs star ratings and The Woodman got four stars. He wrote: “A monument to years of accumulation of all manner of kitsch, the original idea was perhaps nautical. The main bar was filled with lifebelt lamps, models of shells that have spawned a glass bottle collection. An alligator with a broken tail, a gun or two, Toby mugs, little baskets of plastic flowers with budgerigars attached, china dolls, not an inch of wall or ceiling of this very small pub is left unadorned.” How amazing does that sound? A famous Birmingham company called Swallow Raincoats was nearby. Again, I have an advert from them, here. I like to imagine going into this crazy pub on a wet Friday night with everybody wearing Swallow raincoats and sipping pints. It’s offices now, but you can still see some of the old pub timber.”
Previously located: Barr Street When was it a pub? 1950s Kevin says: “Cruelly, this is now a mobile phone shop, but I find it interesting because of The Pelican Works on Great Hampton Street. The Pelican pub is where the Pelican Works workers would drink. The Works was an enormous factory, it made cutlery and carried out electroplating. The frontage, with the Pelican atop, is well known, but the factory stretched back all the way down Hockley Street to Barr Street. And behind it all, was the Pelican pub. It’s the pelican statue that really interests me — I’m sure you’ve seen it loads of times. The building was built for Thomas Wilkinson, the pelican being a Christian symbol of sacrifice. Why? Because when food is scarce a pelican will peck at its own breast and feed the blood to its young."
Previously located: Great Hampton Street When was it a pub? 1869 Kevin says: “An amazing building that is being turned into a boutique hotel and restaurant. Originally it was a factory built by Phillip Vaughton. Vaughtons have moved around Birmingham a great deal and still exist. They make the badges for Aston Martin and did the ‘Thank You NHS’ rainbow badge. When it closed as a factory it became The Gothic. Luckily for us, Fred Pearce went there and gave it four stars. He said the tile work was similar to the Barton Arms in Aston, which if you’ve not been to, you must. My favourite thing about this pub is that they minted their own currency! If you went in and gave them a note, you’d get Gothic currency back, spendable only in the pub."
Previously located: Great Hampton Street When was it a pub? 1850s Kevin says: “A really early Victorian pub. Check out this advert. I started researching this pub and I tried to work out why it was called The Vampire, so I went down the route of investigating the guy named in the poster ad — John Stagg. I found a book from 1810, called 'The Minstrel Of The North’. It wasn’t written by a John Stagg, but it was a collection of stories that he published. And by the poster, you can tell the owner of the pub — or the landlord — was a collector too. Then, if you go to page 262 of this book, you find a story called ‘The Vampire’. Now I can’t definitively say that the two John Staggs are the same guy, but the timings align perfectly. I also found out The Vampire was next to Wright’s pork butchers and if you look closely you can see the sides of pork hanging, there to the left. But it went bankrupt and the factory next-door bought it and knocked through. Again, it’s a car park now."
Previously located: The bottom of Constitution Hill When was it a pub? From the1700s rebuilt in the 1800s Kevin says: “A pub that was hugely important in the jazz scene — it was one of the first pubs where black and white people could play together in the same band. The night of its closure in 1968 they had a New Orleans style funeral for the pub. The canal that ran alongside had undermined the foundations and the entire building had started to tip. So eventually it was demolished. Really interestingly, in 1798, the pub was the last place that bull bating ever happened in Birmingham. At that time Birmingham had a militia. Because of the Napoleonic Wars, as a last line of defence should Napoleon invade Britain, each city set up their own militia — sort of like Dad’s Army. The Birmingham militia heard that bull was being bated there and they decided to go and put a stop to it. They marched through Birmingham with a band playing loudly all the way. Obviously the bull baters heard them coming — a slight flaw in the plan — so they darted off to Handsworth with the bull. They were caught, eventually, and the militia took the bull into protective custody and, believe it or not, put the animal in cells overnight. Three hundred years this pub was there. Remarkable."
Chef Andrew Sheridan, of ICC-based Craft Dining Room, is launching something that could be right up your strasse, unless 8 is your unlucky number. Opening on October 8 at 8 o'clock, and only ever opening at 8 o'clock (there's a theme brewing), is '8'. That's the name of this little, inevitable gem, that serves eight courses to eight covers, only. Hidden somewhere inside Craft, a clock will sit outside the venue, counting down to 8pm, when guests are invited in for a single sitting of a tasting menu. Each course is based around the number 8 and will be accompanied by a multi-sensory experience from an LED wall. Dishes include '8-10-2006', the date Sheridan became a chef — which pays homage to the carrot cake recipe which was the first dish he learnt to cook — while the apple and scallop 'eight days a week' is a nod to the chef's Liverpool roots. The price? £88. Website andInstagram
DIGGING DOWN AND LOOKING UP
Heritage Open Days is a festival of heritage and whatnot, running September 11 to 20. A mix of virtual tours, digital experiences and in-person events, one webinar focuses on archaeological findings of a recently discovered ancient burial ground during the love-it-or-hate-it HS2 works. The dig is taking place on Park Street, the one on which resides that brilliantly dodgy Taboo Cinema. You know the one, near the railway arches. Not far from Selfridges. Oh, don't pretend you don't know it! Also on the agenda is a virtual tour of a hidden Grade-II listed rooftop garden in the JQ and, maybe pick of the "in person" events, a tour of Sparkbrook's spectacular Neo-Gothic Grade I listed St Agatha's church, which was mentioned in the letters of John Betjemen. Social distancing is very much factored in and booking on this one is not necessary. All events are free. More
Venue: Tierra Tacos @ Cork & Cage, 1373 Pershore Rd, B30 2JR; Instagram Choice: Pork Carnitas Taco (£3.50 each) Chooser: Us. We ordered the lot.
Whose kids did you put through college during lockdown? If the owners of bao bar Tiger Bites Pig have offspring, then on our Deliveroo bill alone they could take their pick of red brick unis and have enough left over for rent. So carried away did we get at their arrival in Stirchley (they currently have evening residency at Caneat, Weds to Sat) that twice weekly order-ins were not unheard of. But beautiful bao is not the raison d'etre of their latest pop-up project, Tierra Tacos, at Stirchley's beaut craft beer burrow, Cork & Cage. Taco wraps made on site were, on occasion, a little too thick, but most were perfect and the fillings were, with the pork taco in particular, other-worldly. Rich, meaty carnitas was cut through by red cabbage and pink pickled onions, but it was the caramelised mezcal pineapple that elevated each mouthful to marry-able levels. Similar fresh notes of fruit came in the form of pomegranate seeds that burst beautifully around mouthfuls of mole beef, while charred corn snuggled up well with the baja fish. The black beans side dish was just that, a bowl of black beans. Nice though they were, they needed something carby as a vehicle, but this is all about the tacos, washed down with Cork & Cage's ever changing and often local beer options. Booking advisable as walk-ins are very limited. Menu
Starting Saturday and running over three weekends, WM Weekenders is a new series of events designed to showcase the diversity and innovation of the region’s arts. They're all free, which is probably the right price for quite a lot of us at the moment. More —
Chinese hot pot chain Haidilao will take over the sprawling site vacated by Jamie's Italian in the Bullring. It'll be the first UK launch outside of that there London. More
Sir Simon Rattle conducts as the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra celebrates its 100th year on Saturday, September 5. It's an online gig (does one of the world's best conductors do "gigs"?) watchable on the CBSO's YouTube channel at 7pm. Hannah Kendall, Elgar and your boi Stravinsky all feature. Details
Fiddy (per)cent of every sale of Sketch In The City's extraordinarily detailed Birmingham poster will go towards Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery as it continues to fight for survival. Large and small options (go large) are available here, £30 or £65.
The mother of all cultural tie-ups between The Rep and Birmingham Royal Ballet launches October 22 to 24. Tickets for the show, which is inspired by ideas of ‘social distancing’, sold out lickety-split, but they've got another batch on sale 9am Wednesday, September 1. Synchronise watches, £15
Fried chicken doyens Bonehead will be popping up at Kings Heath's The Juke bar this Saturday and Sunday, Aug 28 and 29. First come, first served. More
"Hey farmer farmer put away the DDT
Don't care about spots on my apples
Leave me the birds and the bees
WORDS: Tom Cullen
IMAGES: birminghamhistory.co.uk (Lost Pubs), HS2 (Heritage Open Days)
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