Issue 292
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"UNICORNS AND CANNONBALLS...

...Palaces and piers. Trumpets, towers and tenements. Wide oceans full of tears." Frankly it's anyone's guess what in tarnation The Waterboys were on about in the lyrics to Whole Of The Moon but, piers aside, they've inadvertently summed up the history of Aston Hall. We went on a tour of everyone's favourite Jacobean des-res and scribbled illegible notes throughout. Here's what we think they said...  
NOT SUCH NEW NEWS
While it may well be that the world really is going to hell in a handbasket, Aston Hall's kind of been there and done that on a number of fronts. Let's start with Sir Thomas Holte, the guy who had the Jacobean mansion built, with work commencing in 1612. Not content with his knighthood, Sir T bought himself the title of Baronet from King James I, who was in desperate need of money to put towards England's Irish troubles. Did somebody say cash for honours?

The prodigy house (nothing to do with Firestarters, it's just a term for houses of this grandeur) was constructed on a hill and at an angle that made it as visible as possible to passing traffic and the local area (basically all of which T-dawg owned by this point), despite being exactly 90 degrees off the angle that would have maximised sunlight hours. He favoured pomp over tanning, presumably.

One of the grandest rooms in the house is humbly titled the Great Hall, where Tommy's many tenants would come to pay their rent: apparently conspicuous consumption as a symbol of status has been going on for a fair while too.
THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
And while we're on the subject of the not so new, can we talk about unicorns? It turns out Millennials don't get much of a claim over the fabled creatures, which appear in numerous crests and friezes throughout Aston Hall. And this was rather more than an aesthetic decision. When Scotland and England unified under King James VI (of Scotland) in 1603, Scotland's Royal Arms had two unicorns supporting a shield. When Jimbo also became James I of England the king replaced the unicorn on the left of the shield with the national animal of England, the lion, to show the unity of the two countries. Suffice to say there are also a lot of lions in north Brum's manor.

On the less ferocious spectrum, squirrels were the favoured creature for the Holte family, so you'll also see plenty of those, as well as acorns in the intricate woodwork of rooms like the Long Gallery (true to its name, it's 136 feet and pictured bottom).

Elephants make up the fourth animal you'll spy bags of. A later addition to the decor, James Watt Jr — the son of the Lunar Society's main man — who had a long lease over Aston Hall from 1817, added in nellies to put his mark on the property and flag where he'd made expensive changes to his new pad. Show-off. 
WATT'S THE BEEF?
While Watt used his property largely for Downton-style parties and corporate entertaining — smoothy — Aston Hall was also visited during this period by American author, Washington Irving, whose best-known book Bracebridge Hall (1822) was loosely based on... you guessed it.

Going back a bit, the Hall also hosted Charles I in October 1642, two months after he'd ballsily declared war on his own parliament. Though this visit might seem like a big honour, it really didn't help the Holte family's fate in the English Civil War all that much, with their 50ish-room home attacked in 1643 by a Parliamentarian force from Cov. A hole made in the staircase by a cannonball (now you're starting to get the convoluted intro) that must have come through the Hall's exterior wall in the siege can be seen in the etching above, with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on inspection duties.
TIGHTROPES AND TRAGEDY
Also visiting as a girl when she was titled Princess Alexandrina Victoria, Queen Vic took quite an interest in Aston Hall over the years. In July 1863, in an attempt to raise money, the now cash-strapped Hall held a fair in which tightrope walker, Selina Powell, dramatically fell off her rope between two lodges and is said to have died on the floor of the Great Hall. Finding the incident massively distasteful, Victoria wrote to the mayor of Birmingham, concerned about the future of the estate.

Under pressure from the reigning monarch, Aston Hall was bought by the city the next year and Victoria came to open the first historic country house to pass into municipal ownership and become a museum. Which brings us up to today. Around 25 of Aston Hall's rooms are still open to the public and you can even see the hole that cannonball made. There's still no piers, mind. Take yourself on a wander, or maybe even join a tour

ART ATTACK FOR GROWN UPS


Double art on a Thursday afternoon — it was either the standout part of your school week, or if you're anything like us, you drew consolatory looks even from your own stick people. Whichever camp you belonged to, you’ve got a chance to reinvent your relationship with the great white canvas and spend an evening with a screentime count of zero through an ArtNight workshop. Master a city skyline at the JQ’s Rebel Chicken on August 14 from 7pm, or maybe go full Warhol with a Pop art evening (Aug 20) at a secret location in the city. Though the sessions are said to be suitable for hobbying artists, no skill is necessary — a legit artist will guide you towards your masterpiece. And liquid courage is available throughout class, which is limited to 24 budding Botticellis. Tickets are £34.

COMEDY PICK:
MIKE WILMOT


It tells you everything you need to know about Mike Wilmot’s standing on the comedy circuit that the grizzled Canadian veteran goes by the affectionate soubriquet of Uncle Mike. Yes, really. This warm, avuncular character is the sort of person you’re always delighted to see in a green room, because it means you can sit back, relax and just listen to the man talk. Anecdotes, life advice and — if you ask — comedy advice are all dispensed in equal measure. Yet it’s on stage where the great man is truly in his element. Think comedy has got a little too PC? Wilmot is living proof that it absolutely has not. Profane, profound and, frankly, absolutely filthy, you need to get some Wilmot into your life as part of a mixed bill at The Glee. On Sept 6, tickets are 17.75.

WIN LUNCH...


If anyone lives to give, it’s Chung Ying Central. Not content with giving away 20 bao of your choice to one lucky (and hopefully hungry) winner, they’re even going to bring it right up to your office, so you can do the honourable thing and share your spoils. We’d go for a full house of the Beijing duck bao, stacked up with cucumber and hoisin sauce, but apparently, it’s not all about us. Retweet this tweet for your chance to win. Full bao selection

...AND A SCREENING


Reckon the best years of cinema are behind us? Sick of the yout' on their phones? Win a private screening for up to ten pals and choose the film you're watching from 30 of the top films from the last decade, including Baby Driver and Dunkirk. Your cinema of choice is the Mailbox's giant screen and everyone gets a drink and a burger courtesy of Everyman Cinema as part of the prize. You'll pick from a few dates towards the end of the month, with the screening taking place after shopping hours. To be in with a chance of winning tag who you'd bring right here.

INSTAGRAM: THE 17TH-CENTURY EDITION



As ambitious projects go the Paper Museum has got to be up there. Back in 1620-something, two plucky young Italian brothers decided to create a visual record of everything in the material world. Architecture, botany, social customs, zoology, military maps, food — everything. And you’d be right in thinking photography doesn’t get invented for over another 200 years, so drawings, prints, watercolours and illustrations were the Dal Pozzo brothers’ media, which they set about commissioning friendly (and mostly anonymous) artists to create. Lent to the Barber by Her Majesty the Queen, the collection includes everything from a beautiful life-size depiction of a pelican, to an early version of Michelangelo’s scheme for St Peter’s basilica, to the fingered lemon pictured. The meticulously detailed drawing is typical of the bizarre pieces that make up the 10,000-strong collection, which was created at a time so alien to what we now know that fragments of mammoths’ tusks were still thought to be the bones of giants, providing a visual history of how science has moved on in 400 years. Catch the Paper Museum (until Sept 1) and the Barber’s permanent galleries before the gallery closes for a month of TLC on Sept 9. Free
Venue: Rudy's, 9-10 Bennetts Hill, B2 5RS; website
Choice: Tonno pizza (£8.40) Chooser: Waitress

There’s only one fault we can find with Rudy’s: the Neapolitan pizzeria started in Manchester and not fair Brum. Reaching the Midlands via a Liverpool opening, Bennetts Hill is their fourth spot and, by gum, they’ve hit the town not simply running but at sprinting speed. Just when we thought a Campari and soda couldn’t get any more Italiano and old school, a bowl of ready salted crisps came out to accompany the £3.20 aperitif. The refreshingly bitter drinks list is super-sensibly priced and there’s a little bar at the back of the spacious feeling restaurant if drinks are your number one aim. But they shouldn't be — the main event was undoubtedly the huge, charred sourdough discs of joy. The prosciutto cotto, portobello mushroom and artichoke hearts on the capricciosa (£8.90) were a tremendously tasty combo, and ratio-wise, Rudy’s have found that max point where you get as many toppings as possible without creating a soggy bottom. Because no one wants that, kids. But punching way above its weight was the tonno pizza — a tuna, green chilli and roquito pepper combo that we never would have ordered but for our waitress picking it out. An unexpected but supremely pleasant sweetness worked royally with the fior di latte and Parmesan cheese mix, while the crunch of the peppers kept us interested until the final slice — a serious undertaking when you see the size of these things. Swerve the carni platter, which though generous for its £8.90 price tag, felt like wasted calories after we'd tasted the pizza.
Menu
 
Tickets for Birmingham Literature Festival are now on sale, with 56 events over 11 days in October. Hear everyone from Adam Kay of This Is Going to Hurt fame, to outgoing Poet Laureate and GCSE syllabus stalwart, Carol Ann Duffy. Full Programme
The Big Fat Pizza Festival takes over Digbeth on September 14. It does what it says on the tin. Just bigger, fatter and pizza-er.
Our founder is doing the F45 8-Week Challenge. If his back holds up. Follow his progress.
Gin and Jazz Club is officially a thing, a thing that you can get yourself to at MAC on Aug 16. Tickets are £17.50 and get you a gin cocktail, a sharing platter and two whole live sets of jazz.
Taking a break from viral-ing on FB, Jonathan Pie brings his Fake News Tour to Symphony Hall on October 5 with facts aplenty and all sorts of funny. Part of Birmingham Comedy Festival, a handful of tickets remain at £27.50.
Contrary to the lies published in last week's AOB, Birmingham Weekender takes place October 4 to 6 in 2019. The editor has been sacked. Again.
 


"Yes, you climbed on the ladder
With the wind in your sails
You came like a comet
Blazing your trail
Too high. Too far. Too soon"


The Whole Of The Moon, The Waterboys (1985)



 
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WORDS: Katy Drohan, James Gill, Robb Sheppard
PICTURES: Aston Hall — Birmingham Museums Trust (modern imagery Verity Milligan), Paper Museum — Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2019, Rudy's — Lydia Wakelam / Mission Mars


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