Birmingham is the second-most populous city in the United Kingdom, after London, and the most populous city in the English Midlands. With an estimated population of 1,137,100 as of 2017, Birmingham is the cultural, social, financial and commercial centre of the Midlands. It is the main centre of the West Midlands conurbation, which is the third most populated urban area in the United Kingdom, with a population in 2011 of 2,440,986. The wider Birmingham metropolitan area is the second largest in the United Kingdom with a population of over 3.7 million. Birmingham is frequently referred to as the United Kingdom's "second city".
A market town in the medieval period, Birmingham grew in the 18th-century Midlands Enlightenment and subsequent Industrial Revolution, which saw advances in science, technology, and economic development, producing a series of innovations that laid many of the foundations of modern industrial society. By 1791 it was being hailed as "the first manufacturing town in the world". Birmingham's distinctive economic profile, with thousands of small workshops practising a wide variety of specialised and highly skilled trades, encouraged exceptional levels of creativity and innovation and provided an economic base for prosperity that was to last into the final quarter of the 20th century. The Watt steam engine was invented in Birmingham.
The resulting high level of social mobility also fostered a culture of political radicalism which, under leaders from Thomas Attwood to Joseph Chamberlain, was to give it a political influence unparalleled in Britain outside London, and a pivotal role in the development of British democracy. From the summer of 1940 to the spring of 1943, Birmingham was bombed heavily by the German Luftwaffe in what is known as the Birmingham Blitz. The damage done to the city's infrastructure, in addition to a deliberate policy of demolition and new building by planners, led to extensive urban regeneration in subsequent decades.
Birmingham's economy is now dominated by the service sector. The city is a major international commercial centre, ranked as a beta- world city by the Globalization and World Cities Research Network; and an important transport, retail, events and conference hub. Its metropolitan economy is the second largest in the United Kingdom with a GDP of $121.1bn (2014), and its six universities make it the largest centre of higher education in the country outside London. Birmingham's major cultural institutions – the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Birmingham Royal Ballet, the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, the Library of Birmingham and the Barber Institute of Fine Arts – enjoy international reputations, and the city has vibrant and influential grassroots art, music, literary and culinary scenes. Birmingham is the fourth-most visited city in the UK by foreign visitors.
People from Birmingham are called Brummies, a term derived from the city's nickname of "Brum", which originates from the city's old name, Brummagem, which in turn is thought to have derived from "Bromwich-ham". The Brummie accent and dialect are particularly distinctive.
Birmingham's early history is that of a remote and marginal area. The main centres of population, power and wealth in the pre-industrial English Midlands lay in the fertile and accessible river valleys of the Trent, the Severn and the Avon. The area of modern Birmingham lay in between, on the upland Birmingham Plateau and within the densely wooded and sparsely populated Forest of Arden.
There is evidence of early human activity in the Birmingham area dating back to around 8000 BC, with stone age artefacts suggesting seasonal settlements, overnight hunting parties and woodland activities such as tree felling. The many burnt mounds that can still be seen around the city indicate that modern humans first intensively settled and cultivated the area during the bronze age, when a substantial but short-lived influx of population occurred between 1700 BC and 1000 BC, possibly caused by conflict or immigration in the surrounding area. During the 1st-century Roman conquest of Britain, the forested country of the Birmingham Plateau formed a barrier to the advancing Roman legions, who built the large Metchley Fort in the area of modern-day Edgbaston in AD 48, and made it the focus of a network of Roman roads.
Birmingham as a settlement dates from the Anglo-Saxon era. The city's name comes from the Old English Beormingahām, meaning the home or settlement of the Beormingas – indicating that Birmingham was established in the 6th or early 7th century as the primary settlement of an Anglian tribal grouping and regio of that name. Despite this early importance, by the time of the Domesday Book of 1086 the manor of Birmingham was one of the poorest and least populated in Warwickshire, valued at only 20 shillings, with the area of the modern city divided between the counties of Warwickshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire.
The development of Birmingham into a significant urban and commercial centre began in 1166, when the Lord of the Manor Peter de Bermingham obtained a charter to hold a market at his castle, and followed this with the creation of a planned market town and seigneurial borough within his demesne or manorial estate, around the site that became the Bull Ring. This established Birmingham as the primary commercial centre for the Birmingham Plateau at a time when the area's economy was expanding rapidly, with population growth nationally leading to the clearance, cultivation and settlement of previously marginal land. Within a century of the charter Birmingham had grown into a prosperous urban centre of merchants and craftsmen. By 1327 it was the third-largest town in Warwickshire, a position it would retain for the next 200 years.
The principal governing institutions of medieval Birmingham – including the Guild of the Holy Cross and the lordship of the de Birmingham family – collapsed between 1536 and 1547, leaving the town with an unusually high degree of social and economic freedom and initiating a period of transition and growth. By 1700 Birmingham's population had increased fifteenfold and the town was the fifth-largest in England and Wales.
The importance of the manufacture of iron goods to Birmingham's economy was recognised as early as 1538, and grew rapidly as the century progressed. Equally significant was the town's emerging role as a centre for the iron merchants who organised finance, supplied raw materials and traded and marketed the industry's products. By the 1600s Birmingham formed the commercial hub of a network of forges and furnaces stretching from South Wales to Cheshire and its merchants were selling finished manufactured goods as far afield as the West Indies. These trading links gave Birmingham's metalworkers access to much wider markets, allowing them to diversify away from lower-skilled trades producing basic goods for local sale, towards a broader range of specialist, higher-skilled and more lucrative activities.
By the time of the English Civil War Birmingham's booming economy, its expanding population, and its resulting high levels of social mobility and cultural pluralism, had seen it develop new social structures very different from those of more established areas. Relationships were built around pragmatic commercial linkages rather than the rigid paternalism and deference of feudal society, and loyalties to the traditional hierarchies of the established church and aristocracy were weak. The town's reputation for political radicalism and its strongly Parliamentarian sympathies saw it attacked by Royalist forces in the Battle of Birmingham in 1643, and it developed into a centre of Puritanism in the 1630s and as a haven for Nonconformists from the 1660s.
The 18th century saw this tradition of free-thinking and collaboration blossom into the cultural phenomenon now known as the Midlands Enlightenment. The town developed into a notable centre of literary, musical, artistic and theatrical activity; and its leading citizens – particularly the members of the Lunar Society of Birmingham – became influential participants in the circulation of philosophical and scientific ideas among Europe's intellectual elite. The close relationship between Enlightenment Birmingham's leading thinkers and its major manufacturers – in men like Matthew Boulton and James Keir they were often in fact the same people – made it particularly important for the exchange of knowledge between pure science and the practical world of manufacturing and technology. This created a "chain reaction of innovation", forming a pivotal link between the earlier scientific revolution and the Industrial Revolution that would follow.
Birmingham's explosive industrial expansion started earlier than that of the textile-manufacturing towns of the North of England, and was driven by different factors. Instead of the economies of scale of a low-paid, unskilled workforce producing a single bulk commodity such as cotton or wool in large, mechanised units of production, Birmingham's industrial development was built on the adaptability and creativity of a highly paid workforce with a strong division of labour, practising a broad variety of skilled specialist trades and producing a constantly diversifying range of products, in a highly entrepreneurial economy of small, often self-owned workshops. This led to exceptional levels of inventiveness: between 1760 and 1850 – the core years of the Industrial Revolution – Birmingham residents registered over three times as many patents as those of any other British town or city.
The demand for capital to feed rapid economic expansion also saw Birmingham grow into a major financial centre with extensive international connections. Lloyds Bank was founded in the town in 1765, and Ketley's Building Society, the world's first building society, in 1775. By 1800 the West Midlands had more banking offices per head than any other region in Britain, including London.
Innovation in 18th-century Birmingham often took the form of incremental series of small-scale improvements to existing products or processes, but also included major developments that lay at the heart of the emergence of industrial society. In 1709 the Birmingham-trained Abraham Darby I moved to Coalbrookdale in Shropshire and built the first blast furnace to successfully smelt iron ore with coke, transforming the quality, volume and scale on which it was possible to produce cast iron. In 1732 Lewis Paul and John Wyatt invented roller spinning, the "one novel idea of the first importance" in the development of the mechanised cotton industry. In 1741 they opened the world's first cotton mill in Birmingham's Upper Priory. In 1746 John Roebuck invented the lead chamber process, enabling the large-scale manufacture of sulphuric acid, and in 1780 James Keir developed a process for the bulk manufacture of alkali, together marking the birth of the modern chemical industry. In 1765 Matthew Boulton opened the Soho Manufactory, pioneering the combination and mechanisation under one roof of previously separate manufacturing activities through a system known as "rational manufacture". As the largest manufacturing unit in Europe, this came to symbolise the emergence of the factory system.
Most significant, however, was the development in 1776 of the industrial steam engine by James Watt and Matthew Boulton. Freeing for the first time the manufacturing capacity of human society from the limited availability of hand, water and animal power, this was arguably the pivotal moment of the entire industrial revolution and a key factor in the worldwide increases in productivity that would follow over the following century.
Birmingham rose to national political prominence in the campaign for political reform in the early 19th century, with Thomas Attwood and the Birmingham Political Union bringing the country to the brink of civil war during the Days of May that preceded the passing of the Great Reform Act in 1832. The Union's meetings on Newhall Hill in 1831 and 1832 were the largest political assemblies Britain had ever seen. Lord Durham, who drafted the Act, wrote that "the country owed Reform to Birmingham, and its salvation from revolution". This reputation for having "shaken the fabric of privilege to its base" in 1832 led John Bright to make Birmingham the platform for his successful campaign for the Second Reform Act of 1867, which extended voting rights to the urban working class.
Birmingham's tradition of innovation continued into the 19th century. Birmingham was the terminus for both of the world's first two long-distance railway lines: the 82 mile Grand Junction Railway of 1837 and the 112-mile London and Birmingham Railway of 1838. Birmingham schoolteacher Rowland Hill invented the postage stamp and created the first modern universal postal system in 1839. Alexander Parkes invented the first man-made plastic in the Jewellery Quarter in 1855.
By the 1820s, an extensive canal system had been constructed, giving greater access to natural resources and fuel for industries. During the Victorian era, the population of Birmingham grew rapidly to well over half a million and Birmingham became the second largest population centre in England. Birmingham was granted city status in 1889 by Queen Victoria. Joseph Chamberlain, mayor of Birmingham and later an MP, and his son Neville Chamberlain, who was Lord Mayor of Birmingham and later the British Prime Minister, are two of the most well-known political figures who have lived in Birmingham. The city established its own university in 1900.
The city suffered heavy bomb damage during World War II's "Birmingham Blitz". The city was also the scene of two scientific discoveries that were to prove critical to the outcome of the war. Otto Frisch and Rudolf Peierls first described how a practical nuclear weapon could be constructed in the Frisch–Peierls memorandum of 1940, the same year that the cavity magnetron, the key component of radar and later of microwave ovens, was invented by John Randall and Henry Boot. Details of these two discoveries, together with an outline of the first jet engine invented by Frank Whittle in nearby Rugby, were taken to the United States by the Tizard Mission in September 1940, in a single black box later described by an official American historian as "the most valuable cargo ever brought to our shores".
The city was extensively redeveloped during the 1950s and 1960s. This included the construction of large tower block estates, such as Castle Vale. The Bull Ring was reconstructed and New Street station was redeveloped. In the decades following World War II, the ethnic makeup of Birmingham changed significantly, as it received waves of immigration from the Commonwealth of Nations and beyond. The city's population peaked in 1951 at 1,113,000 residents.
Birmingham remained by far Britain's most prosperous provincial city as late as the 1970s, with household incomes exceeding even those of London and the South East, but its economic diversity and capacity for regeneration declined in the decades that followed World War II as Central Government sought to restrict the city's growth and disperse industry and population to the stagnating areas of Wales and Northern England. These measures hindered "the natural self-regeneration of businesses in Birmingham, leaving it top-heavy with the old and infirm", and the city became increasingly dependent on the motor industry. The recession of the early 1980s saw Birmingham's economy collapse, with unprecedented levels of unemployment and outbreaks of social unrest in inner-city districts.
In recent years, many parts of Birmingham have been transformed, with the redevelopment of the Bullring Shopping Centre and regeneration of old industrial areas such as Brindleyplace, The Mailbox and the International Convention Centre. Old streets, buildings and canals have been restored, the pedestrian subways have been removed and the Inner Ring Road has been rationalised. In 1998 Birmingham hosted the 24th G8 summit. The city will serve as host of the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
I arrived in this world renowned city shortly before 11.30am, courtesy of Cross Country trains and emerged into the gleaming edifice of New Street Station. I had quite a lot planned on the day's itinerary so it was time to get cracking. I left New Street Station through the Hill Street exit where my first stop for the day stood almost immediately nearby. Eager to begin my investigation, I now arrived at The Railway.
Formerly known as The Bright House, this is a Mitchells & Butlers run establishment that has recently benefited from a refurbishment. Named after its proximity to the train station, there are 2 entrances, one on Hill Street (through which I entered) and another on John Bright Street behind. The interior is large and split level with the smaller lower level slightly narrower and featuring scrubbed wooden tables and banquette seating. The higher area is larger and more expansive, featuring a pool table, dartboard and a large pull down projector screen for sports. Smaller TVs are situated on the walls throughout. Railway themed photos decorate the walls of the premises. The central bar serves both areas and forms a rough U shape. I'd been in this pub once before whilst in the city for a gig so it seemed like a good place to acclimatise and get my bearings. 5 handpulls sit on the side of the bar in the smaller section where I decided to settle. Of these 5, 4 were in use, offering Old Rosie cider, doubled up Doom Bar and Purity Mad Goose. I expected to see lots of Purity throughout the day as it's not too far away so I opened the day with the Doom Bar and took a seat at a small table opposite the bar. The Doom Bar was well kept and barely touched the sides as I geared myself up for the rest of the day.
Leaving the Railway, I turned left and took the next right which took me around behind New Street Station. I then took the next left onto Pinfold Street and, after a few minutes of confusion caused by road improvement works, I finally found my next destination. I was very excited about this place because I'd heard a lot about it. The first of 4 Good Beer Guide listed pubs on the day's agenda, I turned my attention to the Post Office Vaults.
Situated in a building that was the former post office for the station, the Post Office Vaults also has 2 entrances, the one I enter through and another on New Street. Both entrances take you downstairs into a subterranean beer lover's paradise. The bar is small and just by both entrances with the rest of the space taken up by seating along one wall, a large pool table, stools towards the rear and all manner of brewery and beer related bric-a-brac, including old bottles, tankards and advertising posters and with the ceiling behind the bar covered in pump clips. Hop flowers adorn the ceiling of the bar area itself. I was already fascinated by this place and I hadn't even looked at the beers yet! 8 hand pumps sit on the bar, 2 of which feature regular beers in the form of Hobson's Mild and Kinver First Class Stamp (brewed especially for the pub). The remaining 6 feature guest beers from far and wide, updated regularly on the pub's website as and when they change over. At the time of my visit, the available options were Beowulf Dragon Smoke, Fernandes Pane in the Glass, Vocation American Red, Burning Soul Citrus Haze, Rat Brewing Rat Run and Kelham Island Another Fine Mess. Add to those options the fact that there are also 14 real ciders and perries and over 350 different bottled beers, it isn't really a surprise that this place is getting a lot of good press! It took me a few seconds to decide on my choice but I eventually went for American Red (4.7%) from Hebden Bridge based Vocation. This is an American style red ale brewed with US hops and both Munich and Crystal malts. The end result is a delicious, fruity and earthy beer with flavours of sweet malt and a gentle bitterness in the finish. I thoroughly it! Not just the beer but the experience itself as I sat opposite the bar, underneath the hops, listening to a regular and the barmaid discuss their mutual dislike for another barmaid's new boyfriend. This is a fabulous place and I'm very glad I made the effort to find it!
I was getting the feel for things now and it was time to move on, as hard as it was to leave the Post Office Vaults. My next stop was an approximate 5 minute walk away at the very end of Waterloo Street. Next up, Pure Craft Bar & Kitchen.
This was the first branch of this particular chain to open with the Nottingham venue now being sadly defunct. Set in a traditional building with a very open, industrial interior and walls adorned with modern art, this pub is also very quiet as it is still pre-lunchtime on a working Friday. Good Beer Guide listed, the pub acts as a brewery tap for Purity brewery but also features guest beers. Whilst the emphasis is primarily on keg beers, there are also 10 hand pumps, 8 of which were in use at the time I popped in. Unsurprisingly, the majority of these were Purity beers, namely Pure Gold (doubled up), Pure UBU, Mad Goose (doubled up) and Bunny Hop. However, 2 guests were also available in the shape of Kirkstall Three Swords and Roosters Baby-Faced Assassin. I opted on this occasion for the Three Swords (4.5%). This is a light coloured golden ale with characterised by flavours of grapefruit and strong hops throughout. It's certainly very refreshing and is served in a small branded chalice that resembles a large brandy glass. I sat at a nearby table that looked out into the rather featureless but still comfortable space which, in deference to the weather outside, is very warm indeed. I did spend some time trying to work if this was the result of having an open kitchen but ended up none the wiser.
To reach my next location, I retraced my steps somewhat, which at least helped me to get my bearings and refresh my memory as to where everything is in this massive place. Making my way slightly further into the city centre, I reached Lower Temple Street where my next destination is located. The first of 2 Nicholson's pubs on this trip, this was The Shakespeare.
Reopened in 2010, this Victorian building has retained traditional décor and discrete lighting and has an emphasis on both good food and good beer. Internally, the bar takes up most one small where it sweeps along in an almost reverse Z shape. There is a small raised area to one side, featuring a few tables with high tables and stools throughout the rest of the room and a small dining area to the rear. There is also a period staircase to one side that leads up to the ladies toilets in area accessed through a large archway. All of the 8 hand pumps on the bar in use, featuring a choice of Purity Pure Gold, Nicholson's Pale Ale, Dark Star Partridge (all 3 of which are doubled up), Doom Bar and Fuller's Day Dreamer. Intrigued by the presence of a Fuller's beer, I dived straight into the Day Dreamer (4.2%). Billed as a New Zealand pale ale, it certainly lives up to the billing with gooseberry flavours prevalent from use of the Nelson Sauvin hop. It's a fruity, drinkable and very sessionable pale ale which I will definitely seek out elsewhere and is testament to Fuller's commitment to expanding their range, whatever you might think about their recent business moves. The Shakespeare is a very welcoming place and I've always been a fan of Nicholson's pubs for the décor and the beer as much as anything. I enjoyed my time here particularly in watching a guide dog attempt to tempt nearby customers to give it some food.
Soon however, it was time to move on again. After some wandering and a couple of misdirections, I eventually ended up on the right track and made my to Church Street, home of my next stop. Another Mitchells & Butler's pub, I was now at the Old Royal.
This impressive Victorian corner pub is elaborately designed throughout and features emblems of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales incorporated into the leaded windows. Inside is more of the same, along with portraits of former monarchs hanging on the walls. It's around 1pm when I arrive here and the pub is very busy with predominantly middle aged clientele but with a smattering of younger people. It's clear that some have finished for the day and celebrating a Friday half day, whilst others are hoping to squeeze in a liquid lunch before going back to work. The bar is roughly square, with service to the front and one side, at sits centrally to the room where tables and chairs are situated approximately around the edges. 3 of the 6 available hand pumps are in use, proffering the choice between Wainwright, Pendle White Witch and Timothy Taylor Landlord. I decided to give the Landlord a go and it was a good choice, being very well kept and eminently drinkable. Despite the busy-ness of the pub, I managed to find a small table at which to occupy my time and observe the hustle and bustle. I'd so far been impressed with the pubs I'd earmarked for this trip and that wasn't about to change.
A short walk from the Old Royal, and situated on another corner, was the 2nd Nicholson's branded pub of the day. Time now for the Old Contemptibles.
This magnificent Victorian building houses another elaborately designed pub and is named after a dismissive nickname given to the British Expeditionary Force by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany during the First World War. The long wood-panelled bar runs the length of the main room, with a smaller snug to rear. The pub has high ceilings, hop flowers draped over partitions and low tables and chairs throughout, all looked over by photos and portraits relating to the British Army. Another nice feature is the surprisingly narrow and precarious period staircase that leads to the toilets, that's definitely one to take carefully! This pub was also very busy when I arrived, with what I again assume to be the working crowd. It doesn't take long to get served though which means I'm able to make a choice from amongst the bank of 10 hand pumps, 7 of which are in use. My choices here are Doom Bar, Nicholson's Pale Ale, Purity Pure UBU, Sharp's Rising Tide, West Berkshire Good Old Boy, Exmoor Ale and London Flying the Mags. I decided that it was finally time to get some Purity so I went for the Pure UBU (4.5%). This is a full flavoured amber ale, named after a nickname given to the old brewery dog (UBU in this case standing for 'Useless Bloody Urchin'). The beer is packed full of dark fruit notes, with Pilgrim and Cascade hops bringing out a distinctive, slightly sweeter finish. All in all, it's very good indeed!
From the Old Contemptibles, I turned left, continued to the end of the street and went left again. Following this road to the end, I reached the nearby dual carriageway where I turned right and followed the road until I reached a set of traffic lights with a church opposite. Crossing the road, I turned right past the church and then took the next right onto Bath Street at the top of which was my next pub of the day. Welcome to the Gunmakers Arms.
Another Good Beer Guide listed pub, the Gunmakers Arms is the brewery tap for the nearby Two Towers brewery which can be accessed and viewed from the rear courtyard. The pub itself is a Grade II listed Regency building, which was tastefully refurbished in 2017. The large bar area to the front features snug seating areas and there is a smaller room to the rear. Décor is minimal but tasteful and the bar itself is small but welcoming and features 10 handpulls in banks of 5, 3 and 2. The majority of the beers on offer were from Two Towers (as you'd expect), namely BSA, Snake Charmer, Jewellery Porter, Hockley Gold, Baskerville Bitter, Complete Muppetry and Chamberlain, with 2 guest beers from Milestone in the shape of Rich Ruby and Black Pearl and 1 pump remaining empty. It would be rude to visit a brewery tap and not try one of their beers so I decided on the Chamberlain (4.5%). This is a crisp, light ale with lots of grapefruit flavours and loads of hops in the finish. It was definitely worth the walk to find this pub and I sat on a stool at the bar, enjoyed both the beer and my surroundings and also snuck a few photos of the pub cat which seemed rather nonplussed by the whole situation.
It was a much shorter walk to my next destination. Leaving the Gunmakers Arms, I headed through the pedestrian underpass opposite and turned right. This brought me out on the other side of the aforementioned carriageway and I continued right and then took a left, at the end of which is Steelhouse Lane, home of both the infamous but now closed and very haunted jail and, less ominously, my next stop. I had now reached the Jekyll & Hyde.
Formerly the Queen's Head, this is a quirky pub with a faux-Victorian design throughout, all done with a good sense of humour. The bar is to the right of the entrance and extends along the wall with banquette seating opposite and stools in a space by the window to watch the world go by. Despite housing an upstairs gin bar and cocktails being prominent, there are also 4 handpulls, 3 of which were in use when I arrived. On offer were Sadler's American Rye, Firebrand Cross Pacific and Purity Bunny Hop. My choice of the American Rye (5%) proved well founded. This is a rich amber ale with moderate bitterness and the spicy character courtesy of the rye. This balances very well with the fruitiness of the hops, producing a very well rounded and delicious beer. I sat in the window and admired the internal décor of this quirky little gem. It certainly proved to be a very good idea to drop in!
My next move took me further into the city centre, in the general direction of the primary drinking circuit. Reaching Corporation Street, I spied my intended stop almost instantly. The obligatory Wetherspoons visit of the day would be at The Square Peg.
Sited in what was formerly Lewis' department store, The Square Peg boasts the longest bar in Birmingham at an impressive 82 1/2 feet. Uncommonly for pubs in the chain, the name is not rooted in local history. Moreover it comes from a comment made by Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin who, upon viewing the plans for the pub in the old department store site, remarked that it looked like 'a square peg in a round hole'. The pub was christened as such upon completion. Inside, the usual Spoons décor and furniture abounds with lots of high tables and chairs and smaller tables spread throughout the extensive floor space. There is also the added bonus of toilets being on the same floor as the bar, something I've only seen in 2 other pubs in the chain, one of which is strangely also in Birmingham. Speaking of the bar, the beer range is impressive. 20 handpulls are present arranged in 4 banks of 5 along the bar's length. As well as the house beers of Ruddles, Abbot and Doom Bar (all doubled up), the choices included Barbourne Cherry Bakewell Cider (doubled up), Old Rosie, Cockeyed Cider Co. Bonobo Banana, Rudgate Brew No.3, Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted, Arundel Brew House Best, Grainstore Ten Fifty, Purbeck Katy Perry, Big Shed Kol Schisel, Bragdy Conwy Kodiak, Titanic Iceberg, St. Peter's Bloomin' Marvellous and Black Sheep Choc Orange Stout. I've always been a fan of Titanic Brewery and Iceberg in particular so I couldn't pass up the chance to enjoy it again. It was worth it for the beer was exactly as it should be, with floral notes building to a big hop finish and glowing to behold. I've mentioned before about how much I rate the care with which Wetherspoons look after their beers and it's good to see the consistency maintained across the estate, even if it's hard to stomach the chairman's political views.
Once again it was time to retrace my steps and I soon found myself in a familiar area as I had passed through it earlier in the day to reach other pubs. I remarked earlier about the how it seemed unusual to find a Fuller's beer in Birmingham but I guess it's not that strange, particularly as my next destination was a Fuller's pub. I was now at The Old Joint Stock.
This pub and studio theatre venue is housed in a Grade II listed building built by J.A. Chatwin in 1864 for use as a library. The Birmingham Joint Stock bank quickly acquired the building and used it as one of their branches in the city. The Joint Stock Company amalgamated with Lloyds Bank in 1889 and Lloyds Bank continued to use the building until it was converted into a pub in 1997. The first floor theatre, which seats 95 people, was opened in 2006 with the £350,000 cost covered by Fuller's. The building is certainly impressive, even with the scaffolding that currently covers the front as refurbishment work is being carried out. The central island bar sits under a high domed ceiling with a skylight and is overseen by marble busts that occupy the coving that runs around the very top of the impressive windows. Equally impressive are the 15 hand pumps that supply the bar, arranged in 3 banks of 5 and offering mostly Fuller's beers but with a few guests. The available beers on the day were London Pride, ESB, Due South, Gale's Seafarer's, Oliver's Island (all which were doubled up), HSB, Dark Star American Brown, Dark Star Hophead, Butcombe Adam Henson's Rare Breed, St. Austell Proper Job and Silhill North Star. I've always quite liked Fuller's beers and their pubs are notably rather impressive. To that end, I went for the HSB (4.8%), which was as good as it should be and as good as I'd hoped. This is the former flagship beer of Horndean's sadly now defunct Gales Brewery and HSB even stands for Horndean Special Bitter. The recipe has been maintained to perfection and the beer I had on the day absolutely reflects the hard work and care with which the Gales legacy has been carried forward. Being in a theatre as I drank it, it seems appropriate to say 'Bravo!'.
It was something a bit more modern for my next stop and so I made my way over to Bennetts Hill for a visit for the final Good Beer Guide entry on this particular journey. I had now reached The Wellington.
This multi-award winning ale house has recently been refurbished and extended and now incorporates an additional upstairs bar and roof terrace beer garden. The bar runs down the right hand side of the room to about 3 quarters of the room's length with seating both beyond it and just in front as you enter. The décor is comfortable and features a dart board on one wall. 16 hand pumps are housed on the front bar with beers listed on a screen above, next to their designated pump number. If visiting here, be sure to order by number and not by beer name. I was lucky enough to find this out before my trip to avoid any faux pas. The bar also features 3 real cider pumps mounted on the back bar if that's where your inclinations lie. Beer-wise, the choice is vast. The pub is owned by Black Country Ales so, naturally, many of their beers feature. The full list for the day ran thus: Wye Valley HPA, Black Country BFG, Black Country Pig on the Wall, Black Country Fireside, Black Country Plum Pig, Oakham Citra, Purity Mad Goose, Froth Blowers Piffle Snonker, Errant Chimaira, Phoenix Arizona, Oakham Maelstrom, Siren Suspended In Oats, Siren Suspended In Neon, Briggs Metal, Vale of Glamorgan Dark Matter and Gloucester Six Malt Porter. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I needed a little bit of time to make my choice here but I finally decided on the Oakham Maelstrom (5.2%). This is a New Zealand IPA and, as such, is packed with citrus and tropical fruit flavours from the predominance of New Zealand hops namely, Nelson Sauvin, Waimea and Pacific Gem. It's an explosion of hoppiness but not overpowering and it's gone far too quickly. Still, a cracking beer in a cracking pub. What more can you ask for?
With any luck more of the same and that was certainly the aim as my wandering continued. My next stop saw me make my way over to Cannon Street and The Windsor.
Just off of new street, this is an open plan pub that feels a lot smaller than it actually is but in a good, cosy way instead of feeling cramped. Owned by Mitchells and Butlers it carries with it their traditional values and ambience of simple things done well. The bar is central and immediately opposite the entrance. Seating is located throughout in the form of scrubbed wooden tables. TVs are prevalent and situated on most walls, showing Sky Sports when I was in. 3 of the 5 hand pumps are in use, offering a choice of Landlord, Purity Mad Goose and St. Austell Tribute. It was the first time I'd seen Tribute that day so it would have been rude not to give it a go and I'm glad I did. It was kept very well indeed and certainly seemed to disappear from the glass at a fair pace.
My next stop wasn't far away at all and I had in fact passed it earlier in the day. Back on Temple Street, I made my way to The Trocadero.
Affectionately known as 'The Troc', this is a Grade II listed building with an exterior of glazed tile and terracotta in the post-Victorian style. Formerly the fire engine house for the Norwich Union Insurance Company, it was altered in 1883 to become the Bodega wine bar before becoming the Trocadero in 1902 when the attractive frontage was added. The Birmingham Surrealists, a group of artists and intellectuals associated with the city from the 1930s to 1950s, are known to have met here regularly. Inside, the pub is fairly narrow, with the bar running down one side. There is seating opposite and a more expansive area to the rear where further seating can be found. When I arrived, the pub was fairly busy with the beginnings of the after work crowd but I was still able to access the bar easily enough. The narrowness of the pub seems to create the illusion that it's much more crowded than it really is. 5 hand pumps greeted me, 4 of which offered delights in the form of Landlord, Jennings Cumberland, Purity Pure UBU and Doom Bar. I again went for the Landlord on this occasion and this was very good as it had been earlier in the day. I decided to stand at the bar rather than sit, largely because I couldn't see any available seats but also to allow me to further soak in the atmosphere. This is another very well-appointed pub with friendly and welcoming staff. It has a dark side however. The pub has something of a ghostly reputation. Much of the activity is blamed on a former landlord, Henry Skinner, who was murdered on the premises in 1895, when it was still the Bodega. The story goes that he got into an argument with the Allen brothers over the firing of one of them and was shot dead in anger. He appears reluctant to leave the scene of his untimely demise. Glasses are knocked over by unseen hands and beer mats and loose change have been propelled through the air. Objects are found left on tables in the morning when staff arrive to open, with clocks being a particular favourite. Money in the fruit machines is violently rattled, usually startling regulars in the process. A previous manager even claimed to have seen the apparition of a male that was identified as Henry and would consequently say hello and goodbye to him at the start and end of each shift. Henry is not the only spirit said to still linger. The ghosts of two girls who fell to their deaths on a spiral staircase are said to occasionally make an appearance along with strange lights and sounds and the wafting smell of burning when none can be found, believed to link back to the building's time as a fire station. Spooky stuff!
Back on the physical plane, it was time for me to make a move and with the discovery that my return train ticket wouldn't become valid for over an hour, I had time to squeeze in one more venue. This particular one was somewhat of a wildcard by virtue of the fact that I didn't know if I would definitely have time to get to it. Thankfully, luck was on my side so I made the walk over to The Anchor in Digbeth.
Formerly known as The Anchor Inn, this is one of the oldest pubs in Digbeth, dating back to 1797. The current building was constructed in 1901 to a design by James and Lister Lea for Holt Brewery. The building was granted Grade II listed status in 1991 and has won CAMRA Regional Pub of the Year numerous times in 1996/7, 1998/9, 2003/4 and 2007/8. The current landlord took over in 2016 following 43 years of the pub being in the hands of the Keane family. The Anchor is recognised by CAMRA has having a nationally important historic interior. The interior is certainly impressive as I'm summoned inside by the sounds of Alice in Chains. Through the speakers obviously. I saw no sign that they were there in person. The main public bar is divided in 2 by a three-quarter height timber and glass screen, of which there were formerly 2 with the other running parallel to it to create an off sales passage from a former doorway on Rea Street. The original bar back and counter remain and form an L-shaped serving space with mirror etched panels on the back-bar fitting. The windows feature Art Nouveau-style glass. There is a small drinking area between the Rea Street entrance and the smoke room and an old off-sales hatch still exists, complete with a sliding panel. At the rear, original fixed seating with bell-pushes remains in situ in the smoke room with the addition of a 1960s counter in place of the old serving hatch. This is a wonderful example of how pubs used to be and it's a shame that so many like it have fallen by the wayside. But what of the beers? 6 hand pumps dominate the bar with 3 given over to ciders and the rest for ales. The choices on the day were Birmingham Pale Brummie, Fixed Wheel Mild Concussion and Fixed Wheel King Kelly with the cider options being Thatcher's Cheddar Valley, Lilley's Crazy Goat and Hogan's Lonely Partridge. After a moment's deliberation, I opted for the King Kelly (4.5%). This turned out to be a stout and a cracking one it is too! Creamy, smooth and easy to drink it's full of roasted notes and chocolate aromas before a big, hoppy finish. It's certainly a delightful beer and a fitting finale to the day's events. I was very glad that I'd had the time and made the effort to get to The Anchor. I'd first spotted it late last year when Amy and I had travelled down by coach for a gig. The pub is right around the corner from the coach station but, due to its late early week opening times, we never managed to make it inside for a pint. Situation rectified! This truly is a cracking place, and it fully demonstrates the need for both appreciating and preserving pub heritage. They don't make pubs like this any more so let's make the most of the ones we've got!
And so, with my head spinning and my liver swimming, it was time to wend my way back to New Street Station for the journey back home. But what a day it had been! Birmingham had not disappointed me in the slightest. I explored some absolute gems, drank some fantastic beers, did an awful lot of walking and made the most of the Spring time weather before it inevitably all goes downhill. There wasn't a single pub that I had any issues with and no negative comments to be made about any. The pubs and the people were wonderful and the best thing is that this is only a small snippet of the hundreds of pubs in the city. There is no way I won't be coming back to investigate more of them! It's definitely safe to say that this survey of the second city, was a spectacular success!