Beer Blog

The Woodman, Birmingham, B5

 

The Woodman is a wonderful pub, with a wonderful story. Run down, neglected, then restored in 2013. 

Quinn, the helpful barman showed us a photo book showing the works from start to finish, including the set back when criminals moved in and stripped the place of all saleable metals. They didn’t have to smash the place up, including breaking bits off the bar for fire wood though did they?

No one knows who these people were, but the food packaging they’d strewn all over during their illegal occupation was all from the Polski Sklep. Maybe they’d broken into one of them too?

The mahogany bar and mahogany, marble and etched glass bar-back have all been fully restored now. The impressive ‘Eagle’ mirror at the back of the bar is believed to have come from the nearby Eagle and Tun, of UB40 fame (which UB40 I hear you ask? Probably the original ones).

If you walked in you would think you were in a pukka late Victorian boozer. The original having been built for Birmingham brewer Ansells in 1897. Sadly there was only one pane of etched glass left when the renovations commenced and all the current glass panels and windows have been recreated by copying the sole survivor.

 

As well as the things you can see, there’s also an eco friendly heat recovery system and a green roof. Quinn pointed out where the original walls had been, separating the current bar room into a ‘workers’ tap room on the left and a more upmarket bar on the right – same external door, separate internal doors. He told me the original wall ran diagonally from the cater cornered front door to the bar.

The upper echelons of local society could go into the lounge through a separate door (also giving access to the better side of the bar) and receive table service at the press of a buzzer. Sadly, you have to go and stand at the hatch and ring a little bell these days. I went and had a look round, the impressive Minton tiled snug seemed very popular.

I did read it was a smoking room somewhere, but I’ll stick with the venue experts; you could smoke where you wanted to in those days and why would smokers alone get a buzzer to ring for service, and their own door, straight in without mixing with the hoi polloi? The outside is pretty impressive too with it’s ornate brickwork and wide arched windows.

The Woodman sits on the edgelands of the city centre, between a university and what Lady sinks the booze  nicely terms ‘car wash and tyre centre land’, and if you’ve been you’ll know there’s an awful lot of this in Birmingham. It’s going to be very handy for the new HS2 station when it’s built, and also for the wreckage of the splendid Classical styled Curzon Street Station. 

It’s also handy for desperate commuters, like the one who sprinted past me on my way to the Gents, after asking at the bar of course. They were alright for outside ones, but I wouldn’t be rushing in myself for a number 2. Mind you, the accompanying sound effects from behind the closet door confirmed his visit was indeed above and beyond the call of duty.

Originally The Woodman was at the corner of two long gone terraces, disappeared behind Birmingham’s forward looking city planners who at long last, with the Jewellery Quarter, seem to have grasped the meaning of ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater’.

I paid £6.30 for a pint of the excellent Castle Rock Harvest Pale (NBSS 4) and one half of Salopian Lemon Dream (NBSS 3.5), proving it’s worthiness of GBG status. There were four other cask ales and four real cider/perries drawn by hand pump from the cellar. I think it’s good to see a choice of ciders, properly kept; in the cellar at a constant cool temperature and not sat behind the bar in boxes at ambient temperature. Cider and Perry appeals to many younger drinkers who aren’t going to be drawn in by choices like a Hobgoblin Halloween novelty beer. The majority of the customers during a tea time session being students and academics, unlike the previous pub.

 

There’s something about the littoral zone between full daylight and black night. The dwindling light started to accentuate the heavy dark wood. The lambent light of the, almost gas light spectrum, bulbs started to twinkle on the shiny bits. People stumbled in, unwrapping themselves from scarves and heavy coats, swinging rucksacks from their shoulders onto the bench seating.

Why does everybody have flippin’ rucksacks? Why do they swing them right in front of my face, mere fractions of inches above the top of my beer, as if I’m not sat there. Why don’t they know they’re wider than Cyril Smith when trying to squeeze through narrow gaps with one on their backs? They should be forced to have Long Load markings and fit wing mirrors to themselves.

Anyway, apart from all the inconsiderate twits with rucksacks it was marvellous. So much so we had to have another one, it was just a shame to move on, and I don’t care how many good pubs there are in Birmingham (or anywhere else) or other GBG pubs to tick, this place was just brilliant with excellent (not including the Hobgoblin), well kept beer.

And this folks, is a brand new entry into my top twenty; beer quality, sheer pubitechture and commitment to preserving and enhancing the very best of our pub heritage .

22 replies »

  1. “There’s a certain Slant of light,
    Winter Afternoons –
    That oppresses, like the Heft
    Of Cathedral Tunes –”

    Well described RC – ‘the littoral zone between full daylight and black night.”

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Glad you found one of Birmingham’s gems!
    With regard to rucksacks…I have a similar problem getting through narrow gaps these days…sadly without the rucksack!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I was at Aston University for 6 long years (1982 – 1988). The Woodman was the stand out pub after the sad demolition of the General Wolfe. Draught Tetley Bitter (from Warrington, not Leeds) or Ansells Mild were the only keg beers on offer, but brilliantly served in an authentic local boozer. Just far enough away from the Campus pubs to have real Brummies and not just sad students like us.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great article thanks. I restored this building in 2013 and actually it is not true that we don’t know who wrecked it over that Easter weekend. The Polish individual involved left a prepaid debit card with his name on the Smoke Room! He was known to the police but without being able to prove he wrecked the place they would only be able to charge him with trespass. Plus although they could have trapped him into going to the Savings & Loan in West Bromwich to get the £15 left on his card, the police said he would probably rob someone to get the bus fare so they didn’t want to pursue it.

    One of the greatest tragedies was they took the original Ansells clock that was on top of the bar back. They probably sold it for less than a tenner. I would so like to find one again but have failed.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Simon,
        That’s interesting.
        I grew up in Cannock living, from 1955 to 1973, in a house built by Linfords and two doors away from Mr Linford’s gardener. While a student I worked as a labourer for Linfords during two summer holidays.
        A listed building much in need of saving is the Crystal Fountain built in Cannock by Linfords in 1937. it’s a neo-Georgian pub whose four-room layout and Modern-style fittings have been retained making it one of just 260 UK pubs with an Interior of Outstanding Historic Interest. It was given a new lease of life by Black Country Ales in 2002, and had taken some customers from the Ascot Tavern not far away when it closed, but BCA have now put the pub up for sale. Change of use of the Crystal Fountain from a public house to anything else would be a tragedy.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. A fantastic boozer – glad you are warming to Brum….That side of town is ever changign with Uni fees paying for a whole new rebuild of the Eastide of town and The Woodman is in prime position for HS2 – great beer and always friendly…possibly too much info on the toilet visit

    Liked by 1 person

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