Supermarket sweep for mysterious Mario Lanza artist

Following on from a visit to Sedgley’s Beacon Hotel earlier this year, it seems local legend AJW, renowned for leaving beermats in pubs featuring a drawing of 1950’s star Mario Lanza, has been getting hungry for more exposure.

Anthony Arnold, a regular reader of Sedgleyscene, was amazed to discover the mysterious artist’s latest calling card drawn on an empty box of chicken pies in the somewhat unglamorous surroundings of a local Morrison’s supermarket toilet.

He says: “On Monday, November 21, I found a drawing of Mari Lanza . It had been drawn on the back of one of those frozen chicken packages. It’s got the usual picture and signature AJW and the Facebook.com under the picture and a Yahoo address down the side. No message except ‘Super Mario!’ written on it. I found it on top of the thingy machine in the gents toilet at Morrison’s, Wednesbury. I thought he only did them on beer mats – don’t know if it’s the real thing or what.”

Could this be the latest calling card from the mysterious AJW?

Impressed by his discovery, Anthony took a picture, which is posted here. All the trademark signs are there – the line drawing of Mario Lanza, together with this anonymous artist’s Facebook page and email addresses. However, Tony is unsure as to whether this latest offering is the real deal and is appealing to Sedgleyscene readers to help.

The mysterious drawings, which have been appearing on beermats in pubs since the 1970s, have continued to baffle local residents.

No-one seems to know why each inscription by this phantom artist – who simply calls his or herself AJW – bears a dedication to Mario Lanza, a famous American tenor singer and actor who died in 1959.

This enduring mystery has led to a Facebook page being set up in this mysterious character’s honour which now has 172 members. It seems AJW also likes to get around, leaving calling cards in pubs and other public buildings across the Black Country and Birmingham – often with personal dedications to members of staff.

Some avid followers of AJW also believe there could be several artists at work – especially as the original phantom would now be more than 80 years old – but no-one has been able to confirm this.

Can you help Sedgleyscene and Anthony confirm this latest discovery? Get in touch with us at sedgleyscene@gmail.com We’d love to hear from you.

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Winter ales for a hoppy festive season

Sedgley's real ale lovers are spoilt for choice this winter with a selection of seasonal specials

On a dark winter’s night, there’s nothing better than to take a trip to the local pub, grab a seat by the fire and enjoy one of the fine seasonal ales produced by Sedgley’s excellent breweries.

And, with Camra’s Dudley Winter Ales Fayre launching next Thursday, it seems only appropriate that we at Sedgleyscene re-acquaint ourselves with some of the finest brews this region has to offer.

Firstly, it’s down to the Beacon Hotel, home to the Sarah Hughes Brewery and its fine selection of regular beers, Surprise, Pale Amber and the infamous Ruby Mild.

While this unique pub with its Victorian tower brewery may have attracted controversy of late due to a seemingly unpopular ban on dogs, one thing that has remained constant is the quality of its beer.

And its winter special, Snowflake, is no exception. Available from next Thursday, November 24, this well-rounded, rich ale is guaranteed to keep out the cold.

But, don’t be fooled by its delicate-sounding name – weighing in at a hefty 8 per cent ABV, this barley wine-style concoction packs an almighty punch and is wisely served by Alex Marchant and her team in half-pint glasses.

Having a blast

Down in Woodsetton, the brewers at Holden’s have been putting the finishing touches to their festive special ale, named – appropriately enough – Christmas Blaster.

This golden ale, which is a more manageable 4.8 per cent ABV, is described by the popular Black Country brewery as: “Challenger hops and Optic malt suffuse to create winter sunshine in a glass. With a lively and assertive hop character and a dominant malty sweetness throughout this premium beer results in a moreish malty aftertaste. Will certainly blow away the cobwebs!”

Sample Holden's ales at the Bull's Head in Bilston Street

Christmas Blaster also takes its name from local history. In days of yore, “time off” was a rare luxury. The Sabbath was strictly adhered to – but this was a time for sober religious reflection not joviality – and holidays were few and far between. Christmas holidays consisted of Christmas day and (for some) Boxing Day.

However, nothing stood in the way of efficiency, and a blast furnace needed to be cared for and kept up to temperature no matter what day of the year, for if it cooled it would need to be dismantled and re-fired – a long and costly process. As a result, a skeleton workforce was always in attendance and if they were unfortunate enough to have to work on the 25th December, the poor souls were jokingly referred to as Christmas Blasters.

Sedgley drinkers can sample this winter wonder at the Bull’s Head in Bilston Street.

Winter’s t-ale

Over in Lower Gornal, the boys at Black Country Ales have been mashing merrily to create their seasonal offering, English Winter. With an ABV of 5.5 per cent, this stronger than usual brew is described as: “A well-balanced brown ale with a complex character of fine Marris Otter malt and choice Fuggles and Goldings hops.”

But be warned – this beer is dangerously moreish.

Prepare to get bitten by Black Widow, the seasonal ale at Ma Pardoe's

Slighty further afield, in Netherton, lies another traditional gem of the Black Country. The Old Swan, or Ma Pardoe’s as it’s more commonly known, is a unique, quirky pub full of character and serving a range of excellent real ales brewed in its Victorian tower brewery.

And, as the winter chill really starts to bite, landlord Tim Newey and his team are almost ready to launch their seasonal special, the aptly named Black Widow.

This incredibly dark tipple, which has a venomous ABV of 6.7 per cent, is a wonderfully balanced ale which shares some characteristics with the previously mentioned Dark Ruby Mild available at the Beacon Hotel.

Once again this winter, Sedgley’s suppers are spoilt for choice, with a winter ale to appeal to all tastes. It’s time to wrap up warm, take a trip to one of the region’s fine historic pubs and enjoy the taste of tradition.

The Camra Dudley Winter Ales Fayre is held at Dudley Concert Hall and begins on Thursday, November 24, at 5.30pm and continues from 12 noon on Friday and Saturday. There will be more than 70 real ales available, along with cider, wine and foreign bottled beers. Hot and cold food is available and there will be live entertainment. Entry on Thursday and Friday is £3, or £1 for Camra members.

 

Spooky Sedgley and ghostly Gornal

Is this the ghost of Turls Hill bridleway? Image is copyrighted by Derarfni.

With the shadow of Halloween looming large, it’s time to delve into local history and uncover some ghostly tales and strange goings-on in Sedgley. And, fittingly for a village steeped in history, there is no shortage of spine-chilling stories and eye-witness accounts of apparitions….

The amazing photograph shown above seems to show a spectral figure emerging from the darkness on Turls Hill bridleway – a route which local historians believe dates back to before 1600 and has been the scene of several ghastly incidents.

Local photographer Mike, who posted this image on his Flickr page under his username, Derarfni, says: “It all started about 10 years ago, after hearing local stories and reading an article about the ‘Turls Hill Ghost’.

“We went down for a laugh, just with simple a ‘point and shoot’ digital camera and came back and noticed peculiar occurrences in the photos.
This became a bit of an obsession and we ended up spending many nights, taking photos – which amounted to many thousands, mostly pictures of nothing, but occasionally, say 1 in a 1,000, we had something unexplainable.”

Maybe it’s not so surprising Mike and his friends captured something unexplainable on camera. Turls Hill bridleway is said to be haunted by a veiled lady and her two suicidal sons, who shot themselves in the adjoining quarry on separate occasions. Also, a steelworks owner, who once lived in Turls Hill House, at the top of the lane which was also known as The Belgians (now demolished), apparently went bankrupt, building a wall around his estate and eventually shooting himself in the quarry.

Pubs are notorious sites for hauntings, so it comes as no surprise to discover that not all the spirits at Sedgley’s Beacon Hotel, home of the Sarah Hughes brewery, come in bottles.

The following passage, taken with kind permission  from Beer and Spirits: A guide to Haunted Pubs in the Black Country and Surrounding Area, by David Taylor and Andrew Homer, explains more about this allegedly haunted Victorian hostelry….

Sedgley's Beacon Hotel has been the site of numerous strange happenings

Andrew, a former manager of the Beacon Hotel, tells this story:

“In the summer of 1994 when I was managing the Beacon I often used to stay overnight for security.  I usually slept in the sitting room.  In that room is a painting of Sarah Hughes in which the eyes seem to follow you around the room.  I suppose you never sleep properly when you are on protection duty, and one night something awoke me.

“My alarm clock showed 3am.  Opening my eyes, I took a quick glance around the room.  In the corner by the door to the passage stood a figure.  After a couple of seconds I realised they had not broken into the pub or the alarms would be shrieking.

“I don’t know how long I looked at the figure.  It was a man in his 50s wearing Wellington boots, dark trousers and a grey or white shirt with an old-fashioned Grandad-style collar and a waistcoat.  I have always thought that ghosts were transparent, but he looked quite solid.  Suddenly grasping what I was seeing, my heart raced and I shut my eyes tight.  When I looked again a few seconds later the figure had vanished.  I told my father about the night visitor and described what he was wearing.  He said it sounded like the father of the present owner who always liked to go about in old-fashioned clothes.”

Paul, another former manager of the Beacon, claims he has seen Sarah Hughes herself.  He says: “She was walking across the smoke room and through a wall where there is now a conservatory.  Fifty years ago there was a door at this point.

“If you stand in the corridor near the main server and listen carefully, you might hear bumps and bangs from upstairs and the noise of someone standing on a loose floorboard, though those rooms are used only for storage.  Many regular customers claim to have heard the noises.”

Paul’s story is backed up by the fact that one of the book’s authors,  Andrew Homer, heard similar noises when researching.  He explains: “At first I took no notice of the sounds, though they were quite loud.  It sounded as though someone was moving heavy barrels about upstairs.

“Later the same evening, a casual remark to Aidan, the barman, revealed the story and confirmed there had definitely been no living person upstairs at the time.”

Ghost stories also feature prominently in Gornal’s history, including a particularly shocking incident for a caretaker’s assistant at Ellowes Hall School – now a sports college.

This excerpt from local community website, Yampy, explains further:

“About 12 years ago, Clive Brookes, the school caretaker, left his assistant Phil to lock up the school on the 6pm-10pm shift. Clive is pretty certain that it was a Thursday and there was nothing on at school that evening. Phil had already worked at the school for around six months and so was used to the procedure.

“Before going home, (the caretaker’s house is on-site), Clive had taken a floor ‘buffer’ to Phil and asked him to take it down a flight of stairs to the cupboard where it was kept. As Phil started to wheel the buffer down the stairs, something attracted his attention down the corridor, so he lifted the buffer back to the top of the stairs.

“He went to check everything out and walked through some glass double-doors, down to the end of the corridor. The staffroom door was locked. He went back to the floor buffer.

“As he started down the stairs again, he ended up dropping the buffer down the stairs as a “bloke in overalls walked straight through the double doors and straight through the staff room door.”

“Phil rushed to the caretaker’s bungalow, and Clive says that, although he was a big fellow, he was extremely scared. It was a long time before he locked up alone again! ”

And, over at Upper Gornal Conservative Club, there have been several reports of a monk in a gown, which has apparently been seen by several people in the bar and cellar.

Do you have a ghost story to tell? Get in touch with us – we’d love to hear from you.

Beacon Hotel dog ban rubs owners up the wrong way

The Beacon Hotel is calling time on dog owners who take their canine companions to the pub

For years, this historic Sedgley pub has been a popular place for local dog owners to relax with their four-legged friends while enjoying a pint of real ale brewed on the premises.

However, that might all be about to change after John Hughes, owner of the Beacon Hotel and the Sarah Hughes brewery, announced a complete ban on any canine companions from the end of October – a move which has angered many dog owners.

One regular and dog owner, Julie Caswell, from Coseley, says: “I’m gutted that they’ve decided to ban dogs from the pub – it’s more custom for the Stump (Mount Pleasant) then. How very short-sighted Mr Hughes!”

The Beacon Hotel, Sedgley

According to staff at the Beacon, the ban is due to concerns about furniture getting damaged and the safety of other customers and their children. It follows on from an incident last year, when a regular and his dog, Toby, were barred after damage was allegedly caused to plants in the Victorian pub’s conservatory.

As part of the ban, dogs will not be allowed inside the pub or outside in the beer garden – something which many people feel could result in the pub losing a great deal of trade.

“It’s no more Surprise for us sadly,” adds Julie, lamenting the fact she and her partner will no longer be able to enjoy the pub’s popular ales, which include Pale Amber, Surprise bitter and the famous Dark Ruby Mild.  “It’s just a shame responsible dog owners have to suffer because of a minority who can’t control their dogs.”

Are you a local dog owner and regular of the Beacon Hotel? What do you think of the ban?

Get in touch and share your views with us here at Sedgleyscene.

Sedgley magician Colin Tighe comes up trumps for charity

Colin Tighe performing an amazing card trick in the Beacon Hotel

Drinkers in pubs throughout Sedgley are used to people coming round collecting for charity, but one local magician and comedian has come up with a spellbinding method of raising funds to help others.

In order to raise money for children’s cancer charity CLIC Sargent, Colin Tighe is performing a range of baffling card tricks for customers at Sedgley’s Wetherspoon pub, The Clifton, this Thursday, August 25.

And, in preparation for this event, the talented magician and comedian treated regulars at the Beacon Hotel to an impromptu display of trickery on Sunday evening.

Colin, aged 28, has been perfecting card tricks since the age of 16, when a visit to a magic shop in Leamore, Bloxwich, inspired him to take his first foray into the secretive world of illusion.

“I bought £20 of tricks that day, but when I got home and tried them, I couldn’t understand why they didn’t work,” he laughs.

“So, I went back to the shop the following week, where the guy behind the counter showed me how to perfect the tricks – he was a great inspiration to me in those days.”

Over time, Colin’s skills as a magician grew, although his family didn’t always take his hobby seriously.

“I loved watching magicians such as David Copperfield and Lance Burton on TV, but my dad, who wasn’t really into magic, wouldn’t always allow me to – he thought it was a bit silly,” explains Colin.

However, the young illusionist persevered, perfecting his tricks until he felt confident enough to perform them in bars across Wolverhampton.

“I’d go to the shop to buy tricks, then learn them on the bus going back to Sedgley,” he recalls. “Then, I’d go to places such as the Old Still and the Civic to try them out on people.

“I remember going into the Cobra Club and showing the girls who worked there card tricks,” he adds cheekily,  “and, there was a really funny time at the Civic, where the doorman searched my pockets and pulled out a bra (for a trick) and a collection of sponge balls!”

Colin, it seems, is never without props for his hilarious and often perplexing magic tricks.

While doing this interview for Sedgleyscene, he shuffles a pack of cards and then asks us to choose one – the king of spades.

He then shuffles the pack once more and pulls out what he thinks is my chosen card. However, when this turns out to be the ace instead, an apparently crestfallen Colin breaks off to answer his mobile phone.

Colin is raising funds for children's cancer charity CLIC Sargent

“Don’t laugh – my phone’s a bit old,” he smiles, before pulling a 1970s-style receiver from his bag. After talking to what he claims is the Magic Circle and explaining that the trick has gone wrong, he then hands the receiver to me.

“Of course, there’s no-one there,” he laughs, before asking me to unscrew the mouthpiece. Inside, there is a card, folded up. My card, the king of spades.

It’s an amazing trick and one which defies belief. Sleight of hand, distraction – however it’s explained, this is a dazzling and highly entertaining performance.

“If people like what I’ve done and I’ve connected with them by making them laugh, then it reflects on me as a performer,” explains Colin. “And, with regards to donating money to charity, it makes people much more likely to give.”

He’s not wrong. Colin’s half-hour stint in the Beacon on Sunday netted somewhere in the region of £40 for CLIC Sargent – something he aims to build upon during his afternoon performance on Thursday at The Clifton.

“Janine, the organiser of this event, is always looking at new ways to raise money for charity,” he explains. “So, when she found out I was a magician, she came up with the idea of performing tricks to raise money. I was more than happy to say yes.”

And, dazzling regulars at The Clifton is just the start of Colin’s commitment to charity. Next year, he plans to cycle from Sedgley to Cornwall, demonstrating tricks along the way to raise funds for the Youth Cancer Trust.

It’s clear this affable magician likes nothing better than helping others through performing tricks. And, this connection with his audience is what makes Colin stand out.

“Anyone can perform a magic trick,” he says, “but making it entertaining and leaving a lasting impression is more difficult.”

Colin’s tricks achieve not only that, but through raising money for charity, help leave a lasting impression upon the lives of many others.

Colin’s will be performing magic tricks at The Clifton, Sedgley from 12.30pm until 3pm on Thursday, August 25.

Visit his website to find out more about this hugely talented Sedgley-based magician and comedian.

The Lines are on the right track

Sedgely's finest - The Lines

They’ve sold out the 1,134 capacity Wulfrun Hall in Wolverhampton, performed at the famous SXSW music festival in Austin, Texas and played to 80,000 people at Donington Park.

From performing to a handful of people when they first formed in 2006, Sedgley-based indie rockers, The Lines, have certainly come a long way.

However, lead singer, Alex Ohm and his bandmates are always happy to return to their home town and swap touring for a tipple or two in their favourite local, the Beacon Hotel.

“Our most recent gig in Sheffield was crazy,” says Alex, unwinding with a cider in the beer garden of this historic hostelry.

“The venue’s capacity was 120, but there were easily around 150 people in there. It was ridiculously hot, but the atmosphere was fantastic. Chaotic, but great.”

Like many up-and-coming bands, Alex, lead guitarist Dean Bate, Dave “Paddy” O’Connor on drums and Danny Pease on bass, find themselves playing tiny venues one night and stadium gigs the next.

“I don’t know how we got the Donington gig,” laughs Alex. “We though we were only playing for about 100 people but soon realised the crowd was way larger than that.”

“We just looked at each other and thought ‘we’d better play well tonight’ ” elaborates Dean, himself nursing a pint of the pub’s own Sedgley Surprise ale.

Playing to such a huge crowd is not the only nerve-wracking experience the band members have had to endure. During a tour of the States, the boys found themselves performing to some of the music industry’s biggest names at an event in New York, but were pleased to have the support of bands they’d met while in Texas.

Alex explains: “Performing in New York was quite a daunting experience, but it was great that some of the bands we’d met at SXSW turned up. People often say they’ll come to your gig and don’t show – but these guys did!”

Playing America was an amazing experience for the band, but it was a trip that very nearly didn’t happen due to drummer Paddy’s penchant for streaking.

“It was something that happened years ago,” laughs Dean, “but, because he received a caution for his antics, Paddy had to before the officials and explain his actions. Ironically, he had a choice at the time between paying £60 or getting a caution. After all the extra money he spent getting a Visa, he’d have been better off just paying the fine in the first place!”

Now, having signed to indie label Amboy Road Records and with a huge roster of gigs under their belts, it seems major success is just around the corner for The Lines.

Not that it’s all been plain sailing for the lads. As well as original members Ryan Edwards and Chris Titley leaving the band in 2008, Alex and Co also had to contend with their original label going bust.

“It was a turbulent time,” says Alex. “When Chris left, we knew we wanted to continue, but we weren’t sure who’d replace him. Then, we thought of Danny – the only guy we knew who could fill his shoes. We weren’t disappointed – in just one week, he’d learned more than 70 songs!”

“In fact,” jokes Dean, “I think we made more mistakes than he did!”

So, with a strong team spirit once more and a record deal which gives them all the freedom they need to make music, what does the future hold for The Lines? After all, they’ll shortly be working on the dreaded ‘difficult second album’, following on from the huge local success of their debut.

“Everyday life is up and down and I think our music should reflect that,” explains Alex. “So, on the new album, there’ll be some dancier stuff mixed in with the slower songs. We’ve got one that starts off with a piano riff then evolves into this huge, Muse-style epic.”

Exciting times ahead then, which could include the band breaking into the lucrative American market. However, Alex, Dean and the rest of the gang are determined to keep their feet firmly on the ground by enjoying their favourite beers in Sedgley and showing their support for Gornal Athletic Football Club.

“I think it’s important to support local teams,” explains Alex. “In fact, they want us to record a track for when they come out onto the pitch.”

As well as the support from local football teams, Alex and Dean both agree that the support from other local bands has been a refreshing change from the intense competition between musicians normally reported in the media.

“Sedgley, Wolverhampton, the rest of the Black Country and Birmingham – everyone’s in it together,” says Alex.

He’s right. The Lines have built a huge loyal local following thanks to their exhilarating gigs and down-to-earth attitude.

It won’t be too long before the rest of the world follows suit.