The Bull enjoyed an intense period of adulation during the Commonwealth Games as the Birmingham Public took the Bull to their hearts. Standing tall next to the Central Library, the Bull became the main attraction in Centenary Square. I visited the square several times with the family. Whether you were young or old everyone loved the Bull. However, rumblings about its future began to surface as we learnt that it was not going to be a permanent fixture. There was an open debate what would happen after the Commonwealth Games were over. My blog account of that first day when the bull was moved to Centenary Square after that amazing opening ceremony, shows how much it was loved. There was much discussion about the future and the decision was to keep the Bull on show till the end of September.
On the hour during the games, there was an amazing display from the Bull. The animatronics included leg movement, shaking of the head and smoke coming out of the nostrils. All this ceased as the team who operated the internal levers and controls moved onto other contract work in the UK. The Bull remained standing proud and was admired by the many visitors who came to Birmingham. Then not quite at the end of September, the Bull was moved from the square. It quickly transpired that its new home was a piece of waste ground in Ladywood near to the Birmingham canal navigations. There were coverings over the structure to protect it from the elements. Protection is needed as the Bull is of mixed construction with a metal outer skin, but internal organs made of foam and electronics. Within its centre was a telehandler, a type of tractor that enabled the bull to be moved around.
So how is the Bull these days? My pictures reveal life as a Bull in Birmingham after the Commonwealth games. The Bull stands alone by the canal behind barbed wire, covered with a tarpaulin. There is a single security guard on duty. My pictures show it is lonely and that people do not know it is around. My picture of the lonely bull with the couple passing by captured the imagination of Instagram and it was featured by BirminghamLive bringing its plight to the attention of the whole of Birmingham.
This was one venue that I was not able to book onto during the #keytothecitybrum project and therefore my visit was a few weeks after the Commonwealth Games.
Simon Topman, managing director of 150-year-old ACME Whistles greeted our small group with the words “You are part of the leftovers”. No, this is not a reference to a meal or a restaurant, rather Simon was referring to the “Key to the City”. During the festival, the Whislte tour only took place on Wednesdays, and as I was soon to realise, only small groups could be taken around the factory premises. Therefore, I was one of many that could not get on a tour during the Key to the City dates. I was determined to complete the full set of venues with my key and so I was more than happy to attend and proud to be one of the “leftovers”.
Whilst we waited for Simon to appear for the tour, we had coffee and biscuits in the upper meeting room. The place reminded me of my grandmother’s sitting room with so many fascinating memorabilia on display. There were items from the two wars, recent links to the England football team and the late Queen’s Jubilees. The furniture was wonderfully luxurious, and the focus was all about whistles.
There are several accounts on the Internet about the ACME whistle tours led by Simon, and these have elevated the experience to a legendary status. What does this account add to a thoroughly entertaining 2 hour tour of the factory? To start with, Simon is a first-class raconteur and a master of storytelling. We learnt about the history of the whistle and how the business started. It all began with Joseph Hudson and his invention of the police whistle in the 1870s and the company have not looked back since.
For a photographer, the tour was a delight and I had fun taking pictures of the various factory scenes that unfolded. At the start of the tour we surveyed the bomb damage in the ceiling from WWII. Then we entered the working factory. Each area provided an interesting viewpoint of the making of whistles. What was intriguing was how the light changed throughout the grand Victorian building. The shiny surfaces of numerous whistles resulted in a host of pictures. There were several macro-opportunities of the whistles themselves. The people who worked at the factory were the stars and I hope they did not mind being photographed as their contributions to the manufacture of the whistles was interesting. I took pictures of the different processes that took place in the production of both the metal and plastic ACME whistles. I took the opportunity of photographing Simon and was taken aback when he informed me that not that many people ask to take his photograph during the tours. But like a professional actor, he quickly posed with both whistles and rackets. I would love to spend the day photographing all the people working in the factory. There is so much that is happening that deserves to be recorded.
Then the tour was over. I looked at my watch 2 hours had sped by. The fee for the tours goes directly to charity and the factory has strong links with a local school for children with special educational needs. I brought one of their silent dog whistles and three of their authentic Titanic whistles which is another story that Simon tells so well. It is worth just booking on the tour to hear about how the original whistle was used on the Titanic and its reprise in the successful film.
I left by the front door, admiring the beautiful tiling and other tokens of a long successful business in the world of whistles. Outside the Victorian building looks resplendent and has seen many events during its lifetime. Simon informed me that the front street was to feature in the new ITV series written by Lenny Henry called “Three little birds”. I forgot to mention to Simon that this was an opportunity to market a new whistle to commemorate the Influx of immigrants from Jamaica. Such a whistle would prove to be very popular at carnivals and other celebrations!
There are many accounts on the Internet about the legendary Whistle Tour led by Simon Topman and I have put some of the links below.
Aston Hall is a beautiful Grade 1 listed building near to the Aston Villa football ground and is considered to be a leading example of a building from the Jacobean era. When I arrived at the Hall, a wedding party was setting up. Two Lamborghinis drove up and parked outside the hall. They provided great photographic opportunities.
I went into the house and as it was an early Sunday morning I found that I had the place all to myself. I have been to the Hall several times and always find it fascinating. So many highlights including the room where King Charles 1 stayed during the Civil War. The staircase where there are the remains of cannon ball damage in the wood which have not been repaired. The Long Hall always takes your breath away with its simple magnificence. I made my way to the staircase which leads up Dick Garretts room. Dick Garret was a servant accused of stealing food and then took his life in the Attic room named after him.
Just before Dick Garretts room there is a grandfather clock and to the left a door followed by another door which has a lock. My key opened this door which opened quickly and noisily. Once through the door, there are several rooms that you are able to access. You enter the first two which are unfurnished and then the last one that is furnished with bed, mirror and writing desk. I realised that I was all by myself in this secret area. Aston Hall is supposed to be the most haunted place in Britain. Not only is there the ghost of Dick Garret but a Grey Lady that is seen around the Hall. Fortunately, I did not encounter them or any other ghosts.
Or was the ghost already there, I will never know?
We were promised lots more activity during the B2022 Festival linked with the Birmingham Commonwealth games. When a readymade garden in the middle of Birmingham was announced, it really caught the public imagination. PoliNations was not like any other garden, attracting huge anticipation on what to expect. This display was stunning and so different to what had gone before during the festival. PoliNations is difficult to sum up in a few words. I will try to describe the scene but I am aware that the gardens brought out different personal experiences from those who went.
To put it simply, Victoria square was transformed into a garden. The paving stones, concrete, and other parts of the square were covered with grass and flowers. There were 5 manmade trees with large umbrella like canopies. These trees were 40 ft high and towered above the landscape with the trunks covered with colourful patterns. At ground level, there were walkways through a garden of plants. Access was by several entrances which lead to different zones. Iconic plants such as apple, fern, roses and tulips were featured. Other parts of the garden were called Fringe, Sunny or Temperature zones and had flowers to match the theme. The map shown provides a key to the different areas.
The sensory garden had varieties of flowers based on those you would normally find in the City. I visited twice. Once while it was raining and the second time when the sun shone. I enjoyed all the textures, interaction with people and the use of mirrors on the public seating.
There was a full programme of events including music, dance and theatre which were held on either the large stage or the many smaller places through out the installation. I was not able to attend these shows but my visits during the day gave me a flavour of the place. PoliNations was magical but quirky, natural and surreal. The diversity of the place was displayed in the range of flowers, the colours on offer and the people passing through. The place eventually caught up with you and made you sit down and take in the uniqueness of everything.
PoliNations was a photographers delight allowing you to take a range of pictures. There were many stunning pictures taken using drones but I am a simple foot on the ground photographer and this is my interpretation of the place. A simple search on Instagram shows the variety of pictures that were taken. Please enjoy my pictures of my visit to PoliNations which serve as a memory of an extra-ordinary visit.
More pictures to view of PoliNations in the rain and the sun.
By far the most popular venue for the #keyofthecitybrum was Birmingham’s newly built skyscraper, 103 Colmore row. On the 18th floor, there is a south facing viewing platform that provides amazing views of the City’s major buildings. When the Key started, Instagram was inundated with pictures of the City of Birmingham from this platform. Many of these pictures were excellent and circulated by the social media team at 103 Colmore Row. I left my visit to the building till late July and wondered how I could do a different picture from the platform.
Arriving in the foyer of the building with Nicky Warwickshire, my photo companion for the day @nickywarwickshire, we were met by Touwa, one of the volunteers for the Key to the City Brum. Touwa welcomed us to 103 Colmore Row, Birmingham, England. He explained that the newly built building was a 108-metre tall 26-storey commercial office skyscraper. We were going to the 19th Floor and above this floor is the soon to be opened restaurant on the 24th floor. We were not going to the 18th floor viewing platform but to a floor that provides a 360o view. The floor was empty, and I was able to get pictures of buildings such as the BT tower and the Rotunda. I even did a panorama to take in the skyscrapers. It was also possible to capture views of the people visiting who were fascinated with the views.
My different picture? I got down low and framed the top of the BT tower in the frame of the windows. I was pleased as I had got a different view which still conveys the sense of height above the city. The picture was featured by BBC Midlands Today that evening.
Finally a few more pictures showing the colours of the City for the Commonwealth Games taken from the 19th floor of 103 Colmore Row.
My Journey with the Key If you wish to review my journey then I have published all my visits on my blog as follows.
My next two venues for #keytothecitybrum were close to each other and both were intriguing. They took me to a part of Birmingham that I have rarely visited. I have had no previous reason to visit the area and I have only passed through on the dual carriage way onto Perry Barr. The north west part of the City is relatively unknown to me and I was about to find out that I had missed some hidden gems.
The Blyden’s Garden
This was a delightful place to visit. A private garden in the middle of Birmingham. When the #keystothecitybrum were released, this place was the most intriguing. A small plot of land was going to be shared with the larger Birmingham community. I did not know what to expect and headed out to the garden. Finding Brooklyn Avenue, I went along to the end of the cul-de-sac and located the road that went behind house 63. The place did not look inviting and one of the houses on the street had a stack of rubbish on the front lawn. I turned the corner and at first did not register anything except an open gate. As I took in my surroundings, I saw a shocking pink door with a welcome sign.
This was nothing like the picture in the booklet! My key fitted the lock. The door needed a good pull as it opened towards me and once inside I discovered a quiet oasis. The place was set out with herb plants including strawberries. There were motivational words hung up on the surrounding fences. There was a large bench where you could sit down and survey your surroundings.
A blackboard was set up near to the door and someone had written in chalk a question of the day.
“If you could go back in time and meet your 10-year-old self. What advice would you give yourself?”
I am not sure that my answer was profound enough for the board, but it was fun to participate. I took a few pictures and then sat down. I took some time out to reflect and soak in the ambiance of the garden. Then I took some pictures and before long (around 10 minutes later), I decided it was time to move onto the next venue on my #keytothecitybrum quest.
The Legacy Centre of Excellence is on Potters Lane, Birmingham. Upon arrival, I was made welcome by Sarah who showed me what my key unlocked in the building. The room I entered had pictures made from card cut-outs hanging on the wall. These were drawn by Dr Martin Glynn, lecturer in Criminology at Birmingham City University. The collection of pictures was called “Moments and Memories” and were inspired by the Covid19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown.
Dr Glynn investigated the themes of reflection and during his journey wished to immerse his audience into his work. Dr Glynn’s pictures resonated with my own reflections. I have done a series of articles of life during and after the pandemic. In a similar way, I have been on a part of Dr Glynn’s journey. His cut-outs provided very powerful imagery.
Sarah gave me details of the Legacy centre and showed me the main stage that was set up for a B2022 Commonwealth Games Community Engagement event: A journey through Windrush. Sarah agreed to having her picture taken and I discovered that she is an artist in her own right and examples of her work are on her Instagram site @whitecanaryillustration. Another fascinating place on my Journey with the Key.
My Journey with the Key If you wish to review my journey then I have published all my visits on my blog as follows.
I planned my day to take in three locations of the Key to the City Brum around the West Midlands. Each venue is very different but they were linked by the way that I planned my visits for the day. I was to find out that these particular venues were very photogenic. Also each of the venues had wonderful stories connected with them. I started at Minworth Green Bridge and then moved over to Streetly Gate. Finally I drove to Washwood Heath to see St. Margaret’s Church. It was a memorable day and I hope I have captured not only my enthusiasm but those of the people I met on my journey.
Minworth Green Bridge
Minworth Green Bridge is on the boundary of the City of Birmingham. It is the furthest north of the key locations and the road bridge crosses over the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal but these are not reasons why it was chosen for the Keys to the City. On one side of the canal bridge is an iron barred door. Making my way down to the door, I came across a family who had just closed the door and were walking along the canal towpath. I got my key out and opened the lock. The opening of the door required some force and once inside there was a surprise. In the narrow long space behind the door, there were several hefty planks of wood. The Canal and River Trust had left an information notice about the use of these wooden planks. When the canal needed to be drained for repair, the planks are used to block off the water. There are grooves in the canal walls which house the planks. This practical solution to the maintenance of the canal was described in the door notice.
I closed the door and locked the padlock, making it ready for the next visitor. The family returned and they told me that they were on half term holidays and the Key activity gave them a chance to visit different places. For myself, there was the opportunity to take some pictures of the canal including a boat that was moored up by the bridge. I left reflecting on a peaceful spot with an intriguing door.
Gatehouse, Streetly Gate
This site was a treasure trove and when I arrived there were already people inside. I met, Ian and James, father and son, who were also visiting the place. For a small room, the Gatehouse at Streetly Gate near to Sutton Park has so much to offer. Ian and James were on their first key visit. They were very enthusiastic about the project and were keen to know about the places that I had visited. Ian and James are pictured in the Gatehouse. This project is a great way to meet new people and I explained to them that I undertake a 100 Strangers photographic project. Both were happy to be photographed in the Gatehouse for my project.
Once they left. I investigated the contents of the Gate house. The building was used by the park authorities for checking in visitors to the park. There were many items on display and the pictures and posters provided snippets of the history. Only now am I able to show these pictures, as at the time I did not want to spoil the visit for other key holders who wished to experience the excitement of learning what is inside.
When you visit somewhere that is just so full of atmosphere then it leaves a memorable impression. This describes my visit to St Margaret’s Church, Ward End, Birmingham. As a visitor to the community, I was given a warm welcome to the centre. This venue in the “key to the city Brum” was a hidden gem in more ways than one. The building is a Grade II listed former Church of England parish church in Birmingham. In the church are stained glass windows by pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones. There is also a bust by Peter Hollins of 1848 that celebrates William Hutton (1723-1815) who provided the first account of the history of Birmingham.
There was a memorable encounter with Kaniz who is the Community Development Practitioner at the centre. She explained to me about the centre and the role it plays in the community. I was shown the “key to the City Brum” exhibit and provided with a cup of coffee and biscuits whilst I looked through the contents of the cabinet. Kaniz was a photographer but after the pandemic fulfilled her desire to get involved with the community. She was very keen to give something back and help others. Kaniz agreed to be in my strangers’ portfolio. The picture is taken in the hall where there is a community meeting taking place.
The contents of the cabinet had past parish newsletters and other historical mementoes. There was a celebration of Metro-Cammell, formally the Metropolitan Cammell Carriage and Wagon Company (MCCW). Metro-Cammell had a factory in Washwood Heath near to the church. The company manufactured railway carriages, locomotives, and railway wagons and with increased world wide competition the factory was forced to close in 2005. The cabinet contained models and books from the era that the factory was at full production.
I wandered around the church grounds and loved the architecture which was juxta positioned with the brutalist flats neighbouring the church. The #KeytotheCityBrum highlights places which have living history. Many of the venues inspires visitors and gives a background to the historical development of the City of Birmingham.
The star of the commonwealth games is the mechanical bull that was revealed at the opening ceremony. It stands 10 metres tall and sits atop a motorised vehicle that allows it to be manoeuvred. Both the head and the legs move and there are numerous working clogs and gears. When viewed close up, the details are astounding.
The Bull wowed the world at the opening ceremony and then immediately afterwards was escorted to centenary square in the City Centre. The public response has been amazing and as soon as news leaked out that it would be dismantled after the games, there have been a multitude of calls for it to stay. A petition has been set up and Birmingham City Council is being lobbied to keep the bull. The difficulty is that it is not easy to find a place to display a 10 metre high mechanical bull but a lot of thought is being given on how to achieve this. Meanwhile the Bull is attracting large crowds and everyone wants to have a selfie taking in the backdrop of Birmingham. Here are some pictures including intricate details of the bull for you to enjoy.
At the start of the week, the plan was to dismantle the bull at the end of the games. Now the City Council are planning to keep it due to the popularity of the structure. Fingers crossed people far and wide will be able to enjoy seeing this remarkable metallic puppet for many years to come.