Writing The Test (2)

When last you saw me I was in Birmingham and heading for the Hall of Memory

I threaded my way up New Street towards what is known as Victoria Square. The area was bustling and you always had to be aware of low flying electric scooter riders,  delivery bike messengers or cellphone users. There were a number of interesting alleyways and entrances to look at but I did not explore inside of them as timewise I only had roughly an hour left before I headed to the station. 

Birmingham has a lot of really amazing buildings, but apart from my forays in 2015 I have never really explored it properly. My day trips are limited by train departure times and energy levels, but when I “hit the town” I come away with a lot of images. This short jaunt netted me 432. 

As you can see in the image above I had now reached the Victoria Square area where the  Council House building is. 

The sun was also paying a surprise visit which gave this trip an almost holidaylike feeling and the many people sitting around in this area probably felt the same way. The space is quite large and incorporates a number of interesting buildings and statues.  This large square building is the Town Hall, soon to be obscured by a tram. 

The large white ornamental spire just to the left is a monument erected “in gratitude for public service given to this town by Joseph Chamberlain“.   

And, as in 2015 there were building works taking place so I was unable to choose a new route to get to the Hall of Memory, so some of these images are almost identical to those from 2015. I was curious to see whether the roadworks that had messed me around back then had ever been completed and I was amused to see that they seemingly were not.

This building is marked as being in “Chamberlain Square” and it is joined to the Council House by a bridge which you can see in shaded area of the lower image.

Then I spotted my destination.  This area is dominated by the Birmingham Library, with Baskerville House in the foreground of the image below.  The memorial was closed due to the pandemic.

The Hall of Memory is a very impressive structure and was designed by S. N. Cooke and W. Norman Twist and was opened by H.R.H. Prince Arthur of Connaught on 4th July 1925. I had photographed the interior before but at the time of my visit the Victoria Cross Paving stones had not been installed.  I really wanted them for my Victoria Cross pages but I have closed most of that section of my blog down so it is a moot point.  5 of the 10 paving stones may be seen in the image below. I have added these paving stones to the original post about the Memorial. 

It was time to head back to the station and I started to retrace my steps back through the area. Pausing to admire the temporary roadworks and construction. I don’t recall seeing these way back in 2015. 

It is hard to believe a city like Birmingham becoming a ghost town during lockdown. The effect of lockdown on our small town was easy to spot, but these vast areas must have been really hard to see with nobody in them. 

Meanwhile, back at Victoria Square…

And there goes another Tram.  I find them kind of strange because they are not too noisy and by their nature the lines and route are quite exposed. I have not managed to ride on one yet but maybe next time? 

On my way back to the station I made a slight detour to grab a pic of  the parish church of St Martin In the Bull Ring which looks slightly out of place with all the glitzy consumerism all around it. 

I have a feeling I visited the church back in 2015 but as I said before, this area was a mess back then so I do not remember much of it. If I ever return to Birmingham I will remedy the situation.  Also on this plateau is a statue of Admiral Horatio Nelson sculpted by Richard Westmacott. It was unveiled on 25 October 1809, as part of King George III’s Golden Jubilee celebrations.

This does lead me back to one question: just what is “The Bull Ring”?  Wikipedia says the following: The Bull Ring is a major shopping centre in central Birmingham. When combined with Grand Central (to which it is connected via a link bridge) it is the United Kingdom’s largest city centre based shopping centre and has been an important feature of Birmingham since the Middle Ages, when its market was first held. Remember that Bull I photographed on the first page? It is situated at the main entrance to the west building and is supposed known as “The Guardian”,  and is 2.2-metre tall and was created by Laurence Broderick. It is more widely known as “The Bull.” and is a very popular spot for selfie fans (and that ain’t no bull!).

I had 30 minutes to get to the station and managed to find my way back to the giant eyeball at Birmingham New Street Station. 

The platform area of the station may have been “redone” but it is still a cold uninviting place. I remember when all those Pendolino‘s used to use this station, but today it was seemingly empty. 

I did however manage to snag a pic of a Turbostar in the West Midlands Railway livery and by the time we finally headed out of the station in the same direction this area was covered in rain! 

I was back in Cheltenham 45 minutes later and back home by 4 pm. It had been a long day and I am glad that I do not have to go through that again. The next hurdle is the English language test but I may do that in Bristol. Hopefully by the end of the month I will have the date for that one. The big question is whether we will be in lockdown again by then. 

DRW © 2021. Created 01/05/2021

Posted in Cheltenham, Churches and Cathedrals, Heritage, Hobbies and Interests, Memorials and Monuments, Personal, Photo Essay, Photowalks, United Kingdom, War Memorial | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on Writing The Test (2)

Writing The Test (1)

Yesterday morning I grabbed my goodies and headed off to Birmingham to write my “Life in the UK Test”. Naturally there is a whole backstory to this but in a nutshell I needed to pass it to continue with my visa applications. The closest testing centre was in Birmingham and I booked for the last day of April (Friday) because then I could have a long weekend. You need to understand though that I do not write tests very often so trying to get the relevant parts of the brain kick-started was quite a mission. Our narrative starts on the bus to Cheltenham.

My appointment was for 12H00 and I had allocated an hour to get to Cheltenham, and an hour to get to Birmingham, an hour to find the test and 2 hours to get back to Birmingham New  Street Station.  Naturally on this fine morning they decided to dig up a portion of the road into Cheltenham which delayed the bus by 10 minutes, but I had enough built into the schedule to still make my 10H00 train. I bailed out at Tesco and with some excess time decided to investigate the cycle path that runs along what was once the railway line into Cheltenham (I surmise that these are the remains of the line that links with Cheltenham Racecourse to Teddington but need to do more homework on this).  I have wanted to investigate it many times but so many things have been sidelined over the years because of time and effort. The quickest way onto the path is via the former railway bridge in the image below.

As you can see the weather was overcast and I was taking these images with my phone so quality may be iffy at times. I did not take the camera because of restrictions on electronic devices.  Before I climbed that bridge I had to pause to photograph this beauty.

There are lot of very talented street and graffiti artists that work around the city and there are usually a number of artworks on the cycle path worth seeing.  The image below shows the path as it leads away from the town towards  what is now the Prince of Wales Stadium. 

Turning around I headed towards the station, poking my head over the walls to see what I could see as I walked. My first surprise was a pathway to the Winston Churchill Memorial Garden. I had seen another entrance to the garden from the bus but had never been into it although there was a very intriguing building at the end of the entrance. 

The biggest surprise was finding 3 graves inside the garden. 

The building should provide some clues, although it is all closed up and the only identification that I could see was “Cheltenham Martial Art Centre”

A bit of rooting around revealed that this area was once a cemetery for St Mary’s Minster and it was purchased in 1829, and the chapel (St Mary’s Mission) was built 1831. The first burial took place on 19 September 1831 and it remained in use until 1864 when the new cemetery opened in Prestbury.  Following a period of neglect, the cemetery was purchased by the council in 1965 and developed into a garden. (https://www.cheltenham.gov.uk/info/33/parks_and_open_spaces/354/winston_churchill_memorial_gardens/2)

I turned my bows back onto the cycle path because the next feature that I really like is the large pedestrian bridge that spans Honeybourne Way. I have visited the bridge before but never have much luck with the weather here. It is known as the Honeybourne Bridge as well as the Waitrose Bridge and is an attractive structure and well worth the detour.

Back onto the path it was now a straight run to the station. Realistically there isn’t too much to see on the path apart from the strange twisted shapes of exercise machines, old railway bridges and sprawled graffiti and undergrowth. On either side of it housing stretches into the distance and I think it must have been much more interesting when trains ran along here.

The last time I had been on the path way back in 2018 when I went to Liverpool, and I am sure that the images from then would be interchangeable with these. Finally I reached Cheltenham Spa Station with 20 minutes to spare. Phew, that is cutting it close.

And while waiting for the train a Class 66 Diesel passed through with its load. I used to see a lot of them when I lived in Southampton and nowadays seeing one is a rare event worthy of a pic.

My train was on on time and I was soon on my way. I had not traveled on a Class 170 Turbostar DMU before and it is quite a comfortable ride. The image of the class I took way back in at Birmingham in 2015 and the interior I photographed today.

The train was destined for Nottingham via Worcester Parkway, Birmingham, Tamworth, Burton-on-Trent etc. And was supposed to only take 45 minutes but we crawled along after Bromsgrove and ended up about 10 minutes late.  Parkway is a reasonably new station that is just before Worcester and the train didn’t even pass through Shrub Hill at all. There was not much to see at Parkway either, just steel structures seen through dirty windows. 

And then finally I was at Birmingham New Street Station. My last visit to it had been in 2018 and it had changed considerably since my first visit in 2015. It is a cold soul-less place, made even worse by the diminished passenger traffic through the station and the closed shops and signs to wear a mask. Fortunately I managed to find the loo in time and could then plan my walk to where the test centre was.

Birmingham is a confusing place even during normal times and I kept on trying to compare what I saw back in 2015 with what I was seeing in 2021. I do not recall this circular building at all (known as the “Bullring”).

I had to find a passage around this building into High Street and then a 5 minute walk theoretically would take me to the test centre. If you liked a bit of Bull in your life then this statue is for you.

The area is pedestrianised and was quite crowded too. 

I even spotted a Burger King in the distance: things were looking up! I made a slight detour to see whether I could spot any of the trams in that area as they were working on the lines when I was here in 2015. Lo and behold…

Then I checked my watch and it was time to hit the test. I had to be at the centre 30 minutes before and there were 9 of us taking the test. It took longer to go through the verification and security process than the test did. Fortunately I passed and am quite chuffed about that and will be glad to dump all of the stuff I was studying like mad these past few weeks. I had almost 2 hours to kill and the first place I headed to was…

Following my grub I headed back towards the station and to see whether I could find the Hall of Memory. I had a vague idea where it was, but my memory had been messed around by all the many changes that had taken place since I had been there in 2015.  I will get to that in my next post.

Use the button below to access the next page (only true once I have finished it of course).   

DRW © 2021.  Created 30/04/2021

Posted in Bridges and Rivers, Cheltenham, Churches and Cathedrals, Gloucestershire, Heritage, Hobbies and Interests, Personal, Photo Essay, Photowalks, Retrospective, Tewkesbury, Transportation, United Kingdom | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off on Writing The Test (1)