Congratulations to BSFA member Nicholas Whyte who won two free tickets to FUTURA in our latest competition! Well done from all of us here at the BSFA.
With the FUTURA convention coming to Wolverhampton (my old stomping ground) in just under a fortnight’s time, just what can I tell con-goers about the place?
Wolverhampton is now officially in the Black Country – although people have been arguing about that since the name came about. The most significant speculative fiction to be inspired by the region’s grimy history is easily Lord of the Rings. J. R. R. Tolkien spent his formative years in the pretty rural town of Sarehole before moving to Moseley, and was aware of the grim Black Country in the distance. Though the horrors of the World War I trenches were also influential, the link between “the land of shadow,” the home of “dark smithies” that he called Mordor (The Black Land in Elvish) and the Black Country is clearly made. And as Mordor has become the touchstone for every shadowy, grim place in fantastical literature derived from Tolkien, every bog of eternal stench, then the Black Country is surely the source of them all.
Out of Darkness Cometh Light
Wolverhampton’s motto is “Out of Darkness Cometh Light”, and since the millennium, a growing number of writing groups and initiatives have sprung up within the city, offering a supportive network for writers.
On the site of the old Chubb lock-making factory, Wolverhampton’s Light House has become a hub for the city’s creative sorts. Featuring an independent 2-screen cinema, gallery space and the Lock Works Café, it frequently hosts exhibitions, festivals, craft fairs and comedy and spoken word nights.
And now FUTURA comes to Wolverhampton; an absolute treat for enthusiasts of speculative fiction. And a not so small part of me hopes some post-industrial heritage-inspired writing comes out of the event to really put the place on the map in terms of science fiction.
One Ring-Road to Rule Them All!
Visitors to Wolverhampton these days will find a city combining pleasing Georgian architecture with a modern, busy pedestrianized shopping centre and a good old-fashioned market quarter. So if you’re coming to Wolverhampton for FUTURA, here’s my guide to places to go to make the most of your weekend.
Places to Visit
If you can nip out to visit Wolverhampton Art Gallery on Lichfield Street you will find all sorts from contemporary exhibitions to oil paintings, and there’s a gallery dedicated to Pop Art. The cake in the cafe is excellent, too. Open Monday – Saturday: 10am – 5pm, free admission. Linger outside on the hour to see the bizarre clock do its thing!
Over on Finchfield Road, you will find the beautiful Bantock House Museum – an Edwardian house surrounded by formal gardens and acres of parkland. Great for a picnic, but they also have a cafe run by the same people as the art gallery – so, yes, the cake is excellent. Open Tuesday – Sunday: 11am – 5pm, free admission.
St Peter’s Collegiate Church, just behind the art gallery, dates mainly from the 16th Century, though the chancel was completed in 1867. Some of the building has been there since 1425. The Anglo-Saxon cross base out in the churchyard is a must-see.
Slightly further afield, Wightwick Manor out on Wightwick Bank is a delightful Victorian arts and crafts house, built by the Mander family of philanthropic industrialists after being inspired by a lecture by Oscar Wilde on ‘the House Beautiful’. Inside, you will find their collection of Pre-Raphaelite art and see furniture and decorations by William Morris. Prices £4.80 child, £9.50 adult with gift aid to see the whole house and garden. The garden and tea room is open from 11am on that weekend, and the house from noon, closing at 5pm.
Food and Drink
Venturing into town for a beer you might like to try The Posada on Lichfield Street, a proper old-fashioned real ale pub. Unfortunately it doesn’t offer food.
If rock, metal, Goth etc is your thing, then you have to go to The Giffard Arms on Victoria Street. Looks scary, actually pretty friendly. No food here either, though.
The Hogshead on Stafford Street on the other hand does do food, and also serves real ale. Gets very busy, though! Quite popular with students.
Close to the station on Corn Hill is Holdens pub The Great Western, with excellent guest ales and nice food. Recommended!
Travelling further out, try The Crooked House, 3.5 miles away in Gornal. A quirky building with fantastic beer and excellent locally sourced food.
Wolverhampton has an abundance of curry houses. A lot of people like the rough and ready cheapness of Jivans on Broad Street, but if eating off paper plates isn’t for you there are plenty of other places, particularly on Cleveland street; a good central one is The New Spice on School Street. Many good Indian restaurants are out of the town centre – you could also try Indigo on the Warstones Road, Shimla on Stafford Road, Fordhouses, or Penn Tandoori, Lower Penn.
If you just want a nice cup of tea and a cake try the gallery, or Madame Clarke’s on King Street.
Wolverhampton has a brilliant market square and indoor market, where you can purchase faggots, scratchings and grey peas and bacon if you so wish! Below the market is an antiques centre where you can pick up vintage clothes and accessories, knick knacks, collector toys and memorabilia, vinyl records and second hand books. It’s open 8.30am – 4.30pm on Saturdays.
More second hand books can be found at The Old Bookshop on Bath Street, near the brewery.
There are also loads of alternative/vintage clothing stores. Look out for Penny Farthing, Nefaria, Rowfers, Trisha’s and Equinox.
I look forward to seeing you in Wolverhampton!
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