The Plastic Hippo

August 16, 2011

Medium rare

Filed under: Walsall — theplastichippo @ 10:46 pm

Who would have thought that a quiet, peaceful town like Walsall should harbour a plethora of bloggers gifted in second sight, clairvoyance and the dark ability of predicting the future? In past times, these Mediums would have been burnt at the stake for practising witchcraft.

On Monday, after returning from a lovely weekend walking the high places of the Yorkshire moors, it became necessary to transport a younger hippo to a gathering of hooligans in Aldridge. Without the use of a motor car, the journey had to be undertaken using public transport. Quite why we had to throw ourselves at the mercy of Centro is a long and complicated tale that might be best left for another day.

Undaunted, we plodded to the bus stop near Morrisons on Lichfield Street to await the arrival of the number six, seven or seven A which would whisk us to the birthday bash in distant Aldridge. Checking the timetable, we would only have to wait seven minutes for the number six. The time was 2-15pm.

Looking back towards the Arboretum, the junction appeared to be in soft focus, as if God had decided to change the lighting to make the death trap seem less dangerous. The small hippo, blessed with more youthful olfactory senses, said he could smell burning and sure enough, the arrival of the number six coincided with the arrival of a fire engine. As the bus approached the dreaded junction, the smoke grew thicker and more appliances arrived. The time was 2-22pm. Once cleared of the junction, we looked back to see an unmarked car with “discreet” blue flashing lights take a position to close the roads as the smoke turned to black.

Within 10 minutes we had arrived at the bun fight and the small hippo joined the other eleven-year-olds trashing what was previously an immaculate garden. After the usual exchanges regarding food allergies, mobile phone numbers and collection times, it was back on the bus to Walsall, leaving the unfortunate host to deal with the mayhem.

Appropriately enough, the returning number six terminated at the almost demolished Mellish Road church with police cars and tape blocking the approach to Walsall. The helicopter was overhead and the pall of smoke indicated something very serious. Drivers of cars and trucks unfamiliar with the area headed off down Buchanan Road to an inevitable dead end whilst others sought sanctuary in the direction of Rushall. We bus passengers disembarked and headed down the hill towards the conflagration to be greeted by a police officer shouting that we should go into the Arboretum. With wind milling arms she shooed us away like crows from a ripe field of corn.

At the main gate, it was clear that Jabez Cliff was well alight. The roof and upper floors were an inferno and the brigade was losing the battle. An appliance pumped water from Hatherton Lake and when the roof collapsed, a police officer told the gathering onlookers to leave the Arboretum because of the danger of falling hot ash. By 3-30pm, Jabez Cliff had gone.

The really spooky thing is the fact that these momentous events were predicted in advance by the warlocks and witches of Walsall who inhabit the internet. Many have given dark forebodings of fire and brimstone to be visited on buildings of cultural value, especially those that occupy a “prime” site or are in the way of some ghastly and unnecessary commercial development. Indeed, in August 2010, when the Jabez Cliff building was sold to yet another mysterious and anonymous consortium of “local businessmen”, soothsayer-in-chief The Stymaster handed down a prophesy of destruction that proved to be chillingly accurate. Walsall Council, particularly the Planning Committee, might now be considering the reintroduction of ducking stools to weed out these dark occultists.

There is, however, no need to resort to the black arts to predict the future of Walsall. Runes, tea leaves, chicken guts and crystal balls are not required to read the tiny minds of those that run this town. The smell of regeneration is the smell of unleaded four star and urban planning is carried out using the Swan Vestas method.

There is, of course, absolutely no suggestion that members of the Planning Committee are running around committing arson, but their failure to hold mysterious local businessmen to account for the security and upkeep of any empty building, even those with little or no historical value, is a dereliction of civic responsibility. The owners and landlords of these properties seem content to allow Walsall’s heritage to rot and welcome the visitations of fire starters in safe anonymity. Land is lucrative, history has no fiscal value.

It’s not just old buildings that irresponsible owners and co-owners ignore. Imagine the co-owner of an empty carpet warehouse allowing his property to be used to cultivate cannabis on an industrial scale without monitoring his tenants. Unthinkable. The Planning Committee should take action against these slack landlords. Oh…yeah…right…of course.

Some might say that Walsall Council has suffered some rather coincidental bad luck with unexplained arson attacks against old buildings. The fate of Shannon’s Mill, Mellish Road Church, Great Barr Hall and the former St Margaret’s Hospital as well as numerous empty pubs across the borough suggests that the arsonists have detailed knowledge of planning applications, regeneration strategy, “the forward plan” and which buildings are in the way of making a fast buck. Clever chaps, these arsonists.

Cabinet’s response to this is always consistent. Yesterday’s “icons of Walsall’s heritage” become today’s “eyesores” and we should be grateful to see the back of them in order to make way for tomorrow’s poorly designed, poorly built monstrosities destined to remain forever empty. They claim to be powerless against errant landlords and developers and accuse any dissenting voice of deterring inward investment.

The cause of the Jabez Cliff fire is, as yet, unknown. But even before the flames had been extinguished, one local councillor suggested on Twitter that the blaze was started by junkies setting a fire to keep warm on a sunny August afternoon. With a council refusing to name and shame the owners of burnt out buildings and keeping quiet about potential connections between “local businessmen” and members of the Planning Committee, we can expect more of this guff in the future as well as more unfortunate yet convenient fires. Next time, the covens of warlocks and witches will be watching.

When he finally arrived home from the boy’s own birthday party in Aldridge, the younger hippo reported that he felt sick due to greedy over consumption.

He is not the only one who feels sick.


  1. who was the councillor, name and shame …

    Comment by ianrobo — August 16, 2011 @ 10:51 pm | Reply

  2. […] Who would have thought that a quiet, peaceful town like Walsall should harbour a plethora of bloggers gifted in second sight, clairvoyance and the dark ability of predicting the future? In past times, these Mediums would have been burnt at the stake for practising witchcraft. On Monday, after returning from a lovely weekend walking the high places of the Yorkshire moors, it became necessary to transport a younger hippo to a gathering of hooligans … Read More […]

    Pingback by Medium rare (via The Plastic Hippo) « BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog — August 16, 2011 @ 11:14 pm | Reply

  3. You may or may not have seen the piece in last night’s E+S which more or less confirmed that the plan was already there to demolish it. I’ll try to remember to get it scanned.

    @ianrobo: Councillors comments are here and here. I did think it odd that one would need a fire to keep warm at 2pm on a warm Sunday.

    Comment by stymaster — August 17, 2011 @ 7:37 am | Reply

  4. Another prediction, inferno at the now empty Three Crowns pub on the Sutton Road. That would be very convenient for some.

    Comment by Derek Bennett — August 17, 2011 @ 3:35 pm | Reply

  5. Name – Imran Azam, St Matthews Ward Councillor (Conservative). Shame – to speculate that the building was burnt down by drug addicts who sometimes light fires in this property and other similar derelict properties? (See twitter posts)

    Then again….Maybe it was a cigarette? Maybe the planning committee are running around lighting fires?

    Maybe someone should ask Street Pride or Hi’s n Low’s the number of times they have had to visit the property to do a cleanup of used syringes. South Walsall Area Partnership identified this site as being used by drug addicts to shoot up and one where action was required.

    Those tweets were mere speculation on my part and to suggest that I endorse the burning down of any building (heritage or not) or endorse the loss of our heritage buildings is simply blinkered opinion on your part.

    As an aside – Regarding your comment about commercial landlords, I think you fail to grasp the workings of commercial leases.

    Comment by Imran Azam — August 17, 2011 @ 5:39 pm | Reply

    • Many thanks for your contribution to this humble blog, Imran. It can only be a good thing for councillors to address the concerns of local bloggers.

      Further thanks are required for you confirming that the owners of the Jabez Cliff site have acted irresponsibly. If, as you say, Street Pride, Hi`s and Low`s and the South Walsall Area Partnership have identified the property as a location for drug abuse and a place “where action was required”, how come the lack of security at the building allowed these illegal activities to continue?

      In your position as Vice-chair of Regeneration and as a member of the Planning Committee, you are best placed to take action. I suggest that speculating on the cause of the fire before the authorities have had a chance to investigate is, to say the least, not very helpful.

      I would like to point out, for the sake of accuracy, that the above post clearly stated that the Planning Committee are not “running around committing arson”. You may wish to reconsider your suppostion that “Maybe the planning committee are running around lighting fires?”

      I would also like to suggest that you re-read the post carefully. At no stage did I infer that you endorsed the burning of buildings. The blinkers, it seems, are being worn by a creature other than a hippo.

      I bow, of course, to your superior knowledge of commercial leases and to the business acumen of your ward councillor colleague, the co-owner of Magpie House on the Premier Business Park. Perhaps we should organise a heritage trail to encourage tourism that would take in burnt out buildings and cannabis factories. Walsall has lots of those.

      Comment by theplastichippo — August 17, 2011 @ 7:47 pm | Reply

      • Mr Hippo – well your blogs are always an interesting read regardless of your anti-Tory stance but your political views are your own and I respect that. Blogs and views such as yours highlight real issues and that is why I follow with interest.

        Whilst I did say that the site (being empty) has attracted drug users, all I can tell you about the owners is that they have boarded up the premises a number of times at thre request of the Council. Other than that, how do you stop someone breaking in except to have a 24 hour security guard? Not an opinion or a let off for the owners, just my question to you.

        Derelict properties has been put on the forward plan for this year’s Regeneration Scrutiny Panel meetings and we will discuss in further detail as to how we should tackle this widespread problem.

        The planning committee are NOT running around lighting fires – it was said purely tongue in cheek.

        With regards to how the fire started, I take it that its ok to insinuate “four star unleaded” as the cause of the fire and “coincidental arson” as opposed to a fire started by trespassers (based on what I know about the property)? Both you and I made our speculation before any investigation has taken place. I understand that the 1 person rescued was a drug user and he informed police that others may have been in the building. Unfortunately it was too late by then and if there is loss of life that is even more tragic. My speculation is based on this information.

        I take back my comment about your blinkered opinion – call it pre-emptive.

        As for commercial leases, I work as a Commercial Property Surveyor and commercial leases are my bread and butter so to speak. Hence my point about you not grasping the workings of commercial leases.

        Comment by Imran Azam — August 17, 2011 @ 9:08 pm

  6. I’ve now scanned the story in the Express and Star I mentioned- it can be found here. I’ve updated my linked blog post to reflect that.

    Comment by stymaster — August 18, 2011 @ 7:38 am | Reply

  7. […] For further comment on this, please see both BrownhillsBob and The Plastic Hippo. […]

    Pingback by PigBlog » Blog Archive » I hate it…. — August 18, 2011 @ 7:43 am | Reply

  8. Express and Star article is interesting… Local List building? Odd they should mention that since the Local List does not confer any protection against demolition, but they fail to mention that it was in a Conservation Area, which most certainly does.

    As both historic parts of the structure were pre 1914 Walsall Council would have to have granted Conservation Area Consent for demolition… Local List status would is irrelevant.

    The Lichfield Street Conservation Area was extended in the mid-noughties to take in Lower Forster Street, in order to wrangle several million pounds out of English Heritage for the Lichfield Street Heritage Economic Scheme (a scheme that was so badly managed by Walsall Council you would barely know it ever happened).

    The bid document should be available to anyone who is interested from Walsall Council’s Conservation Team (these are public documents) and in it the Jabez Cliff works is presented as the jewel in the crown of the area. I wonder if English Heritage have an opinion on what has happened?

    Comment by Walsall Exile — August 18, 2011 @ 8:00 pm | Reply

    • Well, EH interest didn’t save Mellish Rd church….

      Comment by stymaster — August 18, 2011 @ 8:17 pm | Reply

      • They didn’t spend millions of pounds on preserving Mellish Road church and its context.

        Comment by Walsall Exile — August 20, 2011 @ 10:25 am

  9. […] on my 365daysofbiking Tumblr and one of the side effects on YouTube. The Stymaster lamented it, as did the Hippo. Today, there’s a report in the Express and Star that it wasn’t arson, but the report […]

    Pingback by Hide and seek « BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog — August 20, 2011 @ 1:44 pm | Reply

  10. […] then. What’s next for the unleaded and Swan Vestas treatment, so handy for ridding yourself of an expensive to refurb […]

    Pingback by PigBlog » Blog Archive » Prace Bets Now! — July 24, 2012 @ 9:01 pm | Reply

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