31 May 2015

Walsall's Little Secret...

The loss of trade and economic downturns can leave a hole in the heart of any town, turning the perception of those places upside down leaves me with a thirst to see the damage. Walsall is a town that doesn't receive much positive press or exposure, it had my attention for one day! I endorse the underdog, let's see if Walsall's regaining its leather perfection!? Go!

Giving Walsall one chance, I sort of knew what sights I was going to give my attention to. Revisiting the New Art Gallery Walsall for the first time in a good few years I kept and open mind to find an exhibit that impressed me much! The Garman Ryan Collection turned Walsall on its head, was I walking into a cultured setting rather than the usual image of a tired and trodden town? This collection was gifted to the Borough of Walsall in 1973 by Lady Kathleen Epstein, the widow of the great 20th century sculptor, Jacob Epstein. Amongst the white walled exhibition hall the many works of art gave something to Walsall's art gallery but I wanted some colour! Through corner of my eye I saw a colourful side room that captured my sight! A mash of art work and colour, depicting the impact and life of Jacob Epstein who was a person I never knew existed before that morning! Who knew Walsall was such a cultured soul?

Captured above is the New Art Gallery Walsall, it has been a part of Walsall since May 5th 2000 when it was opened by HRH Queen Elizabeth II. Set apart of Walsall's Watefront development its a well placed addition to a new beginning for Walsall's town centre. Specific details have been released regarding Walsall's canal side project with baited breath for the construction to be finished, beckoning a promising change for Walsall. With a new 'Light Cinema' and a string of restaurants, retail outlets and converted apartments its most likely WS1 will become a popular postcode to possess?! Premier Inn came to town in 2013 with a new build property that overlooks the Art Gallery and canal-side, can this former industrial powerhouse be refreshed? I know! Talking of Premier Inn, I worked at the Village Urban Resorts during the first quarter of 2015 so I was intrigued to see how the competition served up Hotel Overness in Walsall! Those self check-in kiosks rock WS1!

The Saddlers? Surely that got something to do with leather? Like many places within the West Midlands that boomed during the Industrial age with a trade to call their own. After seeing a promotional magazine called 'In Walsall' I was intrigued to visit the Walsall Leather Museum to see what impact leather had on this town in question. By the year 1400 Walsall was already an established market town, working and serving with its own council and mayor! Steadily becoming one of Europe's most famous towns for the production of leather products including; stirrups and loinery. Walsall's Leather Museum schooled me to know this town grinded during the 19th century to grow into a powerhouse for its leather production, employing almost two people in each family it was as powerful as Stoke-on-Trent was for the ceramic trade! A past leather worker told me that leather changed the face of Walsall! Serve Saddlery!

Walsall's Saddlery's haven't stopped yet! No, Walsall is a town that's still at the centre of British Saddlery with over 100 leather companies based within the town today! Contrary to believe Walsall still serves the likes of Burberry and supplies leather products that are commissioned by Liberty's and Ralph Lauren. The leather trade has diversified over recent years with more fashionable items made like; gloves, handbags and other high end clothing products. Walsall's own Whitehouse Cox & Co supplies the Japanese market with Walsall made leather goods, who said the trade had died out? The council run Leather Museum is free to experience, the volunteers spoke to me about the resurgence of Walsall made leather products and the fact as to why its so important for the town to keep its trade! From the Saddlers of Walsall to the Land of the Rising Sun, this West Midlands town even produces leather wear for HRH Queen Elizabeth II! Saddlers of Walsall, keep on hustling B!

Walsall's Arboretum looked fine to me, getting away from the traffic and goings on of Walsall's town centre acted as a good thing. A Victorian Park dating back to 1871, the Arboretum has seen a considerable amount of modernisation and treatment to keep it looking at its best. Walsall's Victorian Park wasn't on my radar until I read a new magazine about the town, someone had taken some lovely photos of the Hatherton Lake so I had to see with my own eyes. I don't waste anytime, making my way around the lake I took in enough of the sights because there's always lots to see! Formerly a limestone quarry the now scenic Arboretum supposedly played a large part in Walsall's Industrial legacy. I sort of remember visiting Walsall's Arboretum as a boy during Halloween but its been a long time since that childhood time! It seems like that park life works well for Walsall, questioning the ordinary made way for the extra!

I found that certain parts of Walsall's town centre served 'Urban Decay' but for the first time I use the term 'Realness' in the actual sense of it being full frontal! Some parts of the town centre need some serious attention, modification or complete reconstruction but its better to serve the truth. A new Primark department store is on the way as I saw the new retail hopefuls being interviewed at a familiar Walsall hotel from my reception view. Serving a sense of Urban Decay will give Walsall an edge to be the town that it once was during its leather heyday, throwing shade doesn't have to be a bad thing! Ooh, I got hungry as my Walsall day drew to a close so I took a chance on Micky's Steakaway, located next door to Walsall's Crown Wharf Shopping Park I was served a wholesome steak dinner with all the trimmings! The only way is Independent! I still can't believe that Walsall provided me with an afternoon of sights, giving me a peek into its past, present and future W!

Everybody Loves Leather!

Joseph Harrison 

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