Wolverhampton: Much Maligned, and More Misunderstood | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Wolverhampton: Much Maligned, and More Misunderstood

Travel writer Chris Burden explains why Wolverhampton should no longer be side-lined and tells you what to see in the much maligned Midlands city

From the decisive victory where the United Mercians drove out the Danish invaders, to the invention of the revolutionary Newcomen Engine, Wolverhampton has been at the heart of the English story. However, it finds itself erased from the national narrative and side-lined when one considers tourism.

Few people know of the 1969 Civil Rights Victory where Sikhs won the right to wear religious symbols, though many are aware of the time Lonely Planet travel guide named it the 5th worst place on the planet, comparing it to Ground Zero in New York just after the 9/11 attacks.

Though residents, Wulfrunians as they are known, shrugged off this news, it has caused lasting damage to the city which it has struggled to fix. However, the city is now gripped by a wave of regeneration, catapulting the local economy into the 21st century, and springboarding investment and leisure to the fore.

There’s never been more reason to visit this City-In-Flux than now, and it is the perfect day-trip for a budget conscious student hoping to explore the region they now call home. This is why you should visit the only city in the Black Country and the historical heart of the Industrial Revolution.

The statue of Prince Albert, known as the MotH, was unveiled in 1866 by Queen Victoria, her first royal engagement since the death of her husband. While visiting the town, it is reputed she closed her carriage curtains in order to avoid having to look at the ‘ugly’ town.

Wolverhampton, like all the Midlands cities, is easily accessible no matter the budget. A £2.30 bus will take you from Broad Street to Wolverhampton Interchange with free wi-fi and charging points, or you can hop on the train or Metro and be there in as little as 16 minutes from New Street Station. With trains departing as often as every ten minutes, and trams running a six-minute frequency service, the city is well placed for visiting.

£6.90 buys an unlimited travel ticket for the West Midlands County, which can be used on all trains, buses and trams and can be bought at any ticket sales point. This ticket can also be used in exchange for discounts at some of the West Midlands’ top attractions, such as the Black Country Living Museum.

If you get the Arriva Trains Wales service towards Wolverhampton, make sure that you stop off at RAF Cosford, just outside the city. The museum, housed in the award-winning modern building, features the National Cold War Exhibition, and a unique variety of planes, missiles and social collections which cannot be seen elsewhere in the world. The museum itself is certainly worth a special trip, so it is perfect to wander around during your visit.

Housed inside a RIBA award-winning building, RAF Cosford Museum houses missiles, aeroplanes and vehicles from many conflicts, as well as the National Cold War Exhibition.

For those who don’t want to wait for the Shrewsbury train, there is plenty to be done in the city centre, which boasts an exceptionally intact historical core despite modern redevelopment.  The period Art Gallery certainly isn’t stuffy and old-fashioned despite its Bath Stone clad traditional appearance. The building, in fact, houses the second largest collection of Pop Art in the country, which isn’t to be missed, along with various other pieces by internationally renowned artists.

There are numerous National Trust Houses within the city which are well worth a visit, though if you’re searching for a more engaging cultural offering, look no further than the local theatre scene. While the New Alexandra offers great performances, they come at a price. Saving savvy students can, however, watch the same shows in The Wolverhampton Grand for a snip of the price a few weeks later. The 1,200 capacity venue has played host to Winston Churchill and many touring shows over its century-long history, and after a recent full renovation, it’s the perfect start to a night out somewhere new.

If none of that is your scene, there are numerous concerts in nationally renowned venues, escape rooms, shopping opportunities, as well as traditional insights into the community with a tour of a local brewery. Wolverhampton’s offering is very… Wolverhampton, due to its years of erasure from the national narrative, and overshadowing from nearby neighbour Birmingham. The recent development of a Black Country flag and identity based upon the prevalence of a dialect has helped the city dive back to its traditional roots.

A giant wolf from Wolverhampton’s largest public art event, in which local artists painted wolves in order to be auctioned to raise money for the Mayor’s charities

While seemingly insular with its dialect and way of life, Wolverhampton has, however, embraced the modern world in terms of their culinary offerings. While many chain restaurants have avoided investment in the city, this has spurred on an explosion of high quality, affordable independents to fill the gap in the market.

British Café culture meets Indian street food in Zuri Coffee. Zuri can be found on Lichfield Street, which features grand Edwardian and Victorian architecture and is a gem of Wolverhampton’s food scene. In the Black Country proper, there has been an explosion in the creation of ‘Desi Pubs’, traditional pubs which serve up traditional tandoori baked foods, and in Wolverhampton, this trend has manifested itself in a form of Desi Café.

If you fancy diving into some traditional street food alongside a western coffee, look no further. This bizarre clash of civilisations has a 5-star rating on trip advisor and can’t be beaten. With prices you’d never see in Birmingham, £3.50 for an unfathomably large wrap, you’ll be able to indulge and still stay within your budget. If you fancy a main meal, you’ll find many of the ubiquitous Midlands’ Balti Houses, as well as affordable independent Thai and Japanese food throughout the city. The food culture represents the diverse range of people Wolverhampton has attracted throughout its renewal.

Though this hasn’t come at the expense of traditional Black Country ‘fittle’, the dialectical world for food. It’s vital that everyone calling this region their home engages with the local staple of the ‘Orange Chip’. Any outsider would be forgiven for eyeing the seemingly radioactive offering with suspicion, but locals rave about the coloured, lightly spiced batter which is characteristic of a Black Country Fryer.

To sample this delicacy, board a tram at St George’s for a short hop to Bilston Central. Here you can head to ‘The Major Fish Restaurant’, or Major’s to everyday parlance. I remember as a child we would do the 40-minute round trip just to get these chips, and I still regularly do the trip from Birmingham because they simply can’t be beaten.

Boasting a 4.6/5 on Google Reviews, Major’s serves up Fish and Traditional Chips at rock-bottom prices and a quality that cannot be rivalled. It certainly looks like a seventies throwback, obstinately rejecting modernity in all its forms. Locally celebrated, this certainly isn’t a place to be missed.

Finish your day in one of the numerous dessert shops all around the city, the best of which is certainly Little Dessert Shop on Queen Street, just a stone’s throw from the Railway Station. Shockingly affordable compared to their London and Birmingham counterparts, the Little Dessert Shop, which now has shops around the Black Country, is simply superlative.

While rough around the edges, Wolverhampton offers everything a student day tripper could look for. For a small price, you can spend a full-to-the-brim day, and be back home in time for an early night, unlike more expensive further afield trips.

It may appear that some of the city is trapped in a time-warp, rapid babbling in the local dialect punctuates the air as factory workers meander through the city, but this is a city rapidly modernising.

We’ve been left behind in recent years, though the city is in a truly transformational stage. Restaurants and cafés are emerging, and tourism is rising. Visit this emerging city as soon as possible to experience the buzz and way of life reminiscent of the slower days of old.




Final Year Modern Languages student and proud Wulfrunian.


19th October 2017 at 9:00 am

Images from

Christopher Burden