A New Penny

New Lichfield pub ‘The Saxon Penny‘ is due to open on the 18th November (the day before my birthday in fact!). Its name, as you may have guessed, has been inspired by the Staffordshire Hoard discovered a couple of miles up the road.

The building of the Saxon Penny reverses the trend which has seen this side of Lichfield lose many of its pubs.The Carpenter’s Arms on Christchurch Lane was demolished and replaced by an apartment block. The Three Tuns on the Walsall Road still exists but in the form of a restaurant rather than an inn. The Royal Oak’s original premises at Sandyway, later a farmhouse, is today nothing more than a pile of bricks and a broken down barn awaiting development of some kind. The pub relocated in the 1860s, to a position a little further up the road at Pipehill, but that too has vanished. The Royal Oak is discussed in much more detail on Brownhills Bob’s Brownhills Blog here.

Three Tuns, December 2012

Remains of Sandyway Farm, December 2012

Wall at site of Royal Oak, Pipe Hill

Last week on my day off I had stacks to do but the sun was shining and so I went for a walk with my Mum up Pipe Hill, on the basis that with Autumn in the air you have to take your opportunities whilst you can (a good call as it happens. I don’t think I’ve seen the sun since!). We stopped to look at the site of the Royal Oak at Pipe Hill. I’ve heard that rubble from the building still remains on site. A chap we met later on the walk told us that there were also three cottages here, cut into the rock and that you could still see the chimneys. Well, of course we looked but we couldn’t see them, and so will need to return once winter has taken its toll on the plant life.

In the meantime, I decided to look at the newspaper archive to see what information there was on these pubs and buildings. I found that one of the licensees of the Three Tuns, Frederick Henry Shilcock, wrote poetry as well as pulling pints. Originally Mr Shilcock was in the hosiery trade, before serving in France during the First World War. He arrived in Lichfield in 1938, was at the Three Tuns for fifteen years. An anthology of his work, ‘Poems by a Lichfield Innkeeper’ was published in 1950. It would be interesting to know if anyone has a copy?

In October 1907, a young chap called Herbert Smith, a labourer living at the Three Tuns, was charged with being drunk and disorderly in Sandford Street, along with John Fryer, a blacksmith from Leomansley (interesting!). Apparently, arm in arm they walked through Lichfield making a nuisance of themselves by shouting, swearing and jostling people off the footpath. (Old newspapers are full of reports like this – who says binge drinking is a modern phenomenon?!).

The Royal Oak landlord George Hodges was fined £1 in April 1940 for allowing a light to show through the front door glass panel of the pub. Although the window had been covered with brown paper there was still one and a half inches showing meaning that the light ‘could be seen distinctly two miles away’.

At the end of the Second World War, a VJ party was held at Charles Hollinshead’s Sandyway Farm (which had previously been the Royal Oak) in September 1945, which was attended by 120 parents and children from the Walsall Road and Pipe Hill. The farmyard and barns were decorated with flags and bunting, and each child received an envelope containing a shilling. There was a varied programme of entertainment including a ventriloquist, comedians and ‘Billy’ Atkins and his band. The celebrations ended at midnight with a rendition of ‘God Save the King’.

The saddest story is that of an inquest held in September 1884 at the Three Tuns Inn. A young lad, just eight years old, had drowned whilst swimming in the canal near Sandfields Pumping Station. What particularly interests me is that the fact that the inquest was held in an inn. This was not a one off – in the absence of public mortuaries, inquests into unexpected or unexplained deaths were held in several of Lichfield’s public houses, and the same thing happened in villages, towns and cities across the country. I’m reading more about this and hopefully will be following up with a further post about this aspect of our social history shortly, but of course in the meantime, any comments are welcome!

10 thoughts on “A New Penny

  1. My mom remembers the cottages against the rock, Kate. In about ’49, when she and my dad were quite newly married, they had a look at them with a view to making a home there (my dad was a builder). Even then they were in too poor a state of repair to revive, and water pouring down the rock face adjacent to the rear of the buildings was a bit off-putting. Strangely, they weren’t immediately put off by the extreme proximity to the road!

    • Thanks Susan. The chap we spoke to was in his eighties and had lived around Pipe Hill all of his life. Cottages against rocks seem quite common – I’ve heard of examples elsewhere and so I’m sure there must be a good reason for this. I wonder when these ones dated back to? Want to know more!

    • There is a photo of this in John Shaw’s book taken on the last night before the pub was closed in the fifties (from memory). Once I’ve relocated my copy (it’s here somewhere!) I’ll let you know what it says! I did however come across a nice snippet about the Great Snow Storm of March 1947. Apparently two men who had been delivering foodstuffs decided to call in for a drink at the Constitution but so much snow had fallen that they had to dig their way into the pub and of course received a warm welcome ;)

  2. Nice to know that a ‘proper’ pub is due to open in Lichfield. I wish them luck and hope it is successful. Regarding inquests in pubs, you find literary references to this as well. Think of Dickens’ Bleak House, and the inquest into Krook’s death (spontaneous combustion!) is held in a pub, as is that into Nemo the law writer. I suppose pubs were easily available local venues, which could be used at short notice. I wonder if they had to be licensed in some way to be used – after all, an inquest has always been a proper judicial procedure, because it’s a Coroner’s Court.

    • I confess I haven’t read Bleak House, but someone who has says there is a line in it that says – ‘The coroner frequents more public houses than any man alive’. I think you’re right – that it was about ease of access and that pubs were perhaps the only places with rooms big enough to carry out such a task. I have got more info on this and some specific to Lichfield which I will share asap. In one of the books I’m reading on the subject, it says that in 1894, a South Staffs publican sued the local police force for loss of trade due to the smell from a decomposing body that they were holding in the club room. I wonder where that was?!

  3. Pingback: The Mortal City | Lichfield Lore

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