There’s been a lot of curiosity about what’s happening at the site of the former Three Tuns Inn on the Walsall Road. Panache Restaurant closed some months back and since then there has been a fair bit of activity at the site. Judging by accounts set up on social media, it seems it will be reopening in Spring 2015 as a pub/bar/restaurant known as The Barn.
Whilst we wait to see what the future holds for the pub, I thought I’d have a quick look at its past. As always in hostelry related matters I had a look in John Shaw’s ‘The Old Pubs of Lichfield, which tells us that the Three Tuns inn was first recorded in 1771 and would originally have served the wagon trade as a roadhouse of its day.
Local historian J W Jackson’s ‘Victorian Lichfield’ column, written for the Mercury in the 1930s, talks about the ‘Cherry Wakes’ held at the inn. Crowds of visitors would arrive to enjoy the ripe white heart cherries grown in an adjoining orchard, and wash them down with ale. I wonder when the orchard was grubbed up and if any of the trees are still there?
In September 1938, F H Shilcock took over from Peter Radford as landlord and remained at the Three Tuns for fifteen years.Mr Shilcock was also a poet and in 1950 an anthology of his work,‘Poems by a Lichfield Innkeeper’ was published. From time to time, his verses appeared in the Lichfield Mercury, including this one published in August 1943 about the gathering in of the harvest in the fields behind the pub.
Near to the quiet of a country inn,
I daily watched the field of wheat
The summer wind made wave,
And swayed the ears of corn,
The sun did change the shades of green to golden brown,
And nature gave each head a golden crown.
Then harvest time drew near,
And reapers made a way;
The binder came that day
And laid the precious grain in sheaves upon the ground.
Now the field is still,
And fowl from farm are taking fill,
With duck and sparrow joining in the band -
No doubt they think life is grand.
Enjoying fallen grain upon the stubble,
Where once the partridge had his cover.
Dame Nature, be so kind:
By peaceful ways
Another sanctuary find.
Along with every other pub in Lichfield, the Three Tuns gets a mention in this poetical pub crawl, published in the Mercury in September 1922. It’s a long poem (there were a lot of pubs to get round back then!) so here’s an abridged version:
King George the Fourth one day
Stood on the Bowling Green
‘Midst Staffordshire Nut and Acorn,
Where Bluebell had been seen.
A frown was seen upon the face
Of Little George the brave;
For Prince of Wales, his royal grace
Would not a pardon crave.
He’d frankly said at Windsor Castle
The Earl of Lichfield’s land
Contained a freak, a Bald Buck rascal.
Pleasing all the courtly band.
The reason for this conduct,
Which seemed so out of bounds,
The George who ruled the country
Sought for here around
Also from the forest
Whence Robin Hood had come-
The Royal Oaks rocked with laughter
At what the King had done
He’d come one day with Greyhound bay
Horse and Jockey colours gay,
Ere long he saw the ghastly freak
The reason of his son’s outbreak
So all, who knew the Fountain head
Of our Britannia’s shore
Could never hope for laurel green
Hunting Swan or else the boar.
As fierce Red Lion, his anger grew,
And in his rage he swore,
His Constitution could not stand
His heart in great uproar.
That night, beneath the Hollybush.
With Rodney and with Smithfield
A duel was fought (and our sons are taught)
The one duel fought in Lichfield).
On one side stood the Old Crown
The hero of the tale,
And ‘cross the great Queen’s Head was seen
Like Angel, sad and pale.
‘Three Crowns I’ll stake, they won’t checkmate’
Was said by Anglesey,
And Gresley Arms were held aloft
(These never could agree)
The King’s Head man from rivals ran,
The father and the son;
Brave Duke of York was standing there
With Duke of Wellington.
Others, too, were there that day
Beneath the greenwood tree,
All Chequers of a bloody end,
Assistant hopes to be.
The Duke of Cambridge afterwards
Most thoroughly agreed
The Scale ne’er turned, nor honour burned
By foul or ugly deed
The nighttime fell and Malt Shovel
Ceased its plying hire
Carpenters’ Arms from work bench strayed
To pewters round the Turk’s Head fire.
The tenants of the land that night,
O’er Three Tuns, ‘neath the trees,
Spoke of duel and fighting
And many of Cross Keys
The Goat’s Head too, looked o’er the wall
Of cottage old and grey
Saw he the George and Dragon
Cross the Bridge at break of day
At night the Hen and Chickens
Made the Feathers fly;
One thought perhaps they visioned-
A Spread Eagle in the sky.
I leave the rest and how the test
Of rivals, youth and age.
And parentage – the end I leave
To fill another page.
So visions fill my thoughts,
Because I am a glutton
I long to see Hotel Trent Valley
So near Shoulder of Mutton
I’ve strayed far from the tale
The Sheriff told to me,
A Bridge I’ve built between the years
Of Lichfield’s memory.
Now Railway runs where duels were fought
Of which no book has ever taught
Ten bells ring out – Cathedral, keep
Guard over Lichfield while we sleep
To waken with a startling cry
The Sheriff has now said ‘Goodbye’
But satisfied I’ve made the test
At the Hen and Chickens find the best.
G W Gardner, Lichfield
Some of the pubs featured in the verse can be found amongst the old photos of Lichfield added to Flickr by Lichfield District Council GIS Manager Gareth Thomas. .
You can see more of the photos here. Some are long gone, but Lichfield is still a great place for pubs. Just last Thursday, mid eighteenth century Angel Inn on Market Street re-opened, reverting back to its earlier name, after having been known as Samuels since the late 1970s. ‘Sammies’ may not have enjoyed the best reputation, but it’s still part of our history and it’s good to see the old sign, with its portrait of Dr Johnson, hanging on the wall. It seems only right to give our most famous poet and lexicographer the (much-quoted) last words on the subject of pubs – ‘There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced by a good tavern or inn’.
Update: I had a fascinating email from Mike Cooper (appropriate name!) who told me that his great grandfather (x4) bought the Three Tuns Estate in 1777 for the princely sum of £1100.00 pounds of which £700.00 was in the form of a mortgage. The estate covered the pub, its outbuildings and 22 acres of land. He bought the pub from the estate of one Fettiplace Nott Esq (splendid name!), former High Steward of Lichfield, who died on the 6th of June 1775 & who decreed in his will that the sale of the Three Tuns & other possessions were to pay off the gambling debts of his son who was also named Fettiplace Nott. Back in 1777, Lichfield Racecourse, now where Whittington Golf course stands, was in full swing & where Fettiplace Nott Jnr was want to spend his spare time! On the 6th of May 1801 Thomas Cooper sold the land but not the pub to Henry, Earl of Uxbridge for the sum of £1498.5s. In February 1818, Thomas Cooper, who by then was in his eighties sells the Three Tuns to his son-in-law James Neville & his brother John Neville who then sell it to their younger brother Charles on November 27th 1818. Thomas Cooper died in Lichfield on the 28th January 1828 & is buried in the churchyard at St John’s Hammerwich.
I’m really grateful to Mike for providing this information on the early days of the Three Tuns. Mike – I owe you a drink when it re-opens!