An intriguing message about a strange experience at the Wolseley Arms inn received late one night inevitably led to me doing some research into the place. According to the Rugeley Times, the pub has fifteenth century origins and originated as a hunting lodge on the Wolseley estate before being transformed into a coaching inn as passing trade on the Liverpool to London Road demanded. Much to Sir Charles Wolseley’s disgust, this trade included the ‘Convict Van’ which stopped at the inn in June 1834 to change horses. It was the governor’s decision to give the 18 men on board their dinner which particularly incensed the local lord and resulted in a heated letter penned to ‘Mr Corbett, the Member for Oldham’ being published in the Staffordshire Advertiser. Clearly this was the way for local politicians to embarrass themselves and their constituents prior to Twitter being invented.
According to Wolseley’s correspondence, the coachload of convicts each received, ‘an enormous piece of the WHITEST bread, as large a lump of COLD BOILED BEEF’ as he ever saw. He then continues, ‘Well! but this was not all – for there was handed to each of THE GENTLEMEN half a pint of Mr Moxon’s best ALE!. While these CONVICT GENTLEMEN are REGALED with COLD BOILED BEEF and STAFFORDSHIRE ALE, the POOR or IRELAND are absolutely STARVING!’. By the way, the capitalisation and exclamation marks are all Sir Wolseley’s! Except that one. That’s mine.
By 1952, the Wolseley Arms was still lit by paraffin lamps and, according to the article in the Staffordshire Advertiser on 28th March of that year, it was probably one of the last in the country to be so. The article also explains how the inn was originally known as the Wolseley Arms, then changed to The Roebuck Inn and then changed back again around 1945. Confusingly, the original Roebuck Inn was what is now Wolseley Bridge Farm. In 1963, the Rugeley Times described the Wolseley Arms/Roebuck Inn as one of the few pubs in the country to be known by two names, with two signs to reflect this. However by 1973, only the Wolseley Arms sign remained, no doubt creating confusion for travellers who had been given instructions such as ‘Turn right at the ‘Buck’ by rapscallions from Rugeley.
Apparently, the original name change to The Roebuck came about as the inn became known as a place of ill repute and Sir Edward, the baronet at the time, didn’t want the family name besmirched. Ironically, the family had themselves been at the centre of an eighteenth century Staffordshire scandal when claims were made about the validity of the marriage between Sir William Wolseley and Ann ‘The Widow of the Wood’ Whitby, who may or may not have also been married to the MP for Stafford at the time. Full details of the ‘intimacy and alleged marriage’ between Whitby and Wolseley can be found in a 1755 book, which survived the Wolseley family’s best efforts to buy and burn as many copies as they could. I wonder if it’s available in our new Waterstones? Feels like there needs to be a Netflix series called ‘Wolseley Bridgerton’.
Supposedly the Wolseley estate had been given to the family by King Edgar as a reward for ridding the area of wolves. To celebrate, the Wolseleys adopted a family motto, ‘Homo Homini Lupus’ or ‘Man is a wolf towards his fellow man’, as the Royalist Sir Robert found out when said estate was confiscated after the Civil War. Ah, how the family fortunes of our local nobility ebb and flow like a spring time river. On the subject of rivers, the Wolseley Arms sits on one of the banks of the mighty Trent. Tradition describes it as a greedy river claiming three lives a year but whether this is a warning or a demand I do not know. Perhaps this is why in medieval time a wayfarers’ chapel was built on the crossing but it seems it was no match for the old water gods, and it was eventually swept away with the rest of the structure in 1795. Traces of the former bridge were discovered in July 1962 when engineers lowered the level of the river by 18 inches as part of a realignment project. Old blocks of sandstone were discovered along with the bases of the piers the lost bridge’s arches were built upon. The largest of these was found beneath the central arch giving rise to the theory that this is where the chapel would have stood. You can see photos of the discoveries here.
The Wolseley Arms was enlarged in April 1973 and given a new ye olde makeover with a medieval theme including swords, spears, balls and chains, suits of armour and other military ironmongery, plus a portcullis. Frankly I’m suprised they didn’t go all in and rename the pub (again) as The Drawbridge. It was renovated again in July 1982 when it was officially opened by Patrick Anson, the 5th Earl of Lichfield. The Queen’s cousin is not the only famous punter to have a pint here. NHS hero Nye Bevan popped in for a drink, as did Winifred Atwell the Trinidadian pianist who was the first black person to have a number one hit in the UK singles chart. I sincerely hope they didn’t have to buy their own STAFFORDSHIRE ALE.
Staffordshire Advertiser 28 March 1952
Rugeley Times 16 August 1958
Rugeley Times 28th April 1973
Staffordshire Newsletter 16 July 1982
Rugeley Times 7 August 1954
Rugeley Times Saturday 20 April 1963
Rugeley Times 7 July 1962