The Mortal City

After reading that an inquest into a young boy’s death from drowning in the nearby canal at Sandfields in 1884 had been held at the Three Tuns Inn on the Walsall Road, I wanted to know more about the use of pubs in these circumstances.

The Three Tuns Inn, Walsall Rd, Lichfield, formerly Panache Restaurant & currently being developed

I had a look at the newspaper archive and found another report in the Lichfield Mercury, this time from December 1885, regarding the death of a soldier who had been found in the Birmingham Canal near Quarry Lodge. After being discovered, the body was taken to the Shoulder of Mutton in a cart on a Monday afternoon, where it was examined by Brigade Surgeon G Simon M.D. The following evening Mr C Simpson, the City Coroner, held an inquest into the death where a verdict of ‘drowned’ was returned by the jury.

I understand that this was how things were done all across the country. I think I’m right in saying that until the Public Health Act of 1875, there were no public mortuaries and in the event of a sudden or unnatural death, inquests were held at a nearby public building, often an inn or public house. If a body was discovered outdoors, the pub would also become a temporary mortuary.

On Google books, I found a document from 1840 detailing Coroners’ Reports for England and Wales. The Lichfield Coroner at the time, Mr Simpson, submitted a return giving the number of inquests held in Lichfield in each of the years between 1834 and 1839, together with a schedule of allowances and disbursements to be paid by the Coroner, as follows:

To the bailiff of the court for summoning the jury and witnesses attendances on the coroner and at the inquest: 5 shilling
To the witnesses not exceeding per day (besides travelling expenses): 3 shilling
For the jury, each juror: 1 shilling
For the use of the room: 5 shilling

The returns submitted by Coroners vary from place to place in the amount of detail included. For example, the return for Ripon outlines further payments made, including 5 shillings paid per day, ‘to expenses of room and trouble, where dead body is deposited till inquest held’, and ‘to the crier of any township for crying when body found and not known’. The return of Mr H Smith, the Coroner for Walsall, gives names of the deceased and the dates on which the inquests were held. In Leicester, John Gregory recorded the number of inquests in the four years ending August 1839 and added an explanatory note that the increase in inquests in the last year was mostly due to accidents occurring in the formation of the Midlands County Railway through the county. In a handful of towns, the Coroner also recorded the verdict (e.g. accidental, visitation of God, wilful murder) of the inquest. It doesn’t make for pleasant reading, but it’s a fascinating and important document for local or family historians.

By the late nineteenth century, things began to change. As previously mentioned, the Public Health Act 1875 gave permission for local authorities to provide public mortuaries and in the early twentieth century, The Licensing Act of 1902 stated that:

From and after the thirty-first day of March one thousand
nine hundred and seven, no meeting of justices in petty or special
sessions shall be held in premises licensed for the sale of intoxicating
liquors, or in any room, whether licensed or not, in any
building licensed for the sale of intoxicating liquors ; nor shall
any coroner’s inquest be held on such licensed premises where
other suitable premises have been provided for such inquest.

Yet at this time in Lichfield, there was no suitable premises, as can be seen from a further report in the Lichfield Mercury on 24th April 1903, regarding an inquest into the death of a woman in Old Sandford St.  The inquest was held at the nearby Hen and Chickens pub, although the post mortem was carried out by Dr F M Rowland at the deceased’s address, as her body had been discovered at home in bed. At the inquest, the coroner, S W Morgan commented on the situation, stating that it was a case that should have been taken to a mortuary. The room was nine or ten feet square, with a window right down to the floor. The double bed in the room had to be taken out and a table brought in. All of the utensils had to be borrowed, as there was nothing in the house that could be used. The Foreman of the Jury, a Mr Cooney, was reported as saying it was ‘disgraceful’. He considered it a scandal that there wasn’t a mortuary, though he was under the impression that one had been built in the city over at the council property on Stowe Street. With the rest of the jury sounding their agreement, the Coroner added,

“I called the attention of the council to this matter…12 or 18 months ago, when a recommendation was passed by a Jury. It is astonishing that the City of Lichfield does not possess a mortuary, when one takes into consideration the fact that there are two stations in the place, and how frequently people meet with fatal accidents on the railway. It is most unfair that publicans should be called upon to take in these cases, and it is unfair to ask them to do it. Suppose a tramp happened to die, whilst passing through the town, that man, unless some kind publican happened to take him would have to be hawked around from public house to public house, until someone consented to take the body. It is simply a scandal and a disgrace that such a state of things should exist especially when a mortuary could be built at a small cost”.

Dr Rowland added that there had been plans for a mortuary, but they had been shelved, to which the Coroner replied, ‘It is not fair to the medical gentlemen to ask them to make the post-mortem examination under such conditions’. The Jury recorded a verdict of ‘Death from Natural Causes’, and added to it a rider calling on the City Council to proceed with the erection of a mortuary.

In May 1903, the body of a man was found on the railway line at Shortbutts Lane. The Duke of Wellington refused to admit the body, but the landlord of the Marquis of Anglesey allowed his stable to be used. The Coroner commented that it was as if the fates were conspiring to emphasise the need for a public mortuary in Lichfield. By June that year, plans to convert one of the storerooms at the Stowe Street Depot had been put forward amidst concerns by some members of the council that a scheme to erect a purpose built mortuary in the city was too costly. By August, discussions over the expense were continuing. Councillor Johnson claimed he was in favour of a mortuary but not wasting money on it. Councillor Raby replied by saying that the City had been brought into oppobrium enough through not having a mortuary, and that ‘the ghost of obstruction which Mr Johnson had conjured up should be buried’.

Finally, in November 1903, the Surveyor reported that the Stowe Street mortuary had been completed at a cost of £48 9s 5d. Exactly a year later, the City Council’s attention was drawn to the fact that dead bodies covered in sheets could be seen from Stowe Pool Walk. It was agreed that a blind should be installed and lowered when the mortuary was occupied, an almost symbolic drawing of the veil between those living in this world and those who had joined the next. Death in Lichfield was no longer in the public eye.

Pubs and Publishing

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.

Former Three Tuns Inn, Walsall Road Lichfield. Photo by John Gallagher

October 2014. Former Three Tuns Inn, Walsall Road Lichfield. Photo by John Gallagher

Panache Restaurant, former Three Tuns Inn, December 2012

Panache Restaurant, former Three Tuns Inn, December 2012

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. .

Robin Hood, Frog Lane. I think! Taken from Lichfield GIS flickrstream

Robin Hood, Frog Lane, Lichfield. I think! Taken from Lichfield GIS flickrstream

Holly Bush pub, Tamworth Street, Lichfield

Holly Bush pub, Tamworth Street, Lichfield

Delivery to the Earl of Lichfield, Conduit Street, Lichfield

Beer delivery to the Earl of Lichfield, Conduit Street, Lichfield

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’.

Joules delivery to the Angel Inn, Market St, Lichfield. Unintentionally echoing the Marstons/ Earl of Lichfield photo above!

Joules delivery to the Angel Inn, Market St, Lichfield. Unintentionally echoing the Marstons/ Earl of Lichfield photo above! Autumn 2014

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!

Angel Delight

Inspired by Brownhills Bob’s love of the place and the inclusion of Holy Angels in Simon Jenkins’ list of England’s Thousand Best Churches, I finally visited Hoar Cross last weekend.

SAM_1271

As Nikolaus Pevsner says in his book on Staffordshire buildings,‘The story of Hoar Cross is well known enough’, but it bears repeating here. Work on the red brick, Jacobean style hall, now used as a spa resort, began in 1862, shortly before Hugo Meynell Ingram married Emily Charlotte Wood. The hall was completed in 1871, but in that same year Hugo was killed in a hunting accident. The widowed Emily employed George Frederick Bodley and his partner Thomas Garner to build a church in his memory, in the grounds of the home they had shared. Emily died in 1904, her remains interred near to those of her husband, whose body had been brought here from the parish church at Yoxall, after the dedication of Holy Angels in 1876. It’s said that Emily was never completely satisfied with her creation, but from what I’ve read it’s considered a masterpiece by all those who know their stuff architecturally. For what it’s worth, I think it’s beautiful too.

SAM_1245

If anyone wants to give me a lesson in how to take photos of windows & getting the light right I will be eternally grateful.

The contribution of Lichfield sculptor and stone mason Robert Bridgemans is acknowledge on thois tablet, decorated with a mallet, chisel and other tools.

You wouldn’t be able to tell, because the photo is so bad, but this tablet acknowledges the contribution of Lichfield sculptor and stone mason Robert Bridgeman and is decorated with a mallet, chisel and other tools.

However, as well as this story of love, loss and incredible architecture, I’m also interested in the earlier chapters in Hoar Cross’s history.  According to Horovitz’s Staffordshire place name study, the name of the village was first recorded in 1230 as ‘Horcros’ and is thought to refer to a grey cross or boundary cross. Whether this was a marker for the point where the four wards of Needwood Forest once met, or whether it indicated the extent of land owned by Burton Abbey in these parts, or whether something else entirely is a matter for ongoing speculation. Whatever its purpose, the cross that gave the place its name is long gone and now it is only the name that remains.

SAM_1172

There is another boundary marker on one of the grass verges in the village. It appears on a 1923 Ordnance Survey map as a ‘boundary stone’ and seems to mark a parish boundary – Hoar Cross sits between Yoxall and Newborough.

SAM_1191

I’d also like to know more about the original Hoar Cross Hall – the medieval moated house, known as the ‘Manor of the Cross’. According to Stebbing Shaw’s History of Staffordshire, the hall was destroyed in the 1700s and a farmhouse built on the site. According to the English Heritage Pastscape record, there is little in the form of maps or archaeology to back up this anecedotal evidence but the fact that there is an 18thc farmhouse known as Hoar Cross Old Hall suggests that Shaw was probably correct.

Meynell Ingram Arms

Despite not setting foot in the spa (not really my cup of herbal tea), my trip to Hoar Cross left my mind and spirit feeling indulged. Before leaving, I stopped off to indulge my body too, with a drink at the Meynell Ingrams Arms. Dating back to the seventeenth century, this former farm house became a coaching inn known as the Shoulder of Mutton. The name was changed in the 1860s, around the time of Emily and Hugo’s wedding, and the rebuilding of the Hall. Sadly, there was no sign of Basil, the horse who attracted media attention several years ago for actually walking into the bar and enjoying a pint of pedigree, but after a couple of hours at Hoar Cross, I had anything but a long face as I headed back to Lichfield.

SAM_1188

Sources:

http://www.eaststaffsbc.gov.uk/Planning/PlanningPolicy/LocalPlanEvidenceBase/Conservation%20Area%20Appraisals/Hoar%20Cross.pdf
Midlandspubs.co.uk
‘A Survey and Analysis of the Place-Names of Staffordshire’ by David Horovitz, LL. B https://lichfieldlore.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/397633_vol2.pdf
Lichfield Mercury Archive
http://www.patrickcomerford.com/2014/04/art-for-lent-36-two-portraits-of-emily.html
Staffordshire (A Shell Guide) by Henry Thorold
The Buildings of England – Staffordshire by Nikolaus Pevsner

This Ain't A Love Song

I’ll sing you a song about two lovers,
Who from Lichfield town they came, 
The young man’s name was William Taylor,
The lady’s name was Sarah Gray

So begins one version of the ballad ‘Bold William Taylor’ in which William leaves Lichfield to go and fight a war.  Sarah doesn’t get on well with her parents and so decides she too will become a soldier in order to be reunited with her true love. She disguises herself as a sailor but after suffering a wardrobe malfunction aboard the ship she is working on, it becomes apparent to the captain of the ship that she is in fact a woman. Understandably curious, the Captain wants to know what she’s doing on board his ship and Sarah explains that she’s there looking for her lover. The Captain gives her the devastating news that William Taylor has gone off and married a rich young lady but tells her that if she rises before the break of day she’ll find him out walking with his new wife. Sarah does just that and, on spying the happy couple together, calls for a sword and pistol and shoots William dead. In this version, the Captain is so impressed he puts Sarah in command of the ship and all his men. All’s fair in love and war? There’s a great performance of the song by Jim Moray here on YouTube.

As I’m quickly discovering, establishing the origins of folk songs and ballads is nigh on impossible. It seems this may have originated in Lincolnshire but why Lichfield was chosen as the home town of the unhappy couple is a mystery and to confuse matters further, in some versions, Lichfield isn’t mentioned at all. Of course, I wanted to know if there were any more songs or ballads that mentioned Lichfield. I found that the Bodleian Library has a huge, searchable archive of over 30,000 broadside ballads. According to them, ‘Broadside ballads were popular songs, sold for a penny or half-penny in the streets of towns and villages around Britain between the sixteenth and early twentieth centuries. These songs were performed in taverns, homes, or fairs — wherever a group of people gathered to discuss the day’s events or to tell tales of heroes and villains’.  I was really pleased to find that the collection includes several political ballads relating to Lichfield elections in the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

Apparently, these broadside ballads didn’t have their own music, but came with a suggestion of a well known tune that they could be sung to. I’m reading them with an image in my head of people stood around in the Ye Olde City’s pubs and taverns rowdily joining in with lines like,

With the help of Dick Dyott
We’ll keep ’em all quiet
And soon cool their Courage, and Fire:
If I give up this place
May I ne’er show my face
Till I’m hang’d by my Toes on the Spire

The above lines come from a sheet dated 1799 (it has the year handwritten on it). However, this can’t be right as on the same page is the story of Sarah Westwood, a Lichfield woman was executed for murdering her husband, a nailer from Burntwood, in January 1844. If you want to read the full story of the case it’s well documented elsewhere, especially as Sarah was the last woman to be executed at Stafford Gaol. The inclusion of scandals and sensations such as this, along with the songs have led to many describing them as the tabloids of their day. You can search the Broadside Ballad archive yourself here.

King's Head

As I’ve said before, we often focus on the visual changes of places, but the sounds change as well. I’m thinking that with its mixture of traditional songs, contemporary folk songs, drinking songs, ballads, humour, monologues and poems, the Folk Singaround at the King’s Head looks like a great way to get an idea of what our pubs may once have sounded like and hope to get down there for one of the sessions soon.

Shiver Me Timbers

Where there’s an old wooden beam, there’s often a rumour that it originated on an old ship. It’s a bit of folklore that I keep encountering time and time again, even here in landlocked Lichfield and Staffordshire. Back in 2011, I visited St John’s Hospital during the Lichfield Heritage Weekend and heard that the Master’s House, which was originally the canons’ and pilgrims’ hall and enlarged by Bishop Smythe in the late fifteenth century, was built using beams from galleons. On the ghost tour earlier this month, we were told that that wooden beams in an entry running alongside the Walter Smith butcher shop on Market Street came from old ships and when researching the Four Crosses Inn in Cannock for a piece in the Chase Gazette, I once again came across claims that the oldest part the building, dating to 1636, made use of timber from ships.

Alongside butcher shop on Market St. Beams are covered in stripy plastic on this photo unfortunately, but every now and again the alley is open for you to go and take a look...

Alongside butcher shop on Market St. Beams are covered in stripy plastic on this photo unfortunately, but every now and again the alley is open for you to go and take a look…

Last night, a discussion on Twitter about those other two old inn regulars – ghosts and Dick Turpin – moved onto the subject on the use of old ships’ beams and a quick google search revealed yet more old Midlands buildings making the claim including the Ye Olde Gate Inn in the Derbyshire village of Brassington and the appropriately named Old Ship Inn in Worksop, Nottinghamshire. Could there be any truth in any of these claims? As someone unfamiliar with the world of carpentry, I was interested to read a discussion between some experts on the matter which you can read here. Just as I was sure that this myth was pretty much busted I clicked on the link in the penultimate comment, which took me here – a website telling the story of the lost Brig Elizabeth Jane, launched in Nova Scotia in 1817 and abandoned off the Yorkshire coast in 1854. Incredibly, the name board and the port of registration board were discovered in a ceiling in Robin Hood’s Bay in 2003 leaving no doubt that this was one case where the rumours were true.

A one off perhaps? It seems not as shortly aftewards I came across the website of the Chesapeake Mill in Hampshire, where the beams, joists and floors are all said to have been constructed from the United States frigate ‘The Chesapeake’. On a slightly gory note, an extract from ‘The Navy and Army Illustrated’ in 1898, included on the  mill’s website, describes the joists as ‘covered with the blood of the men who were killed and wounded in action, and many bullets are embedded in them; in fact a good many of the timbers seem quite soaked with blood’.  You should read the full story on their website here it’s a fascinating place!

Closer to home, I found an article on Graiseley Old Hall in Wolverhampton which says that some of the purlins (now there’s a word I didn’t know existed until today!) in the roof came from old ships. What’s also interesting about this article is that it acknowledges that similar claims are made about many buildings, but that hard evidence to support it only exists in a few and then gives us a possible explanation for this, suggesting that often it could be a reference to the quality of the timber rather than where it came from.

I’d really like to hear of any more examples that people know of where old ships timbers are said to have been used, proved or otherwise.  When it comes to myths and folklore, we shouldn’t always believe everything we hear, but we should definitely listen in the first place. You never know where a story will lead.

 

 

 

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!

A Burny Inn

The King’s Head is one of the oldest pubs in Lichfield (1) and somewhere I’ve spent many a happy evening.(2) The sign across the entrance and John Shaw’s legendary ‘The Old Pubs of Lichfield’ date it to 1408, when it was known as ‘The Antelope’. By 1650, it had been renamed as The King’s Head.  I’ve been reading the old papers again, and it seems that in the 1930s, we nearly lost this fine old drinking establishment to fire…twice!

Which window did Mrs Shellcross climb out of I wonder?

On the night of June 27th 1932, landlady Mrs Shellcross went to bed in the King’s Head for the last time, leaving a small fire burning in the dining room grate.  The following day new tenants were arriving, and she would be leaving the King’s Head. Yet as she climbed the wooden staircase to her room, she would never have imagined that she would not be leaving the pub via the door but through a first floor window!

In the early hours of the morning, one of the hotel’s residents, Mr Corbett, was awoken by the sound of falling crockery. After discovering that the building was on fire, he raised the alarm. However, the five occupants of the pub found the staircase ablaze and their escape route blocked. They were left with no choice but to escape from upstairs windows. Mr Corbett jumped from the first storey and flagged down a passing motor van and trailer. The van driver positioned his vehicle close to the wall of the hotel, beneath a third storey (4) window, enabling Mr Dunmow, a commercial traveller to break his fall by jumping on top of the van.  Landlady Mrs Shellcross managed to climb through a first floor window onto a wall bracket but this gave way and she fell fifteen feet down onto the pavement. Another resident, a Mr King of Broxbourne in Hertfordshire, escaped using his bedclothes as a makeshift rope.

Although Mr Dunmow was admitted to the Victoria Hospital with shock, the others luckily suffered nothing more than cuts and bruises. However, the building itself had not been so fortunate. The dining room was destroyed, and the upstairs function room severely damaged. Several valuable paintings and ornaments were also lost. The ‘buff regalia’ was damaged by water (does anyone know what this refers to?).  It was said that the prompt turnout from the Lichfield Fire Brigade had saved the building from being burnt to the ground.

New tenants, the Evans family, arrived at the King’s Head to find ‘a charred mass of ashes, a ruined dining room, scorched and blackened walls, and everything soaked with water’.  There can barely have been time to make good this damage when just eighteen months later, an old oak beam in the chimney in the dining room and clubroom caused another major blaze at the pub. In the early hours of a December morning in 1933, Major Evans was awoken by the smell of smoke. This time, there was just time for the Evans family and the five hotel guests to escape down the staircase, which according to the Mercury was ‘a mass of flames’ immediately afterwards. The Major led his family and other guests to safety before returning to the burning pub to telephone for the fire brigade. There was no response as one of the hotel guests had already alerted the brigade who were now on the scene. It took two hours to put out the fire, and although the front of the building was saved, the dining room and clubroom were ‘burnt beyond recognition’. Apparently, the properties on either side of the pub were also at risk for a while.

Perhaps a little opportunistically, there is an advertisement for the Prudential Assurance Co. beneath the story asking readers ‘If this had been your property would it have been adequately insured? Don’t wait until you have to call the Fire Brigade before answering this question.’

On the Lichfield Ghost Walk, we were told a young woman working as a maid had died in a fire here and that sometimes her candle could be seen flickering in one of the upstairs windows. Perhaps this story harks back to an earlier blaze. It would be interesting to do some research and see if there is any truth in this. After all when it comes to ghost stories, there’s usually no smoke without fire….

Notes

(1) The Kings Head is said to be the oldest pub, the Duke of York over the other side of the city at Greenhill is said to be the oldest inn. I’m just glad they are both still open and serving beer!

(2) A particular highlight was the folky carol service I attended here in 2010. I hope they do it again this Christmas.

(3) As many will know, Col. Luke Lillingston formed a regiment here in 1705, and you can read more about this aspect of the pub’s history at The Staffordshire Regiment Museum website here. Or even better go and visit the museum to find out more!

(4) Third storey window? I’m guessing this means what I would call the second floor?

Sources:

Lichfield Mercury Archive

Lichfield: From the Reformation to c.1800′, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 14-24. URL

The Old Pubs of Lichfield, John Shaw