This is a bit of hard core local history research, but it might be the sort of project that appeals to other family historians with heritage to do with pubs and beer houses.
For several years I have been building a dataset of public houses, inns and beerhouses, with particular focus on their proprietors, managers and keepers. I have focused on the areas inhabited by those ancestors who lived near to my home, that is mainly Brownhills and Chasetown. I have been in many of them at one time or another, those that were still open in my adult life. Some were run at one time by Andrew’s Kindred – the “Pub Dennises“, some were, doubtless, frequented by others, and some grew up there.
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A while back I looked at my father’s family as war approached – also 1939 and all that. Now I visit my mother’s family, name of Brown, who lived at 41 Chapel Street. Number 41 is the house beyond the hedge on the right of the painting. The artist was Joan Jackson, who lived later at 43 with her husband Les. Number 41 was where I spent the first year of my life and where my mother grew up.
I pointed out that searching the 1939 Register, online via Findmypast, can be a frustrating exercise, as the records of many people who are long dead remain locked because they have not been updated to anything like the present. This time it would be more difficult. I would have to break in by the back door.
Not the Hollywood musical, the pub in Brownhills, West Midlands, England.
After a discussion yesterday morning about this local landmark, I decided to check my facts, having said that the current building is not the original White Horse and that the original stood nearer to the end of the “back lane”, or Chapel Street, as it is today. I guess the colloquial name predates the chapel that stood at the junction of Chapel Street and Watling Street. Well, on this occasion I was right!
The earliest mapping to show “P.H.” is the Ordnance Survey (OS) surveyed 1882-83, published 1883. This shows the pub nearer to Chapel Street than the current pub – see composite map.
Clockwise from top left: 1883, 1901, 1915, 1938 – Ordnance Survey, reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.
The 1901 map shows no building in the same place as the current pub. Likewise the 1915 revision. The 1915 and 1938 map shows one PH; this was the Lamb Inn on Watling Street, but neither the White Horse nor the Prince of Wales is marked “PH”. Perhaps they were beer houses?
What did the papers say?
Staffordshire Advertiser 21 Apr 1928
COUNTY LICENSING … The committee sanctioned the removal of the beer license of the White Horse Inn, Brownhills, to new premises in White Horse Road, Brownhills.
Staffordshire Advertiser 7 Dec 1929 Licence Transfer Confirmed. — Mr E W Haden applied to the Bench to make final an order for the transfer of the full licence of the White Horse, Brownhills, to new premises. He explained that a provisional order was made by that Bench at the adjourned annual Licensing Sessions last year, and it was subsequently confirmed by the full Licensing Authority at Stafford. The new premises had been completed strcitly in accordance with the plans. The Bench having granted the application, Mr Haden applied for the transfer of the license from George Hy. Perks to Wallace John Shingler, and this was also granted.
So the pub was built in 1928. The interesting thing here is that the first article was about transfer of the beer license (as apposed to a full license to sell beer, wines and spirits) and the second is about a full license.
The 1938 revision shows an outline in the right place for the White Horse. Presumably, it has been altered since then?
45 White Horse Road, Preston Arthur H [born] 13 June ’96, Licensee.
Lichfield Mercury 12 Jan 1940
Cannock magistrates on Monday approved the transfer of the licence of the White Horse Inn, Brownhills, from Arthur Henry Preston to Frank Atkinson.
So, the current White Horse public house was built in 1928 and, it appears, the first landord of the new pub was Wallace Shingler.
Previous licensees were: 1912 Sarah Alltree, 1911, George Henry Perks (possibly manager?), 1901 Charles Alltree, 1900 Sarah Alltree, 1896 Charles Alltree, 1891 Charles Alltree, 1881 James Norris, 1861 Samuel Bickley. I have no evidence of this, but it would be no surprise if the first White Horse Inn was built to take advantage of the new Anglesey Branch Canal that opened in 1850.
Kelly’s Directory of Staffordshire 1896, 1900, 1904, 1912;
Newspaper records via Findmypast;
It is said that eight pubs close every day in this fair land. The reasons are complex, but the plainest is that fewer people are frequenting local pubs in villages and suburbs in favour of drinking at home, buying booze from supermarkets, discount suppliers and direct from micro-brewers.
In my own experience over the last fifty-odd years I can recall many pubs that have closed, and there were many more before that. In The Pub Dennises (2) is a map showing 5 pubs on the short 500 metre length of Chasetown High Street. There were at least two beer houses and two other pubs within 100 metres. This was not an unusual setup. Along, or very near to, the Watling Street, Brownhills, were no fewer than eight pubs and more beer houses operating between 1900 and 1912 along a stretch of 2.3 km (1.4 miles), see map below. And there were others within easy walking distance.
Previously there had been four other beer houses in the subject area: Baileys Buildings, Watling Street – beer house; Watling Street, next to Queen’s Head – beer house, Chinnock’s beer house, Chapel Street beer house.
The 1830 Beer Act enabled people to brew and sell their own beer at home, “beer houses”. In 1883 the wider area of Brownhills there were 15 fully-licenced houses, 9 beer houses with indoor licences, 3 beer houses with off-licences, and one wine and spirit licence; one license for every 26 houses! Generally these produced and sold “small beer” a low alternative to drinking water, which could be contaminated, though in these parts the wells would have been much cleaner that the supply in crowded cities. An Act of 1869 tightened the licensing laws, preventing new licenses and making it harder for people to obtain licenses. Beer houses virtually disappeared in the nineteenth century.
The sources for this project were Kelly’s Directory of Staffordshire, 1900, 1904 and 1912, and the England census 1901 and 1911, and newspaper reports via Findmypast.
I have a theory that many of these establishments were unsustainable, especially given their frequency.
For all the beer houses I have identified, even though trade directories list people as “beer seller” or “beerhouse”, the census, which records primary occupation records something related to coalmining. These were working people just trying supplement their main colliery wages by selling a little home brew in the front room.
The same goes for many public houses, where the beer was served by the lady of the house, perhaps helped by a daughter or other relative, see White Horse Inn below. Here is what the 1901 and 1911 censuses record:-
From west to east (numbers from map):
1. Rising Sun: 1901 John Glover, manager public house, worker ; 1911 Joseph Tideswell, police pensioner licensed manager, closed sometime before a fire in 2011, derelict and fire damaged. Also closed for time in the 1960s.
2. Crown Hotel: 1901 Joseph Read, publican; 1911 Joseph Harrison, licensed victualler, still going, but more like a canteen.
3. White Horse Inn: 1901 Sarah Alltree, innkeeper; 1911 George Henry Perks, surface foreman colliery, related to licensed premises – wife’s occupation “carrying on the business of licensed victualler” and sister-in-law “assists wife” (Kelly 1912, Sarah Alltree, 1911 private means at Watling Street), still going.
4. Lamb Inn: 1901 Thomas Gwilliam, coal hewer below ground (Lamb Inn named); 1911 Andrew Baker, coal miner hewer; closed in 1950s (unless you know different) and demolished about 1967 after a spell as a shop.
5. Prince of Wales: 1901 James Norris, publican; 1911 – I have not been able to find this out, still going as a local.
6. Anglesey Arms: 1901 William Teece, licensed victualler pub; 1911 Thomas Yates; miner & publican, closed and demolished late 1960s.
7. Queen’s Head: 1901 Maud Norris, licensed victualler pub (Alice M M Norris, pub not named, but listed in Kelly; 1911 William Aubrey Lewis (husband of Maud), licensed victualler (pub not named, but listed in Kelly), closed, demolished and redeveloped late 1960s.
8. Chase Inn: 1901 Francis Thompson, Licensed victualler pub; 1911 George Shingler, publican, still going as a local pub and music venue.
So what does this tell us about the viability of these public houses?
Note: This has no bearing on public houses that are in business today; these are the survivors and adapters and they continue to provide a valued service.
Only four of the eight proprietors gave their primary occupation as publican or licensed victualler in both 1901 and 1911 censuses. In 1911 the Rising Sun was being managed by a police pensioner, so his pay may simply have been supplementing that. In 1911 the licensee of the White Horse was George Perks, a coal miner, but the pub was run by Mrs Perks, assisted by her sister. The Prince of Wales is not recorded in 1911 so was clearly not providing anyone’s main income. From impressions gained through my wider research, from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, this is typical: that is a significant proportion of inns and public houses, and a much higher proportion of beer houses, were not able to generate enough profit to be the only or primary income for a family. There were just too many of these establishments for all to be sustainable and it was inevitable that many would close, even without competition from nationwide high volume and discount suppliers for drinking at home.
The Bible-style title fits with John’s strong connection with the Wesleyan Methodist Church, particularly Park View, Watling Street, Brownhills. The chapel was redeveloped for housing; the ironically named Deville Mews.
Family lore tells that John was sometime choirmaster. Some of the singers habitually decamped to the Prince of Wales pub across the road, but one evening John told them that anyone going to the pub need not turn up next week. Everyone went to the Prince!
Taking heed of the dire warnings of the various magazines, such as Your Family Tree, that offered advice and practical tips to genealogists, I first filled in the obvious gap that I had no documentary evidence that John was actually a direct ancestor. Consequently, I obtained a copy of the entry of birth for Samuel Dennis. He was born at Watling Street, Hammerwich, Brownhills, father John Dennis and mother Emma Dennis, formerly Jones. At least I would not be the next person to trace a family tree back to the sixteenth century only to find the ancestors were not really theirs! It seems there are countless examples of people not realising that the man they called “Daddy”, was not really their birth parent or that “auntie Mary” was nothing of the sort.
Hammerwich was the parish, but not the place people said they lived in. Being local I knew this, but, in urban areas, this can be confusing, especially when a sequence of local authority reorganisations mean that the same house could be successively in Lichfield Rural District, Brownhills Urban District, Aldridge – Brownhills Urban District, all Staffordshire, and then Walsall Metropolitan Borough, West Midlands.
I was contacted once by a distant relative via Genes Reunited who had been researching an ancestor who lived at Webb’s Row, Hammerwich, Staffordshire. The small village of Hammerwich sits on high ground to the north of Watling Street and has many of the features of a rural settlement. Surrounded by fields it boasts a hall, parish church, windmill (sail-less and now residential), cricket field, railway station axed after Beeching, primary school and post office, including stores and off-license.
He and his wife had travelled there, but found no Webb’s Row. This terrace of ten Victorian houses had been demolished long since, but actually stood on Castle Street, Brownhills, some two miles from Hammerwich. Like many of the houses in the area, I remember them standing empty, doorless, windowless shells, merely the shadows of family homes, now playgrounds for the local kids. In places shelves still bore half-empty bottles of tomato ketchup or Branston pickle. Condemned in the mid-1960s they were demolished to make way for altogether more salubrious homes for elderly folk, with ‘mod cons’ like running water and central heating. Howdle’s Cottages, Williams’s Row, Woodhouse’s Buildings and Fox’s Row went at the same time.
John and Emma Dennis were easily located in the 1901 census. They lived at Howdles Cottages. John, age 48, was a colliery checkweighman, born at Brownhills. Emma was 44 and born at Pontesbury, Salop. There were three children: John, 19, colliery horse driver; Henry, 20, coal miner/loader; and Samuel 14, colliery banksman. All three, it said, were born at Hammerwich – the parish again, the civil parish, not the ecclesiastical one. These were Dad’s father and uncles Jack and Harry.
Their older sister, Dad’s aunt Lizzie, like many young women, was in domestic service at Lymewood, Sutton Road, Erdington, Sutton Coldfield. Her employers were spinster sisters Catherine, living on own means, and Grace McBean, teacher in high school.
John’s occupation in 1881 was given as “check clerk” and in 1901 as “colliery checkweighman”. This was an important job that required the trust of both owners and miners. He was based at the weighbridge and recorded the weight of coal cut by each miner. At the end of the week he would hand his records to a clerk in the office who would then give John the wages for the previous week. John would then distribute the pay to the men.
According to my notebook the next thing I looked at was great grandfather John Dennis to find out about the move from Leicestershire and how Tom Dennis of the Railway Tavern fitted in.