The Woolpack Inn and Ye Olde Woolpack

June 27, 2014 § Leave a comment

A watercolour painting of the original Woolpack Inn c.1890.

A watercolour painting of the original Woolpack Inn c.1885 with the licensee Mrs Emily Eliza Ross standing on the doorstep.

Above is a watercolour of one of Walsall’s oldest inns, The Woolpack, which stood approximately where the entrance to the Old Square is today. The painting shows the original Woolpack which was a late medieval timber framed building and certainly one of the oldest pubs in Walsall, it was demolished in 1892. It is reputed that local Royalists under Colonel John Lane congregated at the inn in September 1651 before continuing to Worcester to join Charles II. During my research for the history of Walsall Races, the Woolpack was mentioned numerous times as it was one of Walsall’s most important venues for cock-fighting. In June 1756 a year after the earliest announcement for Walsall Races in 1755 there appeared in Aris’s Gazette an announcement that read:-

“This is to give notice that, at the House of John Newton, at the Woolpack in Walsall, will be a match of cocks, to weigh 21 ounces each, for four Guineas a Battle, and Ten Guineas the main, and 10 each for Byes, for one Guinea a Battle, and to fight two pair of *Shakebags each day for Ten Guineas a Battle.”

* An archaic term, Shakebag is literally a cock turned out of a bag to fight. None the wiser, that makes two of us!

The announcement is very similar to the one that appears on my earlier post for Walsall Races from the year before except in this case the name of the Woolpack is given instead of just “the House of John Newton”. Cock-fighting and cards were possibly the commonest forms of gambling in those days with horse racing a close third. Cocking, as it was known, was banned in England in 1849 but I am pretty sure that it continued long, long after that and is still practiced today. The other famous cock-pit in Walsall was at the rear of the New Inns in Park Street which was very popular with race-goers due to its relatively close proximity to the racecourse. The late John Cockayne writes in his book, Walsall Pubs-A History, “that the Woolpack was a major centre for cock-fighting and was visited by many followers of the “sport” from all over the Midlands and beyond.”

Ye Olde Woolpack in 1906 with the inevitable groups of lads posing. A real problem for many Victorian and Edwardian photographers.

The new Ye Olde Woolpack, 19 Digbeth/The Square in 1906 with the usual groups of lads posing for the camera.

In 1783 the owner was John Lucas, some years later in 1818, and possibly a relative, James Lucas had taken over, in 1851 the licensee was Hugh Barlow. After the original premises were demolished it was ten years before the new, mock-Tudor style building was opened in 1902. It doesn’t have the character of the old building but was certainly safer for its clientele. The owners of the new building were Robinson’s Brewery of Burton-upon-Trent and in 1904 Arthur Beebee was listed as the licensee and owner. Two years later he was still there as his name can be seen on the windows on the picture. The last licensee was Henry George Edward Mason who was in charge from  1961 to 1964. When the premises closed on 27th February 1964 it was owned by Ansells Limited of Aston, Birmingham who acquired it on 16th May 1960. The life span of the second Woolpack was considerably shorter than that of the first, it was demolished on 10th August 1966 after only 64 years of service allowing redevelopment to take place in the shape of the Overstrand. Remember that… should, took us best part of 50 years to get rid of the bloody thing!

Whilst researching for another project I came across a report in a newspaper that commented on the Woolpack and how unsafe it was becoming with pieces of masonry regularly falling off, both inside and out and injuring patrons, occasionally quite badly. The most serious incident concerned someone in an upstairs room who crashed through to the lower floors after the floorboards, which were partially rotten, had given way. Many people have opinions today about how Walsall has been destroyed by the planners and say “these old buildings should be restored not demolished”, but at what cost! They should read about the history of the town and these “beautiful old buildings cruelly destroyed by a heartless council”, fact is many were death traps and if they hadn’t been demolished they would have fallen down……quite possibly with the ancestors of those who moan today in them!

© John Griffiths 2014


Walsall Pubs – A History by the late John Cockayne 1984

The above is an excellent website listing over 5000 pubs in the Black Country area including all Walsall pubs. Each pub is listed with notes, owners and licensees, a brilliant job by Tony HItchmough and thoroughly recommended.

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