Three drinking dens of Church Hill
July 14, 2014 § Leave a comment
Another illustration from the pubs of old Walsall, this one features the Barley Mow that stood opposite St. Matthew’s Church. Salvation was near at hand but temptation was all around! You will see from the accompanying O.S. map the public houses that were around the St. Matthews area. This area around Church Hill has always been of interest to me ever since childhood, living at the bottom end of Sandwell Street this was our usual route into Walsall town centre. When accompanied by my mother or grandmother in my early years they used to tell me stories about Gorton’s Yard and Temple Street and the hardships endured by the poor families that lived there. I think it was well-known that some of the poorest people in Walsall lived around this area until its demolition in the 1930s.
My grandmother who lived in Hospital Street but worked at H. D. Jackson’s Summit Buckle Works on Field Gate was “mugged” twice in nearby New Street, not for her purse but the “snap” she was carrying under her arm for her lunch. That’s how desperate some of the poor devils were, as my gran’ said in later years, “if they had have asked me I would have given it to them”. My gran’s family, the Fellows, all ten of them, were by no means well-off, far from it, but they had jobs, pride and lived as a family in a little terraced house, not sharing one room in a hovel with a two or three other families as they did in Gorton’s Yard. It was around this area that my mother told me that my gran’ took to one family who had many children, in particular one little girl around nine years of age. This little girl had trodden on the head of a yard brush which flew up and the stale hit her on the side of her face. Because of this she developed a large visible tumour which grew rapidly and caused her death in a comparatively short time.
The sad thing is one of the reasons money was scarce in this and hundreds of other families, was the fathers, and in many cases the mothers desire for drink and the Barley Mow at 26 Hill Street was one of several ready to take your pennies. The late John Cockayne in his excellent book, Walsall Pubs – A History states the Barley Mow was first owned by Charles Tunbrill in 1783 but Tony Hitchmough on his equally excellent website has the licensee as Charles Timbrell and a date of 1818, certainly the name is very similar even if the dates differ. This den of iniquity operated under a beerhouse license and its final licensee was John Kane in 1898. The license was surrendered around this time and I think the premises later housed a shop for some years before being demolished in the purge to rid the town of the slums the 1930s. During its lifetime the Barley Mow had nineteen licensees and nine of these were from 1890 until its closure. It was actually refused a license in September 1889 but on appeal, the intended and determined, Edward Townsend was finally granted his wish. The reason for the refusal was that he was fined ten shillings plus costs for being open after hours earlier that month. Three years earlier in 1886 the then licensee, William Pymm junior was fined a similar amount for permitting drunkeness on the premises.
The sketch right by Billy Meikle shows Church Hill, although the drawing is dated 1916 the view is from a much earlier time. The houses on the right of the sketch are those in Church Street, it is very rare to see these properties as few if any photographs exist of them other than this illustration.
The Leathern Bottle on the left of the sketch was another very old Walsall pub at 29 Hill Street. It was originally the sign of the Bottlemakers Company when drinking vessels were made of leather. Another establishment that operated with a beerhouse license, its first landlord was Joseph Bould who took over in 1818, a further twenty-six licensees played mine host before its closure on 4th May 1939 and its demolition later that year. The license was transferred to the Bridge Inn in Wolverhampton Street. In 1925 the licensee was William John Annakin and a report at that time states the premises consisted of a brewing plant with malt room, was very clean with low ceilings but the living accommodation was poor. It had just one outside urinal and lavatory for the entire premises with no flush!
The licensees of old were a tough breed, forget the job if you weren’t. In the early hours of 1st February 1882 the licensee, Benjamin Harley apprehended two prospective villains, Michael Fay of Church Street and Thomas Davis of Temple Street. They were found hiding in the stables and Benjamin Harley detained them after a struggle! The two prisoners said they were there on legitimate business, to collect a pigeon pen loaned to Harley who would not give it back. A witness was called who proved Fay and Davis were telling the truth. When the case came to court the Mayor, John Newman presiding, told them they should have taken different steps to recover their property but as there was some doubt he gave them the benefit and discharged them both.
William Slater, the licensee from 1883 to 1884 was fined £2 plus costs on 25th June for permitting gambling on the premises. Just over a year later on 17th December 1884 he was caught again, this time for allowing drinking on a Sunday.
In the middle of Meikle’s sketch was the Old Queen’s Head pub, known throughout its lifetime as the Old Queen’s Arms in 1849, Queen’s Head in 1858, Original Queen’s Head later in 1858 and by its present name from 1868. Its was located on the corner of 22 Temple Street and Hill Street. The official records show the Old Queen’s Head had a relatively short life, the first licensee was Robert Westwood in 1845, he was followed by a further six licensees before James Garner took over in 1880 up until 1881, after him no one else is listed. Presumably the premises were used for other purposes until they were demolished to make way for the Brotherhood building which opened in 1903.
It was the norm for public houses to hold inquests and the Old Queen’s Head was no different. In late August 1858 a 48 year-old miner, John Springthorpe, was murdered at the Old Church & Bell pub in nearby Church Street after fighting with Richard Garbett. It was thought that Garbett was aided and abetted by Charles Welch, licensee of the Old Church & Bell. The details of the case were explained to Mr. A. A. Fletcher who heard testimonies from several witnesses who all told more or less the same story. Welch was seen to be running about the street stripped and Springthorpe commented “I’ll have some fun now, and soon make him, Welch, go into his house”. This was heard by the witnesses but all agreed the deceased made no attempt to back up his threat and that Welch made the first move. Even when Welch “squared” at the deceased, Springthorpe remained peaceable and quiet. After attacking Springthorpe, Welch cried out “Dick”, (meaning Richard Garbett), who attempted to fight with the deceased who complained that he had no wish to fight. Charles Welch then encouraged Garbett to attack. Garbett grabbed Springthorpe by his collar with his left hand and then dealt him a vicious, violent blow with his right hand to his throat after which Springthorpe fell to the ground. Mr. E. J. Marshall, a surgeon, examined the body and noted the serious injuries sustained by the deceased were due to his head being thrown violently backwards when the blow was delivered. The bone and cartilage of the throat was injured and there was a good deal of congestion around the larynx and muscles of the glottis. The inquest was adjourned to Thursday evening and after five hours of deliberation terminating at almost half past eleven at night they returned a verdict of Wilful Murder against Garbett as the direct perpitrator of the fatal act with Welch aiding and abetting. On the following morning Garbett and Welch were brought before Charles Eyland, Mayor, F. B. Oerton, W. Ward, C. Greatrex and H. Highway and were committed for trial at Stafford Assizes. On the 29th November 1858 Garbett and Welch were found guilty, but not of the murder of John Springthorpe, but of manslaughter! This decision was probably correct because as far as we know neither man deliberately set out to kill the unfortunate Springthorpe. The court decided both men were equally guilty of Springthorpe’s death and were sentenced. The sentence handed out to these two guilty men, even for manslaughter, was absolutely amazing……..even by today’s standards. Unless I have misread the court registers which indicate both men received a sentence of “3 Cal. mo. imprisonment”, I take this abbreviation to mean 3 calendar months imprisonment. On the same page of court records a man convicted of “night poaching” received a sentence of 4 years!
Because the latter stole from the estate of, at least, the local gentry, that crime was thought more serious than killing a “Mr Nobody”, a miner from Derbyshire who lived in lodgings. Sounds familiar………very familiar!
The final twist in this sorry tale concerns the licensee of the Old Church & Bell, Charles Welch. On the same day the newspapers reported the inquest into Springthorpe’s death, 1st September 1858, they also ran a story that at the end of the day wasn’t worth the ink it took to print it. The report read:- “The name of Charles Welch of the Old Church and Bell Inn, Church Street be erased from the list of licensed victuallers. Welch it will be recollected, has been committed in company with Richard Garbett, for wilful murder. The house has been conducted in a disreputable manner. The Bench [Walsall Licensing] expressed their determination of depriving every licensed house that was badly conducted of it license.”
One would think justice had been done as Welch had now lost his living but the census of 1861 says differently. At 9 Church Street is one Charles Welch aged 53, a publican, born in Bloxwich, living at the same address with his wife Hannah, also aged 53 and their 21 year-old son, David. So much for the diligence and determination of The Bench to eradicate bad behaviour by those in charge of licensed premises. A proper Walsall job!
The next time you are going over Church Hill just think of the history that is under each footstep you take, John Springthorpe may not have been perfect but give him a thought, he deserves that if now’t else.
Tony Hitchmough – longpull.co.uk
Walsall Pubs – A History by the late John Cockayne
Walsall Local History Centre
Britain From Above