Churchbridge: Introduction and the Red Cow

Churchbridge Pubs: Introduction
For the purpose of these articles I will define Churchbridge as running from the railway bridges at Bridgtown to Leacroft Lane, which connects the Walsall Road and Watling Street. This area encompasses the Orbital Centre. Back in 1838 the Great Wyrley tithe-map stopped at the bridge across the Wash Brook (the Watling St/Walsall Rd junction, Wyrley side) and anything beyond that was classed as Cannock for tithing purposes.

In 1861 this area took in three public houses; however it must be remembered that there was competition within yards of the Churchbridge borders. For example, if you headed just under the railway bridge into Bridgtown you would find the Anglesey (now the Stumble); Walk Mill had the Vine; Leacroft (Rumer Hill) had the Swan; towards Great Wyrley and you would have the Royal Oak, Bird-in-Hand and the Swan Inn; and if you crossed the fields at the back there would be a host of pubs in Cheslyn Hay.

Today one of those three survives – and with a rather uncertain future to boot. Saying that, a new one, well more an entertainment complex, has been built. Churchbridge now comprises of housing, a retail park and an interchange that feeds the new M6 toll road, but all of these hide its older rural and its more recent industrial roots – you remember industry, it is something we used to have in this country – a bit like pubs really 😦 .

The main settlement nestles between Watling St and the Walsall Road – both of which are ancient route ways. The Walsall Road was turnpiked in 1766, which added something to the importance of the area and according to the 1838 tithe-map a toll-gate was located at the junction of the Walsall Road and what is now Leacroft Lane – in effect, the top end of Churchbridge (no224 on the map below).

Churchbridge, 1838,

Churchbridge, 1838

The Victoria County History says that industry, in the form of William Gilpin’s mining and edge-tool works, was in full operation at Churchbridge by 1817. It is difficult to say what Churchbridge actually was before Gilpin’s works, but if the tithe-map is anything to go by there wasn’t much if you take Gilpin’s, its ancillary buildings and those buildings he owned out of the equation.

Currently (I am still researching) I think it is unlikely that there was any public house in the Churchbridge area prior to the arrival of Gilpin: if there was anything it was aimed at serving the turnpike road traffic on Watling St rather than it being along the Walsall Road going into Great Wyrley. A listing of public house licences around the late 18th century does survive at the Staffordshire Record Office, but these are listed by the holder of the licence and does not give locations or pub names.

The next industrial development was the arrival of the canal. By 1841 the Hatherton Canal had been built, which was a branch of the Staffordshire and Worcester Canal. It ran from Calf Heath, through Wedges Mills to a basin adjacent to Gilpin’s plant. Between 1858 and 1863 the Birmingham Canal Navigations built its last major branch to serve the collieries east of Cannock. It was called the Cannock Extension Canal and connected the Wyrley and Essington Canal at Pelsall to the railway system at the Hednesford Basin. It also connected with the Hatherton Canal via the Churchbridge Branch. The Churchbridge Branch consisted of a flight of thirteen locks that were built by 1860, but not officially used until 1863. They ran from the Rumer Hill Junction down to Churchbridge, where there was a wharf, before crossing underneath Watling Street to the 1841 basin. This branch serviced both the Gilpin’s factory and many of the local coal mines. It also ran straight past the newly constructed White Lion pub on Watling St.

The Hatherton Branch and the Churchbridge Branch had ceased to be used by 1953. As the Cannock Extension was still in operation, by 1958 a concrete barrier had been placed at the Rumer Hill Junction to prevent access to and loss of water through the first of the Churchbridge locks. By 1963 the Cannock Extension Canal was seriously affected by subsidence from the very coal mines it had served. The northern section, including the Rumer Hill Junction, was closed that year. The junction and the surrounding canal were later destroyed by subsequent open-cast coal mining and the building of the Orbital Retail Park. The southern section from the junction to the A5 was filled in and the road bridge dismantled around the same time. The basin that served the Gilpin’s was destroyed, along with parts of the Hatherton Canal, during the construction of the Birmingham Northern Relief Road (M6 Toll) around 2002.

Finally there was one other industry. O/S maps show that for a short while (1880-1900ish) a brick works stood adjacent to the canal wharf opposite to where the White Lion stood (now a Renault dealership).

The photograph below was taken in 1926 and gives you what could be the weird and wonderful landscape of another planet, but is in fact Gilpin’s Works at Churchbridge. It gives the realisation of just how much the area has changed. The loss of the local industry didn’t immediately sound the death-knell for the pubs – indeed, the Red Cow closed in 1891 – but it started the decline.

Aerial photo of the Gilpin Works and lock system. 1926. (English Heritage)

Aerial photo of the Gilpin Works and lock system. 1926.
(English Heritage)

The Red Cow
By 1838 there were two pubs and a brewhouse on the Walsall Road in Churchbridge, all of which can be linked to William Gilpin. Gilpin was no fool, he knew his earlier works at Wedges Mills and those at Churchbridge were large employers and he sought to reclaim his wages through brewing his own beer and selling it in pubs he owned. We know he brewed beer as the Pigot directory for 1842 lists the firm as William Gilpin Co (Brewers), Churchbridge and Wedges Mills. We know he owned the pubs and brewhouse, even if he did not operate them, as he is listed as such on the 1838 tithe schedule.

Gilpin's pubs and brewhouse, 1838.

Gilpin’s pubs and brewhouse, 1838. The Robin hood is operated by William Webb, the Red Cow by William Pershouse.

Red Cow in 1838 - no 194 on the tithe-map.

Red Cow in 1838 – no 194 on the tithe-map.

The first of the pubs was called the Red Cow and the name is perhaps the easiest to understand, even if the story of the actual red cow itself is long since lost. It is in effect an homage to his father, Thomas Gilpin. On 27th June 1913 the Lichfield Mercury carried a story on the 150th anniversary of Gilpin’s company. It stated that Thomas Gilpin, innkeeper and butcher, had run a pub of the same name in Dudley Street, Wolverhampton; indeed, William had started with a workshop at the rear of the pub.

I have currently not been able to locate any plans or photographs for the pub, other than the one above (which was after it was de-licensed). The pub was located pretty much on what is now the other side of Forge Close to the Robin Hood. The road of course was not there at the time and the two pubs were separated by a few cottages adjoining the Robin. The pub and yard were actually at the rear of a complex of buildings. In front of the pub and on the frontage of the road was a house occupied by the Poyners and a somewhat narrower brewhouse that was occupied in 1838 by Henry Hammond. Hammond also had the adjoining shop. By 1884, it appears that the house and brewhouse had been demolished leaving the pub set back from the road.

25" O/S map, 1884. It shows the Robin and the former Cow can be made out on the photo above.

25″ O/S map, 1884. It shows the Robin and the former Cow can be made out on the photo above.

The earliest reference to the name I can find is in Pigot’s directory of 1835 but we know the publican, William Henry Pursehouse (the spelling of the name changes constantly), did hold a licence in 1834. It is possible the pub had a different name prior to this, but due to the family connection with the name, I think it unlikely. The choosing of the Red Cow for this pub instead of for the Robin Hood may also be suggestive that this pub was seen as the more prestigious or simply the first. The pub was situated at the gates of the factory. Pursehouse held the pub in 1838, as shown above.

In 1841 the pub was being ran by the 40-year-old Purshouse and his 39-year old wife, Hanna (ages were rounded in the 1841 census). Purshouse was in fact listed as a tilter (uses a tilt-hammer) and so he likely worked at Gilpin’s. The family had several children that no doubt helped around the pub. Edwin and Elizabeth were both 15 . The other children were Louise (10), William Henry (9), John (8), Jonah (5) and Sarah (infant). Interestingly, there was also the 10-year old John Oakley, described as a male servant – meaning he was probably employed as a dogsbody – as of course there is no compulsory education in 1841. It is likely that as the enumerator collected this information the Gilpin’s basin and Hatherton Canal were being opened.

1841 census for the Red Cow, Churchbridge (National Archives)

1841 census for the Red Cow, Churchbridge (National Archives)

In 1851 we find that the Pursehouse couple were from the Black Country but had moved to Wyrley before they had children. Edwin and Elizabeth have left the pub, both having got married. Louisa is listed as ‘working at home’. John seems to have followed his father into Gilpin’s. Interestingly, the three youngest are listed as scholars, so William is paying for his children’s education, likely either in Wyrley or Cheslyn. There is also a ‘lodger’, indicating that the Red Cow did rooms.

1851 census for the Red Cow, Churchbridge (National Archives)

1851 census for the Red Cow, Churchbridge (National Archives)

The 1861 census coincides with the approximate opening of the Churchbridge locks, and likely the White Lion pub. William had lost Hannah  in 1859 and is now listed as a farmer as well as a publican. William Henry jnr. and Sarah are still living at home, but I suspect Jonah and possibly Louisa too had also died – although I would have to get the death certificates to be more sure. Caroline had married in 1860 and while she is absent, her husband is living with them, along with a farm hand, John Jakes.

1861 census for the Red Cow, Churchbridge (National Archives)

1861 census for the Red Cow, Churchbridge (National Archives)

William died in 1865 and was succeeded as publican by his son, William Henry jnr. William Henry jnr.  took over running the pub along with his wife, Elizabeth. Whether or not the Red Cow started as a beerhouse is unknown, but by 1872 it was operating as an alehouse – that is it could sell wines and spirits – which is shown by the earliest surviving Magistrate’s Licensing Register . It was always listed in the licensing registers as being under the ownership of Gilpin’s company.

1872 licence for the Red Cow, showing Gilpin as the owner.

1872 Alehouse licence for the Red Cow.

William Henry was to die in 1880, at the age of 50. The census of 1881 shows that Elizabeth was running the Red Cow with the help of two domestics, Emma Smith and Mary Bate. Sadly, Elizabeth died the same year, at the age of 45 and after a period with her executor, the pub licence was transferred in October 1881 to William’s brother, John Pursehouse.

1881, the transfer of licence to John Pursehouse.

1881, the transfer of licence to John Pursehouse.

John had married Eliza Hemminsley back in 1854 and the family had set-up in Cannock (on the Cannock Rd) by 1861. They had three children; Kate, Sarah Ann and Jane by this stage and taken in a lodger. By 1871 the family are in Bridgtown. Several more children are born; Ann, Caroline and John were born before a set of triplets on the 28th June 1869. The event attracted the Birmingham Daily Post, which celebrated the fact the three girls had been born alive. It went on to say ‘one died soon after but the other two and the mother were doing well’. Sadly, Lucy and Emily were to die within weeks. Consolation may have come in the form of Alice, born in 1871. Ernest and Flora followed on.

The census of March 1891 doesn’t list the name of the pub, nor John as being a publican, yet the pub had an operating licence.

1891 census for the Re Cow, Churchbridge (National Archives)

1891 census for the Red Cow, Churchbridge (National Archives)

The pub was refused a licence in August 1891 – so I assumed they must have applied for one and it still was an operating pub. A check of the Cannock Licensing Papers for that year made it all clear. On the 24th August 1891 Gilpin wrote to the Licensing Authorities…‘We have received from George Barratt police superintendent notice that it his intention to oppose the renewal of the licence on the grounds that we do not make use of it, we write to inform you that it is not our intention to apply for a renewal’

Gilpin writes to the Licensing Authorities to say he wont contest the decision, 24 Aug 1891.

Gilpin writes to the Licensing Authorities to say he wont contest the decision, 24 Aug 1891.

After closure it appears to have been turned into a house, occupied by John Pursehouse and his family.  From the start of the licensing registers to the point of closure, non of the Pursehouses had been fined for any transgression of the licensing laws – darn boring if you ask me 🙂 . John Pursehouse appears to have died in 1900, living long enough to bury Ernest, who died in 1898 aged just 22.

Looking at the later OS maps, it would appear that the property may have been sub-divided to create more than one house. The old pub had been demolished by the 1960s and new housing built.

This pub history is one more based on the occupiers of the pub than the pub itself as there are no plans, photographs or operational records for it. Saying that,  it seems to me that the pub was a planned ancillary to the Gilpin works, a possibly earlier than the Robin Hood based on the name alone. In the early days Gilpin even brewed the beer, according to the directories. One family ran the pub from the 1830s until its closure – all of the publicans being employed in the metal trade as well as behind the bar – and all were squeaky clean it seems. I can see no reason why the building of the canal basin, Churchbridge locks or the White Lion would be detrimental to the pub, so I can only surmise that Gilpin’s themselves took the decision that the pub was not viable with the Robin Hood so close by. John Pursehouse had operated the pub for 10 years, so it wasn’t as if he simply wanted to get rid of it when he took it on after the premature death of his brother and his wife. With the licence refused (or not sought) – there was no option but to demolish or convert the pub into housing, which is what happened.

As ever – a big thanks to:
The Staffordshire Record Office
The Lichfield Record Office
The National Archives
English Heritage
Ordnance Survey

without their permission to use the material, this would be a lot blander!

  1. Gary Smith says:

    What a piece, commendable keep it up

  2. Brian says:

    Brilliant !!! Coincidentally the Poyners you mention are some of my ancestors

  3. tonykulik says:

    Cracking – another of your interesting and very informative historical investigations – thanks

  4. Bob Burgess says:

    Hi many thanks for this info on W Gilpin Snr & Co – very useful when tracking the history of the company – do you have other images of the works??

  5. Helen Ralphs says:

    In 1871 Ann Ellis was employed as a domestic servant at the Red Cow. In 1872 she married George Greensill. He purchased the Swan Inn in 1884 when his sister, Elizabeth Cooper, was landlady. She died in 1891 so George, Ann and family moved into the Swan until 1901 when it was sold following their deaths.

  6. Val White says:

    Anyone interested in Churchbridge and Bridgtown should come to Bridgtown history society. Tonight Wednesday the 19th August it will be held at Bridgtown School it starts at 7 o’clock.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s