The White Lion

Position in the Landscape: 1838 – 1973  
This history of the White Lion is the last of a trilogy covering the C19th pubs of Churchbridge. The White Lion was the new kid on the block when compared with the Robin Hood and the Red Cow, both of which likely appeared swiftly after Gilpin’s works was established by 1817. Those pubs can be traced at least to the 1830s, whereas the White Lion, equally a product of industrialisation, can only be traced to 1861. While the White Lion may have been in Churchbridge, its closest neighbour was the Anglesey Arms (now the Stumble Inn) in Bridgtown.

Churchbridge, 1838,

Churchbridge on the 1838 Tithe Map (Lichfield Record Office)

The White Lion was nestled within the forked junction of Watling Street and Walsall Road, Churchbridge. 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. The 1838 Cannock tithe-map shows that at that time there was nothing on the site of the White Lion pub.

1838 tithe-map for Cannock showing the 'empty' junction of Watling St and Walsall Rd (Lichfield Record Office)

1838 tithe-map for Cannock showing the ’empty’ junction of Watling St and Walsall Rd
(Lichfield Record Office)

This was to change over the next 20 years, mainly due to criss-crossing of Churchbridge by new railway and canal links. It was the arrival of the canal links that, I suggest, was responsible for the building of the pub. The first transport development was the arrival of the Hatherton Canal in 1841, 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.

The next development was the arrival of the railway (although there was no station in Churchbridge itself), which cut a swathe through the area between 1854 and 1858 (from the passing of the Act to the opening of the line). Whatever the borders were before, from this point the area of Watling St, to the south of the bridge, seems to have become a part of Churchbridge and the area enclosed by Watling St and Walsall Rd, to the north of the bridge, would see the future development of Bridgtown.

Finally, 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, which consisted of a flight of thirteen locks. 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.

A view down the Churchbridge locks to the White Lion, showing the proximity. Undated. (Gt Wyrley Local History Society)

A view down the Churchbridge locks to the White Lion, showing the proximity. Undated.
(Gt Wyrley Local History Society)

Into this melee of railways and canals the White Lion was to appear. It is possible that the land on which the pub was built upon was sold by Thomas Gripton in August 1859, as an advert appears in the Birmingham Journal. Gripton operated the Foundry Inn in Wedges Mills. The pub, we know, is represented in both the 1861 census and Harrison, Harrod & Co’s 1861 Directory and Gazetteer of Staffordshire (via its occupier). For it to be in both, the pub had to have been planned some years before, so it may not have been Gripton’s land. It was to be sited within the fork of the roads, as previously mentioned, which was also right opposite a wharf on one side and the basin on the other. The boat and road traffic were seemingly the target clientele, along with the Gilpin’s plant.

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

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

When built, the pub was named the White Lion. The white lion, when talking pub names, tends to be seen as a reference to the royal heraldry of King Edward IV (d 1483) and a symbolism of loyalty (like the Crown for example). I would doubt that by 1860 the name would have such a connotation and I can only suggest that it was picked as a more generic name.

By the time of the first 25″ OS map was printed in 1884, the pub found itself with houses running between it and the railway bridges on both Watling St and the Walsall Road. These were, in fact, built around the same time as the pub. Just off the map (where Bridgtown is printed, adjacent to the canal wharf which is not coloured blue), between c1880 and c1910, a brick works stood. The canal wharf was opposite to where the White Lion stood (now roughly the site of the Renault dealership). The basin is over the road.

1884 25" OS Map, showing the White Lion, surrounding houses, the canal system and the road network. (Staffordshire Record Office)

1884 25″ OS Map, showing the White Lion, surrounding houses, the canal system and the road network.
(Staffordshire Record Office)

Except for the loss of the brick works the landscape in which the White Lion sat changed little, other than it would be passed by motor traffic rather than horses, until the OS Map for 1938 showed that the house and outbuildings immediately behind the pub on Watling St had disappeared. This left the pub slightly aloof. Trade from the canals had been dwindling even before the canals had been nationalised along with the railways in 1948. 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. The 1957 map showed that open-cast mining had commenced on what is now the Orbital Retail Park site.

25" OS Map for 1957, showing the house behind the pub had been demolished - over the road (Orbital site), the open cast mining had  commenced. (Staffordshire Record Office)

25″ OS Map for 1957, showing the house behind the pub had been demolished – over the road (Orbital site), the open cast mining had commenced.
(Staffordshire Record Office)

By 1962, the OS maps show that the houses to the rear of the pub, on both roads, had been demolished.

The White Lion, likely in the mid-1950s, as its an Ind Coope & Allsopp house and the houses are clearly behind the pub. (Bridgtown Local History Society)

The White Lion, likely in the mid-1950s, as its an Ind Coope & Allsopp house and the houses are clearly behind the pub.
(Bridgtown Local History Society)

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.

Aerial photograph from 1961, showing the extent of the mining and the loss of the neighbouring houses. (Staffordshire Record Office)

Aerial photograph from 1971, showing the pub in the centre and the extent of the mining and the loss of the houses.
(Staffordshire Record Office)

Progress had now divorced the White Lion from its industrial clientele and its neighbouring houses; physically separated from Bridgtown by the railway bridges (the southern end being serviced by the Anglesey Arms, anyway), the pub offered little but vistas of Gilpin’s and open-cast mining. It is little wonder that the pub closed ‘several years’ before its demolition, according to the Cannock Advertiser. It was lost a few days before 12 April 1973, to allow better visibility at the road junction. It was also mooted in the Advertiser that the site could play a part in access for the planned ‘Merrie England’ scheme (I recommend reading John Devey’s excellent little ‘Churchbridge’ book on this and Churchbridge in general, it is available from Bridgtown Local History Society).

The Cannock Advertiser can't resist showing a bit of leg (well, Lesley Cooper's legs) as the White Lion comes down. 12 April 1973 (Cannock Library)

As the White Lion tumbles, the Cannock Advertiser can’t resist showing a bit of leg (well, Lesley Cooper’s legs). 12 April 1973
(Cannock Library)

And so the pub passed into memory. Funny, I thought I remembered seeing it, but to be honest, there isn’t a cat in hell’s chance I did – I had just moved to Brum at the time. The aerial photo from 1981 shows the gap the pub left. The site would eventually be lost under the massive traffic island that frustrates many of us today, as yet another needed retail park is constructed.

The White Lion, laid to rest in 1973. A more healed landscape existed in 1981. (Staffordshire Record Office) (

The White Lion, laid to rest in 1973. A more healed landscape existed in 1981.
(Staffordshire Record Office)

Ownership of the White Lion
The history of the ownership of the White Lion follows a familiar path: in that it is owned, or leased, by private individuals, who eventually sell to a small brewery chains, which in turn get subsumed by larger breweries chains. The individual owners will be covered in more detail in the section on the publicans.

As stated, it is possible that the land on which the pub was built upon was sold by Thomas Gripton in August 1859, as an advert appears in the Birmingham Journal at this time. The description of the parcels of land he is selling does encompass land between Watling St and Walsall Rd. It seems likely that White Lion was established by a Mr H Farrington around 1860; if it was on Gripton’s former land, it was a quick development, as 10 houses were also built.

Therefore the first publican, Joseph Chamberlain, would have leased the pub, rather than owning it. Chamberlain, like many Victorian publicans, had more than one occupation. We know by 1867 that the lease had been taken-up by a Robert Wainwright; however, we also know that Farrington sold the pub and surrounding houses in February 1867. The licensing registers date from 1872 and have Wainwright as the owner, so Farrington may have sold it to him.

Wainwright held onto the pub until around 1877, when it was purchased by Stephen Stokes. Stokes had also acquired the White Lion in Old Fallows, Cannock. This pub still exists and stands on the corner of Stafford Rd and Cemetery Rd, Cannock. Stokes held onto the ownership of both pubs until August 1889. He sold the Old Fallows pub to Alfred Slater and our White Lion to the Showell’s Brewery.

Originally established by Walter Showell in Simpson Street, the Oldbury brewer had been successful enough to buy some land at Crosswells Spring, Langley, where he built a larger brewery in 1870. Further expansion would take place, with the acquisition of the Hockley Brewery in 1890 and a number of Birmingham pubs in 1894. The company relocated its offices to Great Charles St, Birmingham.

The changing ownership of the White Lion from Showell's, via Allsopp's and Ind Coope, to Ansells (Staffordshire Record Office)

The changing ownership of the White Lion from Showell’s, via Allsopp’s and Ind Coope, to Ansells
(Staffordshire Record Office)

Showell’s started to over-reach themselves and expansion in the London and Stockport areas only ended in failure. In 1914, Showell’s was sold to Allsopp’s Brewery in Burton-on-Trent. The brewery was closed and the 194 pubs, the White Lion included, began to stock Allsopp’s ales. While Showell’s was closed in 1914 the name was retained, as the licensing registers show that White Lion was still operated by them until 1935. Allsopp’s may have took over Showell’s in 1914, but they themselves had gone belly-up the year before, so it may have been a way of protecting some of the pubs should a similar thing happen again. In 1935 the company merged with Ind Coope to form Ind Coope & Allsopp Ltd. The White Lion was leased to this new company that year.

The White Lion, likely as it would have looked between 1914-1935, as it is selling Allsopp's Ales (Bridgtown Local History Society)

The White Lion, likely as it would have looked between 1914-1935, as it is selling Allsopp’s Ales
(Bridgtown Local History Society)

In 1959 the Allsopp name disappeared from the company’s products and the White Lion was formally taken over by Ind Coope (East Mids Ltd), Derby. Ind Coope would eventually merge with several other breweries to form Allied Breweries, one of which would be Ansells. The White Lion would become an Ansells house on Halloween, 1963. This is the last change recorded in the registers.

The White Lion in the 1960s, selling Double Diamond (Gt Wyrley Local History Society)

The White Lion in the 1960s, advertising Ind Coope’s Double Diamond. The neighbouring houses have been demolished.
(Gt Wyrley Local History Society)

The Publicans, 1861-1966
As stated, the first evidence I have for the White Lion is the census and trade directory for 1861. We know by 1872 it is trading on an alehouse licence; it trades on this through until 1966, suggesting it did from opening. An alehouse licence was a little more classier than a beerhouse licence, which mean’t that the publican could only sell beers and ciders on the premises. An alehouse could also sell wines or spirits.

The first publican we can trace, Joseph Chamberlain, was likely a leasing it. The Derbyshire man doesn’t list his occupation as a victualler, but like many publicans of the day, he has an alternative profession. Chamberlain was 32 in 1861; Ann, his wife, was 27. They met in Wolverhampton, where Joseph was lodging with the family 10 years before. Interestingly, Ann’s father was a builder and publican at Wadham’s Hill (now lost under the Wolverhampton ring-road); Joseph was a bricklayer.

By 1861, Joseph was a master bricklayer, employing two other bricklayers, three labourers and a boy. It isn’t clear if the business operated from the pub, started the brickworks over the road, or had premises elsewhere. In 1861, the Chamberlains had Joseph’s nephew and Ann’s sister stopping with them; there was also a Wyrley girl, Sarah Savage, employed as domestic help. One assumes that Charles Mallin, being a bricklayer, is employed by Chamberlain. Whatever was the reason, the Chamberlains did not stay long: they had left by the time the pub had been placed up for sale in 1867 (originally advertised in December 1866). By 1871 the Chamberlains, with Joseph simply described as a bricklayer, are living in Tower Hamlets, London.

Joseph Camberlain and the White Lion in 1861 (National Archives)

Joseph Chamberlain and the White Lion in 1861
(National Archives)

Chamberlain’s successor was Robert Wainwright. Wainwright was born around 1819 in Sedgley. He married Mary Ann Edwards, a year his junior, in Birmingham in 1840. By 1841 they were in Salop Row, Bilston. Wainwright had a variety of jobs, the latest prior to the pub, as far as we can tell, was as a colliery clerk. He was in the pub in 1867, leasing it from Farrington. As he is listed as the owner in 1872, he may have purchased the pub in 1867.

In 1871, he is described just as a licensed victualler. His 21 year-old nephew, John, himself a colliery clerk, is residing with them. There are also two ladies offering domestic help: Elizabeth Griffiths, 21 and from Wolverhampton, was the barmaid and Sarah Warrilow, a 15 year-old Bloxwegian, was a general domestic.

The un-named White Lion in 1871, owned and occupied by Robert Wainwright (National Archives)

The un-named White Lion in 1871, owned and occupied by Robert Wainwright
(National Archives)

Robert Wainwright may well have retired in 1877 and he certainly died in 1880. Stephen Stokes became the owner and from the 22 October that year, John Wainwright became the licensee. Wainwright married the aforementioned Elizabeth Griffiths the same year. Wainwright would return to the pub, but his first tenure ended on 11 August 1879, when John Griffiths became the licensee. Without buying certificates, it is difficult to tell if John and Elizabeth Griffiths, or indeed John Griffiths and John Wainwright were connected – and I am too mean 🙂  – but later evidence suggests they were. The Wainwrights were to move a few doors along Watling St, in fact, next door to Robert’s widow, Mary Ann Wainwright.

Originally from Wolverhampton, John Griffiths was 31 in 1881; his wife, also Elizabeth and also from Wolverhampton, was 40. Griffiths described himself as a publican, as he worked for Stokes. It is possible that he had another trade, too. The couple had not long had a child, Vincent James. The couple also employed two sisters Ellen (16) and Caroline Cresswell (22), who were originally from Willenhall, as domestic and nursing help. Griffiths wasn’t destined for much immediate happiness, mind. The couple had left the pub in 1882, moving to Keighley, Yorkshire. Vincent died in 1886 and by 1891, Elizabeth was dead. We know this, as in 1891, John turns-up in his native Wolverhampton running a pub (un-named); he is a widower at 41 and two ‘Wainwrights’ are employed as a barmaid and domestic house-keeper, surely too much of a coincidence.

The White Lion in 1881, under John Griffiths. (National Archives)

The White Lion in 1881, under John Griffiths.
(National Archives)

On 27 March 1882 the pub was licenced to a Thomas Smith, although Stokes remained as the owner. According to the licensing register, John Wainwright returned to the pub as licensee on 16 June 1884, yet he appears as so in the Lichfield Mercury of 16 May that year. PC Hodgetts had discovered John Evans (ironmonger) and Joe Richards (boatman) drunk and asleep at the White Lion. Evans claimed he was not drunk, but tired owing to a 36-hour shift – uh huh – both were found guilty and fined 😦 . Wainwright could not be linked with supplying the drink, so all charges were dropped against him.

Wainwright was involved with the law again in May 1886, but this time as a victim. Cyclist, Walter Bird, stole his gold watch guard. Bird, from Aston, called at the hotel at 11.20pm asking for a bed. No bed was made-up, but he was allowed to sleep on a settee in the sitting room. The following day the item was gone and Bird, when apprehended, pleaded guilty. He was fined £3.

Wainwright’s tenure was to be for nearly three years, he left on 1 May 1887. He moved to Brunswick Park Rd in Wednesbury. My suspicion is that he passed away in 1899. He would be succeeded on 2 May as the licensee by the owner, Stephen B Stokes.

Stokes was born in Wednesbury, around 1830. He became a tallow chandler, but eventually moved to Cannock, where he had become a grocer by 1871. Stokes had married by this stage, Jane was around nine years his junior. Ten years later, after Stokes had took on the the two White Lions, he was living in Market Place, Cannock. Stokes had domestic help, but never seemed to have had children. He was described as an ale and porter merchant in 1881.

On 23 June 1888, Stoke’s pub would play its part in a tragic sequence of events that led to the death of a man, who was to remain unidentified even after at his inquest at the White Lion on the 25 June. The man ‘with the appearance of a joiner or bricklayer, and in search of work’, visited the George Inn in Cannock, where he sold his vest for 4d and partook in a pint of beer. He moved to the White Lion, where he sold his coat for 1/6d, before heading to the Royal Exchange in Bridgtown (Watling St/Cross St junction) where he sold his boots and remained until 9.15 pm. Two ladies from Cheslyn then saw the man at the canal side, where he discarded his hat and old coat and threw himself in. Mr Jellyman, from the Cannock Iron Foundry, attempted a rescue but the man was dead when recovered. He was removed to the White Lion, which was somewhat in-keeping with his last hours. A verdict of suicide was recorded. His clothes were put on display at Cannock police station in order to achieve an identification. Let’s hope someone missed him.

Stokes sold the pubs in 1889 and passed the licence onto James Faulkener on 9 June 1890. Stephen Bradley Stokes was still described as a wine and spirits agent in 1891, living at the same address as the previous census. He died in 1895. Faulkener stayed but briefly; on 13 October of the same year, Thomas Wright became the licensee.

Thomas Wright became the publican in October 1890. (National Archives)

Thomas Wright became the publican in October 1890.
(National Archives)

Wright stayed a little longer, but the swift changing of publicans was brought to a close on 25 April 1892. William Bird was to stay for 14 years. Bird had considerable experience as a publican, having been a publican since at least 1881. His former pubs included the New Inns on the Walsall Rd, Cannock. Bird saw the White Lion as a family affair: assisted by his wife, Sarah Ann, the Wyrley man also employed his daughter Edith (30 in 1901) and grand-daughter Lilly (14 in 1901) as barmaids. William Bird junior, a coal miner, also lived with them. The 18 year-old Maria was the domestic help.

The saddest event that Bird would preside over was a double inquest held at the White Lion in late October 1899. Two boatmen, Edward Bowdler (41 and from Wednesbury) and Charles Baker (from Bradley, Bilston) had been found drowned in the Churchbridge locks; it had been a foggy night previously and upon leaving the White Lion they had been advised not to walk back via the canal, but Leacroft Lane. Both bodies were removed to the White Lion – and a verdict accidental death was recorded.

Wyrley man, William Bird at the White Lion Hotel in 1901. (National Archives)

Wyrley man, William Bird at the White Lion Hotel in 1901.
(National Archives)

The pub would finally pass to Frederick Littler on 5 November 1906. Littler, a former timber worker from Bloxwich, was about 46 when he took on the White Lion. He had married Ruth (Lizzie)  Fellows in 1881, but I cannot track any children. Tragedy would strike when Littler died, aged 48, in December 1908. The licence was transferred to Ruth, who kept the pub for a short while.

Ruth passed the pub onto Arthur George Morris on a temporary licence, but this was revoked after Morris was charged on 8 November 1909 for selling intoxicating liquor to John Glover, a labourer from Leacroft Farm. Glover said he wan’t drunk before he went in, but alas, his wife testified against him – guilty was the verdict, but this was likely nothing compared to what he would get when he got home 🙂 . Morris would become the only White Lion landlord to fall foul of the licensing laws; he was fined £3 and order to pay £2 7s costs. The police lodged a complaint to get the White Lion delicenced in February 1910 over this incident, they failed.

The new publican was to be Phineas Clark. Clark, an edge tool maker, had also been a previous landlord of the Bridgtown Tavern. The 45 year-old, married to Selina Florence (nee Jones), took over on 13 December 1909. By 1911, the couple had three children: Daisy (23), Ernest (17) and Rose (13). Ernest was an edge tool grinder. Clark left the pub a few months after the census and, I believe, died in 1920. Selina lived until the age of 81, in 1948. Clark had at least one recorded unpleasant incident. In July 1911, Benjamin Smith, a Churchbridge man, was found guilty of being drunk, refusing to leave and assaulting a Charles Leech and Alfred Reed. I wonder if this is the same Benjamin Smith who was destined to be killed in WWI (and appears on the Wyrley and Chezzy monuments).

Phineas Clark at the White Lion, 1911 (National Archives)

Phineas Clark at the White Lion, 1911
(National Archives)

Without the census, the succession of landlords after this point becomes more a list. On 11 December 1911, Ernest Pearson took on the White Lion; he put in near ten years of service, to be followed on 27 June 1921 by Thomas Gore. Gore passed control onto William Rollason on 15 August 1927. The 1930s became a period of swift tenures: John Fereday became the licensee on 27 January 1930, but two years later he passed it to John Somerton. Karl Bradbury took it over on 25 November 1935, but was gone in February 1937 when John Bishop became licensee. Another stalwart, Walter Eden, would steady the ship; he took it over from 5 December 1938 until 6 October 1952.

The publicans, as listed by the licensing register, from Pearson to Bishop (Staffordshire Record Office)

The publicans, as listed by the licensing register, from Pearson to Bishop
(Staffordshire Record Office)

The next publicans, I suppose in hindsight, would really be presiding over the White Lions’s slow but inevitable death; The new publican, Clarence Dace, arrived at the White Lion just before the closure of the Churchbridge locks in 1953. He stayed until the 11 August 1958, when the pub was licenced to Jackson Walker. Dace moved to the New Inns in Cheslyn, which was ran by his family for over a generation. Walker passed the pub onto Thomas Pinches in June 1961, but he only lasted until February 1962, when Arthur Swann became the licensee. Swann flew after a similar period, leaving the last entry in the registers as Charles Grimoldby. Grimoldby’s tenure lasted from 1 Oct 1962 until at least 1966, when the last licensing register in the public domain (and open for inspection) ceases.

The Cannock Advertiser stated, on its demolition in 1973, that the pub had been vacant for several years; this may be so, but I believe Grimoldby applied for a gaming licence in 1971 (fruit machines etc) for the White Lion.

The White Lion before demolition, c1973 (Bridgtown Local History Society)

The White Lion before demolition, c1973
(Bridgtown Local History Society)

The White Lion: Frontage and Interior
While, unlike the Robin Hood, we do not have the ability to explore the pub anymore, we do have a couple of ‘snapshots’ of the pub over time: these are in the form of photographs, plans and newspaper accounts. The exterior does not appear to change over-time, apart from the rendering, signage and the blocking of the upper-front window. The pub has an interesting shape, as the photograph below shows.

The White Lion in Ind Coope & Allsopp's Livery, so prior to 1959(ish) (Bridgtown Local History Society)

The White Lion in Ind Coope & Allsopp’s Livery, so prior to 1959(ish)
(Bridgtown Local History Society)

To make use of as much space as possible, pubs located at the forks of roads are often near ‘V’-shaped or with a pub like the Five-Ways at Heath Hayes, flat-fronted but then extend in a ‘V’-shape. The White Lion, when incorporating the outbuildings, does appear to be ‘V’-shaped. Saying that, the pub element does have some aesthetic elements, such as an angled bay window for the ground frontage and a staggered-side to incorporate the entrance porch. OS maps and building plans suggest this is the original design and it was never altered.

A plan of the White Lion in 1902, showing its unusual shape. (Staffordshire Record Office)

A plan of the White Lion in 1902, showing its unusual shape.
(Staffordshire Record Office)

The first description of the interior of the pub comes from the sale advertisement in the Birmingham Journal. When Farrington sold the property in February 1867, he described the White Lion as a freehold old-licenced public house with six bedrooms. The ‘house’ consisted, at least in part, of a tap room, parlour, kitchen and large club room. In 1902, Hickton & Farmer, a Walsall firm, drew-up some plans for some minor alterations to this part of the pub: these were mainly for doorways, but also for the relocating of the serving bar. It isn’t clear as to how the 1867 description fits into the 1902 plan, after all, the club room could have been upstairs, but the echos of that arrangement must still be present.

A closer view of the 'pub' element at ground floor level. 1902. (Staffordshire Record Office)

A closer view of the ‘pub’ element at ground floor level. 1902.
(Staffordshire Record Office)

The angled bay-windowed frontage was in fact for the bar-room in 1902; it was served by a new door leading directly from the porch of the main front entrance. The new serving bar facilities split the irregular shaped bar room and the tap room, offering service points to both (a hatch to the tap room). The tap room was accessed from the hallway after the porch and from the lobby at the back (which had its own street access). The hall also offered access to the smoke room on the right; it was another irregular shaped room, where new seating was to be inserted replacing the old serving bar facilities. The hall also provided access to the back lobby, which had an egress into the yard, the stairs to the upper floors and a larder.

The interior of the White Lion in the 1950s (Bridgtown Local History Society)

The interior of the White Lion in the 1950s?
(Bridgtown Local History Society)

The exact difference between bar rooms, tap rooms, smoke rooms, snugs and lounges is a moot point; I am also sure, with internal alterations, the difference was lost over time. The photograph of the serving bar above may still be the same space as at 1902, but the counter is clearly curving. I can say little about the later internal arrangements as yet and I would love comments/memories from readers to that effect (here, or on the Facebook page – I can copy it onto this page).

In 1902, the kitchen is found extending into the yard (see outbuilding plan). This maybe the same kitchen described in the 1867 sale.

The plan is of course only for the ground floor – it must be remembered it had three floors. As regarding the ‘hotel’ element, we clearly know that the place was established as an inn: while inns traditionally offered hospitality, as in accommodation, this may not be the case by the 1860s. We know the property had 6 bedrooms, but it isn’t clear if these were all for guests or also for the publican, his family and possibly for live-in staff. I would suggest these were originally for guests, as there is a floor above for the family. We know, again, that the inn changed to a hotel at some stage, but this may simply be a status issue.

Other than in 1861 (and then only one visitor), I have not actually found any evidence of guests stopping in the pub. This may simply reflect the low up-take on rooms rather than no accommodation being offered. The pub consistently employs a ‘general domestic’ and one can only assume that any tidying of rooms would have been her responsibility. If we look at the Wainwright theft incident in 1886, the thief turned-up at 11.20 pm asking to stop, but as no bed was made-up (by this I assume it means ready to be occupied) he slept on the settee. The fact that no room was ready seems to indicate that the there was not a high turn-over of customers 😦

The White Lion: Outbuildings
As with the main building, our first description of the outbuildings of the pub comes from the sale advertisement in the Birmingham Journal. When Farrington sold the property in 1867, he described the outbuildings as consisting of yard, in which there were a ‘3 stall stable and saddle room, with loft over, a brewhouse, shed with loft, hard and soft water pumps, piggery and stable’.

The 1902 plans shows no piggery, but that the yard was accessed from two points: the first seems to directly via the Walsall Road, the second from a drive off the Walsall Road to the rear of the property.

A clockwise walk around the yard, if starting at the back of the pub, would first take you to the kitchen area. This is attached to a store room. The north range consists of an adjacent brewery. Now, this is described as a brewery, not a brewhouse (kitchen) and so gives the impression that the pub brewed its own beer. This may have once been so, but by 1902 the pub was operated by Showell’s and would be stocking their beers. I would suggest that this may simply be an anachronism and it is likely by 1902 just to be a buttery rather than a brewery.

The outbuildings in 1902. (Staffordshire Record Office)

The outbuildings in 1902.
(Staffordshire Record Office)

The next room is a cart-house, which has a wide entrance. The purpose of this building is self-explanatory. Next to this, there is a water closet (cleaned by water, rather than an earth closet, which would be emptied by night-soil workers) and an ash pit. After the gateway, there is a 2-stall stable, with a manure store one-side and, what is likely, a small blacksmith shop the other. Passing the second gate, the urinals can be seen adjoining the side of the pub.

The fate of these buildings is currently unclear; while they are on the 1917 OS Map, they have all gone by the 1938 OS Map. The kitchen is also demolished, so it must have been removed to the main building interior. A plan in the Staffordshire Record Office suggests they are still there in 1931 (I intend to view this plan on my next visit and update this paragraph). The buildings may have still been there in 1931, but they may have course changed in use. One assumes that the buildings were demolished in order to make space for cars.

The White Lion, it appears, was built within a year of 1860. It was part of a bigger development in a fast-changing industrial landscape. The pub followed a typical ownership path: individual owners, small brewery (Showell’s) then a large empire. (Allied Brewing). The loss of the industry, especially from the 1950s, started the decline and the pub, ‘abandoned for several years’ according the Cannock Advertiser, was lost in April 1973. The pub was spared the ripping out of its soul, which happened to many places in the 80s. Unlike the Red Cow, which was lost in 1891, this pub is still very much within local memory – so please, us this page to contribute to its story.

While this article is in memory of that unknown chap who felt he had no way out, it is dedicated to local historian, John Devey. I had the fortune to share a platform with John some years back and his enthusiasm for the subject was very clear. He has recently written a book on Churchbridge and I would recommend that people get a copy – via Bridgtown LHS (and a big thanks to them for letting me use their photos)

My thanks to:
The Staffordshire Record Office
The Lichfield Record Office
The National Archives
The Great Wyrley Local History Society

Cannock Library
John Devey and the Bridgtown Local History Society
Lesley Cooper’s Legs 🙂
John Griffiths (not the White Lion publican!) 
English Heritage
The Ordnance Survey

  1. I have only recently found this research and it’s a real gem!

    I have been looking for traces of the old canals in the area of the pub and this has been a great help. I have put a link to it from – I hope that it will point a few more people to what must be the result of a lot of hard work.

    I did spot one hiccup – the photo labelled
    “A view down the Churchbridge locks to the White Lion, showing the proximity. Undated.
    (Gt Wyrley Local History Society)” is actually looking up the locks (away from the pub). The lock gate is at the lower end of the lock and the side pounds being on the left show the orientation. The building in the distance is not the pub – it could be something at the Cannock Extension Canal junction or the pits just beyond.

    • wyrleyblog says:

      Thank you, David, both for readimg and pointing out the error, i will change it asap. The other Churchbridge pubs are also on the blog, red cow and robin hood, which also talk aboit relationship to gilpins and canal

      • derek pinchess says:

        I have only just seen this article.
        Thomas Pinchess (two ‘ss’) was my uncle, ie my father, Frederick ( the oldest, born in 1906) and his younger brother, Tom(Thomas), and quite a few other children inbetween, all from Leicester.
        Tom did many jobs, part time as a barman at the Champion pub, in Loughborough Road, Leicester, which I believe was an Ansells pub.
        the White Lion was his first pub as publican, he was there with my aunt Nellie, and their son John, who worked at Caterpillar in the office?
        they then moved to the Queen Victoria,near Jarrom Street, in Leicester, but uncle Tom died there behind the bar.
        Aunt Nellie then ran the pub for a short time, and then she bought a terrace house in Dundonald Road, Leicester.
        the pub was demolished for the new extensions for the Leicester Royal Infirmary.
        She and John have both died, John was born in 1941ish, died aged about 40.
        My father was in WW2 in the Royal Artillary, and I have evidence that he requested Tom to go in the same regiment.

        Derek J Pinchess

  2. Margaret S Bellanger says:

    My grandmother Agnes Teresa Mills Sheldon told my mother that she worked in the White Lion in Walsall and played the piano and served customers. This was where she met her future husband Charles Edwin Sheldon who frequented the establishment with his friend Alfred Harvey. She was born in October 1874 and said that her father owned the pub. I have no documents to verify this but only what she told me about her early life in Walsall. She moved to Manitoba then to Florida with her family.

    • wyrleyblog says:

      Hi Margaret, there were a few White Lions in Walsall, however, I know which one you are talking about and even visited it yesterday to take a picture for you. In fact, i thought i may do a little story on the history of the pub and Agnes and her father’s part im that – so keep an eye out in January for that!

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