The Lost Pubs Of Great Wyrley

Nationally, pub closures are currently a huge issue in the industry. There are many reasons for this, but many blame the smoking ban, supermarket competition and a changing clientele base (loss of industries and manufacturing traditionally associated with a drinking culture). All of this is true and goes back decades, but my personal opinion is that it was exacerbated when the government opened the door to the pub owning companies that have been all to willing to sell them off for real estate, fleece tenants on rents, inflate beer prices and, finally, turn them into stereo-types claiming that is what we want. Rant over.

Anyhow, pubs have always come and gone (see my general article on pub history of the area) as this article will show. These scribbles will look at the three pubs that we know of that were in the Great Wyrley area that and have now closed. Two of these pubs, the Old Engine and the Bird-in-Hand, go back into the mists of time and little survives about them, which makes it difficult; strangely the third, the Davy Lamp, is perhaps too recent and so, as yet, little is out there in the public domain.

Finally, and I suppose this is as good a place to mention this as any, a Samuel Bate was listed as a beer-house keeper in White’s 1834 directory. In 1838, the tithe plan shows that he owned and occupied a property on the corner of the Walsall Road and Jacobs Hall Lane, opposite where the Plant’s Buildings would spring-up. This house is in a prominent position and may have been a beer house for a short time; alternatively he may have occupied another premises that has long gone, or one of the other pubs to which he can’t be linked.

The Bird-in-Hand
The Bird was located on the Walsall Road, between the Swan pub and Norton Lane. Currently this building is a private house, called Charisma Cottage, but recently has been a property shop and before that, Bullock’s Newsagents. The date of origin is currently unknown, although it is described in 1869 as being an ‘old’ licensed house, but it does appear in the White’s directory of 1834 and later on the 1838 tithe map. We know in 1838 that time it was owned by Colonel Vernon.

Originally, I thought that the Bird was a beer-house opened sometime after the 1830 act; however, it doesn’t appear in the the 1834 or 1851 directories under the beer-house headings. This in fact suggests that is was an alehouse, a slightly plusher establishment which could sell wines and spirits as well as beers and ciders.

Back in the 1830s the Royal Oak wasn’t a pub, so the Bird competed against the Swan Inn for trade on the turnpike road through Wyrley. Wyrley was very much a dispersed community at that time, so I can’t believe that local custom would have kept all the pubs in the Wyrley and Churchbridge area going alone. The name is quite generic, but the fact that it may be a pun must not be ignored in that it could be a reference to the fact it could cope with the neighbouring (and therefore one assumes, older) Swan Inn!

The exact position is difficult to trace at first, as the Walsall Road has widened and the property boundaries have changed, but the building is very much still there. The Bird can be seen on the 1838 tithe map (click on the picture below – the Bird is the building between plots 447 and 448/449), where it is described as a public house. On the map it appears as a single, detached building simply because the neighbouring properties that are visible today were built much later.

Tithe Map (c1838) which shows the Bird-in-Hand (Lichfield Record Office)

Tithe map (c1838) which shows the Bird-in-Hand
(Lichfield Record Office)

The pub appears to have been a single, rectangular plain brick build, although the frontage of this is now hidden behind a cream rendered exterior that would have been significantly altered over the years. What can be seen is the earlier brickwork on the two chimneys (especially the blackened one) and the dog-tooth cornice showing some basic aesthetic consideration.

The Bird-In-Hand, showing later additions to the rear. The earlier brickwork can be seen on the blackened chimney . 2014.

The Bird-In-Hand, showing later additions to the rear. The earlier brickwork can be seen on the blackened chimney . 2014.

The best estimate I have is that the pub ceased trading sometime around the end of 1869. It appears in the Post Office directory for 1868 and the Birmingham Daily Post carried an advertisement on the 18 August 1869 announcing ‘A rare opportunity – to let, that first-class Old-licensed house “THE BIRD-IN-HAND”, Great Wyrley. Other engagements sole cause of leaving – Apply on the premises’. Its absence from both an 1870 directory and the 1871 census, along with no mention of it in the Cannock Licensing Registers that date from this time, suggest that it was not let and closed around that time.

Of course, we have no evidence as to why the pub closed other than the ‘other engagements’ of the last tenant. By this time the Royal Oak had open for business for nearly 20 years; indeed, the man that opened it was a former licensee of the Bird-in-Hand. Maybe he moved due to the cost of rent and decided to set-up himself. Whatever the reasons, it seems likely that the passing traffic was not sufficient to keep three pubs open especially as they were flanked by the three Churchbridge pubs one side and the Wheatsheaf and Star Inns on the other.

There are no plans of the building that survive and no photographs of the pub that I am aware of, but the development of the the building can be traced through the OS maps. The maps suggest that soon after the pub closed it appeared to have been converted into two cottages, although this may have its original arrangement (house and bar-room). By 1884, the cottage nearer to Norton Lane is extended at the back.

OS Map 1884, Showing the building that was the Bird

OS Map 1884, Showing the building that was the Bird (Staffordshire Record Office)

In 1901 the house next door, Moat View, was built. This doesn’t show on the 1902 OS Map, but the house has a date-stone. To the other side of the former pub is the caretaker’s house for the school. This was built at some point between 1902 and 1917. The building of these neighbouring properties resulted in a rearrangement of the property boundaries at the rear. This boundary was altered by 1938 to incorporate access from both buildings into the rear garden area. This is the arrangement today, although it is clearly now one building again.

Moat View, built in 1901. This cause a rearrangement of the property boundaries. 2014.

Moat View, built in 1901. This caused a rearrangement of the property boundaries. 2014.

We know from White’s directory of 1834 and the 1838 tithe map that the pub was occupied by William Edgerton. Edgerton was an edge tool grinder and originally from Darlaston. In 1841, the 40-year old Edgerton is still listed as the publican. He, along with Lydia his somewhat younger wife, had five children and the there were two 15 year-old servants. The family will be looked at more closely in the future article on the Royal Oak, as it was Edgerton that took on what was simply a cottage and turned it into a beer-house of that name at some point between 1841 and 1850.

1841 Census for Edgerton and the Bird-in-Hand. (National Archives)

1841 Census for Edgerton and the Bird-in-Hand.
(National Archives)

In 1850 a Thomas Mason is listed as the publican. In the 1851 census, Thomas Devey was listed as the licensed victualler. The 38 year-old Devey (he may actually have been somewhat older) lived with his 33 year-old wife, Jane. There were no children, but there is a 65 year-old lodger, Thomas Brown. Brown is a widower and a gardener. Devey was originally from Shareshill. In 1841 he was working as an agricultural labourer for maltster William Hobday, who lived at Great Saredon. Interestingly, this is where Devey met his future wife, as she was Hobday’s domestic servant. The couple married in October 1849 and may have took on the Bird at that time.

1851 Census for the Bird and Thomas Devey (National Archives)

1851 Census for the Bird and Thomas Devey
(National Archives)

Sadly, I have strong suspicions that Devey was dead within a few years (although i would need the death certificate to prove it). It is unclear as to who followed Devey and when. White’s Directory of 1860 lists a Charles Wood as keeper of the Bird-in-Hand, but there is a little confusion over this as they locate the pub in Cannock.

On the 1861 census, the Bird is likely run by a James Lowe. The name of the pub isn’t given but Lowe and his wife, Sarah, are described as a licensed victuallers and are in close proximity to the Swan Inn. Both are 60 years-old. Both were described as being from Walsall, but 10 years previously they were living on Bristol St in Birmingham, where Lowe was a stirrup-maker. Again, my suspicions are that Lowe died within a few years of the census.

1861 census for James Lowe, at the Bird-In-Hand (National Archives)

1861 census for James Lowe, at the Bird-In-Hand (National Archives)

The last ‘official’ entry for the pub is in the Post Office directory for 1868, when a James Brittain was tenant. He cannot be traced with certainty. It is possible that he was the tenant that placed the advert in the Birmingham Post in August 1869.

The Old Engine
We have the local historian EJ Homeshaw to thank for supplying the name to the location of this pub when he states in the 1950s pamphlet history of the village that ‘Wharwell Farm was later converted to an inn called The Old Engine’. I can find no other reference to the name of the pub, but there is clear evidence that the farm was acting as a beer-house and that the occupant had a licence.

Wharwell Farm once operated as a beer-house called the Old Engine in the 1830s. 2014.

Wharwell Farm once operated as a beer-house called the Old Engine in the 1830s. 2014.

Wharwell Farm is located on Wharwell Lane, which back in the 1830s was an irregular track; indeed, the organic growth of the lane, especially around the Harrison’s Club area, is reflected in the present layout of the housing. The lane wasn’t really tamed until 1915, when its flooding issues were finally resolved.

Back in the 1830s this farm was pretty isolated (click map below to enlarge, the Old Engine is number 640 – the Wheatsheaf can also be seen (647) and yes, it was a pub at this stage). The map shows that there were just a couple of properties on Wharwell Lane, one at either end. The farm was then, as it appears today, a two-phase building. The age of the farm isn’t clear, as it is not listed and gets no mention in the Victoria County History, but local folklore talks of it as being around for centuries and it clearly is the oldest property on the lane and well predates the 1830s map.

Wharwell Farm. 2014.

Wharwell Farm. 2014.

There is little evidence available, but what there is suggests that sometime between the passing of the 1830 Beer Act and 1834, when his name appears in White’s directory as a beer-house keeper, Samuel Farnhill (Farnell) paid his 2 guineas and got a licence to sell beers and ciders. In 1838 the tithe schedule lists the property as a public house, with the owner of Wharwell Farm being Henry Hordern; however, Samuel Farnhill is the occupant and rents the farm, stable, garden, rickyard and 8 acres of land behind it.

1838 tithe map for Wharwell Farm, then the Old Engine. (Lichfield Record Office)

1838 tithe map for Wharwell Farm, then the Old Engine.
(Lichfield Record Office)

The property is not discernible in the 1841 census, but there is a Samuel Farnell listed in Great Wyrley. According to this census, Farnell was born around 1796 in Staffordshire. Married to Elizabeth, he was described as an engineer. The couple had six children living at home; Mary and John at around 20 years of age, Charles at 18, Richard at 15, Sarah at 14 and Peter at 9. There is nobody else at the property. At first glance this seems to be nothing at all to do with Wharwell Farm or the Old Engine, as Farnell is described as neither a farmer or a publican, but I wouldn’t so readily dismiss it. The fact that Samuel is an engineer is inescapable: I cannot believe that this is not relevant both to the name of the public house and to its origins.

1841 census for Gt Wyrley, showing Samuel Farnell (National Archives)

1841 census for Gt Wyrley, showing Samuel Farnell
(National Archives)

If we look at the 1851 census, which is more informative that the last census, a Samuel Farnell suddenly appears at Wharwell House (note, it is not called the Old Engine or Wharwell Farm). It is the same Samuel Farnell, it now being stated that he was born in Essington in 1795 (the ages were rounded on the 1841 census). Elizabeth had died a few years previously, but according to the census, Samuel had remarried; although I cannot locate a marriage certificate for his marriage to Harriet. Charles, his son, is also listed as an engineer. All the other children had left, except a new arrival, tellingly named Elizabeth.

Farnell is not listed in White’s 1851 directory as being a beer-house keeper. I suggest, with such a small household, it is likely that the Old Engine has already ceased trading.

1851 census for Wharwell Farm and Samuel Farnell (National Archives)

1851 census for Wharwell Farm and Samuel Farnell
(National Archives)

Another thing that is interesting about the 1851 census is that a branch of the Altree family, who later take on Wharwell Farm, are in possession of the neighbouring Star Inn, where Samuel’s son, Peter, is residing as a lodger. Peter is also described as an ‘engine worker’, but it is possible that he is working in the Inn too, especially has he would have gained some experience while at the Old Engine. It may possibly be a joint venture between the Altrees and the Farnells.

As an aside, another of Samuel Farnell’s sons, John, would be the victim of a murder (or manslaughter) in September 1870. John Farnell, then 48, was working as the superintendent engineer for the Wyrley & Cannock Colliery Company and had been doing so for two years. Farnell got into an altercation with James Alsop, one of the boilermen in his charge.  It isn’t clear what this was about, but seems likely that it was regarding his time-keeping. Farnell kicked Alsop and blows were exchanged. Alsop then pulled a pistol on Farnell and shot him. There had been a history of disputes between the men over Alsop’s work and his timing. Richard Farnell witnessed the incident. Alsop was sentenced later that year to 10 years in prison.

On the 1884 OS map, the property appears as Wharwell Farm.  The Old Engine never appears in any directory or licensing register, nor do any of the residents of the property other than in the 1834 directory and 1838 tithe schedule.  My view is that the farm was also used as a beer-house some time after 1830, while Farnell was the occupier. He named it the Old Engine, after his trade. However, I don’t think the venture lasted that long, to me it is likely well gone by 1851. The property is away from the main road route (and the railway) and maybe, considering the Wheatsheaf is near opposite Wharwell Lane, that pub was more accessible and cornered the trade.

OS map, 1884 for Wharwell Farm. (Staffordshire Record Office)

OS map, 1884 for Wharwell Farm.
(Staffordshire Record Office)

The Davy Lamp
The pub took Wyrley’s mining past and Sir Humphrey Davy, the inventor of the miner’s safety lamp, as the inspiration for its name. This isn’t really surprising as the pub is situated on Wardles Lane (which is a part of the Quinton estate and is within the Quinton Shopping Centre). The estate (and shopping centre) took their name from Charles Quinton. In 1838, Quinton owned the land between what is now Hilton Lane and Wardles Lane. Quinton’s 11 acres of agricultural arable and pasture had been leased to Edward Sayer a few years before and he had then secured mining rights from the Duke of Sutherland. The colliery finally closed in 1908, but a number of coal shafts were left in the landscape. Quinton was not the only landowner, another being Phineas Hussey. In 1838, he owned 8 acres of meadow, called Philip’s Meadow, on which the Quinton Shopping Centre and the Community Centre would eventually spring-up.

The Davy Lamp, when open.  (Great Wyrley Local History Society)

The Davy Lamp, as a pub.
(Great Wyrley Local History Society)

The pub opened on the 4 November 1966. It is typically 1960s, functional rather than aesthetically pleasing, looking like a big house with a lower level extension. It is interesting to note that with all the expansion of the village at this time, it was the only pub built to serve the new estates to the west of the village; it was also the only pub off the main Walsall Road.

The opening of the Pub, as reported in the Walsall Observer, November 1966.

The opening of the Pub, as reported in the Walsall Observer, November 1966.

When first opened it was owned by Bass, Mitchell & Butlers and the first licensee was William Slide, with his wife Dorothy. Bill was formerly the licensee of the Royal Oak in Cannock and was a member of the Royal Naval Association; hence his support for the Llandudno based lifeboat and the RNLI. The couple raised money for the local Health Centre and were well respected in the community. Bill and Dot remained the landlords for the 22 years, until their retirement.

The pub under Bill and Dot was managed, but afterwards it was tenanted. In the 90s the pub was sold to a private company. Bill Barham and Margaret Lomas, from the village, kept it towards the end, but a succession of tenants (licensing registers for this period are not available) and a fall in customer numbers would see the pub fall into decline and in February 2010 last orders were called. By the end of its life the pub served the basic keg range and was looking tired. The building is still clearly a former pub, indeed the signs remain, but it has been converted into a Bargain Booze outlet. This shop opened for trading on in October 2011.

The original entrance is now blocked and the bar-room has had its windows covered by advertising boards. There used to be a few old benches out the front, but these, along with the tree, have now gone. Nice to see the old rockery is still there.

Davy Lamp as a Bargain Booze - the signage is still up. 2014.

Davy Lamp as a Bargain Booze – the signs are still up. 2014.

The front door took you into a vestibule are that was decorated with a mural of a miner and the Davy lamp. The toilets were off to the left and a large lounge was in front, originally named after the Quinton Colliery. The lounge was hardly ever used when I played for the footy team after I announced my international retirement 🙂  (c2005-ish); usually it only opened for parties and special occasions. To the right was the bar-room, where everything went on. This had a darting area separated by wood and glass partitions and, by the 1990s, a pool table stood in the middle of the room.

The former pub from the rear, showing the lounge area with the bowed windows. 2014.

The former pub from the rear, showing the lounge area with a bow window. 2014.

The pub had a flat above. Originally there was an outdoor too, although I never saw this open. The outdoor was accessed from the side and had, at one point, I believe even become a tea-room. Some of the space was eventually used by the last tenant, who knocked through from the bar-room and installed some gaming machines.

The frontage of the shop, which was the old out-door. The entrance to the flat can be seen. 2014.

The frontage of the shop, which was the old out-door. The entrance to the flat can just be seen. 2014.

When it opened the Davy Lamp was extremely popular it appears. I have often been told that ‘you could hardly move’. The real core point of this pub is that it was the only one built during the all the housing expansions of the 60s, yet despite this, it was the first to close in the modern period.

Davy Lamp in the mid-1980s. (Stuart Attwood)

The Davy Lamp, possibly in the early 1980s and showing the old outdoor.
(Stuart Attwood)

As ever, My thanks to:
Lichfield Record Office
Staffordshire Record Office
Walsall Local History Centre
National Archives
Great Wyrley Local History Society
Stuart Attwood
Ordnance Survey

  1. Brian Holmes says:

    Another great article,never knew there had been a pub in Wharwell Lane,remember very well going in the Davy Lamp on opening night

  2. says:

    The Davy Lamp, in the lounge was a large framed photograph of someone holding a Safety Lamp and looking into a boiler, the inscription said it was one of the boilers on H.M.S. Hood in 1940.

    That someone was me and I was born in 1947.

    The photograph was taken about 1982/3 at H.M.S. Sultan in Gosport, Hampshire, the Naval Engineering Training Establishment.

    The picture was presented to the Royal Naval Association, that was using the premises for their meetings at the time

    The boiler was actually out of H.M.S. Exmouth a Blackwood class Frigate, she was converted to a trials ship for gas turbines.

    I was a Petty Officer Marine Engineering Mechanic, awaiting release from the Navy and operated the boiler as and when required.

    Have you any idea what happened to the picture?

    John Walker

  3. Cliff Archbold says:

    Very intresting read Stuart,my mother worked there for years for Bill and Dorothy.When my mom worked dinnertime shifts she used to park me in my pram in the outdoor as there used to be beer pulls on the outdoor bar.Sad to see the old place shut.

  4. Chris Slide says:

    I’m sorry, but the outdoor at the Davy Lamp never had beer pulls in the outdoor.

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