The Pubs of Great Wyrley: The Royal Oak

Position in the Landscape
The Royal Oak sits on Norton Lane, Great Wyrley. Norton Lane is a historic route; likely once little more than a path through the medieval open-field system that sustained Wyrley, it now connects what is now called the A34 or Walsall Road with the A5 or Watling Street. Today, the Walsall Road and Norton Lane are all built-up, but like many of the ‘historic’ roads in Wyrley (as opposed to the new estate roads) they have grown organically over time, as we shall see.

The organic development of the Norton Lane/Walsall Rd junction. 2015.

The organic development of the Norton Lane/Walsall Rd junction. taken from the old Bird in Hand pub/Moat View House and showing the smithy and the Institute. 2015.

As far as the Oak is concerned, our story starts in 1838 with the Great Wyrley tithe map and award; the extract of that map covering the Walsall Road/Norton Lane junction can be seen below. The landscape into which the Royal Oak was born was altogether different than that of today. In 1838, Great Wyrley was a juxtaposition of the agricultural and the industrial; several farms were for example within spitting distance of the site of the pub, as too were a number of ‘old coal shafts’, a smithy and Gilpin’s works at Churchbridge.

The cluster of buildings on the map shows how, back in 1838, the junction of Norton lane and Walsall Road appeared to be the historic heart of what was in fact a dispersed community rather than a nucleated one. Norton Lane is not named on this part of the map, but the building that becomes the Royal Oak can be identified (number 451). It is evident from the map that the junction was splayed, which is why the buildings opposite the Royal Oak are at an angle to the current road.

Walsall Road/Norton Lane junction on the Tithe Map 1838.  (Lichfield Record Office)

Walsall Road/Norton Lane junction on the Tithe Map 1838. Remember to click on photo to enlarge.
(Lichfield Record Office)

The map shows at least two buildings that are important to our story are still present today: the Swan Inn (number 443) and what was then the Bird in Hand pub but is now Charisma Cottage (number 447). It is interesting to note that such a dispersed community could sustain three public houses in such close proximity; seven if you go from the top end of Wyrley to Churchbridge (Wheatsheaf, Star, Red Cow and the Robin Hood were all there in 1838 – not included is the Old Engine on Wharwell Lane)

Other buildings still with us are a part of the old smithy on the opposite corner of Norton Lane/Walsall Road to the Royal Oak and ‘The Beeches’ house further around the Walsall Road. It is also interesting to note that opposite Norton Lane can be seen the remains of the moat that gives Moat View house its name. Finally, if you walked up Norton Lane from the pub site in 1838, you would only encounter Old Manor Farm, which was located before you got to Love Lane.

The tithe schedule in 1838 shows that there was simply a vacant cottage and garden on the site of what is now the Royal Oak pub, as its owner, Arthur Hughes, had died. In their 1951 local history of Great Wyrley, Homeshaw and Sambrook state that a William Eggerton, who was an edge-tool maker and the publican at the neighbouring Bird in Hand, purchased this cottage on Norton Lane in 1842 from William Gilpin for the princely sum of £15.

Is this part of the original cottage on the tithe plan? 2015.

Is this part of the original cottage on the tithe plan? 2015.

With his beer retail experience Edgerton likely set-up his beer-house straight-away, but we know it was there by 1851 as it appears on the census. The ‘Royal Oak’ was the name chosen, although we can only be certain of this from 1871. It is a popular name, which immortalises the oak tree in which the later King Charles II hid at Boscobel House in order to avoid capture after his defeat at the battle of Worcester in September 1651. Originally, I believed that the Royal Oak was simply as generic a name as the neighbouring Swan and Bird in Hand, however, a local tale has the name coming from the trees that once lined Norton Lane – a romantic thought given some credence by the 1884 OS Map, which does show a tree-lined road.

We know that there was a growth in coal mining over the next few decades: the Victoria County history states ‘by 1860 the Wyrley New Colliery Company and by 1862 the Hatherton Colliery were in operation, and the Wyrley Cannock Colliery Company, which had started before 1872, was working some seven or eight shafts before it closed down in 1882. The Great Wyrley Colliery Company was in operation [from] at least 1872 and the South Cannock Colliery Company was working at Landywood in 1876’.

It appears that the Royal Oak’s closest competition, the Bird in Hand, 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.

Development suggests that by 1870 the Norton Lane/Walsall Road junction was no longer splayed, but as it is today. This was because Lt-Col Harrison had built his Great Wyrley Working Men’s Institute right on the corner and opened it that year. Further, the Great Wyrley Board School had opened on the Walsall Road in 1882 (now the Great Wyrley Day Centre).

We know that by around 1884 that the cottage had been extended massively both at the front and the rear. Development had also taken place both sides of the pub, as well as over the road. Further, Harrison’s pit opened in 1896, bringing more work into the ‘village’.

The 1884 25" OS Map, showing the Royal Oak (Staffordshire Record Office)

The 1884 25″ OS Map, showing the Royal Oak (underneath where it says ‘Smithy’)
(Staffordshire Record Office)

In September 1900, Thomas Yates, the then publican (not owner) went to the Penkridge Licensing Sessions with a request to move the licence for the Royal Oak to a grocer shop owned by William Henry Brookes, a building 25 yards away on the corner of the main road. William Roberts, whose Brewery owned the Swan, objected. Yates retorted that the capacity would not be increased and that it was 100 yards away from the Swan, but the application was turned down. What then followed was the rear extension to the pub, discussed later, which may well have been a contingency plan in case they failed to move premises. The 1902 OS Map doesn’t show the extension as it was surveyed before the work was undertaken, but it does show the buildings that the pub was hoping to remove the licence to on the actual corner.

The 1902 Map also shows there are allotment gardens opposite the pub. Currently I am unclear as to when these came into operation or who actually operated them, but Local Authorities were empowered under the 1887 Allotments Act to provide allotments if they so wished and to provide them statutorily from 1908 under the Small Holder’s Act.

The 1902 25" OS Map, Showing the Royal Oak. (Staffordshire Record Office)

The 1902 25″ OS Map, Showing the Royal Oak.
(Staffordshire Record Office)

In 1906 the Great Wyrley Board School was significantly enlarged, with the inclusion of a caretaker’s house. Moat View House appears on the 1917 OS Map for the first time, although it was in fact built in 1901; it appeared to act as the local Post Office. Next door, the cottage that appears on the photograph above is clearly discernible. Finally, the map also shows clear development along the Walsall Road heading towards Churchbridge.

1917 25" OS Map (Staffordshire Record Office)

1917 25″ OS Map, showing the new extended school.
(Staffordshire Record Office)

The post-WWI period saw another housing expansion, in line with the Addison Act 1919 and the Housing Acts of 1924 and 1930. We can see that by 1938 significant housing had been added to the landscape, increasing the pubs clientele base. The housing appeared opposite Norton Lane and along the both sides of the Lane near the pub. The old allotments were the a casualty, the only land remaining becoming the car park. The shops next to the pub were seemingly remodelled.  The increasing population was demonstrated by the building of the High School, which opened in 1941.

1938 25" OS Map (Staffordshire Record Office)

1938 25″ OS Map
(Staffordshire Record Office)

The Second World War saw housing development stop of course, but it picked-up again after. By the early 1960s the housing along Norton Lane was pretty much as it is today, with Manor Avenue and Love Lane not only laid out, but fully built-up. The estate on the north side of Norton Lane followed swiftly, including Thomas More RC Church and School. The last developments were Fern Close and the demolition of the shops on the corner of Norton Lane and Walsall Road. The shops I know were still there when I moved into the village in 1992.

A view up Norton Lane from Hut Hill Lane, the Oak and the smithy. The first houses are 1920/30s. Fern Close is off to the side. 2015.

A view up Norton Lane from Hut Hill Lane, the Oak and the smithy. The first houses are 1920/30s. Fern Close is off to the side. 2015.

With the closure of the pits (Harrison’s finally going in 1968), the ending of open-cast mining and the loss of the old Gilpin’s works at Churchbridge in the 80s, Wyrley ceased to be an the industrial area it once was. People no longer came to Wyrley to work, but to settle; the dynamic of the village had changed, and so by definition had the clientele base of the pub.

The Development of the Pub
The Royal Oak has developed enormously over the years. The 1838 tithe map shows the starting point, both regarding the building and the land that came with it. The building on the map is a single cottage (451), which may well survive in some part at the centre of the pub today. It adjoins the boundary with property that takes the land on the corner of Norton Lane/Walsall Road (450) . It also appears that the property boundary at the rear of the cottage falls shorter than it does today, as the land belongs to a property on Walsall Road (448 and 449).

the oak

The Royal Oak, showing the front extension, part built prior to 1884. Is the original cottage behind?2015.

The 1884 OS Map above shows the massive changes that have taken place within the time that the pub was predominantly held by the Edgerton family. If the size of the original cottage is to be believed, then the building has either been replaced or significantly enlarged; indeed, the maps suggest that if anything does remain of the original cottage it may only be the side wall on the boundary with the corner property on Norton Lane/Walsall Road. I am not too sure about this, it may need a brick expert but I think the core of the existing pub may be that cottage. One thing that is clear is that the property boundary at the rear of the pub has been extended.

The Oak

The front extension, the near part once being open and the site of an outdoor and earlier, the urinals. 2015

1900 was a big year for the Royal Oak. The sale of the pub to the City Brewery, triggered by the death of the then owner William Bowen, saw both a plan for extension and a plan to remove the pub to the corner of the road. The move may have been sought to attract more passing trade. Whatever the reason, the move fell through, leaving only the plan for extension. This plan still survives in the Licensing papers at Stafford and from it we get an idea of the layout of the pub for both before and after the alterations.

The plan shows that at some point between 1838 and 1884 the cottage had been extended at the back to incorporate a brew-house and a beer cellar. A brew-house suggests that beer was brewed on site, which it may well have been, but it can also mean just a kitchen area; indeed, an oven is marked on it. The now extended area at the rear of the pub contained several outbuildings. This back yard was a part of the licensed area, so beer could be drank here. In the top right-hand corner, as depicted below, there was an earth closet and ash-pit. An earth closet, as opposed to a water closet, would have to emptied by ‘night-soil’ workers. Along the left-hand wall was a detached piggery.

Pre-1900 (Staffordshire Record Office)

Pre-1900
(Staffordshire Record Office)

The frontage of the pub had also been extended, but only by half the present size (the side you currently enter the pub by). The other half was actually an open area that did allow access to the pub. In this open area were the urinals, which abutted the pavement in the corner. Above it, and accessed from the private quarters of the pub, was a beer store. One would also assume that there was a pub sign somewhere out front. What is now the entrance porch and the gentlemen’s toilets, back in 1900, was in fact a part of the stable; however, if it makes you smile that the lads visit what was the stable, the girls now have to nip into what were a couple of piggeries when the need arises.

The fireplace of the old Smoke Room,now all open plan. 2015.

The fireplace of the old smoke room, now all open plan. 2015.

The interior rooms are still traceable, although altered considerably. We don’t really know the original arrangement, but by 1900 the pub had three public rooms. In those days the entrance was from the front yard into a bar-room in the front extension. The extension was in fact divided between the two windows (roughly where they are now), with the other side of the bar being a private bar (a snug). These rooms, like many of the time, were very small. The other room was the smoke room, which had its imposing fireplace then as it does today. A serving bar isn’t marked, but beer could have been served directly to a table. There was a kitchen and a sitting room marked on the plan, with presumably more domestic accommodation upstairs.

All open plan now, but this shows the pre-1900 bar and snug rooms from the old Smoke Room. 2015.

All open plan now, but this shows the pre-1900 bar and snug rooms, which later became the vaults room (from the old smoke room). 2015.

The 1900 alterations led not just to additions to the building, but also to a massive remodelling of the pub.

after 1900

The Royal Oak after the 1900 extension and remodelling. (Staffordshire Record Office)

The changes to the building in 1900 saw, in the front yard, the urinals and beer store being lost to be replaced by a little outdoor. The photo below (not great quality) shows what looks to be a bow window on the side. The chimney has of course long since gone, as too the evidence of the fireplace within the room; indeed, the Sunday night singers use the space!

The original front extension. (Royal Oak/Gt Wyrley LHS)

The original front extension. Undated.
(Royal Oak/Gt Wyrley LHS)

At the side of the pub the stable remained, but the piggeries were taken down. The stable, as the poor picture below shows, eventually became a part of the pub in the form of a passage entrance. This passage entrance has since been extended and the new toilet block has been added, but the building arrangement can still clearly be seen in the modern exterior photos above.

The front extension showing the stable area, which later becomes a passage entrance, as it is today. (Royal Oak/GWLHS)

The back cottage and front extension showing the stable area, which later becomes a passage entrance, as it is today.
(Royal Oak/Gt Wyrley LHS)

The piggery on the left wall was turned into the urinals, two earth closets and an ash-pit – the foundations seem to still be there. The closet on the back wall was lost.

Patio area - the shed was the site of the former piggery, which became the toilets after 1900. 2015.

Patio area – the shed was the site of the former piggery, which became the toilets after 1900. 2015.

The building range along the right boundary wall was erected at this time too – replacing the brew-house and beer cellar.

The clubhouse range, built as a part of the 1900 proposal. 2015.

The club-house range, built as a part of the 1900 proposal. 2015.

The elevation, as drawn in 1900. (Staffordshire Record Office)

The elevation, as drawn in 1900. Although altered (lower doorway changed), it is clearly recognisable in the building of today. 
(Staffordshire Record Office)

These contained domestic rooms, including a scullery (with a cellar underneath), a coal bunker and a pantry. Above, there was a club room.

Cross-section of the club room and scullery. (Staffordshire Record Office)

Cross-section of the club room, scullery and cellar.
(Staffordshire Record Office)

As the above plan shows, the internal arrangements were significantly changed after 1900. Firstly, the bar and the snug were knocked into one and renamed as ‘the vaults’. A serving bar is clearly marked in the corner of this room, which also fed the small outdoor. A passage way separated the smoke room, which seemed to have no access to a serving bar, from the vaults. The kitchen and the sitting room have been redesigned a little – the sitting room gaining a fireplace at the expense of the pantry. The chimneys for these fireplaces can be made out in the ‘original’ photograph above.

Later changes are hard to date, as no other plans exist in public archives. I have approached South Staffordshire District Council on this issue, but as yet to no avail – I will update this article should I hear back from them after launch.

We know from the photographic evidence above that by the late 1930/40s an entrance appears to have been formed from where the stable used to be. It isn’t clear as to when the majority of the chimneys were taken down, but talking to a few long-standing locals – as I did the other night – did at least confirm the scale of the last alterations to the pub that took place in the early/mid 1980s.

In the main part of the pub, internally, the vaults and the smoke room were knocked through into one room (requiring supporting columns) and the passage entrance was changed to lead directly into the pub rather than through to the corridor between the old smoke room and the vaults. The fireplace in the old vaults room was removed. The pub was extended at the front to encompass the outdoor and the old yard up to the point of the property boundary. This area now has the dart board in it.

The Royal Oak in the early 1980s, with additions, but before rendering. (Stuart Attwood)

The Royal Oak in the early 1980s, with additions, but before rendering. Note the difference in the frontage.
(Stuart Attwood)

The kitchen and sitting room were replaced by a smaller serving bar area, which does incorporate a kitchen area as the pub now does food. No domestic areas are left downstairs and all the fireplaces have been removed.

The .2015.

The 80s extension encompassing the old yard (and outdoor) . 2015.

The upstairs is given over to accommodation, including the old club room in the 1900 extension. The old scullery and coal area has been knocked through and has become the beer store and ‘cellar’, where the kegs are kept and attached to the hand-pulls and taps on the serving bar. The actual cellar in the old extension has been blocked up, apart from a small area at the foot of the original stairs; this recess is currently being used for the soft drinks and its associated equipment.

As regarding the exterior, the extending of the frontage has already been mentioned. The whole of the pub changed from a brick facade to a white rendered one. The toilet block was removed from the back area (to be replaced by a shed) and moved into the main building, on the site of the old stable and piggeries.

In recent years a smoking shelter has been erected in the back yard.

Ownership of the Royal Oak
The story of the ownership of the Royal Oak follows a familiar path: in that we have private ownership giving way to a small brewery, which in turn gives way to a larger brewery, which then becomes part of a giant company.

Our first individual is William Edgerton. We know from White’s directory of 1834 and the 1838 tithe map that the William Edgerton was the publican at the neighbouring Bird In Hand on the Walsall Road. Edgerton was an edge-tool grinder, being born in Darlaston around 1797. William had met married his wife, Lydia, by around 1829 (and likely not much before that year, as she was 10 years his junior) – likely in the Darlaston or Willenhall area (where she was from). We cannot be certain as to when the couple moved to Wyrley, other than it was around 1829.

By 1841, the census seems to indicate that couple had had five surviving children, all born in Wyrley: Charles was the eldest child and according to a later census appears to have been born in Wyrley around 1829, William then followed around 1834, John around 1836, Samuel in 1838 and Hannah (which I think is Lydia) around 1840. They employed two servants at this time.

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

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

We know the Bird in Hand was owned by the Vernon family in 1838, so possibly for financial reasons or that he had the confidence for a venture, Edgerton decided to take on what was simply a cottage and turn it into a beer-house at some point between 1842 and 1850.

In 1830, the passing of the Beer-house Act meant that two guineas would secure a licence that allowed you to sell beer or cider on your own premises. Within a few years 46,000 of these so called beer-houses were registered and in Great Wyrley The Wheatsheaf, The Star and The Royal Oak would initially trade as such. They were seen as a solution to the gin problem, but became so profitable that their owners would end-up extending them as at the Royal Oak, or they became full ‘alehouses’ and sold the very gin they were supposed to replace – The Robin Hood in Churchbridge had done this by the 1872.

In 1851, William was both running a beer-house and was an edge-tool grinder. The fact that he had purchased the cottage from Gilpin may have suggested that he had worked at his works, but this isn’t clear. What is clear is that all of his sons followed him into the edge-tool trade: Charles had moved to lodgings in Aston where he was described as being an edge-tool worker, while the other boys were at home but described as the same. Daughter Lydia was then 10 years old and a scholar, as were new arrivals Sarah (8) and Hannah (6).

The Edgerton family on the 1851 census. (National Archives)

The Edgerton family at their ‘beer house’ on the 1851 census.
(National Archives)

William Edgerton is both still the publican and an edge-tool grinder in 1861. All of the children have flown the nest at this stage, apart from the youngest, Hannah. Hannah was working as a domestic servant at the Royal Oak. Charles was still in Aston, as too were siblings William, Samuel and Lydia. John, now married, still lived in Great Wyrley. William had also taken on the 14 year-old George Bennet as an apprentice, so he may have been self-employed; sadly, this arrangement would cease the following year when William Edgerton died.

The Oak would stay in the family, with son John taking over. John was around 26 years-old at this stage and had married Maria Parry, a Shropshire lass, in 1860. He likely took over as the only one of the sons living near. I would assume that his mother Lydia lived with them until her death in 1867. John was also an edge-tool grinder as well as now being a publican. He is still at the Royal Oak on the 1871 census – which is the first evidence I have come across for the name (including all the earlier directories, where it was listed under Edgerton’s name as a beer retailer). John, now 35 years of age is listed simply as a grinder. The couple have three children; John (7), William (3) and Anne (1), as well as a servant.

The Royal Oak, operated by John and Maria Edgerton, 1871. (National Archives)

The Royal Oak, operated by John and Maria Edgerton, 1871.
(National Archives)

Sadly, John’s tenure was to be briefer that it should or could have been. On 30 October 1876 he was convicted and fined £2 for allowing drunkeness in the pub. It appears that his licence may not have been renewed, but this was to little avail as he sadly died in the opening months of 1877 at the young age of 41. Things then moved with rapidity. On 2 July 1877, ownership was transferred to Maria, John’s widow. On 22 October, she turned the licence over to a William Bowen, although she remained as the owner. By the end of the year, she had remarried. Her new husband was John Ward, and perhaps not surprisingly with family connections, the couple were wed in Aston.

John Edgerton's fine in October 1876: £2 for permitting drunkeness. (Staffordshire Record Office)

John Edgerton’s fine in October 1876: £2 for permitting drunkeness.
(Staffordshire Record Office)

Maria, with new husband John, as well as her children with Edgerton, moved to run the Horns of Boningale pub, on the road between Wolverhampton and Albrighton. Sadly, by 1881, Maria was again widowed, but retained ownership of the Royal Oak until around 1883 when she sold it to Bowen.

Born around 1834, Bowen was from Chirbury in Shropshire. The son of a miner, he had moved with his family to Wednesfield by 1851 where he too had started down the pit. He had married Catherine Mason in 1854 and started a family. Around 1863 the family moved to Oldbury, then onto West Bromwich and then to Bloxwich by around 1870. We know by late 1877 Bowen was at the Oak. On the 1881 census he was listed as a publican and contractor. He was 48 according to this census and lived with wife, Catherine (49) and four children; Susannah (18), William (16), Mary Ann (13) and Thomas (10).

William Bown at the Royal Oak, 1881. (National Archives)

William Bowen at the Royal Oak, 1881.
(National Archives)

I believe that Catherine died in 1884. Bowen remarried the following year – widow, Hannah Taylor – and moved to operate the Old House at Home in Pelsall. He retained ownership of the pub for the time being, but would get a tenant in. These will be discussed later. In early 1900 Bowen died and although not acknowledged in the licensing registers, control of the Royal Oak must have passed to his wife. She decided to sell the pub to the City Brewery of Lichfield. The licensing registers have the date transfer as August 1901, but a building plan submitted a year before has the Lichfield Brewery as the owners – I can only imagine this is an error in name, as it was the City Brewery (Lichfield) and not the Lichfield Brewery (there was a company of this name) that took the pub over.

The plan, 1900: Stating the owners as the Lichfield Brewery. (Staffordshire Record Office)

The plan, 1900: Stating the owners as the Lichfield Brewery.
(Staffordshire Record Office)

Brewing was becoming increasingly popular in Lichfield during the late 19th century, as the 1884 OS Map testifies. The City Brewery in Lichfield were founded around 1874 and was based between the railway fork on the Birmingham Road. On 25 October 1916 the brewery was engulfed by a huge fire and never recovered. While still listed as the owners in the licensing registers up until they cease in the public domain in 1966, the City Brewery had in fact been taken-over after the fire by the Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries Ltd. This is evident in the registers, as the address for the City Brewery changes to Lovatt St, Wolverhampton – the home of the original Banks’s Brewery.

Bank’s Brewery had opened in 1875. Under financial pressures, it had merged on 14 May 1890 with George Thompson & Sons (Dudley) and the Fox Brewery (Wolverhampton) to form the Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries PLC. The new company began a process of acquiring small breweries: these included the North Worcestershire Brewery (1910), the City Brewery (1917) and Hanson’s (1942). In recent times, the Marston Brewery was purchased in 1999, followed by Jennings (2005) and Ringwood (2007) among others. Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries PLC changed its name to Marston’s PLC in 2007 and they remain the current owners.

The Publicans 1885 – 1966
The first tenant that Bowen installed was John Garratt on 16 November 1885. Garratt was born around 1851 and was  the son of a miner. He originated from Pelsall, although the family moved into Great Wyrley a few years after his birth, settling on the Walsall Road. He met and married local lass Sarah Dutton in 1876, she was five years his senior. The couple settled down elsewhere on the Walsall Road. By 1881 they had had three children; Thomas (4), John (2) and Mary Ann (1). William Dutton, Sarah’s brother, was also living with them.

Garratt did have at least one scrape with the law. In November 1886, miner James Evans was fined 13s for having been drunk at the Oak, playing cards and refusing to leave; Garratt did manage to escape a fine for permitting gambling and drunkeness. By 1891 Garratt’s family had increased, with Charles (9) and Sarah (4) joining the brood. Garratt was a miner still, but it is interesting to note that his eldest son, Thomas, had become a pupil teacher – that is chosen on account of his intellect to receive further education and teacher training. William Dutton was still living with them.

The Garratt's at the Oak, 1891. (National Archives)

The Garratt’s at the Oak, 1891.
(National Archives)

It wasn’t to last in more ways than one. On 24 July 1899, Garratt handed-over the licence to Thomas Yates. By 1901, the family is living on the Walsall Road. Thomas has ditched the school career, handing that mantle to sister Mary – and yes, William Dutton was still living with them. Garratt became a widower in 1906 and moved in with son, Thomas. They were in Station St, Cheslyn Hay in 1911; daughter Sarah, also a schoolmistress, was living with them. John lived to the ripe age of 86, passing away in 1937.

Yates was another miner. Born in the Norton Canes/Brownhills area, he had married Sarah and had six children before moving to the Wyrley area around the time that he took on the pub. Yates presided over three monumental events, likely all connected by the death of William Bowen in early 1900. The first was the sale of the pub to the City Brewery around August 1900; followed by was the failed attempt to get the beer-house licence moved to the corner of Norton Lane/Walsall Road in the September 1900, which was reported in the Lichfield Mercury; and finally, the building of the rear extension that seemingly was a contingency. All of these are discussed above.

Yate's signed application to the Licensing Committee to move the Oak to the corner of Norton Lane. (Staffordshire Record Office)

Yate’s signed application to the Licensing Committee to move the Oak to the corner of Norton Lane.
(Staffordshire Record Office)

While this state of flux existed, Yates was caught on 14 January 1901 and fined 6/- for serving after hours. The pub still traded on a beer-house licence, which is perhaps why his application for a music licence was turned down in February 1907. On Boxing Day of the same year, Yates was assaulted by Joseph Miller after Miller refused to quit the pub. Miller was fined over £2 but not until 1911; by this time Yates had left the Royal Oak and while still a miner was also the publican at the Anglesey Arms on Watling St, Brownhills. And so he steps from our story, well almost.

On 17 October 1910, David Smith, a 28 year old coal-hewer took on the pub. Smith had married Thirza, the eldest daughter of Thomas Yates, in 1908. By 1911 the couple had had two daughters, Thirza and Phyllis, and employed Florence Yates, Thirza’s sister, as domestic help. Sadly, Thirza passed away in 1919, being just 35 years of age. Smith stayed at the Oak until 10 December 1923.

There was one moment of interest during the Smith tenure that raised a smile. Sometime between 7 – 14 July 1914, Thirza’s nightdress was stolen. The nightdress, valued at 4/6d, was eventually recovered in Birmingham, at the employer’s of local Landywood lass, Charlotte Preece. Preece was bound over for 12 months at the Cannock Police Court.

With the lack of sources available, from this point on the publicans become more of a list but we know from the licensing registers that a George Seedhouse took over from Smith. He stayed until 11 March 1929, when Joseph Pearson arrived. Pearson stopped less than a year, being replaced on 27 January 1930 by George Hartley. Hartley continued the revolving door, relinquishing the licence on 6 October 1930. The next publican, Rupert Powell, was to be a stalwart. Powell remained at the pub for 26 years, only falling foul of the law once: he was fined in July 1944 for serving liquor out of hours. It was under Powell that the pub shook off its beer-house roots, when on 7 February 1949 the Royal Oak started to trade on an alehouse licence.

Powell fined (Staffordshire Record Office)

Powell fined
(Staffordshire Record Office)

On 23 April 1956, George and Hilda Bithell officially took over from the Powells. They remained until 16 November 1964, when a Constance Mercer had a short tenure until 21 March 1966. Here the public accessible registers cease, but they just record the taking-over of the pub by Ernest (Greville) and Elsie Patt. The couple had married back in 1944. I believe the pub was ran by the Patts until Greville died around 1972, after which, Elsie Patt and Bernard Hassall kept the pub until retiring in 1985.

Conclusions
The Royal Oak developed from a cottage near what was the one-time hub of the village. A gritty beer-house, it clearly served miners and other local working men. The owner and publican had a second job, so the family must have helped run the Oak. Eventually, the pub was sold to a small brewery chain, the City Brewery (Lichfield). They instigated a failed attempt to move premises (Norton Lane being now just off the beaten track), followed by an extension and remodelling to the buildings. The pub was taken over by Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries after the City Brewery burnt down in 1916. They have owned it since, converting it to a more upmarket alehouse in 1949. They, in turn, instigated a major remodelling/refurbishment in the early 80s – where in line with current trends, the outdoor went and all the interior was knocked into one. The pub was enlarged and rendered.

As I look around the pub today, with its many regulars, I do think of all that has gone on before. I see a snapshot, that is all. Remember – support your local 🙂 .

In memory of former landlord, Steve Cooper

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

Cannock Library
The Royal Oak (Paul)
Stuart Attwood
The Ordnance Survey
http://www.midlandspubs.co.uk/

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Comments
  1. […] The Pubs of Great Wyrley: The Royal Oak […]

  2. Pedro says:

    “This was because Lt-Col Harrison had built his Great Wyrley Working Men’s Institute right on the corner and opened it that year.”

    The Lt-Col Harrison mentioned here would be John Harrison the academic of the Harrison family, and elder brother of the Captain, William Bealey Harrison. The use of the military titles is from the Yeomanry, much to the annoyance of one person who wrote to the paper saying that all right-minded Volunteers would leave the military titles to the Regulars alone.

    He had laid the foundation stone, and congratulated the people of the district on their great success in the undertaking. On the opening…

    “On the evening of Monday the village of Wyrley was the scene of the interesting ceremony of the inauguration of the building recently erected for the purposes of a Working Men’s Institute, which is situate close by the road from Cannock to Walsall. For some years past the idea of founding such an institute has been mooted. Evenutually Mr. Greensill suggested that the site of the present building should be begged from its owners, with the view to the establishment of a working men’s institute: and happily the suggestion was embraced, and the application rewarded with success.

    Mr. Smith headed the subscription list with a donation of £30 and Mr. Gillpin following with one £20. Other subscriptions flowed in, until the committee felt justified in commencing the building. The committee hope that, although their main object is to provide a place for the education and recreation of working men, they will have the pretence, support, and encouragement of the more well-to-do classes….

    The cost of the building itself, which has been designed and built by Mr. Greensill is £200, the fittings and boundary wall requiring £50 more…..”

    The descriptions of the inauguration and opening make an interesting read, John Harrison being as patronising as ever! But I don’t think the Harrison Family should be credited with the building of the Institute, although they may had contributed a little of the petty cash.

    • wyrleyblog says:

      Hi Pedro, thanks for that on the WMI. Funny, I know nothing of its history really other than Harrison laid the stone and Green gave the land – I just assumed he had paid for it. I intended to do something on it at some stage, but I think you have saved me the trouble! If you dont mind, I will copy your reply onto the Facebook page – so as more people get to see this. Cheers, Squire.

  3. Brian holmes says:

    Fascinating article Paul and highly readable as usual,what also intrigued me was on the tithe map of 1838 there was a actual place ‘Wyrley Town’ I never knew this ( except to do with local council elections) seems it must have evaporated into oblivion like ‘Lower Landywood’?

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