The public house has become part of British culture, and one of the focal points of the community. There were once over 120 pubs in Darlaston, but sadly most have now gone, due to changes in our lifestyle, and legislation. Just over 20 now remain.

The British public house can be traced back to the Roman tavern or tabernae, and later the Anglo-Saxon alehouse, which became so popular that in 965 King Edgar decreed that each village should have no more than one alehouse. Although no records survive, it is likely that the first public house in Darlaston would have an alehouse.

As long ago as 1393, King Richard II compelled all landlords to erect a sign outside their premises, which allowed people to identify the alehouse by the picture on the sign, and also make it obvious to the borough ale tasters, who inspected, and tasted the ale.

Pub licensing began in 1552 when magistrates were given the power to license alehouses, due to concerns about drunkenness and public disorder.

In the 18th century, gin replaced ale as the most popular drink, after the Dutch brought it here in the late 1680s. It was cheaper, more alcoholic, and readily available. Drunkenness became commonplace, and on several occasions the government introduced legislation in an attempt to reduce the problem. It was in this atmosphere that the modem public house was born.

The 1830 Beer House Act

Beer was considered to be a harmless, nutritious alternative to gin, the consumption of which should be actively encouraged. This idea led to the Passing of the 1830 Beer House Act that introduced new and radical changes in the law. It allowed any householder and tax payer to obtain a license to sell beer on their premises, in exchange for a 2 guinea licence fee. Licensees were not allowed to sell spirits or fortified wines. Anyone doing so would be closed down, and heavily fined.

A typical gin palace.

An illustration from 'The Working Man's Friend and Family Instructor' published in 1851.

The new legislation led to a rapid rise in the number of public houses, and the introduction of a new class of licensed premises, the beer house. Beer houses were family homes, in which beer was usually sold in the front room, and dispensed from a jug, or directly from the barrel. Often the room was simply furnished with bare floorboards, wooden benches, and trestle tables. By 1851 there were 20 pubs and 73 beer houses in Darlaston, and 6 maltsters.

Some of the early beer houses carried names, just like pubs. They included The Woodman, in Blakemore Lane, The Unicorn at Catherine's Cross, The Vauxhall in The Green, and the Rose and Punchbowl in Cramp Hill. Some of the more successful beer houses eventually became pubs, such as the Queen's Head in King Street, the Noah's Ark in Pinfold Street, The Fountain in Walsall Road, and the Fortune of War in Smith Street.

Beer houses flourished until the introduction of the Wine and Beer House Act of 1869, which prevented the opening of new beer houses, and tightened local magistrates' control of the industry. By the early years of the 20th century they had all gone.

Early pubs

Many of the early pubs were coaching inns, so called because horse-drawn coaches or omnibuses would stop there for a change of horses, and to pick-up, and drop-off passengers, and sometimes mail.
Travellers would be provided with food, refreshments, and often accommodation. Stables were provided for the horses.

An illustration of an old public bar from an early public house.

The White Lion in King Street.

Coaching inns in Darlaston included the White Lion in King Street, where coaches called on route to Birmingham, The Bell in Church Street, from where Thomas and Obadiah Howl's omnibuses travelled to Birmingham and Wolverhampton, and the Waggon and Horses in King Street, where George Bayley's omnibus began its journey to Birmingham and Wolverhampton.

Horse-drawn coaches and omnibuses quickly disappeared after the coming of the railways, and the appearance of trams. Darlaston's first railway station at James Bridge opened in 1837, and its second railway station, Darlaston Town, opened in 1863. The town's first steam trams appeared in 1883, followed by electrically powered trams in 1893, by which time the fast and reliable train and tram services had replaced the old horse-drawn omnibus.

Soon after the opening of James Bridge railway station, a new pub, the James Bridge Hotel was built. It offered similar facilities to a coaching inn, but catered for the railway.

The pub became known as the Railway Tavern, and survived until November 2010.

It was located in a hollow which occasionally flooded when the nearby River Tame burst its banks.

During one flood in August 1966, the pub was 3 feet deep in water.

The Railway Tavern at James Bridge.

The flood in October 1967.

The pub had a lucky escape at the end of July 1942 on the same evening as the bombing of All Saints' Church. A 500 lb. German bomb fell on part of the cinder wall in front of the pub, and luckily failed to explode. Had it done so it would have destroyed the Railway Tavern, and the adjoining cottages. Most people will remember it as an isolated building, but for many years it was surrounded on two sides by houses. There were two houses next to it in Cemetery Road, the first being a private residence, the other a small sweet shop. The other houses were around the corner in Kendricks Road, opposite 'Bogie Wilkes' factory.

Many landlords brewed their own beer, and sometimes supplied it to other pubs and beer houses. There were several breweries in the town, including one behind the White Lion, which from 1870 was used for meetings of the Darlaston Local Board, and also as a drill hall for the Darlaston Volunteers. Another brewery, known as Darlaston Brewery, stood next to the Bell in Church Street, on the site that is now occupied by Haden's Solicitors. It opened in 1818 to supply beer to the pub, which at the time was called the Blue Bell. The brewery was run by the licensee, William Foster, and afterwards by successive licensees. Although initially it only supplied beer to the Bell, it later became a business in its own right, selling beer to other establishments. In the early 1840s the licensees were Thomas and Obadiah Howl who operated a coach service from Birmingham to Wolverhampton.

An advert from 1897.

From the late 1840s until 1871 the licensee was James Pritchard. In 1849, James and his son, James junior, founded Pritchard's Ales, Wines and Spirits Company, which was based at the Brewery.

The business survived until 1946 when it became part of William Butler and Company.

Another brewery, Blockall Brewery, run by John Green, stood behind a beer house in Blockall, on the site later occupied by the Olympia Cinema. It operated for roughly 20 years from around 1880 until the early 1900s.

Other pubs had a small brewery, or brewhouse at the back, including the Freemason's Arms in The Green, The Old Crown Inn, in Cramp Hill, and the Three Horse Shoes on the Bull Stake

An advert from 1900.

The Globe Inn at James Bridge, believed to date from the early 18th century.

Some of the more successful licensees became extremely affluent, and invested their money in land and property.

One of them, John Aldridge, licensee of the Old Bush in Bush Street, purchased an area of land between The Green and Bush Street, and sold building plots on either side of a road that he created in the middle. He called the road Aldridge Street.

He also sold plots in part of Green Lane, which he renamed Bush Street, after the pub.

Another landlord, Charles Foster of the Bell Inn, purchased a piece of land known as "Wilkes' and Shale's Crofts" and divided it up into building plots. He had roads built and called the development "Charles Foster's Building estate". One of the roads, Bell Street was named after the pub, and another, Foster Street was named after Charles Foster himself. Plots were sold by private contract, and at an auction held at the Bell on 2nd May, 1836.

In the 1830s, the Horse and Jockey in Walsall Road was run by Joseph Corns. He acquired an area of land off Birmingham Street and had Corns Street built there. He also sold building plots on either side of the street. The main entrance to the headquarters and depot of the South Staffordshire & Birmingham Area Steam Tramway Company, which operated steam trams from 1883 was in Corns Street. It later became the main depot of the South Staffordshire Tramways Company Limited which began to operate electrically powered trams in 1893.

The Evolution of the Traditional English Pub

The traditional English pub evolved into several separate rooms, each with its own purpose. The bar, with a counter, was copied from gin houses, where the idea was to serve customers quickly, and keep an eye on them. The saloon bar, or lounge, appeared in the latter part of the 18th century, as a comfortable, carpeted, and well furnished room with an admission fee, or higher priced drinks. It catered for more affluent people. Often entertainment would be provided, and drinks were served at the table.

The tap room, or public bar, was developed for the working classes. It had simple wooden bench seats, cheap drink, and bare floorboards, or tiles, that were often covered in sawdust to absorb spillages, and spit.

Another room, the snug, sometimes called the smoke room, was a small, private room where people could drink without being observed. The windows were made of frosted glass, and the room had a separate entrance to the bar, so that people could enter and leave without being seen. There was usually access to a separate section of the bar, where a higher price would be paid for drinks. The snug was often used by ladies, at a time when the pub was perceived to be for men only, and also by courting couples, who liked their privacy.

There was often an off licence, where beer, wine, or spirits could be purchased for home consumption. It was a small room with a counter, or often just an open window facing the back of the bar, through which people were served. Customers, including children, sent on an errand by their parents, could take bottles to be filled with beer. A paper seal would often be stuck over the stopper to ensure that the children didn't sample the contents.

Entertainment, Games and Food

Public houses have always been associated with music, from a simple sing song, to musicians who performed in the early saloon bars. A piano became an essential part of the local pub, encouraging talented customers and musicians to entertain the locals with a variety of popular and traditional tunes. This is very different to the juke boxes, karaoke nights, and disk jockeys that we have today.

Games have been played in pubs for a long time, originally consisting of billiards, snooker, card games, darts, dominoes, and skittles. Many pubs had their own football team, often playing in the local league on a Sunday.

In the late 1890s Darlaston Football Club had its headquarters at the George in Church Street. Others had a bowls team, and a bowling green, such as the Duke of York in Moxley Road, the New Inn in King Street, and the Railway Tavern in Cemetery Road.

The comfortable seating in the snug at the New Junction in Forge Road, in the late 1950s.
There were boxing gymnasiums at the Royal Exchange in Catherine's Cross, and the Dog and Partridge in King Street.

A once popular Black Country pastime was pigeon racing. Followers of the sport would join one of the many flying clubs, each based at a local pub. Such clubs could be found at Herberts Park Tavern in Forge Road, the Rose and Crown in High Street, Moxley, and the Cottage of Content in Bull Street, where the licensee, John Nicholls was secretary of the Cottage of Content Flyers Club. His pigeon loft was behind the pub.

Another popular activity was cycling, which led to the formation of countless cycling clubs throughout the country. They were to be found in most towns, including Darlaston. The headquarters of the Mason Cycling Club was the Rose and Crown in Cock Street, where the landlord John Wood was club secretary.

The Bell in Church Street had the dubious distinction of being the first public house in Darlaston to have a television set in the bar.

Food has been served in pubs for a long time. Originally it consisted of bar snacks such as crisps, peanuts, pork scratchings, or pickled eggs. The only meals on offer might be simple cold snacks such as the ploughman's lunch. This gradually evolved into the high quality pub meals that we now expect, greatly assisted by the development of the microwave oven.

Dual Occupations

Before the First World War, families were often much larger than they are today. Some pubs were not profitable enough to support the licensee and his or her family. Many licensees ran a second business which was sometimes based in part of the pub. One such licensee, Samuel Canlett, landlord of the Swan in Victoria Road, was also a pork butcher. Pigs were slaughtered outside, at the back, and joints of meat were hung upstairs to be cured. Some of the original hooks on which the meat was hung, still survive. The pork and bacon was sold in the little room to the right of the bar. Other butchers included George Wilkes, and Benjamin Cole of the Green Dragon in Church Street.

Some of the surviving hooks in the ceiling.

The Swan in Victoria Road.

A fairly common second occupation was gun lock making. One of the last surviving gun lock workshops in the town was run by John Stokes, licensee of the Old Castle Hotel on the Bull Stake. The workshop, which was behind the pub, survived until the early 1970s.

Other gunlock makers and licensees included Edward Corbett of the Bradford Arms, William Wilkes, Mrs Wilkes, and James Wilkes of the Vine in Bell Street, John Stanway of the White Lion, and George Golcher of the New Inn in King Street.

Thomas Newton, who ran the Black Horse in Pinfold Street, had a nut and bolt factory behind the pub, employing several nut and bolt forgers. James Rose of the Waggon and Horses in King Street was one of the partners in  J & R Rose Limited, nut and bolt manufacturers in London Works, Willenhall Street. Other second occupations included file making, padlock making, shop keeping, farming, and auctioneering.

More Darlaston Pubs

Many pubs were kept for long periods by the same family, and became known by that families' name, rather than the true name of the pub. The New Junction in Forge Road was known as "Aston's" and the Spread Eagle in Cramp Hill became "Martin Perry Foster's". Others had nicknames such as the Dog and Partridge in King Street, which was known as "The Coffin Handles" because of its brass door fittings. The Bradford Arms was universally known as "The Frying Pan", the Royal Exchange as "The Widders", the Railway Tavern as "The Ole", the Dog and Pheasant as "The Wrexham", the Barrel as "Paddy Mac's", and the Dartmouth Arms as the "Blazing Stump".

One of the most well known pubs in the town was the Bradford Arms in Bilston Street, which consisted of three very old separate buildings from different periods.

The regulars called it "The Frying Pan", and formed a frying pan club. The club met on Sunday nights, when each member had to bring along their badge, shaped like a frying pan. If anyone forgot to do so they had to pay a fine.

A password had to be known, and any member caught lighting their own cigarette, or lifting their glass of beer with their right hand, also had to pay a fine.

The money raised from the fines went to local charities. A different chairman was elected each week, the symbol of his office being a top hat and chain, with a pendant in the shape of a frying pan.

The other Swan, that stood at the western end of Moxley Road.

The Bradford Arms, known locally as 'The Frying Pan'.

As it was in 1973.

The adjoining shop and house that were soon to be demolished.

The Bradford Arms. The man on the doorstep is believed to be William Howells.

The Bradford Arms originally had a beerhouse license and was called the Hatherton Arms.

The licensee from 1901 until 1923 was William Howells, who is possibly in the photograph on the left.

When the pub was built, Eldon Street didn't extend as far as Bilston Street and the arch on the right of the photo, led to a yard at the back.

When Eldon Street was extended, the right-hand corner of the building, including the arch and two other buildings to the right, were demolished to make way for the extension.

The Bradford Arms closed in 1982 and was soon demolished.

Another view of the Bradford Arms.

The Black Horse pub was the oldest public house in the centre of Darlaston, dating from the late 18th century, and the headquarters of the town's horse racing fraternity. It had a traditional spit and sawdust bar, complete with spittoons.

A well-liked and respected licensee in the town was Martin Perry Foster who became landlord of the Spread Eagle in Cramp Hill in 1881. He was born in November 1849, and married Mary Adams in 1870. They had 8 children to support, and so he had a file-making workshop behind the pub. Martin died on 23rd February, 1931 at the age of 81, after running the pub for over 50 years. He is buried in James Bridge Cemetery, and was succeeded as licensee by his daughter Ethel. The pub survived until the mid 1950s.

Martin Perry Foster's file-making workshop.

This fine photograph taken at the back of the Spread Eagle at 50 Cramp Hill was kindly sent by Ian Beach.

On the left is Martin Perry Foster. Seated on the pony is his nephew William George Yates.

The Foster family's grave at James Bridge Cemetery.

As seen in February 2019.

This lovely photograph of the Spread Eagle was also sent by Ian Beach.

At the time the licensee was William Johnson.

A basic, old fashioned pub, in the same form as a beer house, survived in Foundry Street until the late 1950s. This was the Lamp, which for many years was run by Harry Humpage. It had a small bar in the front room, with beer pulls in the kitchen. There was gas lighting, and food in the form of roast potatoes and sandwiches. Blocks of salt were stored in a small cupboard, but before you could use one, you had to scrape off the dirt. At the end of the day Harry would call time, and personally finish off any left-over drinks. The Lamp was replaced by the Aladdin's Lamp in Wiley Avenue South.

The Lamp Tavern in Foundry Street.

The Public House Today

The sad looking, derelict Boat in Bentley Road South.

Sadly many pubs have disappeared within the last few years, and still continue to do so. The pub was used mainly by working class communities, which have now largely disappeared.

Worries are expressed about binge drinking amongst the young, and alcohol related crime. Many youngsters prefer drinking in clubs which often open throughout the night.

People now drink at home, taking advantage of the cheap beer, wines and spirits that can be found in the local supermarket.

The smoking ban, and tougher drink-drive regulations have also had an impact, as has the downturn in the economy.

The pub always has been, and still continues to be part of community life. Most pubs are now also restaurants, which cater for the young and elderly alike. Large sums of money are spent on converting traditional pubs into eating establishments, which have become very popular.

Recent losses include The Boat in Bentley Road South, which ironically in 2005 was declared pub of the year by the Walsall branch of CAMRA. Less than 12 months later it closed. Within the last few years the derelict Moxley Arms disappeared, as did the Railway Tavern.

Although pubs are still vanishing at an alarming rate, most are still evolving to cater for people's changing requirements, and tastes. Many are extremely successful, and should continue to be so in the future.

The Three Horse Shoes in Pinfold Street is now residential accommodation, after many years of dereliction.

Some of the buildings such as the White Lion in King Street are listed, so even when their use changes, they continue to survive.

Luckily a number of the more traditional pubs have survived, and are very profitable. So hopefully they will still be a part of community life for many years to come.

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