Brian Millard of Penkridge was born at the Railway Tavern, James Bridge, in 1955 as his parents, Tom and Rose, kept the pub from 1949 to 1983. Brian lived there until 1976 and then returned as the licensee from 1983 to 1987. Now demolished, the pub was indeed known locally as the 'Hole' and Brian has a host of memories.

''As you travel to the pub from Darlaston town on the Walsall Road you stop on the railway bridge looking towards where the old toll house stood on James Bridge. Wilf Taylor lived here, and there wasn't a window in the building - he didn't need them because he was blind.

The James Bridge toll house. From an old postcard.


Wilf was a weaver and supplied the baskets that were used to carry the various bottled beers that were sold in the pub. He also made fine fisherman's baskets. As you entered the car park of the Tavern there was a bowling pavilion in front of you. I once counted on a warm summer's night 110 cars parked around the Tavern, many parents then used to sit out in their cars as their children played in the gardens. The pavilion had also in the past been decorated out and used for parties and, I was told, occasionally weddings. It was warmed by a cast iron stove.

The drive at the front of the pub had tarmacadam laid about 1963 when the pub was modernised by Mitchells and Butlers. At the front of the pub was another garden that housed a summer house with a bench on all sides, I have a picture of the garden full of happy people on Coronation Day along with a Punch and Judy show to entertain the children.

Sunday lunch at the Tavern was hectic with every glass in use, and the pub packed solid. In the two hours opening time around three 36 gallon barrels of beer were sold and the pub was empty by 2.30pm., the customers leaving happy having already had a starter, as a basket of cheese and biscuits were placed in all rooms. The cellar held eighteen 36 gallon barrels of draught beer. Springfield bitter and Highgate mild were on stillages and two lagers on the floor with lager stored in the passage just outside. This was never enough, and on Sunday morning barrels were rolled down from the pavilion to replace those used; the old wooden barrels being harder to lift on the stillage than the modern aluminium ones. This is one reason my father kept a good cellar. He would age the beer himself as, at busy times, the beer always left the brewery too fresh.

The Railway Tavern.

One time over Christmas we had 34 full barrels on the premises. My father's was also the first tenanted pub to have a cold flow metered system installed hence giving a full pint to his drinkers. Early days the beer was cooled by hop sacks being laid over the barrels that were then soaked with water, the aroma I miss to this day. Later a proper cooling system was installed that made the lounge on top quite noisy, but kept the cellar constant at 52 degrees. At the top of the cellar was a bottle store that before the pub was altered was the family kitchen. You then entered the children's room; this was a very busy room that was served from the outdoor. On a weekend night it was

possible that 20 kids would be kicking a tennis ball in the backyard using the gates as one goal and a bench as the other, parents not getting much peace here.


On a Friday lunchtime a man named Sid Bailey, who worked in a factory in the former Grand Junction Works, used to cut workers' hair. He plugged his clippers into the light socket for power. Many times I had my short back and sides haircut in there to be finished with a singe from a candle taper. Workers used to take an hour for lunch then and I can recall men outside the gates of E. C. & J. Keay’s factory in Station Street would have a half hour snooze on the pavement on summer days as I made my way to Salisbury Street School.

Opposite the outdoor was the smoke room. This room had beautifully polished dark wood on the seat ends and it also ran around the wall above the seat tops. Onto this were mounted the old Bakelite bell pushers that used to ring a bell behind the bar. I believe you paid an extra penny for this in bygone days. The fire surround was of the same wood. The floor was red and white quarry tiles but was mainly covered by a carpet. Ceiling beams were added later by my father. A nice feature of this room was the planished copper-topped tables. My father had to ask the cockle man not to sell in there as the vinegar stained the copper.

An advert from 1989.

On a Sunday the death and dividend club was collected here; the money saved being paid out before Christmas. This was always a good night in the pub as the decorations had been put up and I also got a packet as dad saved for all of the family. Through the bar was the top smoke room. This was the music room where my mother used to play piano. Customers used to bring their own records to play on a Dansette record player placed on top of the piano. Later both were replaced by a stereo system; the piano falling foul of the many floods. This room could be closed from the bar by a sliding door, although it was hardly used.

The bar was round and lined with Formica, very modern in 1963. Customers used to stick coins on the top with beer for various charities. The back of the bar was glass behind the optics and was cleaned every week to a shine. There was always a good selection of whisky and spirits on display along with miniatures and small bottles for sale. The glass washer was in the corner by the outdoor and I can still picture dad picking his horses from the Morning Advertiser, the brewery trade paper.

There was a dartboard but the teams stopped as the pub was often too busy to call for order. Dominoes and crib were the games played and people queued early to get their table on Sunday lunch. Many a pint glass was half-filled ready to be topped up for the stampede of regulars as the door was opened. Missing from the Tavern was a fruit machine as my dad refused all the appeals from the brewery to install one. A coal fire was at the end overlooking the yard along with an old armchair that was held together with all manner of things. This was a favoured place of my mother's for knitting and listening to the general banter. It is one piece of furniture I wish I had kept. This area used to be the family lounge before the pub was altered.

The whole pub was adorned by brass and copper including a pillar of planished copper that rose to the ceiling. These brasses were polished every week, the fireplace looking especially nice. The tables were oblong and sturdy, they had to be, as occasionally in this corner a certain crowd played solo and many a time the quiet ended abruptly when a phone call could not be made. There was never any trouble though.

I would like to think that the cleanliness of the Tavern was a big part of my mother and father's success, as everything was spotless from the window glass to the lace being washed, and changed every week. No hot food was served at the Tavern, except when my mother gave away bowls of stew and grey paes. Lots of crusty cobs and doorstep sandwiches were sold, with a large bowl of pickled salad on the bar to help them down.

The 1927 Railway Tavern Bowling Club.

The person responsible for keeping the pub so clean besides mum was Eva Foster, who arrived at 6.30 every morning; she walked down with her husband Norman who worked at GKN. Eva even polished the back gates and it was she who polished the brasses every week. Behind the bar was Eric Marshall who used to work at Servis, a great man and always good for a laugh.

There was Dave, Sue and Bob Plimmer. In earlier times there was Dot Richardson and later Winnie, who also worked at the Saddlers club. And I remember so many customers. I remember Billy Muggins playing mouth organ on the dart lay. One day Sir Harmer Nicholls came in to see my dad and recalled meeting him in the war in India. Another character was Jack Peak who lived in Short Street; he was the bookie's runner and used to clock the bets in a pigeon clock he kept in the car. Totally illegal, but it had to be done. Then there was Harry Addison who was on the heavy mob at the GKN moving plant.

I could go on and on. So apologies to people not mentioned. You are remembered and not forgotten as it was you the customers and characters of the Tavern that contributed to it being a truly friendly pub, with a great atmosphere in which to enjoy a bostin' pint. Two things that always happened at the Tavern were the Sunday morning breakfast trips and the floods.


The trips were always full and eagerly waited for; just a good gammon breakfast, a nine-gallon of beer for the coach, with usually a few barley wines added, and then a good pub with sometimes a comedian. And the floods were famous, the pub being on the front page of the Express & Star many times. We knew they were coming as a warning bell used to ring that was connected to the drains, then everyone mucked in to pick things out of the way and put the flood boards in the doorways.

At the time all the seat covers were removable. Once in 1966 we never left the pub for three days. The water slowly began to rise on a Saturday lunchtime, the customers stood on beer crates in the bar to carry on drinking. The worst flood was the day I married in 1976, and the water was over the bar; that's nearly three panes of the leaded windows at the front of the pub. The family had to climb down a ladder from the end bedroom and on to tables to get out, and then head towards the railway, as the water would have come over the waders we wore.

Myatt builders from Darlaston had to help us clean up and the brewery took all the beer back and resupplied us. The pub was open again in two days, with polythene covering the seats. My Uncle Harry's car, a Wolseley Six, was filled with water on this occasion.

The reason the floods got worse was because after the M6 opened, all the water from it drained into the river Tame just above the canal aqueduct and the single arch could not take the flow, so the water came down the lane past the pub, over the car park and flowed down the railway towards Pleck Park. I am pleased to see when I visit my mother and father, Rose and Tom's grave at James Bridge Cemetery, that they rest in site of the Tavern, not far from where I hope they brought enjoyment and happy times to all their friends and customers."

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