This entry in the pubs menu is for my favourite pub in Wolverhampton, a pub which for me stands head and shoulders above any other. It is a traditional pub, with a warm welcome, excellent food and drink, and a wonderful atmosphere. Having declared a self-interest, I will begin by describing the growth and development of the area around Sun Street.

From countryside to industrialisation

Before the opening of the canal in 1771, the area would have consisted of open countryside, much of which would have been cultivated. The coming of the canal allowed heavy industries of all kinds to flourish, greatly changing the area, in ways that would have been unimaginable to earlier generations.

One of the first businesses to take advantage of this part of the new canal was Joseph Norton's flour mill, known as The Old steam Mill, which opened in the 1790s on Corn Hill, named after the mill. Opposite the mill, where the derelict sack mill now stands, was Bickley, Danks & Company's Wharf, which opened sometime before 1818. Isaiah Danks lived in a house beside the wharf, which is listed in the Staffordshire General & Commercial Directory of 1818. The firm transported goods daily to Stourport, Worcester, Gloucester, and Bristol.

Another business that opened beside the new canal was James Adams's Lime Works, off Wednesfield Road, which had its own basin and wharf. Corn Hill was linked to Wednesfield Road by New Mill Street, which had become Sun Street by 1851. It is marked on the 1843 Tithe map, and Joseph Bridgen's map of 1850, both of which can be seen below.


 

Neither of the maps shows Bailey Street, or the Great Western and its immediate surroundings. Bailey Street is named after William Bailey, a successful chemical manufacturer. Bailey & Son was founded in 1828 in North Street, Wolverhampton, where it stayed until the 1840s when the firm built the Horseley Fields Chemical Works beside the canal. Bailey Street provided access to the works from New Mill Street and Corn Hill.


From Griffiths' Guide to the Iron Trade of Great Britain, published in 1873.


An advert from 1873.

The building of the pub and its early years

In 1849 nineteen terraced houses were built on the land between Sun Street and Bailey Street, the Great Western occupying the largest of the houses, standing on the western end of the site. The houses were built by the owner of the land, Richard Robinson, from Rowington in Warwickshire. At this time the area would have been in a state of upheaval with the coming of the Stour Valley railway line, and the building of the embankment and bridge that now dominate the neighbourhood. The railway crossed the entrance to the Horseley Fields Chemical Works by an arched viaduct. Before the railway could be built, the canal had to diverted to make way for the High Level Station.

The railway opened in 1852, as did Mill Street Goods Depot, which must have greatly increased the amount of traffic in Sun Street. While this was happening, work had started on the Low Level Station, known as The Joint Station until April 1856. The station was the terminus of the Shrewsbury & Birmingham Railway, the Oxford, Worcester, & Wolverhampton Railway, and the Birmingham, Wolverhampton & Dudley Railway, all constituent parts of the Great Western Railway. The station opened in 1854, and was completed in the following year.

There was further disruption in the area in 1877 with the building of the Midland Railway Good Depot, where the Royal Mail building now stands.


The 19 houses, as copied from a plan in the 1893 sales brochure.

The end house soon became a beer house, a common form of licensed premises in the nineteenth century. The licensee was William Keay.

Beer Houses

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 to 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.

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. Some of the early beer houses carried names, just like pubs. The Great Western was initially known as 'The Board', until the coming of the Great Western Railway.

There were many beer houses in Wolverhampton. William White's History, Gazetteer, and Directory of Staffordshire published in 1851 states that there were around 170 fully licensed premises in Wolverhampton, and around 150 beer houses.

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. Many of them became fully licensed, as did The Great Western, and still survive as pubs today.


The Great Western and its surroundings in 1901.

In 1893, twelve years after Richard Robinson's death, his estate was sold at auction and acquired by William Butler & Company Limited based at the nearby Springfield Brewery. At the time, Butlers were an expanding company, acquiring public houses, and extending the buildings at Springfield Brewery, which had been open for nineteen years.

The company continued to expand, becoming one of the four largest brewers in the West Midlands by 1950. The other three were Ansell's, Mitchells and Butlers, and Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries.

In 1960 William Butler & Company Limited was taken over by Mitchells & Butlers of Cape Hill. A year later Mitchells & Butlers merged with Bass, Ratcliff & Gretton to form Bass, Mitchells & Butlers Limited.

The Great Western must have greatly benefited from the nearby businesses which would have brought many customers into the pub, both at lunchtime and in the evening. Railway workers and passengers from the two railway stations must have frequented the bar, as would workers from Mill Street Goods Depot, the Midland Railway Goods Depot, the Old Steam Mill, and Joshua Bigwood & Son Limited, situated on the opposite side of Wednesfield Road. Customers must also have come from the numerous houses in the Horseley Fields area, and at Heath Town.


Details of the 1893 sale.


The Great Western in 2012.

In 1987 The Great Western was sold to Holdens Brewery Limited, its present owner, and two  years later the single storey extension was built. On 31st March, 1992, the pub was Grade II Listed. The description in the listing is as follows:

Public House. 1850s. Brick with blue brick patterning and ashlar dressings, some plaster; hipped double-span slate roof with brick stacks. 2 storeys; 2-window range with canted angles. Cornice over plastered ground floor; painted 1st floor and top brick cornice. 4 ground-floor windows, including 2 to angles, with 6-over-one-pane horned sashes; 2 windows to 1st floor with 12-pane sashes; central entrance has overlight with margin lights and panelled door. Right return similar, with exposed brickwork; narrow recessed blue brick courses to ground floor with cogged frieze over; diapering to 1st floor; sashed windows and entrance with small-paned overlight and panelled door; lateral stack and right gable-end stack; left return similar, but painted. 1989 single-storey addition to rear.

Interior: retains central bar, moulded cornicing and ceiling roses. An interesting survival of a public house in a complete group of railway buildings.

In 1995 the conservatory, with its bar opened as the Armstrong Room, named after brothers Joseph and George Armstrong who in turn ran the Stafford Road railway works, and designed the locomotives that were built there.

The Great Western has received many awards including CAMRA National Pub of the Year in 1991, Wolverhampton CAMRA City Pub of the Year in 2003, 2004, and 2011, and is listed in the 2014 Good Pub Guide as follows:

The pub also featured in a Hairy Bikers TV programme in September 2011, and in the Sky TV promotional film for the 2012 World Darts Championships, which can be seen on YouTube.

Much of the local industry and the old houses are now gone. For several years, Corn Hill was permanently closed due to the dreadful arson attack on the Old Steam Mill, leaving the pub somewhat isolated. The road has now reopened, and the pub continues to be successful. It has a wonderful atmosphere, excellent food, one of the best pints in Wolverhampton, and superb staff. A pub is only as good as its staff, and the people who work in the Great Western always offer the warmest of welcomes, and provide the very best service to all customers. Hopefully it will continue in this way for many years to come.


The view from under the railway bridge.

Owners:

Richard Robinson from Rowington in Warwickshire

William Butler & Company Limited purchased the pub in 1893. In 1960 William Butler & Company Limited was taken over by Mitchells & Butlers of Cape Hill, and in 1961 Mitchells & Butlers merged with Bass, Ratcliff & Gretton to form Bass, Mitchells & Butlers Ltd.

Holdens Brewery Limited purchased the pub in 1987.
 

 
 

Licensees:

William Keay
James Yearsley
Mrs. Sarah Yearsley
William Turner
Thomas Appleton
George Morris
George Morris Junior
Walter Pitcairn Solloway
Mrs. Nettie Solloway
Mrs. Lydia Mary Solloway
Henry Dennis Brookes
Alan Davies
Francis Cairns
John Anthony Hennessy
Violet Hennessy
Cyril Henry Morgans
John Raymond Ward
Kerry Morgan
Leonard William Fenton
John Henry Nunn
Keith Walker
Kevin Michael Gould
Jamie Roderick Atkins

 

1849 to 1856
1856 to 1872
1872 to 1873
1873 to 1881
1881 to 1888
1888 to 1896
1896 to 1912
1912 to 1928
1928 to 1932
1932 to 1951
1951 to 1959
1959 to 1964
1964 to 1966
1966 to 1967
1967 to 1968
1968 to 1970
1970 to 1972
1972 to 1974
1974 to 1981
1981 to 1987
1987 to 2001
2001 to 2008
2008 to date
 


The Great Western in the late evening.


The view from the single storey extension looking towards the bar.


Another view from the extension.


Two of the most excellent members of staff.


Two other, equally excellent members of staff.


Part of the conservatory, with its bar and wood burning stove.


A corner of the bar showing the interesting decor, and one of the three fireplaces.


The small side-room, with a lot of character.


Regulars enjoying a pint and a chat in a corner of the bar.


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