The Old Bull’s Head & The Bloxwich Wishing Tree

The old Bull's Head pub, Park Rd, Bloxwich, 10 June 1927 (pic by Billy Meikle)

The old Bull’s Head pub, Park Rd, Bloxwich, 10 June 1927 (pic by Billy Meikle)

Bloxwich was once particularly rich in old public houses, many dating to the Georgian era and before.

By the time local historian Billy Meikle (1858-1943), who spent most of his life in Walsall, wrote about the old Bull’s Head pub in Park Road, Bloxwich, few such early inns remained, and today many surviving Bloxwich pubs are sadly closed, converted or under threat for economic reasons.

Arms of the Skeffington family

Arms of the Skeffington family

The original Bull’s Head inn had been in what was later named Park Road, Bloxwich, since Tudor times.  The name of the pub is traditionally said to be inspired by the bull’s head which was part of the coat of arms of John Skeffington, a Bloxwich landowner of the 1500s.  However there was once a long tradition of bull-baiting in Britain, and pubs of this name often refer to this now-extinct blood sport, so there may also be an element of this in the origins of the name.

The Bull’s Head was for centuries a thriving social centre and a popular meeting place for local workmen.  Indeed the ‘Amicable Society’ – the town’s largest friendly society – met there from 1785.  They had seventy-two male members and by 1811 there were forty women on the register.  A Catholic Society also met there in the early 1800s, with Titus Somerfield as secretary and a membership of 260.

Arthur and Mrs Banks outside the old Bull's Head, 10 June 1927 (pic by Billy Meikle)

Arthur and Mrs Banks outside the old Bull’s Head, 10 June 1927 (pic by Billy Meikle)

William Colbourne owned the Bull’s Head in 1813.  By 1818 Thomas Taylor had taken over, and was still there in 1834.  In 1851, Samuel Taylor was the licensee but by 1880 it had changed hands again.  William Fryer was the landlord in 1908, by which time the weekly takings were £11 and four shillings.

Though latterly having a plastered Victorian façade added, by the time Billy Meikle came on the scene in the early 1900s the pub still retained its ancient oak beams, an ingle nook and an 18th century fireplace, giving it a cosy atmosphere.  In 1938, Meikle wrote that forty years ago the Tudor fire grate had been removed.

Kitchen of the old Bull's Head, 1927 (watercolour by Billy Meikle)

Kitchen of the old Bull’s Head, 1927 (watercolour by Billy Meikle)

The old Bull’s Head was much-loved, both by locals and by Meikle, who photographed the pub, together with its last landlord Arthur Banks and his wife, on 10 June 1927, not long before it was demolished by Walsall council.

Later, he painted watercolours of the interior to complement his fine photography, leaving a unique record of a wonderful old ‘watering hole’ now sadly lost to us. 

Both Billy Meikle, writing in 1938, and later fellow local historian E. J. Homeshaw, who published his book The Story of Bloxwich in 1955, recorded versions of the following tale of the old Bull’s Head, the events of which Meikle dates to about 1906:

The legendary Bloxwich Wishing Tree (left) oustide the old Bull's Head, 10 June 1927 (pic by Billy Meikle)

The legendary Bloxwich Wishing Tree (left) oustide the old Bull’s Head, 10 June 1927 (pic by Billy Meikle)

Samuel Moseley, a coal miner, sat drinking in the kitchen of the Bull’s Head one day, when his wife Margaret came to remind him that it was time he was preparing for work.  She told him the time but he paid no heed to her warnings.  In fact he told her that he did not think he would go to work that afternoon.  Margaret left the Bull in a towering rage and when she got to the door she cursed him and wished that the Bull would fall on him and bury him.

According to the story, she only got as far as a nearby tree, where she repeated her wish and suddenly the roof of the Bull’s Head fell in with a great crash!  Everything in the upper rooms including the furniture was smashed, but both the old kitchen and Samuel Moseley escaped unscathed.  When Mrs. Moseley saw the roof fall in according to her wish, she took to her heels, ran all the way home and fell down in a dead faint!  Henceforth, the tree beneath which she was granted her wish became known as ‘The Wishing Tree’, and was held in great awe.  Today, it even features on the top of “The Bloxwich Tardis”, a public monument to Bloxwich in steel and cast iron erected on Elmore Green in 2007.

The young Bloxwich Canival Ambassadors for 2013 have fun at The Bloxwich Tardis! Note the gold Wishing Tree on top.

The young Bloxwich Canival Ambassadors for 2013 have fun at The Bloxwich Tardis! Note the gold Wishing Tree on top.

The present Bull’s Head pub, closed in August 2007 and badly damaged in a suspected arson attack in 2009, today lies empty and forlorn, its roof and other parts of the building left unrepaired and reminiscent of the now-legendary falling in of the roof believed to have been caused by Mrs Moseley’s unwitting curse upon her husband.

While the present building looks very old, it is of course much younger than the original, being built by two women owners about 1928 just in front of the old Bull’s Head, and can just be seen in an early photograph of the Promenade Gardens.

The "new" Bull's Head in summer 2007

The “new” Bull’s Head in summer 2007

In July 1928 local Councillor Cartwright expressed the opinion that there was nothing in Walsall, or within 30 miles, to touch the nearby Promenade Gardens in Bloxwich.  Certainly, despite the sad demise of both versions of the Bull’s Head, the gardens are still a very pleasant place for a stroll at this time of year, despite the poor state of the flower beds this year.

Remarkably, the Wishing Tree survived the destruction of the old Bull’s Head, apparently until the early 1960s, when it was unceremoniously chopped down for a small public car park just in front of the later pub.  But the story does not end there.

A few years ago, while doing some research on the pub, upon examining several deep potholes on the left-hand side of the little car park, I realised that the roots of the old Bloxwich Wishing Tree still ran beneath that very spot. So be careful what you wish for when standing there – you may get it!

Stuart Williams

 

Historic pictures and access to research resources were kindly made available for this article courtesy of Walsall Local History Centre.

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