The original Wheatsheaf pub, Field Road, mid 1860s (WLHC)
Bloxwich once boasted more pubs of historic and architectural interest than anywhere else in the Borough, except perhaps on Walsall’s Church Hill.
Most of the pubs in Bloxwich today date from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when many of the town’s ancient inns were swept away. Industry had come earlier to Bloxwich than to most parts of the Borough – metal trades such as awl blade making have been carried on in the town since at least the late Middle Ages.
The earliest documentary reference to a Bloxwich inn dates from 1586, when Thomas Ball, of ‘The Sign of the Talbot’, was sued in the Quarter Sessions Court. The inn is thought to have been situated near the Bull’s Head in Park Road.
By the 17th century Bloxwich had at least six alehouses, including the original Bell Inn, a fine Tudor building, which was demolished in about 1900. The Beech family ran the pub for most of the 19th century – Charles Beech was a famous local character. His chief ambition was to live to be 100, but sadly his constitution failed him at 99. The pub was so popular with both miners and metalworkers that its opening times were governed by their requirements – the inn would close at 11pm and reopen before 6am for the thirsty night shift.
Two other pubs which dated from Tudor times were the original Bull’s Head in Park Road and the original Wheatsheaf (the present building is mostly late 19th century) on the Pinfold. The Bull’s Head kitchen was a popular meeting place for local workmen – the town’s largest Friendly Society met there in the 18th century.
The original Bull’s Head and Wishing Tree, Park Road, 1927 (WLHC)
Billy Meikle, a Walsall draper, amateur historian and photographer, recorded an amusing local legend about a miner who had made himself so comfortable in the kitchen that he decided he would not go to work that day. His wife stormed out of the pub in a rage, crying that she wished the Bull’s Head would fall on him and bury him. As she passed an old tree in the yard the pub’s roof did indeed fall in. The upper rooms of the inn were demolished but no-one was upstairs and the miner was unhurt. Henceforth the tree was known as ‘The Wishing Tree’ and held in great awe. The old Bull’s Head, which was demolished in 1927, is thought to have been named after the crest of John Skeffington, a leading local landowner of the 16th century. The newer Bull’s Head has been closed for a year or so and its future is in question.
The Old King’s Arms (right), during its time as a Convent (WLHC)
One interesting local pub building which survived until the 1960s was the Old King’s Arms, at Wallington Heath. It prospered as a coaching inn during the late 18th century after the road from Walsall to Churchbridge was turnpiked, (the same development spelled ruin for the King William Inn at Little Bloxwich). In this period a young lady was murdered while staying at the King’s Arms and inevitably a legend grew up that her spirit haunted the inn. From 1814 the Old King’s Arms was a private residence, Wallington House, and, from 1904, the Convent of St. Paul of Chartres. The site is now occupied by a modern housing development.
Former King William Inn, Fishley Lane, Little Bloxwich,1938 – now demolished (WLHC)
Another, earlier, coaching house in Little Bloxwich was the King William Inn, Fishley Lane. This was on the original route to Stafford, and was a great success in its time. In 1756 the route wass changed to go via Wallington Heath, and the trade therefore passed to the Old King’s Arms (above). The King William nonetheless stayed open until 1904.
A fine, attractive old Georgian pub, the last on the road to Stafford out of Bloxwich, is the Royal Exchange, dating to the late 18th century with parts from the early 19th century. It is the only survivor from this period in Bloxwich.
The Royal Exchange, Stafford Road, mid 1960s (WLHC)
Other ancient Bloxwich inns included the Blue Pig in Elmore Row (on the site of the present library and two neighbouring houses) which was a hotbed of political debate in the 19th century, and the original Four Crosses in Green Lane, which was at one time a coaching house, with a toll gate. The later building, dating from 1924, is now an Indian restaurant and bar.
The Romping Cat, in Elmore Green Road, is a Victorian pub, which changed its name from the Sandbank Tavern in the 1950s in compliance with a local tradition that there should always be a pub of that name in memory of Sir Gilbert Wakeringe, a 16th century landowner, and patron of Bloxwich Church, whose coat of arms included such an animal.
The oldest pub still standing in Bloxwich was once almost certainly the Barley Mow, in Goscote Lane, which contained elements of a 17th century structure, substantially modified and added to in the 19th and 20th centuries. Formerly associated with one of the coal and iron businesses along the Wyrley and Essington Canal, it had been in use as an inn since shortly before 1834, when it very soon became popular with boatmen. Sadly it was demolished without announcement or ceremony a couple of years ago, leaving The Royal Exchange as Bloxwich’s oldest pub.
Although its oldest inns are mostly long gone, Bloxwich still has many newer but still attractive and lively pubs that echo their names and continue to add to the character of this ancient town.