The Beggar's Bush
This Edwardian photograph shows an earlier Beggars Bush public house in New Oscott. It is thought to be the third pub to stand on the site. Note the hawthorn bush that once stood outside the building. Such was its significance, it was protected by iron railings. However, when the road was widened, the local authorities thought the car was more important than cultural landmarks. Consequently, the bush was removed and a fresh layer of tarmac took its place.
In 2013 the pub was being operated by the John Barras Group. The company had placed a signboard on the pub's wall near the main entrance and I'll quote the words here before discussing the name in more detail. The sign reads: "The original Beggar's Bush coaching inn dates back to 1841. The building as it stands now was created in 1927. The pub takes its name from a 17th century legend. The 'bush' was actually an old hawthorn tree. It stood at the centre of a crossroads marking the Warwickshire/Stafford border. On a cold winter's night a beggar rested underneath the bush, and there he came to the end of his life. The bush was situated on the border of Erdington and Sutton Coldfield parishes but neither wanted to take responsibility for the burial. After many disagreements, they decided to split the cost and the beggar was laid to rest. The bush has long since disappeared, dug up in the 1930's to alter Chester Road. But to this day the legend is still remembered in the name of this public house."
It is a good story but... there are, or have been, a number of pubs around the country with the name of the Beggar's Bush. It is also interesting to note that this pub, formerly the Bush Inn, was not always known as the Beggar's Bush. It came and went in the 19th century but was reinstated in trade directories from 1908 when George Harding was the licensee. Also of interest is that the apostrophe is at the end - this is quite important when discussing the name of the building.
Parish boundaries were popular meeting places for the poor for they could be 'out of reach' of those who had jurisdiction. The term Beggars' Bush is attributed to Adam Foulweather who used the phrase in an almanac published in 1591. This discusses people ‘who shall never tarry with master, but trudge from post to pillar, till they take up beggars' bush for their lodging.' However, begging on the edge of a parish boundary was not without risk for, in Elizabethan times, a law was passed whereby any ‘rogue, vagabond, or sturdy beggar' found begging should be ‘stripped naked from the middle upwards and openly whipped until his or her body be bloody, and then passed to his or her birthplace or last residence.'
Whilst it is true that parishes contested the cost of caring for the poor,
resulting in disputes at boundary points, it is unlikely that the fee for
burying one humble soul would cause such a dispute. Another element of the John
Barras signboard is the claim that this was on old coaching inn - in the
Edwardian photograph above the building certainly doesn't appear to be large
enough to accommodate coaches. Still, like I say, it's a good tale.
The old pub was certainly known as the Beggar's Bush in 1896 when John Foden was the publican. He was succeeded by George Harding, a man who kept the pub when the first photograph was taken. Born in 1838 in Birmingham, he kept the Bush Inn with his son George, along with his German-born daughter-in-law Kate. The family employed a number of servants including an ostler but this was probably for single horse travellers rather than large coaches or waggons.
At the turn of the 20th century, the Bush Inn was recorded in the civil parish of Sutton Coldfield and in the urban district of Boldmere.
George Harding had been in the licensed trade for many years. Along with his wife Henrietta, he had once kept the Rolling Mill Inn on Thimble Mill Lane whilst also working as a brassfounder. By 1891 the widower was running the Justice Inn on Great Russell Street.
In 1912 the Beggar's Bush was run by William Hook. His nearest competitor was Mrs Esther Dolby who kept a beer house called the New Oscott Tavern. There was also The Greyhound in New Oscott which in 1912 was run by William John May.
The Beggar's Bush was later operated by
Ansell's Brewery Ltd. The Aston brewery almost certainly rebuilt this
property. The pub can be seen here not long after it was constructed and looking