The photograph below was taken around 1937, some three years after it became part of the tied estate of Ansell's. If you compare this image with a more recent photograph then you'll see that, apart from the loss of some fittings and a different paint job, little has changed on the exterior. The removal of the large lanterns has detracted from the building's character somewhat. The interior of the pub has been drastically altered though a few fixtures and fittings remain from the Victorian period.
You'll also notice on the 2002 photograph that the pub is called the Old Fox and that a logo on the fascia states that the pub was established in 1891. This is a curious thing to display on the pub's frontage because, firstly, construction on the Fox you see here was not started until the following year and, secondly, the original Fox Inn dated back to at least 1808, and possibly the latter years of the 18th century. Perhaps they mean the relationship that the pub has enjoyed with the Hippodrome Theatre - but even this date is incorrect.
The term 'Old Fox' is not new to the pub - the original building was trading
under such a name in 1828 when James Lawley was the publican. However, this
seems to have been shortened to The Fox in later years, with the appendage of
inn and hotel to reflect the pub's status.
The Fox was ideally positioned to offer complementary refreshments for those visiting the nearby Ladywell Baths. In 1831 the baths were extensively refurbished and improved by the owner Mr. Monro who advised the public that a new powerful steam boiler had been installed that could "accommodate patrons with just five minutes' notice with Baths in either Wood or Marble, of the artificial Waters of Cheltenham, Harrogate, Leamington. Salt Water, Shower Bath etc." The business seemed to promote the healing properties of the baths as opposed to the uplifting or enriching experience for the consumer.
James Lawley was the publican of the Fox Tavern, as it was then known, by 1824. He is recorded as the licensee in an article that reported the death of his son George, aged 17, who passed away after a lingering illness. Later in the same year James Lawley re-married at Aston on November 23rd to Miss Payton of Bromsgrove Street. The publican suffered another tragedy in January 1829 when, Phoebe, his eldest daughter, died aged 25.
William Brookes took over the Fox Tavern in 1828. In February of the following year he was married at St. Martin's Church to Ann Hughes. She was the daughter of James Hughes of Carrs Lane.
The Fox Inn passed to other members of the Hughes clan in 1839 when Erdington-born Richard Greensall took over the licence. Two years earlier, on May 24th, 1837, he had married Mary Hughes at Solihull. The couple kept the Fox Tavern for a few years before moving out to Great Barr to run the Bull's Head, a business in which the couple combined the public house with a farm.
The members of the Tantivy Court of Foresters' used to meet at the Fox Tavern and publican Joseph Brookes was once a Chief Ranger. In 1849 when he departed as publican he was presented with a "handsome silver snuff box, in testimony of his services, and as a memorial of their friendship and esteem."
A controversial figure from Worcester took over at the Fox Tavern in the late 1849, by which time the pub was being listed as the Old Fox. Emanuel Maiden had moved to Birmingham with his family to rebuild his life. He had faced deportation, or transportation as it was known, when he was found guilty of manslaughter whilst publican of the Shakespeare Hotel in Worcester's Angel Street. After moving to Birmingham he became involved in local politics. In April 1849, and as publican of the Old Fox, he was elected a member of the Guardians of the Poor. He was also elected to the committee of the Birmingham Licensed Victuallers Asylum.
There was quite a house-warming when Emanuel Maiden became the tenant of the Fox Inn. His signing of the lease was "celebrated by a very convivial party and the dinner was as good as could be supplied, and the wines and dessert excellent. J. B. Payn, Esq., presided, and Mr. John Roderick filled the vice-chair; there were also present Messrs. T. Harding, H. Hawkes, T. Powell, Campbell, and upwards of fifty guests. The hilarity of the evening was much enhanced by a selection of glees sung by Messrs. Smith, Betts, Fellows, and Mackain, and Mr. Herbert Hudson."
Emanuel Maiden kept the Old Fox with his wife Kezia. The couple employed the aptly-named Thomas Drinkwater to produce the homebrewed ales sold in the pub. Ill fate struck, however, shortly after the Maiden's had settled in properly. Kezia died in October 1851. Emanuel himself fell ill and this forced him to sell his interest in the Fox Inn.
The above advertisement appeared in the local press during June 1852. It details the business and turnover that the pub enjoyed in the past.
Samuel Bartholomew acquired the 11-year lease on the Fox Inn and proposed to run the house and continue in his business as a painter, plumber and glazier. His premises were located in Allison Street. Here he had a yard and employed men to undertake the work on site around the town.
Just over a month of the sale, at the age of 46, Emanuel Maiden died on August 20th, 1852.
In 1870 the pub was trading as the Fox Inn and Freemasons' Tavern. In December of that year Police Constable Bird entered the building and arrested one of the customers, James Swigg, who was wearing a new-looking coat and waistcoat. He was a suspect in the case of a burglary at the house of Paulina Newman, a second-hand clothes dealer in Lower Hurst Street. Thieves had broken the cellar window chain, entered the shop and stole goods valued at £7. A resident of Barford Street, Swigg clearly had little gumption - he left his old clothes in the shop during the raid. When arrested in the Fox Inn, he said that "he supposed he should have to suffer for it". He was charged and committed to the Assizes.
John Binns was the licensee at this time. He kept the Fox Inn and Freemasons' Tavern with his wife Jane. The couple had previously run a shop at the top end of Hurst Street, where John Binns worked as a carver, gilder and picture-frame maker. The couple's shop was the scene of an arson attack in 1864 when William Shipley, a former employee set fire to the premises. He considered that he had been wrongfully dismissed and determined to take revenge on the proprietor. Fortunately, the fire brigade attended the scene quickly and the fire was subdued before too much damage was done.
John Binns continued to operate the shop whilst holding the licence for the King's Arms in Great Barr Street. John and Jane Binns lived on the premises when they were custodians of the Fox Inn. They lived above the pub with three children, John , Sarah and George. Other older children had made their own way by this time. The couple employed Jane Harris as a domestic servant. The Fox was still a homebrew house at this point for John Binns employed George Stone as a brewer.
John Binns was a carver and gilder of some note. In 1869 he worked on the gilding of the Crystal Palace Concert Hall. He was also the licensee of a number of Birmingham's public houses. After running the Fox Inn, he was the landlord of the Plough and Harrow at Highgate in the early 1870's. He later moved to the Woodman Inn on Little Ann Street where he succeeded James Howe in 1875. He had also tried to acquire the Queen's Arms in Bradford Street.
Ann Jones took over as the gaffer behind the counter of the Fox Inn. Born in 1803, she also worked as a butcher. The lease of the building however was owned by Thomas Guest. A rate book for 1871 details a licensed public house, brewhouse, stabling and premises. Ann Jones paid an annual rent of £56.0s.0d. and her rates totalled £3.15s.10d. She was helped at the Fox Inn by her daughters Harriet and Ellen.
Not long after James Greaves took over the reins of the Fox Inn, he applied for permission to convert a smoke room and parlour into a shop, and construct a door into the street. The publican later moved to the King's Head on Bell Barn Road.
Albert Edmund Claybrook was host of the Fox Inn during the mid-1880's. He had previously kept the Crown Inn on Unett Street and the Cross Keys in Windsor Street. He was what was termed a licensed victuallers' manager so moved around quite a bit, working on behalf of those who held the licence. He had married Sarah Jane Harnett at St. Luke's Church in February 1882 but his relations with his wife became strained. He later told the court, when applying for a divorce, that "they did not get on well together and there were quarrels." He added that she "used to absent herself from home and would give no explanation" and that she "used to get drunk." She became intimately involved with Frederick Snow and they used to meet in the Anchor Inn at Caroline Street. The couple were divorced in 1891.
In the late 1880's the Fox Inn was acquired by George Smith and Henry Charles Fulford. The latter was the owner of the brewery that would evolve into the Holt Brewery Company. The rapid growth of Holt's was no doubt due to the fact that Henry Fulford was a large shareholder and a member of the Town Council for Nechells and Chairman of the Markets and Fairs Committee. However, the building plans for the new Fox Inn were drawn up for George Smith - did he receive a loan from the brewery? The plans, which were approved in March 1892, show a vaults for perpendicular drinking, a smoke room for the middle classes, a private room - perhaps for the publican to entertain special guests, and a lock-up shop. There was a club room on the first floor of the building.
A rate book for 1896 shows that ownership of the building had been transferred to the Holt Brewery Company, though I suspect that this would have been the normal 99 year lease from the Gooch Estate. The improvements came at a price. Before the rebuild the annual rental was £66.0s.0d., the annual rates £5.13s.0d. Following reconstruction these sums had increased to £150.0s.0d. and £14.6s.11d. An early manager for Holt's was Joseph Reeves. However, this ushered in the era of the revolving door manager - many came and went in succeeding years.
Albert Spiers stayed for a few years during the mid-Edwardian period. He was a well-known figure in bicycle racing. His speciality was the one-mile scratch race which he won on a number of occasions at Aston.
In the late Edwardian period Arthur Murcott was in charge of the Fox Inn. He was another public house manager that moved around the circuit. In 1911 he was the manager of the Plough and Harrow on Moseley Road, a pub that his father had kept during the late Victorian era.
David Purcocks was the manager in the 1920's. The son of an Aston chimney sweep, he was once a gymnast and was better known as Jack Pardoe of the Marvellous Pardoes. Touring the country, they were billed as the "Original and Only Human Bundle, Sensational Gymnasts and Contortionists." The licence passed to his wife Violet. She later took over the Bath Tavern in Gooch Street. It was whilst she was managing that house that her husband died in Dudley Road Hospital after suffering bronchial pneumonia.
A full list of licensees from the Second World War up until 1986 is listed in the second column. If anybody can remember them or, indeed, any publicans of more recent times then please contact me with details and/or information and I will post here. By this time the Old Fox was being operated by Ansell's as they had acquired Holt's in 1934.
I believe that the Old Fox was being operated by Chandler's Brewery Limited in
2014. This business is registered at Aston Lane in Witton. I assume that they
were responsible for the pub stocking a wider range of real ales, resulting in
the Old Fox being included in the Good Beer Guide in 2014-5. I know I have found
it handy for nipping over the road during the interval when going to the
I do not know of a traditional painted sign at this particular Fox Inn so I have used another for illustrative purposes. The name was applied to the pub when the original building was on the edge of the town, where the urban development gave way to a locale devoted to market gardening. The Fox would no doubt have been a frequent visitor to such an environment. In general however, the sign of The Fox has been used since the late fifteenth century. Many signs of The Fox used to carry the verse: 'I am a crafty fox you see, but there is no harm in me, my master he has placed me here, to let you know he sells good beer.'
You can click on the video above to listen to a chat in May 2005 with life-long Brummie drinker Ron Welch in the Old Fox. Born in Ladywood and working as an electrician in and around the city centre, Ron frequented almost every boozer in Brum - most of which have since been demolished. In this brief interview Ron talks about drinking in the Fox before and after a show across the road in the Hippodrome. After a few more pints Ron told me much more and revealed that his favourite pint over the years was brewed by Dares at Highgate.
"Thomas Thornton , shoemaker, and Frederick Gibson , same trade,
were charged with having assaulted Charles Hinds, Birmingham, on the third of
June, and robbed him of l8s.6d. Mr. Bennett prosecuted, and Mr. Buszard
defended. Prosecutor was at the Fox Inn,
Hurst Street, on the day mentioned, drinking with several others, when a
"free fight" sprung up, in the course of which prosecutor was severely beaten
and robbed. There was no evidence to connect Gibson with the affair, and by his
Lordship's direction he was discharged. Thornton was found guilty, and after a
black roll previous convictions had been read over, he was sentenced to seven
years' penal servitude, and afterwards ten years' police surveillance."
"Nearly four hundred men were out on strike yesterday, and by this evening it is
expected that practically all the riveters and finishers will have left work. A
deputation from the men's society waited upon some of the non-association
masters, and Mr. Tarbuck, of
Snow Hill, and Mr. Faybury, of
Ledsam Street, agreed to pay according to the men's statement. It is said
that the works of Messrs. Davis, Stiff, and Co. and Mr. Isaac Jonas are now
stopped. The workmen's committee met last evening, at the Fox Inn,
Hurst Street, to consider the masters' proposal that the conference should
be reopened and all disputed points referred to arbitration. The committee sat
for a long while, and then adjourned the consideration of the question until
this evening. Mr. Inskip, the general secretary of the union, is expected in the
city on Saturday."
"John Egan , bailiff,
Windmill Street, was charged with stealing two barometers, from 99,
Smallbrook Street Mr. Rowlands prosecuted, on behalf of Charles Willet,
Camp Hill, assignee of the estate of John James Kaeser, bankrupt. The
prisoner was employed, under bailiff in possession, the premises of Mr. Kaeser,
Smallbrook Street, and on the 3rd December the goods, amongst which there
were many barometers, were removed, and the prisoner assisted in that work.
Later on the same day the prisoner took two barometers to the house of Mr. Binns,
the Fox Inn,
Hurst Street, and asked to leave them there. He was afterwards arrested on
the charge of stealing the barometers, which belonged to the bankrupt's stock,
and then said that Mr. Willets had given him authority to leave them
"somewhere," but prosecutor declared this statement to be untrue. The prisoner
was committed for trial, and admitted to bail."
"Francis Pegrino , an African, was charged with stealing three
waistcoats and a pair of trousers, the properly of John Binns, landlord of the
Hurst Street, in whose service he was employed as a waiter. Mr. Keanleyside
prosecuted, The prisoner was caught In the act of stealing the goods from a
chest of drawers in a bedroom; and as he had placed his boots near to the
entrance-door of the house, not the ordinary place for them, it was presumed
that his intention was to abscond with the property in the night. Tire Jury
found the prisoner not guilty. As he left the dock he exclaimed, "Thank you.
You'll never see me here again, I'll bet." [laughter]
"Edward Richards , bedstead maker, Mark Lane, was charged with stabbing
Samuel Malin. It appeared that on Saturday night prosecutor was standing at the
top of the entry in which he lived, when prisoner, with others, were taking part
in a row. The crowd came towards where prosecutor was, and the prisoner, without
any provocation, struck him on the mouth and ran away. Prosecutor followed, and
caught him near the Fox Inn,
Hurst Street, where prisoner threw himself on the ground, and prosecutor
then received a stab on the thigh. The wound which was a very extensive and
severe one, was dressed at the Queen's Hospital, and prosecutor has since been
compelled to walk by the aid of crutches. It was stated that prisoner was seen
with a knife in his hand when he first assaulted prosecutor. Prisoner was
arrested on Sunday by Police Constable Goodman. Mr. Gilbert Smith, house surgeon
of the Queen's Hospital, proved that prosecutor was suffering from an incised
wound an inch and a half long. The prisoner was committed for trial at the
"The clerks and workpeople in the employ of Mr. James Kimberley, factor and
stove manufacturer, of
Inge Street, in this town, were entertained on Saturday se'nnight at a most
substantial dinner, provided at the Fox Inn,
Hurst Street, to mark the successful close of the late stove season. Mr.
Alfred Kimberley presided, and in the course of the evening a chaste and elegant
silver cup was presented by the stove workpeople to Mr. James Kimberley, by
their superintendent, Mr. H. Ellis. The cup which was supplied Mr. Keeley, of
New Street, bears the following inscription, engraved within a well-chased
shield : "Presented to James Kimberley, Esq., by his workmen, as token of their
deep respect and esteem. January 14th, 1854." The festivites were continued on
Monday by the workmen and their wives friends, etc. The dinner did great credit
to Mr. and Mrs. Bartholomew, by whom it was served."
“At the Birmingham Police Court this morning Frank Lester , Brighton
Terrace, Norman Street, Winson Green, was charged with assaulting Frederick
William Gardner, landlord of the Fox Inn public house,
Hurst Street. He was also summoned for assaulting Joseph Plant, friend of
the landlord. The defendant, it was mentioned, went to the public house last
night and immediately smashed a glass on the table. The prosecutor and Plant
then tried to put him out, and he threw another glass at the landlord, but it
missed him. The contents, however, went into Gardner’s face. He also kicked
Plant on the leg. Lester, who was described by the magistrate as not fit to be
at large, was fined 20s. and costs."