The Bell Inn as listed in Kelly's 1892 Trade Directory
Hugh McIntyre with Blackburn Rovers 
John Roberts Jr. by Richard Emerson Ruddock [c.1895]
Is one of these men George Asbury? [c.1900]
The Bell Inn with Livery of Mercury Taverns 
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This photograph dates from around 1958 when William Briggs was the publican. He held the licence for twenty years between 1952 and 1972. The pub's location can be seen on the map extract to the right. Note that there was a large malthouse on the opposite corner of Wilton Street. Ironically, during the First World War the buildings were owned by Ansell's, arch rivals to Mitchell's and Butler's. The malthouse was previously operated by Showell's of Langley Green. In the 19th century however it was sole proprietors who were listed at this address. For example, in 1892 Thomas Swift was listed as the maltster, whilst in 1879, it was the business concern of James Poole.
The photograph below was taken a decade later and shows the pub's immediate surroundings. In both photographs the shop next door was occupied by a ladies' hairdressing salon. In the earlier images it seems to be called Adrienne's - the edge of the photograph chops off the last part of the name! However, towards the end of the 1960's the shop was called Vera's - and it was the same in 2002. In the image below you can see the Ansell's sign projecting from the Lozells Inn across the road from the Bell Inn.
The Bell started out as a beer house but was upgraded to a fully licensed house in the mid-1850's during the stewardship of John Matthews. The Birmingham-born publican was running the Bell Inn during the late 1840's with his wife Charlotte. She hailed from Brereton near Rugeley. The couple employed a barman and two house servants, suggesting that trade was pretty good at the Bell Inn.
In addition to catering for travellers or transients by offering accommodation, the Bell Inn was involved in a number of local social or sporting activities that ensured a constant level of trade throughout the calendar. For example, John Forbes organised pigeon shoots on the grounds behind the pub at a time when there were still some open fields in the locality. These shoots were quite grand affairs during which an early lunch was served to those participating in the sport.
Referring back to the plan above, it can be seen that the property of the Bell Inn was quite extensive and there was an entrance to the rear of the premises along Wilton Street. Whatever activity took place in these buildings John Forbes was seemingly not interested in engaging in them himself, preferring to rent out the property for others to try and make a living. In 1864 he advertised part of the property [probably the corner shop that later became the off licence] as "shopping, six lights, well-built and stabling with lock-up coach-house."
The licence of the Bell Inn was transferred from John Forbes to Isaiah Williams in October 1865. However, his stay at the pub was brief and by 1868 John Bennett was mine host. He and his wife Sarah were born in Gloucestershire and their time at the Bell Inn could be viewed as a natural progression in terms of movement for they had earlier kept a pub in the city centre before moving out to Lozells and then they drifted a little further out to Birchfield.
In the early 1880's the shop next to the Bell on the corner of Wilton Street was occupied by the grocer John Pugh. The Bell meanwhile was now being run by Oxford-born Adam Powell. He was the son of William Powell, an attorney's clerk turned accountant who had relocated to Duddeston when the publican was a small boy. The Powell family later moved to Victoria Road and Adam, like three of his brothers, found work in the jewellery quarter. Taking over as landlord of the Bell Inn, he remained for much of the 1880's.
I have not seen the deeds for the Bell Inn but other documents seem to point to him being the proprietor of the business rather than being a tenant of the property. It would seem that Adam Powell had a penchant for the green baize for he installed a billiards hall at the Bell Inn. The table would have provided a venue for keen players in the locality but it also played host to exhibition games and competitions. For example, in 1885 a "Grand Match between John Roberts Jnr., Champion, and H. Coles [Champion of the Midlands]." Tickets priced between 2 and 3 shillings were sold for the afternoon and evening sessions of this contest.
Staging such a billiards match at the Bell Inn was nothing short of a coup for publican Adam Powell. John Roberts Jr. was not only one of the finest billiards players, he was instrumental in establishing the modern game. His father was also a key figure in the game. He became champion in the same year that he appeared at the Bell Inn and he would dominate the sport for much of the late 19th century. In 1884, he broke the spot-barred record break with 360, taking the record from William Cook from whom he had also taken the championship title. Roberts developed the "top-of-the-table" technique and, in doing so, he changed the way that the game was played.
John Roberts was at the meeting in which the Billiards Association was formed and was influential when the rules for modern game were established. In later years Roberts entered royal circles and played exhibition games for the wealthy and celebrities, generally giving the opponents a healthy head-start before trouncing them. On one occasion he played Lily Langtry, the stage actress and music hall entertainer. The Prince of Wales, Langtry's intimate acquaintance, watched the game. He also played before the Maharajah of Jaipur.
Adam Powell must have made quite an impression in Lozells Road. His move to Handsworth was probably a desire to operate larger premises so he took over at the New Inn. He must have done pretty well for himself for he retired at a relatively early age and moved out to Shirley in what was then rural surroundings. I wish I could review the deeds of the Bell Inn because, at this point, things start to get a bit messy in terms of who owned the building and who was actually running the place. Both Harry Crow and a man called McKnight came and went. The newspaper articles published in 1891 [see right-hand column] indicate that the leasehold had been taken over by Ind Coope and that one of the company's regional managers applied for the licence but intended to have a barman run the pub. When George Taylor's application was refused, another newspaper articled reported that it had been decided that Mr. McKnight could remain in occupation pending arrangements to be made between the owners and the tenant with respect to the Bell Inn. However, another newspaper article later reported George Taylor living at the pub with his wife Theodora. He was, by all accounts, a despicable character and it was proved that he had committed several acts of violence against his wife. The article shows that Ind Coope had given him his marching orders. It would appear that they advertised for a new tenant and that Hugh McIntyre applied for and was successful in taking over as the new incumbent of the Bell Inn.
This must have created a bit of a fuss in Lozells because this was a case of another sporting celebrity gracing the premises. Hugh McIntyre [sometimes spelt MacIntyre] was a former professional football player who had played in the Scottish Cup Final for Rangers before winning the F.A. Cup with Blackburn Rovers three years in a row from 1884-6. There is a photograph of Hugh McIntyre in the image gallery above in which Blackburn Rovers are proudly displaying the F.A. Cup, the Lancashire Cup and the Lancashire Charity Cup, all three trophies won in the 1883-84 season.
The Bell Inn was not the first public house run by Hugh McIntyre. A key reason for his move down south from Glasgow was that he was appointed the licensee of the Castle Inn at Blackburn. This was an era during which, officially, players were not allowed to be paid to play the game. Clubs got around this ruling imposed by the Football Association by setting up players with paid employment. However, during McIntyre's time at Blackburn Rovers the ruling was changed and players turned professional.
Born in Glasgow around 1855, Hugh McIntyre played for both Glasgow Northern and Partick Thistle before signing for Glasgow Rangers. He only played for Scotland on one occasion, largely due to his move to Blackburn. This was a period when the Scottish Football Association refused to select players who had moved south of the border.
Unfortunately, Hugh McIntyre's move to Lozells was not a happy time for the former pro-footballer. Indeed, outside of the game, it would seem that his career was something of a disaster. After he hung up his football boots, following his failure at the Castle Inn, he left for London and went back to his trade as an upholsterer. However, he returned to the licensed trade when he came to Birmingham. Through a newspaper article published in 1892 [see column to right] we learn that Hugh MacIntyre had previously managed the Bell Inn on the corner of Bristol Street and Bell Barn Road. It was when I looked at this pub I noticed that the aforementioned Adam Powell [he of billiards match fame] kept the Bell Inn between his spell here and before his move to Handsworth. This seems too much of a coincidence. Did the sporting promoter lure Hugh MacIntyre to Birmingham to run the Bell Inn on Bristol Street before he took over at the New Inn? And was he the owner of this Bell Inn let out to Ind Coope and is this why Hugh MacIntyre was brought in to run the place after the debacle of Arthur Taylor? Whatever, it would seem that the footballer was pretty much stitched up when he signed his tenancy agreement and he soon found he was unable to make ends meet. Finding himself in debt, he removed himself to Wolverhampton where he took over as manager of the George Hotel before being declared bankrupt.
Following the departure of Hugh McIntyre, a few more publicans came and went before the arrival of George Asbury in 1897. This brings us nicely to the wonderful image below in which one can see the name of this publican emblazoned on the wooden gable advertising for the Bell Inn.
George Asbury was clearly intent on advertising all the key attributes of the Bell Inn to passers by. He was very keen to display the different types of whiskies that could be purchased at the pub. Billiards, pool and pyramids were still being played on the premises which, from the large painted advertisement between the bay windows, was being used for smoking concerts every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. By all accounts, it would seem that George Asbury had restored the fortunes of the Bell Inn.
Born in Birmingham's Gun Quarter, George Asbury, like most of his family, worked in the gun trade before his marriage to a Yorkshire lass took his career in a new direction. His wife Sarah hailed from Mirfield, near Huddersfield and the couple operated a general store on Key Hill in the early 1870's. George Asbury was licensee of the Bell Inn towards the end of the 19th century but at the end of Queen Victoria's reign he and Sarah had moved to nearby Birchfield Road where they traded as tea dealers within their grocery shop. Consequently, the date on this photograph, originally thought to be from 1905 is perhaps earlier.
Sarah Asbury died in 1902 and George remarried around seven years later. In the census of 1911 he is recorded as the licensed victualler in charge of the Star Hotel on Birchfield Road, a pub he kept with his second wife Minnie. Meanwhile at the Bell Inn George and Emily Parrock were mine hosts at the end of Queen Victoria's reign. George probably had a good idea how to keep a good pint of beer for his father worked as a brewer in Aston. At least he could rely on a guiding hand from his father.
A succession of managers/tenants came and went during the Edwardian era, suggesting that the house was not doing as well as it ought to have. Ind Coope may have thrown in the towel on the place as they opted to sell up to Mitchell's and Butler's. The Cape Hill brewery paid the sum of £4,000 to Mrs. Buckland for the freehold of the property. She had leased the building to Ind Coope and the brewery's term ended in 1909. The sale included the neighbouring shop and premises which Mitchell's and Butler's rented out for £80 per annum.
The first licensee to serve M&B beers over the counter of the Bell Inn was Herbert James. The former ivory turner was born in Birmingham whilst his wife Elizabeth hailed from Avenbury in Herefordshire. The couple were able to employ three barmen and a domestic so trade must have picked up again at the Bell Inn. They stayed until 1916 and the pub went through another few changes of management during the First World War. The wonderfully named Herbert Octavius Woodhall had previously worked as a brewer's traveller before taking over the reins of the Bell Inn with his wife Susan.
At the end of hostilities Thomas and Edith Elcocks took charge of the Bell Inn. The couple had previously worked for Cheshire's Brewery when they kept the Shakespeare Tavern in Lower Temple Street though Mitchell's and Butler's had acquired the Windmill Brewery at Smethwick during the First World War so they probably switched on to the pay roll of the Cape Hill Brewery. The Bell Inn had certainly become a managed house by this time. Thomas Elcocks was himself Smethwick-born but his wife Edith hailed from Kent.
During the 1930's the average barrelage of the Bell Inn was 570 which, combined with other takings, made a net annual profit of £1,700 for the Cape Hill Brewery - not bad going for the period.
The Bell Inn remained on the portfolio of
Mitchell's and Butler's until the early 1990's, probably as a result of the
beer orders when the business was sold off to Mercury Taverns PLC of Amington
Tamworth. A photograph from 2002 in the gallery above shows the pub in the
livery of Mercury Taverns.
"Yesterday, at the Aston Police Court before Mr. A. Hill and Alderman A. Ash,
Arthur Henry Taylor, licensed victualler, was summoned for having committed an
aggravated assault upon his wife, Theodora Taylor. Mr. Joseph Ansell [Ansell and
Ashford] appeared for the complainant, and Mr. Vachell [barrister] defended. Mr.
Ansell asked that the Bench, if he made out his case, should grant his client a
separation order, with an allowance for the support of herself and her child.
The defendant, he explained, was well known in Aston. He had at one time been
the landlord of the Guild Hotel, Witton Road, and was lately at the Bell Inn,
Lozells Road, the property of Messrs.
Ind Coope and Co., who had dispensed with his services. The complainant
stated that on the 19th ult. defendant went into
Birmingham. On his return in the evening to the Bell Inn, she put his tea
before him, and asked him if he had seen
Ind Coope and Co. He said he had and that they would have to leave the
house, but as be did not offer any further explanation she told him that she
should go to see
Ind Coope and Co. herself in the morning. She got up from the table, and was
in the act of leaving the house when defendant threw a large carving knife at
her. The handle struck her on the back of the neck and caused her to fall to the
ground, partly stunned. She afterwards picked up the knife, and told him that
she would have him at Aston Police Station for what he had done, for she would
not put up with his cruelty any longer. Defendant thereupon rushed at her, and
bumped her against the wall with all his force. The servant interfered, and was
struck. Then she received a blow on the body, and defendant caught hold of her
by the hair, threw her to the ground, and bumped her about. In the end she
managed to get away, and went and saw her brother. Emma Birch, a servant in the
employ of Taylor at the time of the alleged assault, was called, but, although
severely pressed by Mr. Ansell, persisted in saying that all the defendant did
was to order the complainant out of the room, and when she declined to go to
push her out. Mr. Ansell [to witness]: Can you swear? Witness [excitedly]: Yes.
Mr. Ansell: At what? Witness: At anything. [Laughter.] A barmaid was also
called, but did not bear out Mrs. Taylor's evidence. For the defence the assault
was denied, Mr. Vachell contending that even if it had been proved it could not
be described as an aggravated assault. The Bench, however, convicted the
defendant of an aggravated assault, and heard evidence as to previous
ill-treatment. Mrs. Taylor stated that they were married on the 15th June, 1884,
and that they lived without anything like ill-treatment taking place until about
1888, early in which year he gave her a blow on the arm with his walking-stick,,
which disabled her for some time. In January, 1889 he threw a spirit-glass at
her, in July of the same year he pointed a revolver at her; at Christmas, 1891,
while a baillif was in possession, he threw a decanter at her; and in April of
the present year he knocked her down and kicked her. In addition to this he had
also given her a black eye. Mr. Ansell said that the defendant had given way to
intemperate habits and horse racing. From bad he had gone to worse, and as in
the "Rake's Progress," so in Taylor's, everything went before him. He was now
before the Court on a charge of assaulting his wife, and she was practically
homeless. The complainant did not press for a heavy fine. Defendant was ordered
to pay £5 and costs, and a separation order was granted, Taylor to contribute £1
a week towards the support of his wife and child."
"Regarding H. MacIntyre, public-house manager. Yesterday a petition was filed in
the Wolverhampton County Court on behalf of Hugh Maclntyre, the manager of the
George Inn, Stafford Street,
Wolverhampton. The debtor formerly occupied the position of publican at the
Castle Inn, Market Street, Blackburn; upholsterer in Gray's Inn Road. London;
manager of the
Birmingham, and the Bell Inn, Lozells Road, Birmingham; and it may be added
that he held the position of captain of the Blackburn Rovers Football Club when
it was in the zenith of its power, and captured the English cup so frequently.
The meeting of creditors and the public examination are fixed for December
"Re Hugh Maclntyre, manager of the
George Hotel, Stafford Street,
Wolverhampton. Yesterday a meeting of the creditors of this bankrupt was
held at the office of the [Official Receiver], Mr. E. Pritchard, in the town of
Wolverhampton. The statement of accounts showed liabilities £352. 7s. 3d.
and assets £2. The debtor, who was formerly captain of the Blackburn Rovers
football team, was a journeyman upholsterer until 1880, when he commenced
business as a licensed victualler at the Castle Inn, Blackburn; paying with
borrowed money £500. for the goodwill, stock, plant, and license. He repaid the
whole of that money, but as the business did not pay he sold it and removed to
London, where he was employed n his own trade until November 1888, when he
became manager of the
Birmingham, and afterwards the tenant of the Bell Inn, Lozells Road,
Birmingham. The rent of the latter house was £300. a year, and the stock was
valued to him a £350. which he was to pay for by £12. 10s. per week. As his
creditors pressed him he gave up possession to the owners of the house, who took
everything on account of the moneys owing to them. In April last he secured his
present situation with £4. a week, out of which he had to pay two barmen. He
explains his insolvency as the result of heavy rental and expenses at the Bell
Inn, Lozells Road, Birmingham, having to borrow money at high rates of interest,
and certain misappropriations of cash by one of the servants, who had absconded.
The estate was left in the hands of the Official Receiver. Later in the day the
debtor was examined before Mr. Registrar Sanders, at the County Court, and he
was allowed to pass."