The position of the Black's Head is such that it is sometimes described as being located in a corner of the old market place. The building in front of the Black's Head almost deprives the pub of a proper frontage but this was part of the hotchpotch development around this part of the settlement that now provides some wonderful townscape and visual interest, making a visit to Wirksworth such an enriching experience.
These two blokes have the right idea. It’s a nice warm Spring day so why not stop off at the Black’s Head for a pint – except that, although it is pleasant to watch life go by in the heart of the town, they are missing out on the rather splendid traditional interior. The building dates from the early 19th century and has lovely sash windows featuring chunky keyblocks and channelled lintels. It was a Hardy’s and Hanson’s pub when I took this photograph but it later became part of the Greene King empire following the takeover of the Kimberley brewery. I should have taken a photograph of the interior on this day as the building has inevitably been refurbished by Greene King and, whilst it is still a decent drinking environment, a few of the 'old' bits have been lost.
George Heald was the publican during the early 19th century. Born in Ashover in 1774, he kept the tavern with his wife Hannah who hailed from Carsington. The couple operated the pub for a generation. The extract above is taken from the 1849 Post Office Directory and shows George Heald at the Saracen's Head. However, I suspect this to be the sign's close association with this name rather than a different appellation or property. In the census George Heald is clearly recorded at the Black's Head.
Eight years later the pub is listed as the Blackmoor's Head in White's History, Gazetteer and Directory of Derbyshire and Sheffield published in 1857, and in which William Beswick was recorded as the licensee. It is possible that the name was being tinkered with during the mid-19th century - all three names share similar connotations.
John Dicken took over the Black's Head Inn in the mid-1850's. He was born 1824 in County Clare, Ireland where his father, also John, served in the army before moving to Wirksworth where he worked as both farrier and drill sergeant. John Dicken probably helped in the family business as he was recorded as a horse breaker before entering the licensed trade. He kept the Black's Head Inn with his wife Jane. She hailed from Nettlecombe in Somerset and was born around 1817. Following her death in 1880, John Dicken continued to run the Black's Head. He was assisted by his niece Amelia who was officially recorded as housekeeper.
After running the pub for over a quarter of a century, John Dicken decided to give up the Black's Head in 1882. The sale notice above details the land and property. It also shows that John Dicken brewed his own ales that were sold in the Black's Head Inn.
John Dicken remarried and later lived in Coldwell Street with his wife Elizabeth, a retired veterinary surgeon. At the end of the Edwardian period he was living in a ten-roomed house at the age of 88. However, by this time he was both blind and deaf. His wife Elizabeth was ten years younger. The couple lived with his daughter Annie Elizabeth Cotes who was a widow. The family employed Mary Steeples as a domestic servant.
Frank Bealing was the innkeeper at the Black's Head Inn by the early 1890's. The son of a farmer, the Wiltshire-born publican kept the house with his wife Elizabeth who hailed from nearby Brassington. The couple had married at Ashbourne in 1887. The daughter of a farmer, Elizabeth was part of the Slack family that kept a number of public houses in the region. Her younger brother Albert was once the publican of the Bear Inn at Alderwasiey.
In 1899 there was a case of 'musical pubs' when Frank Bealing swapped places with James Timms. In March of that year a temporary transfer of licences was granted enabling Frank Bealing to move to the New Inn at Bolehill and James Timms to take over at the Black's Head. The licences were fully transferred on Wednesday April 12th 1899.
Approved by magistrates at the Wirksworth Petty Sessions, structural alterations were made to the Black's Head in 1912. John McCreery was the publican at this time. A joiner by trade, he had married Alicia Bates in 1894. John McCreery was a member of the local Freemasons and was also a keen pigeon racer.
The McCreery's lost their son, Charles, who was killed in France in 1916. Although only 16 at the outbreak of the war, he had left his position working for Miss E. Arkwright at the Gate House to enlist in the Sherwood Foresters. He was buried at Warlincourt Halte British Cemetery near Saulty in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France. His name also appears on the war memorial at Wirksworth.
The licence for the Black's Head Inn was transferred from John McCreery to John
June 30th, 1931. He was still running the pub at the outbreak of the Second
I must admit I was slightly surprised to find this sign hanging outside the pub in 2012. The photograph to the left shows a plain sign in 2003. At some point, a decision was made to reinstate an older theme on the signboard. The sign has, in what is called enlightened times, become rather controversial. One could argue however that modern perceptions or sensitivity take little account of any historical context. Historically, the name is a variant of Blackamoor's Head which has a similar background to that of the Saracen's Head inn sign and tended to refer to Arabic people rather than Africans. However, this pub was opened at a time when there was quite a widespread fascination for black people in Great Britain, either through literature, with popular works such as Robinson Crusoe, or by means of word-of-mouth from returning seafarers, though the latter could have been via those engaged in the slave trade. The sign became fashionable with publicans, coffee house proprietors and even tobacconists, a trade in which the Black Boy emerged as an inn sign as early as the 16th century. The sign, which is perhaps influenced by a beer label of the brewery that once operated the Black's Head, was used in other places in the region, notably at Ashbourne.
"A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”
"The funeral took place at Hazelwood on Tuesday of Mrs. Patience Slack, aged 59,
widow of Mr. Albert Slack, licensed victualler, at one time landlord of the
Black's Head Inn at Wirksworth. The deceased lady, who died at the Pack Horse
Cottage, Alderwasiey, was for many years, landlady of the Bear Inn, a roadside
"Joseph Allen, labourer, was charged with being disorderly and refusing to quit
the Black's Head Inn,
Wirksworth, on the 21st January. Mr. Bealing, landlord of the Inn, gave
evidence, showing defendant came to the house about 9.30 p.m., and after being
there a short time, commenced to use bad language, and conduct himself in a very
disorderly manner. Witness asked him to leave the house several times, but he
refused to go. He then attempted to pass upstairs into the dancing room but
witness prevented him by force, and attempted to put him out but they fell down
together, the landlord's waistcoat being torn and his watchguard broken into
three parts in the struggle. Eventually defendant was persuaded by some friends
to leave. Defendant denied the charge and said he was never asked to leave until
he got to the stairs, when the landlord attempted to put him out. The
Magistrates, after a few minutes deliberation in private, decided to convict,
and imposed a fine of 2s. 6d."
Wirksworth soldier, Private Charles McCreery, of the Sherwood Foresters, son
of Mr John McCreery, licensee of the Black’s Head Inn,
Wirksworth, has succumbed to a head wound. He was only 16 when he enlisted
early in the war and 18 at the of time of his death. Private McCreery was a
member of a Lewis gun team, and in civil life was employed Miss E. E. Arkwright,
the Gate House,