Once in a blue moon you have one of those knicker-wetting moments of excitement. And when I came across this old photograph I nearly fell over. Of course, you cannot show the retailer that you are in a state of euphoria because the price will suddenly rocket. This was marked up as a breakfast trip but the location was shown as “unidentified.” In today’s market this means that a juicy photograph like this will set you back around £20-30. If, however, the retailer knows the location you can often treble that amount. And if a photograph of a known location is listed on e-bay and several people want the item badly then, well, you are into triple figures. Anyway, I casually glanced at this image showing mild interest. But deep down I had an inkling that I knew this location, a key clue being the old chain factory windows in the background. So, I handed over the money and set off for home. I couldn’t wait until I got back to compare it with more recent images of the locality. And so it was confirmed that this is, in fact, a trip taken from the Bridge Inn on Reddal Hill Road, a pub that although I never knew it as a public house, was only yards from where I grew up. What a find!
The Bridge Inn was, by this period, owned by Showell's Brewery Co. Ltd. of Langley and would have been one of around 200 outlets operated by the company. In 1914 the firm was acquired by Allsopp's of Burton-on-Trent and, as a result, the Bridge Inn would have sold beers produced at Burton-on-Trent. This brings us to the photograph below which clearly shows the Bridge Inn advertising Allsopp's Burton Ales made in Burton. There is also hand-painted lettering informing passers-by that billiards could be played inside the pub. In fact, the pub's gaffer, Francis Ellis, was a fine player and regularly played in the Birmingham and District Licensed Victuallers' Handicap. He won this competition in 1918, when he beat Harry Higgs, publican of the White Swan in Sherlock Street. The final was held at the Exchange Hotel in Birmingham's Dale End. Francis Ellis also staged Billiards matches at Reddal Hill in aid of the Worcestershire prisoners-of-war. The Lichfield-born publican, along with his wife Alice, had previously kept the Holly Bush at Cradley.
The Bridge Inn looked a very inviting boozer. If I was Dr. Who I'd go back in time to enjoy a pint of Showell's beer before whizzing forward a few years to get the second round in with some ale from Allsopp's. In later years, the pub would have sold beers from Ind Coope. The two breweries merged in 1934.
As for the setting around the Bridge Inn, this photograph shows Spinner's End during the mid-1930's. The photographer would have been stood close to the Bridge Inn and pointing the lens towards Cradley Heath. The date is probably 1936 as a billboard for the Royal Cinema is advertising “Melody of my Heart.” a musical starring Derek Oldham, Lorraine La Fosse and Bruce Seton. The cinema was also about to screen a film made in the previous year. “Last of the Pagans,” was shot around Tahiti featuring Mala and Lotus. Quite exotic for a Cradley Heath audience! Hiding part of the old railway goods yard, the billboards were very much in use throughout my childhood. I can also remember using that telephone kiosk next to the library if I wanted to make a call without members of the family listening into my conversation. The shop of the left, on corner of Plant Street, is that of J. N. Cockin, who was a photographer. This makes me wonder if, indeed, he took this photograph? His telephone number was Cradley Heath 6315, not that the town had thousands of telephones during the inter-war years! A poster stuck on the wall of the old works on the corner of Newtown Street is something of an early drink-driving campaign in that it declares “There’s Death on the Road when there’s Drink at the Wheel.” A sign along the Upper High Street frontage advertises a Public Weighing Machine “Up to 20 Tons.” I can remember seeing this old weighbridge when I used to walk past. This was on the site of the Wrought Iron Centre.
Benjamin and Mary Harris were mine hosts of the Bridge Inn during the early 1870's. The couple had previously toiled away in the nail trade whilst living in Lawrence Lane. The pub was fully licensed at this time. Mary Harris succeeded her husband as licensee and was helped by her son Thomas.
Henry Watkins was recorded as a public house manager in 1891, suggesting the pub had been bought by a brewery that had installed him as custodian. George Stanton was of a similar status, having taken over the Bridge Inn after operating a fish shop in Cradley Heath High Street. He kept the Bridge Inn with his wife Sarah Harris whom he married in 1885 at St. John's Church in Halesowen.
By the end of the Edwardian period, Thomas and Louisa Lander were running the Bridge Inn. Thomas was from Tardebigge but Louisa hailed from West Bromwich. One assumes that Thomas kept an orderly house for he was once a policeman in Aston Manor.
Ethel Denbury was the last licensee of the Bridge Inn. The licence was terminated on June 25th 1959, though was not expire until December 31st in the same year.
The photograph above shows the former Bridge Inn and neighbouring properties as I remember them in the late 1960's. The old building is still discernible but the frontage was changed to accommodate some retail outlets. The corner shop was one of my favourites as it sold toys and models. I still have a chess set that my sister bought from here as a present for my 11th birthday!
The other shop established in part of the former Bridge Inn [to the right of the toy shop] was a hairdressing salon called "Francis." As a small boy I could see the women having those big hairdryers stuck on top of their head. It was all a bit curious to me - like a boy would understand anything about women's things, especially in those days. Actually, women are still a mystery to me and I listen to "Woman's Hour" on R4 most days! Anyway, "Francis" had the classic smell of dye or burning hair, perhaps it was even burning flesh Does anyone know who "Francis" was? Did you have a hair-do in here?
There was a butcher's shop just a bit further along? They always seemed to be having a rip-roaring laugh in there but, as they were about 20 years or more older than me, they were too distant to talk to if you know what I mean? Plus, they had big choppers! I can remember being sent up the road though to get some belly draught or something for dinner. We also used to buy weird things for our boxer dog like trotters or lites. Blinkin' 'eck, the smell of lites cooking has come back to haunt me. They used to stink the house out but the dog used to go crazy for them - her name was Sadie by the way, and I still think about her today. What a loyal dog she was. I used to take her over Bearmore Bank but could never wear her out. Anyway, she knew what was coming her way when the smell of lites got going. She would pace up and down the kitchen getting worked up into a state of frenzy.
Another photograph to feature the former Bridge Inn, this time
looking down Newtown Street. Another business to occupy part of the old pub was
E. A. Ladd Opticians. The address for this was No.60 Newtown Street rather than
Reddal Hill Road. I know little of this business though my mother must have been
a customer as she depended on her bins to get through life. Newtown Street was a
hive of activity during the day and often at night. Together with the factories
in Oak Street, there was a right old noise throughout the night. Looking back, I
don't know how I got to sleep at night. And I'm not sure how my mother managed
to hang her washing out in the back garden without if getting dirty again. You
could even hear the noise of the goods trains on the Surfeit Hill incline during
the night. Reddal Hill was only quiet on Sundays. The road surface in Newtown
Street and Oak Street was orange in places due to the metal fragments that
rusted. I used to walk down there to head off to the speedway or to play in
Mousesweet Brook and to inhale a bit of industrial contamination or completely
immerse myself in gunge if I fell in the brook.
"The engineer, Benjamin Danks, who recently caused the death of a man named
Careless, a doggy and underlooker at the Reddall Hill colliery, by drawing the
skip in which the men were being pulled to the top of the pit over the pulley,
has been committed for trial on a charge of manslaughter."