History of the Railway Tavern at Cradley Heath in the county of Staffordshire


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Some history of the Railway Tavern Inn at Cradley Heath

The publicans of Cradley Heath must have had some sort of love affair with the railways. Despite the fact that it resulted in a number of houses named the Railway, several of the publicans elected to dedicate their pub name to this 'new' form of transport in the 19th century. Just to clear things up a bit before looking at the Railway Tavern in detail, the Vine and Railway Hotel was right next to the train station, the Railway Hotel was in Lomey Town a few yards from Christ Church and almost opposite the Salutation Inn. This pub, the Railway Tavern, was located in Grainger's Lane, across the road from the rebuilt Primitive Methodist Chapel.

The photograph below of the Railway Tavern was taken around 1940 when Sydney Lane was the licensee and the pub had recently changed to a Banks's house. He kept the pub from June 1935 to April 1942, first for Batham's and later for Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries Ltd. The Railway Tavern was a neat-looking building that possibly benefited from some re-modelling in the Edwardian period. The hood moulding following a line across the frontage over the voussoirs and doorway, coupled with light bands following the lines of the window ledges create a sense of evenness on what was a sloping site. Terracotta was used to create an attractive cornice. The etched glass panes reveal that the bar was to the right of the building and the smoke room to the left. The original layout of the pub was fairly simple. A servery was located in the bar, a room roughly twice the size of the smoke room. The latter was a room in which the customers received waiter service. A separate living room to the rear of the smoke room was the reserve of the publican's friends and those with an invitation.

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Although the Railway Tavern was some distance from the station, the building was not far from the embankment that carried the line over Grainger's Lane. Many tons of earth was required to construct the embankment in order to facilitate the incline up to Old Hill and Rowley Regis. One of the losses for the town was the removal of Grainger's Hall and the road from Five Ways to Corngreaves commemorates this ancient edifice along, of course, with the industrialists who resided in the house. Daniel and Sarah Grainger, along with their son Daniel, a nail master, were in residence in the early 1840's. The gradual appearance of a railway embankment must have had quite an impact on those living nearby. The change to the landscape was no doubt dramatic if not traumatic for some. The line to Old Hill was operational by 1863 and was extended to Smethwick in 1867, thus enabling a connection to Birmingham.

The Railway Inn on Grainger's Lane in Cradley Heath [c.1940]

This pub pre-dates the railway by some years and the building's name was no doubt changed to celebrate Cradley Heath's new form of transport. It would seem that the census enumerator of 1871 listed the New Inn under the wrong name - maybe he had a jar or two on the way down Grainger's Lane. However, it would appear that the former name of this beer house was the Malt Shovel Inn. This would make sense as there was a brewery at the rear of the pub. What is certain is that William Billingham was the publican by 1868 and the place was trading as the Railway Tavern. The confusion is caused by the enumerator who, three years later, lists William Billingham at this address whilst recording the New Inn's long-serving publican William Tibbetts at the Malt Shovel. It is true that the latter was a maltster but ten years earlier the census correctly has William Tibbetts at the New Inn whilst Thomas Hill is the licensee of the Malt Shovel. Of course this would all be cleared up if the title deeds were available. However, the Railway Tavern is long gone and it disappeared at a time when historical documents were not treasured.

The Malt Shovel name not only makes sense with the brewery at the rear but also because Oldswinford-born Thomas Hill was a maltster. He kept the Malt Shovel Inn with his wife Mary Ann. The couple later moved to the Park Lane Tavern in Cradley. In later years Thomas Hill was recorded as a brewer and carter at Two Gates, suggesting perhaps that he was supplying ales to pubs in the local area.

The Billingham family took over the Railway Tavern in the 1860's and they remained until the Edwardian period. William Billingham was part of a chain-making clan that lived around the Five Ways area for generations. His father Jeremiah plied his trade in Lomey Town and married Selena Billingham, a fact with which I cannot help but raise an eyebrow. Another Jeremiah Billingham, though possibly of the same branch of the clan, was running the Salutation Inn in 1841. Charlotte Billingham, who had married Daniel Batham, founder of Batham's brewery, was living a short distance away from the Railway Tavern during the 1870's. William Billingham also went in search of a wider gene pool and married Caroline Beasley on February 4th 1867 at St. Edmund's church in Dudley.

Advertisement for Jeremiah Billingham's Shipping Tackle Works on Grainger's Lane in Cradley Heath [1880]

It is not clear who was operating the brewery behind the Railway Tavern during this period. William Billingham does not appear in trade directories as a brewer or maltster though other branches of the Billingham family were brewing up elsewhere in the town. The Bell Inn also became an outlet for Billingham beers made close to the site of the Anchor Hotel. Benjamin and Caroline were productive in other areas. By the time of the 1881 census they had four children. In fact, the couple had seven children in all but only four survived into adulthood.

The capital that William Billingham required for the Railway Tavern probably came from his father Jeremiah. His business had prospered during the mid-19th century and he established a shipping tackle works further down Grainger's Lane. Jeremiah died in 1886 and William found himself working as both publican and shipping tackle manufacturer. He was, of course, helped by his sons and the business continued to flourish.

Cradley House at Wollaston - Home of William and Caroline Billingham

During the Edwardian period William and Caroline Billingham opted to move to greener pastures. Leaving the Railway Tavern and the works to his sons, they moved to Wollaston. I had often wondered why there was a Cradley House in Wollaston and it was not until I followed the path of William Billingham that I discovered the reason. He and his wife Caroline clearly felt they needed to acknowledge their origins when they gave their home a title. It is possible that William Billingham had Cradley House built for his impending move to the edge of the urban area. Constructed in 1902, the attractive house stands a short distance up the hill from the Plough Inn.

According to licensing records Quarry Bank-born Harry Bellfield acquired the Railway Tavern from Esau Watts, a former chainmaker who had taken over the Highland Tavern on the Holyhead Road in Handsworth. Quite where he fits into the story of the Railway Tavern is something of a mystery. He was from the Cradley Heath area but had spent time working in Yorkshire. I also believe the maltster Clarence Luke Taylor once had an interest in the Railway Tavern.

Harry Bellfield was documented as a brewer in the census of 1911 so at least we know the brewery behind the pub was still operational at this stage. The son of the nail maker David Bellfield and Elizabeth Nock, Harry Bellfield had followed in his father's footsteps before working as a sheet iron worker. He married Worcester-born Elizabeth Walters and the couple kept the Red Lion in Maughan Street, Quarry Bank from 1897 before moving to the Railway Tavern in 1905. The running of the Red Lion was left to Alfred Bellfield, brother of Harry.

Harry Bellfield remained as publican for over twenty years during which time the Railway Tavern probably remained a homebrew house. The ales sold in the beer house came from Brierley Hill after October 10th 1931, the date on which Harry Bellfield leased the building to Arthur Joseph Batham of the Delph Brewery. Arthur Batham agreed to a seven year lease on the Railway Tavern, during which term the brewery was to pay an annual rental of £150 in addition to maintaining and insuring the property.

Batham's Noted Delph Ale on Draught

Arthur Batham's younger brother Caleb took over the licence of the Railway Tavern on December 7th 1932. It was probably following the ensuing disagreement between the brothers that Arthur Batham installed Sydney Lane as manager paying him a salary of thirty shillings per week. However, in order to encourage him to develop new trade, Sydney Lane was to receive a commission of five per cent on all cash takings between £15 and £25 per week, along with ten per cent on any cash takings over £25 per week. Sydney Lane's remuneration package was completed with free accommodation plus free fuel and gas.

Sydney Lane had some experience in the pub trade for he grew up in the Reindeer Inn on King Street which was kept by his mother Esther. Although he initially worked as a clerk on the railway, he no doubt helped his mother out in the evenings and weekends. He kept the Railway Tavern between 1935 and 1942 so would have witnessed a change of ownership and, of course, experienced a change of employer.

Arthur Joseph Batham renewed the lease on the Railway Tavern. In December 1938 he signed a new seven year term with Elizabeth Bellfield who was now a widow and living at No.77 Barrs Road. She had part ownership of the property with her brother-in-law Alfred Bellfield of the Red Lion and her son Elon who was working as a painter and decorator whilst living at nearby Dudley Wood.

The Delph Brewery found itself in a bit of a pickle in the mid-late 1930's. According to the brewery history by John Richards this was largely down to the differences between the two brothers Arthur and Caleb, the latter having run up debts at the Brickmakers' Arms in Lye. In order to buy out Caleb's share of the business, Arthur Batham was forced to sell of some of their estate of tied houses. Following the disposal of two pubs to William Butler's Springfield Brewery in Wolverhampton, the Brickmakers' Arms at Lye and the Bird in Hand at Oldswinford were subsequently sold to Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries Ltd.

The Park Brewery now had a foot in the door and it would appear that, in addition to the Bird in Hand, they were also very interested in the Railway Tavern. This may have led to a hasty decision to make a quick profit by acquiring the Railway Tavern and selling it to Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries Ltd. In March 1940 Arthur Batham exercised his option to purchase the Railway Tavern for £2,500 and also No.24 Grainger's Lane. However, the sale did not go through and the Park Brewery completed the deal. On July 1st 1940 they paid Messrs. Daniel Batham and Son the sum of £133.4s.6d. as balance due on the lease and stock-in-trade. And so Cradley Heath lost its Batham's outlet and Delph beers would not be sold in the town for the rest of the century.

Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries Ltd. proposed to make alterations to the property but it would appear that the plans were put on hold due to restrictions forced by the Second World War. In December 1949 Mr. Hardcastle, a neighbour of the pub, complained that the brewery's lorry was continually damaging his property. The problem was that the beer was having to be delivered to the rear of the building because the pub did not have a rolling-way at the front. However, when sending Jakeman & Round, local building contractors, to look at the Railway Tavern it was found that the cellar did not extend to the front of the house. As a result, the work involved included digging out a passage whilst supporting the gable walls of both the pub and the neighbouring properties. The excavation would need to be almost seven foot in depth and this required the removal of many tons of soil and clay. Incredibly, the bill for such a large undertaking was only £165. so the brewery approved the work but it would appear that it was never completed.

The other work that was not undertaken could have been the saving grace for the Railway Tavern. Details of the work to improve the property was based on the existing plan. The work was put out to tender and four quotes were submitted from John Dallow & Sons of West Bromwich [£847], Mark Round & Sons of Dudley [£720], Jakeman & Round of Dudley [£745] and Arthur Webb & Sons of Quarry Bank [£769]. Further investment in the property may have secured further improvements, particularly as the cottage next door was also owned by the brewery. Indeed, in February 1954 the brewery was approached by the estate agent Ernest Fletcher who offered No.22 Grainger's Lane for the sum of £900. He also advised the brewery that he had received instructions to sell six adjoining houses at Nos. 16-20. This was perhaps an opportunity to rebuild the Railway Tavern, a subject no doubt discussed at board level. This may be the reason that the brewery dragged their feet on the improvements previously outlined. It was not until June 1956 that the company advised Customs and Excise that they did not intend to carry out the alterations and they were moving the licence to The Brickhouse at Rowley Regis. The latter pub opened in November 1956. On February 18th 1957 the de-licensed Railway Tavern and adjoining cottage was sold to Jack Daniel Brookes for the sum of £1,600. He intended to use the property as a hairdressing salon.

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Some History of the Railway Tavern in Grainger's Lane at Cradley Heath

Licensees of this pub

1868 - 1904 William Billingham
1904 - 1905 James Billingham
1905 - 1928 Harry Bellfield
1928 - 1932 Lewis Bradney?
1932 - 1932 William Richard Boyman
1932 - 1932 Harry Wheatley
1932 - 1935 Caleb William Batham
1935 - 1942 Sydney Lane
1942 - 1942 Edward Darby
1942 - 1956 Charles Juckes
1956 - 1956 Samuel Harris
Note : this is not a complete list of licensees for this pub.

Genealogy Connections

If you have a genealogy story or query regarding the Railway Tavern you can contact me and I will post it here in addition to including your message within the website pages for Staffordshire Genealogy.


Map Showing the locations of the Railway Tavern and Railway Hotel at Cradley Heath [1904]

On this map extract from 1905, I have marked the locations of the Railway Hotel and Railway Tavern. The former was in Lomey Town, its later address being Lower High Street, whilst the Railway Tavern stood on the north side of Grainger's Lane. Both pubs are, of course, long gone but interestingly so have the other institutions that are vanishing from the urban landscape - the non-conformist chapels. On the corner of Five Ways next to the Railway Hotel there was an imposing building that lasted until the by-pass was constructed in the mid-2000's. The Methodist New Connexion, who had worshipped in a Bethel Chapel at Scholding Green, built Christ Church in 1884, a picture of which can be seen on the page for the Anchor Hotel. The last service at Christ Church was held on August 30th 1970. Meanwhile, here in Grainger's Lane, the first Primitive Methodist Chapel, known as the Clock Tower Chapel was erected in 1841 on the same side of the road as the Railway Tavern, further down by the New Inn. However, mining subsidence in 1895 caused the building to lean and the clock tower became dangerous. This was removed, along with the interior balconies. It is worth noting that the first meetings of the congregation took place a short distance away from the Railway Tavern in a pair of converted cottages in Tibbetts' Gardens. Following the land slip, the congregation moved to the Sunday School which was built across the road from the Railway Tavern. This building can be seen on the map extract above. A new Methodist church was erected in an open space next to the school. Costing £4,500 and built by Joseph Meredith, a local construction firm, the first service was held in the new church on September 24th 1906. I was sad to see the building pulled down in the mid-2000's as it was one of the last great monuments in Cradley Heath. At the time of writing only the Baptist chapel in Corngreaves Road remains. There are few old buildings left in the town and it's all rather depressing.

Building Plan

Plan Showing the interior layout of the Railway Tavern in Grainger's Lane at Cradley Heath [1953]

This is an extract from a building plan drawn up in 1953. Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries Ltd. instructed the architectural practice of Albert Thomas Butler to draw up the plans. The key changes proposed to this plan were to take down the disused brewery to a height of eight feet to form a scullery, larder and ladies lavatory. Another wall was to be taken out between the living room and verandah and to absorb the old larder. The old sanitary block was to be demolished and a new toilet facility with a coal store was to be constructed.

Quotation for work on the Railway Tavern in Grainger's Lane at Cradley Heath [1951]

Despite putting the work out to tender, the improvements on the Railway Tavern were not undertaken. The yard of the pub must have been in a state as it was found to be responsible for an accident in July 1953. Mrs. Maria Grainger, a customer living at 107 Barrs Road, left the rear of the pub at 9pm to cross the yard on her way to the ladies when she fell and broke her arm in two places between her elbow and wrist. A representative for the Liverpool and London and Globe Insurance Company, who paid Maria Grainger damages of £30 was told by the licensee that the brewery was intending to have the yard re-laid. The company clearly did not undertake this work and another accident occurred in June 1954. In this case, very similar to the previous accident, Mrs. Ada Homer of 29 Woodfield Avenue fell and broke her ankle. Incredibly, Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries Ltd. claimed that this was a "put on" and refused to believe her injuries. The insurance company investigated the matter and Mrs. Homer was eventually paid £50.

Related Websites

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Black Country Society
Cradley Heath Speedway

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E. M. Forster [1938]

"Railway termini are our gates to the glorious and the unknown. Through them we pass out into adventure and sunshine, to them, alas! we return."
E. M. Forster

Newspaper Articles

"At Cradley Heath, a shocking accident befell a young woman, named Alice Harbage, at Grainger's Lane, Cradley Heath, on Wednesday night. She has been suffering from bad eyes lately, and on that night her sister was poulticing her eyes, and someone else stood near, holding a paraffin lamp. Some of the material from the poultice is said to have accidentally got on the lamp, and caused it to explode. Herbage was in her night-dress at the time, and the inflammable oil was scattered about the garment, and involved her in a sheet of flame. Everything was immediately done that was possible to extinguish the fire, but, as may be inferred from her only having the one garment on, she was terribly burnt. Her injuries were of a fatal character, and she died in about four hours."
"Fatal Paraffin Lamp Accident"
Birmingham Daily Post : July 19th 1884 Page 5.

Beer is Best Poster [c.1930's]

"There has not been any important development of the mining subsidence at Cradley Heath during the last two days, and the mischief that has been done up to the present is attributable to what occurred on the two first days of the settling of the ground. Some slight widening of the cracks in a few buildings are pointed out, but for the most part there is nothing sufficiently marked for the eye to detect. Actual measurements are the only things to depend upon where the change is a small one, and it is so far satisfactory that things are not practically worse than they were after the first two days' disturbance of the strata. The wild flight of a large number of families from the afflicted area on Sunday and Monday was perhaps natural under the circumstances, and people seemed to anticipate far more mischief than has actually come. Now it is seen that whatever else may happen, any fresh subsidence is likely to be a slow and gradual one, there is a returning feeling of confidence. The families, consequently, who did not see fit to remove when their neighbours did are still continuing to hold their ground, and, so far as can be learned, they have not any intention to migrate. Nothing has been done yet to replace the fallen patches of plaster from the ceilings, or to stop up the cracks in the walls of tile houses, but as it happens to be summer weather there is not the discomfort there would be in a colder season of the year from this cause. The possibility of further subsidence makes it doubtful what to do, but were it certain the matter would stay at its present stages plenty of work could be found for the bricklayers in putting the damaged property to rights. In many cases the repairs required are only slight. A good number of strangers have been attracted to the locality to see the houses affected by the subsidence, but externally there has not been as much to gratify their curiosity as some of them expected. One woman made her way to the neighbourhood, enquiring for the houses that had "gone down, children and all," and she apparently expected to see a yawning chasm in the earth. There is happily nothing of this for the sightseer, or anything approaching it. The area that is really disturbed is, roughly speaking, about four acres in extent, and it is something of a quadrilateral. In what may be taken as the centre of the substance it is stated that the ground has sunk to the extent of about five feet. This is an estimate only, but probably may be accepted as substantially correct. From the four sides of the area referred to there has been a pull of the ground towards the centre of the subsidence. It is the wrench which has occurred in the direction of this centre that has cracked and disturbed the buildings. These cover the ground rather thickly, and altogether there are about 100 houses. Mr. Tibbets, of the New Inn, has twenty-three houses besides the one he occupies, and he has been apparently the principal sufferer in the matter. His malthouse floor has been puckered in one part by the movement of the ground, and the quarries have been thrust upwards. There has been a good deal of damage to the house he occupies, as well as mischief to those he owns. There was yesterday only a few feet of water in his well, which is thirty-two yards deep, and which used frequently to have twenty-six yards of water in it. The wells around still supply water, though, if tested, they would probably be found with a less supply than used to be the case. The mains of the South Staffordshire Waterworks Company are laid along Grainger's Lane, on which a number of the damaged properties abut, but they have not been affected by the subsidence, though one supply service taken off them was. In the case of the gas mains of the Cradley Heath Gas Company, there was an escape of gas at first, but the main was put right as soon as could be. The Primitive Methodist Chapel has been seen to dip from back to front by the subsidence, and it was affected to the extent of 21 inches by the first two days' sinking. From the length of the building this is not noticed so much as might be supposed, and the effect is seen most by the flooring of the disused schools underneath being lifted by the pressure bearing on the foundations. The tower of the chapel, which is between 50ft. and 60ft. high, was quite out of the perpendicular when tested with a plumb-line on Tuesday. It is stated that there is no indication that it has gone further since then. Though as things are at present there would be no danger in continuing to hold services at the chapel, it has been deemed best to suspend them for the present, and it has been arranged to hold the services at the Primitive Methodist Schools, a little distance away. Near the side of the chapel are the works of Mr. Billingham, ship tackle manufacturer, which have been strained by the subsidence, but nothing to prevent the men going on working as usual. At the Beehive Inn, kept by Mr. J. Westwood, the cellars have been propped, and the house has been a good deal pulled and strained, leading to fissures in the wails and the fall of plastering. The place, however, is frequented as usual, and in this, as in other cases where the occupants have held their ground, the ordinary daily avocations are going on. It may be hoped that this will continue to be possible, but time alone can supply the answer as to whether this will be so. The rock that intervenes between the surface and the mines below may possibly afford resistance to further subsidence after the recent cracking and settling. It can for the present, however, be only pure speculation as to whether this will prove so or not. What the immediate cause of the subsidence is cannot be stated, but, in the opinion of some people who are familiar with mining, it may have been due to the pillars in the mines below proving unequal to the strain upon them. The colliery from which the coal is drawn in the vicinity was formerly worked by the Earl of Dudley, but of late years by Messrs. Parsons and Cooper. Subsidences from the working of mines are, of course, a common occurrence in all districts where coal is won, and near Cradley Station, half a mile away, a subsidence has been going on for the last eight months, entailing constant ballasting of the Great Western Railway, and extensive repairs in the works of Messrs. Wood-Aston and Co. At one spot the Stour has been more than doubled in width by the sinking of the bed of the river and of the ground near it. Near the side of the railway the ground has gone down nearly 12 feet, and an enormous quantity at material has been used in keeping up the line and sidings to the required level for their purpose. Returning to the question of the subsidences in Grainger's Lane, a meeting of property-owners and owners interested in the matter was held at the Primitive Methodist Schools on Wednesday night, at which the Rev. Mr. Sheppard presided. A resolution was passed as to the desirability of united action with regard to any steps to obtain compensation for the damage that has been occasioned. A deputation was appointed to wait on the colliery proprietors who have been alleged to be responsible for the damage, and the meeting was adjourned with the view of receiving their report. A hope was expressed that some amicable understanding might be come to in regard to the matter."
"Mining Subsidence at Cradley Heath"
Birmingham Daily Post : July 6th 1888 Page 5.

Bar Parlour Stained Glass

"Early on Tuesday morning, the body of a man named Timothy Head [59], who formerly resided in Grainger's Lane, Cradley Heath, was found at the bottom of one of the shafts at the Rattle Chain Colliery. The deceased left home on Tuesday night shortly after ten o'clock, saying he was going for a walk. He did not return, and Wednesday his hat was found near the mouth of the pit. The body was terribly mutilated. The depth of the pit is about two hundred yards, and a public highway runs close it."
"Terrible Fall Down a Pit Shaft"
Grantham Journal : February 1st 1896 Page 7.