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Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries Ltd. had acquired the Vine Inn by the time of this photograph taken around 1945. The licensee's name above the front door is that of George Lewis; he was the publican from April 1940 until 1947. He and his wife Annie had previously managed the Waggon and Horses at Reddal Hill between 1936 to 1937 before spending three years running The Castle in Dudley. The Lewis family were involved in the running of a number of pubs in this part of the Black Country. George and Annie's niece, Marie, would herself run the aforementioned Waggon and Horses in later years, along with a spell at the Bird in Hand at Spinner's End and a few other local taverns. Her mother, sister of Annie Lewis, was also in the pub trade for many years and, along with her husband Harry Harris, kept a number of pubs in the Dudley area along with a long spell running the aforementioned Bird in Hand.
The Vine Inn traded on the corner of Corngreaves Road and King Street, a thoroughfare later known as Prince Street. The pub's address was No.20 King Street. As can be seen from the photograph above, the Vine Inn was a straightforward building with a central door leading to a long corridor that divided the drinking rooms of the pub. Although the building plan featured on the website dates from 1987, the interior layout probably remained fairly similar throughout the pub's lifespan. The key difference was probably the removal of a dividing wall to create a longer drinking room for the bar with the addition of a servery in the top corner. In addition, the bay windows were probably added in the late 19th century. This plan was drawn up in 1987 when the living accommodation for the publican's family was moved upstairs. At one time the Vine Inn had a clubroom on the first floor and this was an important meeting place for local people. As you can see from the newspaper articles, workers gathered in this room following the collapse of the Corngreaves Iron Works resulting in many job losses in the locality.
The Vine Inn was always a key watering hole for those who toiled in the nearby industries in and around Corngreaves. Many of the nearby houses in the mid-19th century, the period from which the Vine Inn dates, were occupied by chainmakers or men who worked in Darby and Pargeter's Colliery. John Poole was the licensee of the Vine Inn by the early 1870's. In addition to running the pub he also worked as an engineer and driver at a local colliery. In this respect he was certainly 'one of them' and a man with which the clientele could identify. When he was away from the premises, the beer house was run by his wife Phoebe. However, she died in March 1875, leaving him to run the pub with his son Thomas.
The Vine Inn had the most basic form of licence. The beer house did not even sell cider or wines, never mind spirits or liquors. This was a tavern where one simply came to enjoy a pint of beer. During their time at the Vine Inn John Poole and his son became involved in the brewing industry. Although retaining the licence of the pub, John Poole was recorded as a commercial traveller in 1881; this is thought to have been a brewery-related sales role. It would appear that son Thomas was now running the Vine Inn, though he was listed as a brewer's agent. Another business activity that sprung up behind the Vine Inn was a small timber yard. The Burley's long-established coach building business also moved to the premises. Thomas Burley had traded as a coach builder and wheelwright for many years but I think his premises were further up King Street near the High Street and Tibbett's Garden.
Thomas Burley was fairly local having been born in the parish of Kingswinford. He married Caroline Elizabeth Hingley in 1850. Despite the fact that she was a local woman, the couple were married in Derbyshire. The Burley's operated their business for thirty years before Thomas died in 1880. Was this the period when the base was moved to the back of the Vine Inn I wonder? As a widow, Caroline carried on as a sole trader, employing several men who worked as wheelwright, smith and painter. One of these was her nephew Samuel Foley. And so the Foley connection with the Vine Inn got underway. Samuel was the son of Joseph and Louisa Foley and they followed his path to Corngreaves and took charge of the Vine Inn.
On leaving the Vine Inn, Thomas Poole went into the scrap metal business and he and his family moved to Cradley Road. However, by the end of the Edwardian period he was listed as a coal merchant. He had seemingly done well for himself and his family for they resided in Sydney Road in Lomey Town, a thoroughfare generally the reserve of the well-heeled folks of Cradley Heath.
Thomas Poole's successor had quite an interesting background. Born around 1833, Joseph Foley grew up in Garrett's Lane in Old Hill, not far from the Duke William which was kept by the Foley clan. This was a homebrew house and, although young Joseph followed a different career path, he may have gained some insight into the brewing trade when spending time at the Duke William. Joseph married Louisa Hingley in 1859; she was the sister of the aforementioned coach builder Caroline Burley who held the freehold of the Vine Inn.
Joseph and Louisa Foley set up home in Moor Lane on the road up the hill towards Rowley Regis. Joseph spent many years working as a boatman. Indeed, it is possible that Louisa travelled with him. The census of 1871 recorded them at the wharf at Stoke Edith, Herefordshire, along with five children, including young Samuel. The family settled in Stoke Edith taking up residence in Canal Cottage. However, by 1891 the Joseph and Louisa were mine hosts at the Vine Inn. The Foley family were still operating a brewery at the Duke William so the Vine Inn would almost certainly be supplied by the brewery or the skills of the family were transferred to this site. Joseph and Louisa's son was recorded as a brewer. Of course, it is possible that he lived here but worked at the family brewery, returning home with full casks of ale when required.
September was a boom time for the Vine Inn during the mid-late 19th century. This was the time of year when an annual fête and pleasure fair took place at Old Fields, just across the road from the pub. The Vine Inn would have benefited by the large crowds of people who came to Corngreaves for this annual event. A fat ox was always roasted for the concourse of people who enjoyed the various sports and athletic races. These events were restricted to amateurs residing within three miles of Cradley Heath. Several local bands would entertain the crowds throughout the fête which was rounded off by a fireworks display in the evening.
It wasn't all a bed of roses for those living in and around Corngreaves. In the mid-1880's the chainmaking townsfolk suffered distressing conditions during prolonged strike action for increased wages. Chainmakers were not only paid poorly but they were exploited by the truck system whereby they were forced to buy fuel from their employers at a higher price than that available on the open market. During the following decade the locals were hit very hard and the area fell into depression when the Corngreaves Iron and Steel Works closed with the loss of 2,000 jobs.
By 1890 the Vine Inn, under the stewardship of the Foley family, had gained a reputation for being a disorderly house. In fact the magistrates presiding over the licensing sessions expressed serious concern when they received a report that reflected discreditably upon the licensed victuallers running the public houses in both Old Hill and Cradley Heath. There had been an increase of 138 cases of drunkenness during a year in which four beer house keepers had been convicted. Three pubs were singled out for being particularly disorderly - and two of these were houses run by the Foley clan. Joseph Foley of the Vine Inn and Joseph Foley of the Old Brewery Inn were refused the renewal of their licences. The Foley's hired the services of a solicitor in order to overturn this decision and, despite objections by other publicans, both men were successful in the adjourned sessions.
Joseph Foley died in 1893 and the licence of the Vine Inn passed to his wife Louisa. She remained at the pub until her death in January 1904.
The census of 1911 seems to point to a small brewery at the rear of the Vine Inn. Nelson and Rachel Watts had succeeded Louisa Foley. Garnett Watts, Nelson's younger brother, was documented as a brewer. The census enumerator also recorded a brewery on the entry for the building. Garnett Watts not only brewed beer - legend has it that he was also a local bookmaker.
Before marrying Rachel Southall in July 1902 and subsequently running the Vine Inn, Nelson Watts had, like his father Harry, worked as a chainmaker. In the last decade of the 19th century the family lived in New Street at nearby Toy's Green. However, prior to this Harry Watts was the publican of the George Inn at Warley. Nelson had, like some of the people who had run the Vine Inn at an earlier date, grown up in a pub.
And so, this brings us to this marvellous photograph above. Nelson Watts is the man on the left and next to him is Dr. Thomas Tibbetts. It would appear that the local doctor did not drive himself for there is a chauffeur at the wheel. Tom Tibbetts is thought to be the first person in Cradley Heath to own an automobile. Prior to this he visited patients on foot or by horse and trap. He was the son of Sam and Mary Ann Tibbetts, a couple who had a butchery business with a shop at Five Ways. A former pupil at nearby Corngreaves School, Tom Tibbetts studied medicine at Queen's College in Birmingham before establishing a practice in his hometown. He was a highly respected public figure and in October 1895 he was appointed Medical Officer of Health by Quarry Bank Urban District Council.
The Burley family retained ownership of the Vine Inn until 1926 when it formed part of the Earl of Dudley's estate. The pub was leased to the Hereford & Tredegar Brewery Ltd. This brewery had acquired Thomas Plant's Steam Brewery in Netherton and the Vine Inn would have been supplied by this local brewery rather than transporting beers from Herefordshire.
One of the publicans to manage the Vine Inn for the Hereford & Tredegar Brewery Ltd. was the footballer Reg Johnson. He first played for Cradley Heath St. Luke's before signing for Fulham in 1926. He remained on their books until the 1928-9 season when he joined Swindon Town making 22 league appearances for The Robins.
Henry Parkes was the publican when the Vine Inn was acquired by Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries Ltd. on February 14th 1934.
The story of the Vine Inn could have been very different had Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries Ltd. followed up on an offer to buy properties and land on the opposite corner of King Street and Corngreaves Road. This was a time when regional breweries were acquiring tracts of land around or near existing pubs in order to rebuild or enlarge the premises. The new pubs were often much larger, offered more facilities to the customer and generally included car parking spaces. Times were changing and the public house was adapting to the requirements of local magistrates and meeting the demands of the modern customer.
In September 1937 Ernest Fletcher, a local estate agent, offered five houses in Corngreaves Road and one house in King Street, with the adjoining undeveloped corner plot [see plan to right] to Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries Ltd. No.19 King Street also came with a small chain shop though the house itself was subject to a demolition order. The properties were part of the estate of Mrs. Mary Ann Priest. The brewery, recognising that the site would be suitable for rebuilding the Vine Inn, expressed an interest in the properties but considered the price of £600 excessive and declined the offer.
The Vine Inn was granted a full licence in April 1951. It was temporarily assigned to Martin Barnsley, an employee of the brewery, possibly an area manager. The son of the local nuisance inspector in Edwardian times, he had grown up in Claremont Street off Reddal Hill Road before the family moved to Haden Road in Old Hill.
Following a general decline in sales at the Vine Inn, Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries Ltd. reviewed the pub's state of affairs in 1984. One consideration was that the pub should be tenanted. However, in view of the fact that the company operated five other houses within a quarter mile radius of the building, it was mooted that the house should be closed. A follow-up report in May of the same year concluded that it would cost £65,610 to bring the property up to standard as the Vine Inn was so dilapidated.
George Edge retired on August 17th 1984 after managing the Vine Inn for 33 years. Born in August 1919, he had married Elizabeth Taylor in 1947.
In December 1984 an 'undercover' man was sent in to look at the Vine Inn. He reported that on Sunday 9th December he visited all the pubs in the area and commented in particular that Rogues, an Ansell's leased property formerly called the Four Ways Inn, was very busy with the licensee claiming his trade had gone from 2 to 12 barrels. Similarly, the Elephant and Castle, a Holt, Plant & Deakin outlet, had a very good crowd in and he estimated that they were selling 9 barrels per week. He noted that the Corngreaves Hotel was shortly to be altered and argued that Mitchell's and Butler's "believe there is some virtue in retaining a presence in the area." He concluded that all the pubs, apart from the Vine Inn and Holly Bush, were pretty busy throughout the evening and that it would be defeatist to close the Vine Inn without a fight.
The Vine Inn was given a reprieve and the brewery spent some money improving the building for the comfort of their customers. The licensee's living room and kitchen, which was still on the ground floor up until this point, was converted into toilets so that drinkers didn't have to suffer the cold in the yard. The Vine's clubroom was converted into three bedrooms for the licensee's family. A building plan for this work was drawn up in May 1987.
The reprieve was short-lived and in July 1991 the brewery decided to sell off
this pub along with The Swan at
Pensnett. Both pubs were to be sold on the
provision that they were de-licensed in order to improve the viability of other
nearby Banks's houses. Mr Lacy was appointed as temporary tenant until the sale
was completed. In 1992 the brewery successfully applied to change the use of the
building to offices and the property was sold soon afterwards. I cannot remember
seeing any offices within the building and it was subsequently converted into
"Yesterday a meeting of the promoters of the scheme for the relief of the men
who have been thrown out of employment through the closing of the Corngreaves
Iron Works was held at the Vine Inn, Cradley Heath. About £14., which has been
collected from manufacturers and tradesmen in the district, was divided amongst
the men. There were over a hundred recipients, and each man was paid 2s. 9d.,
whilst the lads received 1s. 4½d. each. A hearty vote of thanks was accorded the
subscribers to the fund.”
"A meeting of upwards of 250 of the workmen thrown out of employment was held at
the Vine Inn, Cradley Heath, on Monday last with Mr. B. Homer in the chair. It
was reported that the contributions during this week in aid of those in distress
reached over £20. A resolution was passed returning thanks to all who had
contributed. The fund was distributed in payments of 2s. 6d. to married men, 2s.
to single men, and 1s. to boys.”
"Yesterday a meeting of the men who have been thrown out of employment through
the closing of Corngreaves Works was held at the Vine Inn, King Street, Cradley
Heath, Mr. B. Homer presided, and explained that there was a slight increase in
the amount of subscriptions, whilst the number of men seeking relief had
decreased owing to some having found employment. [Applause.] He was sorry to say
that there was no immediate prospect of the works being restarted. Over £25.,
which had been collected in the district, was distributed amongst 108 persons.
It was stated that Messrs. Cadbury Brothers had sent thirty dozen packets of
cocoa for distribution amorist the men. Votes of thanks were accorded the
subscribers to the fund.”
"A meeting of the men who have been thrown out of employment through the closing
of the Corngreaves Works was held yesterday, at the Vine Inn, King Street,
Cradley Heath; Mr. B. Homer presiding. £27.18s.5d., which had been collected in
the district during the week, was distributed amongst 147 of the operatives as
follows: Married men 2s. 1d. in cash and 2s. worth of provisions, single men 1s.
7d. and 1s. worth of provisions, youths 7d. and 1s. provisions, and boys 1s.
This showed an increase of over £2 in the amount collected. Each person, with
the exception of the boys, received a packet of Cadbury's cocoa. It was stated
that the football match between Aston Villa and Old Hill Wanderers for the
benefit of the unemployed in that district would take place on December 3rd.
Votes of thanks were passed to the subscribers.”
"Yesterday a meeting of the operatives thrown out of employment through the
closing of the Corngreaves Ironworks was held at the Vine Inn, Cradley Heath.
Mr. B. Homer, who presided, remarked that they had now reached a sad crisis, and
the total amount which could be granted to married men was 2s. worth of
provisions. The men were getting tired of living upon and craving for charity,
and unless some employment was found for them they would be compelled to seek
parish relief. This week they had only £10.9s.11d. to distribute amongst nearly
100 men. It was decided to give married men provisions of the value of 2s. and
single men 1s. worth each. The former were also presented with a packet of tea,
and the latter with a packet of Cadbury's cocoa. It is expected that the ranks
of unemployed in this district will be still further increased shortly by the
stoppage of another industry.”
“Black Country public houses are being put on the market at knock-down prices by
breweries keen for a quick sale. Prices for some large inns with spacious living
accommodation and neighbouring land have dropped by more than a third in three
years to under £60,000. The cut-price offers have been caused by a flood of
older pubs being shed by breweries which need money to develop modern pubs.
Dozens more are being sold by larger breweries who must reduce their property
portfolios to comply with new ownership laws. Mr. Alec Price, of Price Drennan
Dudley, said freehold inns fetched at least £100,000 two or three
years ago. But he said The Vine in Prince Street, Cradley Heath, was now on sale
for £57,500, complete with bar, lounge, pool room, three bedrooms, gardens and a
car park. For £10,000 more a buyer could pick up The Swan in High Street,
Pensnett, which has a large bar, two lounges, four bedrooms and a beer garden.
The Little Burton, in Alexandra Road, Tipton, was available for £65,000 but
could not be run as a pub on the direction of its owner
Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries Ltd. "At one time there were not all that
many on the market but now there are a tremendous amount of them," said Mr.
Price, a chartered surveyor. "There's great potential to buy them, do them up
and improve the trade. And it's a home as well as a business. The lower prices
have generated a lot of interest." He added that "many of them have established
regular trade. They do not need a lot of money spending on them." He said older
pubs were being sold so breweries could invest in more modern theme pubs. Larger
breweries must sell properties following a directive by the Monopolies and
Merger Commission designed to split up mass ownership. A spokesman for Cape
Hill-based Mitchell's and Butler's said the number of pubs on the market would
increase as the November 1992 sell-off deadline approached. But he said the
company had already found acceptable prices for more than half the 2,700 pubs it
needs to shed."