History of the Vine Inn at Cradley Heath in the county of Staffordshire. Research is augmented with photographs, details of licensees, stories of local folklore, census data, newspaper articles and a genealogy connections section for those studying their family history.


Vine Inn
Vine Inn

Some History of this Pub
This would have been an interesting place to drink in the old days. The families in charge of the Vine Inn produced their own beers before it was leased by the Hereford & Tredegar Brewery Ltd., after which date the pub possibly sold ales made at Thomas Plant's Steam Brewery in Netherton. Eventually the Vine Inn was bought by Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries Ltd. and the beer would have tasted pretty much the same as most of the other pubs in Cradley Heath. But for those born in the late Victorian period and living close to the Vine Inn until, say, the Second World War, the flavours of some diverse beers could have been sampled in this house.

The Vine Inn at Cradley Heath [c.1945]

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.

Cradley Heath's first automobile outside the Vine Inn [c.1910]

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 flats.
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Licensees of this Pub
1871 - John Poole
1875 - John Poole
1891 - 1893 Joseph Foley
1893 - 1904 Mrs Louisa Foley
1904 - 1920 Nelson Watts
1920 - 1921 John Watts
1921 - 1923 John Turner
1923 - 1925 George Frederick Wall
1925 - 1929 Richard Jones
1929 - 1930 Frank Coley
1930 - 1930 William Alfred Baker
1930 - 1935 Reginald Johnson
1935 - 1940 Henry John Parkes
1940 - 1947 George Lewis
1947 - 1951 Annie Elizabeth Lewis
1951 - 1951 Martin Ridley Barnsley
1951 - 1984 George Arthur Edge
1990 - George Lewis

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Banks's Imperial Mild Ale [1960's]

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

Thomas Plant's No.1 Strong Ale Beer Label

Map Showing Location of Vine Inn at Cradley Heath [1884]
This map extract from a map dated 1884 shows the Vine Inn on the corner of King Street and Corngreaves Road. Further development would take place before a similar map was drawn up during the following decade.  Note the railway track that came down the hill from near St. Luke's Church at Four Ways and followed the line of Corngreaves Road. This was a mineral railway that connected industry and mining at Belle Vale, Corngreaves Iron Works, and Timbertree Colliery with the canal basins near Fly Colliery at Old Hill. The properties marked at the bottom right of the map extract are in an area known as Oldfields. There are references to Old Fields Gate in early census records, suggesting that there was once a toll gate on this historic route from Netherton to Cradley.

Building Plan
Click here for a 1987 Plan of the Vine Inn in Cradley Heath

Plan of Chain Shop and Housing opposite Vine Inn [1937]
This plan was drawn up in 1937 by the surveyor and estate agent Ernest Fletcher when he offered five houses in Corngreaves Road along with one house in King Street, with the adjoining undeveloped corner plot immediately across the road from the Vine Inn to Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries Ltd. The brewery, recognising that the site would be suitable for rebuilding the Vine Inn, expressed an interest in the properties but the deal fell through.

Banks's Imperial Mild Ale [1960's]

Links to other Websites
Black Country Bugle
Black Country Gob
Black Country Society
Cradley Heath Speedway

Samuel Johnson painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds [c.1772]
"There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.”
Samuel Johnson

Newspaper Articles
"William Lambkin [19], barman, was indicted for burglariously entering the dwelling-house of William Feller, at Dudley, on August 9th, and stealing therefrom £15 10s., the monies of the Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries' Company, Ltd. Mr. J. B. V. Marchant prosecuted. Prosecutor, manager of the Station Hotel, Dudley, one of the Company's houses, stated that at one time prisoner was in his employ as "boots," and in that capacity had access to witness's room. On the morning of August 9th prosecutor found that a desk in his room had been opened and the money abstracted. The lock had been burned out. He found a pencil on the floor, which was afterwards identified as the property of prisoner. William Whitehouse, tram guard, said that the prisoner left the car opposite the Station Hotel on the night in question. Mary Ann Pearson, barmaid at the Vine Inn, Cradley Heath, said that prisoner was engaged there also for 13 days, leaving on August 6th. She identified the lead pencil found near the rifled desk. Caleb Harris, puddler, Cradley Heath, said that the prisoner lived next door to him in August last, leaving on the 7th. He lent him 6 shillings, and had not yet been repaid. . Dr. Higgs gave evidence to the effect that P. S. White, a witness, could not attend, as he was confined to his bed with a broken leg. His depositions were read. In them he stated that he found evidence from which he drew the inference that prisoner had effected an entrance by means of the window in the manager's room. P.C. Shilvock produced tickets, etc., which showed that the prisoner went to London after August 9th, attended several places of amusement, and had his photograph taken. In reply to the charge, prisoner said that he had only committed the offence out of spite. Prisoner put in a long written statement, in which he denied the offence, but admitted having taken a few shillings "by mistake." When he went to London he tried to get work, and applied to the Captain of the Church Army, who advertised for several Christian young men. He was rejected, however, as he had not had sufficient experience. The Jury returned a verdict of guilty. He had been previously convicted, and Inspector Hinde said that for some years prisoner had been in trouble with the police, and was the associate of convicted thieves. Prisoner recently committed a robbery and afterwards set fire to the premises. He was sent penal servitude for three years. "
"Wanted, Christian Young Men"
Worcestershire Chronicle : Nov 18th 1899 P.7

Work in Progress

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Drinkers by Adriaen Brouwer

Newspaper Articles
“Yesterday afternoon Mr. E. Hooper, coroner, held an inquest at the Vine Inn, Corngreaves Road, respecting the death of William Norwood [63], chainmaker, of Corngreaves Road, who was found dead in bed on Sunday afternoon. It was stated that deceased received 4s. per week as wages and had to pay 1s. for lodgings. The jury returned a verdict of "Death from natural causes.”
"District News: Cradley Heath"
Birmingham Daily Post 1st October 1890

Banks's Imperial Mild Ale [c.1948]

"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.”
"The Closing of Corngreaves Ironworks"
Birmingham Daily Post 4th September 1894

"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.”
"The Stoppage of the Corngreaves Iron Works"
Birmingham Daily Post 14th September 1894

Blast Furnaces at Corngreaves Works [c.1900]

"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.”
"The Closing of Corngreaves Ironworks"
Birmingham Daily Post 6th November 1894

"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.”
"The Unemployed at Cradley Heath"
Birmingham Daily Post 13th November 1894

"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.”
"The Unemployed at Cradley Heath"
Birmingham Daily Post 23rd April 1895

Banks's Mild Ale [1959]

“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 estate agents, 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."
"Barrels of Bargains as Breweries Dump Pubs"
by Neil Western in Birmingham Post
October 14th 1991

Banks's Beer Mat [1970's]

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Comic Postcard - We Don't Mind If We Do

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Fide et Fortitudine 1875

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