Some history of the Windmill Inn at Gentleshaw
Trading in more recent times as Ye Olde Windmill Inn, this pub is located on an elevated position on the edge of Gentleshaw Common, a Site of Special Scientific Interest forming part of Cannock Chase.
The lowland heath of Gentleshaw Common is an internationally scarce and threatened wildlife habitat. An information board across the road from the pub suggests that the landscape is rarer than rainforest, In addition, it informs visitors that, until the end of the 19th century, the common was vital to the local community's survival. They gathered wood, bracken, heather and gorse for fuel and building materials. However, on examining 19th century census returns for Gentleshaw, one will find that many of the men worked in nearby coal mines on Cannock Chase so it would be left to other members of the household to uphold the traditions of harvesting natural resources from the heathland.
Here the Windmill Inn is pictured in the late Edwardian period when widow Jane Littler was the licensee. In the 1911 census she is recorded as the innkeeper of the free house that doubled as a farmhouse. Here she lived with her nephew Clifford Bradbury who, although working as a coal miner, had previously held the licence of the Windmill Inn. His wife and three daughters also lived on the premises along with Samuel Webster who worked as a farm labourer for Jane Littler. The publican was formerly a Bonell, the family who operated the Windmill Inn for much of the 19th century.
The website for Ye Olde Windmill claims that the building dates from the 16th century but I think this is unlikely, unless there are fragments of an earlier dwelling lurking beneath the present structure. The windmill, the base of which still stands next to the pub's bowling green, dates from the 18th century, though it is possible that an earlier structure was positioned on the hill.
There is a legend claiming that the windmill was erected on ancient pagan burial ground and that two children of an early miller died tragically inside the building. It is alleged that, with the presence of a mysterious sinister figure, the trapdoor on the upper floor opened whilst they were playing. The children are said to have fallen through the gaping hole and suffocated in the flour silo below. Over subsequent generations, people have supposedly claimed to have seen ghosts of the two young children.
In later years an upper section of the windmill's wall was used to advertise beers from Bass and Worthington. The painted white panel for this is still in evidence. It can be seen below in a photograph of the windmill dating from 1967. It is not easy to see the church from a similar camera position these days as the trees have grown significantly.
Early trade directories indicate that the Windmill Inn was a beer house so it only opened to the public during the 1830's. Prior to this the building would have simply been a farmhouse providing accommodation for the miller and family.
Inside the pub, hanging on a wall in the bar, is a deed dating from May 15th 1824 mentioning the name of John Bonell. The family are thought to have occupied the mill for much of the late 18th century. In the 1834 Directory and Gazetteer of Staffordshire John Bonell is listed as a corn miller at Gentleshaw. In the same year Mary Craddock is listed as the landlady of a beer house at Windmill Bank, a short distance away to the north-east. Interestingly, son Edward Bonell would later marry the landlady's daughter, Elizabeth Craddock. The couple tied the knot at Lichfield in February 1850.
The aforementioned directory for 1834 does not indicate a beer house at the residence of John Bonell. On his passing in 1837, he left the property to his wife Ann with the legal proviso that, following her death, the 'freehold dwelling house, garden, barn, buildings, piggery, windmill and premises, crofts and lands with their appurtenances' would pass to his son Edward Bonell. His wife, Ann Bayley, originally hailed from Walsall and died four years after her husband.
By the time of the 1841 census, Edward Bonell is listed as a miller and publican in Gentleshaw. It would appear therefore that Edward was responsible for paying two guineas to the excise in order to start in business as a retailer of beer. He lived at the newly-designated Windmill Inn with his sister Jane and younger brother Cornelius who worked as a millwright. The Bonell family employed James Winster as an apprentice. At only ten years of age, one can only imagine his lowly wage. At least he had a roof over his head and a hearty meal at the end of the day. 15 year-old Mary Hale was also hired as a general servant at the beer house.
In April 1844 Edward Bonell was convicted for 'exercising his trade and working his windmill on a Sunday.' Later in the decade the Bonell family employed Patience Littler as a general servant. She would later find employment as a kitchen servant at nearby Beaudesert Hall, seat of the Marquis of Anglesey.
Edward Bonell died in March 1852 and the licence of the Windmill Inn passed to his wife Elizabeth. Along with her two children, she lived at the pub with her widowed sister-in-law Jane Cumberlidge. She was John Bonell's daughter who had married the agricultural labourer John Cumberlidge. This spelling often crops up with an 'e' and I note that a road in the vicinity is called Cumberledge Lane. Elizabeth's nephew Edward Bonell kept the sails of the windmill turning and continued working as a miller.
When Elizabeth Bonell passed away there may have been a dispute regarding who took over at the Windmill Inn. Both Jane Cumberlidge and Jane Bonell had grown up in the pub so neither were likely to relinquish the property - but perhaps some form of accord was struck by aunty and niece. Trade directories tend to list Jane Bonell as the landlady whilst census returns record Jane Cumberlidge as the head of the household. Whatever the arrangement was, Jane Bonell would later marry James Littler and the couple were running the Windmill Inn following the death of Jane Cumberlidge in 1886.
The Windmill was a regular meeting place for the South Staffordshire Hunt which, in 1883, was led by Major J. M. Browne.
Trade and takings at the Windmill Inn during the 1880's was seemingly poor as, in 1885, Walter and Charles Showell, brewers, sued James Littler for £29.5s. for goods supplied and £7.10s. costs incurred in a case heard at the Superior Court, London, where an order was obtained for payment of the amount, the case being remitted to the County Court at Rugeley, for the defendant to be committed to prison in default of payment. Jane Littler attended the court and stated that her husband was suffering from rheumatism and could not leave his bed. She told the court that the Windmill Inn did very little trade, sometimes taking only a sovereign per week. She told the bench that her husband had also worked as a collier but he had not worked much since April 1885. A representative from the brewery said the defendant was in a position to pay as he had property. However, Jane Little told the court that, although she and her brother had a life interest in the property, there was mortgage to be paid. The plaintiffs had tried to put an execution in the house but the judge made an order for the payment of 10s. per month. The case does at least reveal that, at some point during the mid-late 19th century, the Windmill Inn was selling beer produced by Showell's Brewery of Langley.
John Littler died in July 1899 aged just 49 years. The licence of the pub was transferred to widow Jane Littler in August at the Rugeley Licensing Sessions before the Hon. A. C. Littleton and F. Bonney esq. Jane Littler was helped at the Windmill Inn by nephew Clifford Bradbury, a locally-born coal miner. At the time Henry Bradbury was the publican of the nearby Red Moor public house, a pub latterly known as the Redmore Inn. Clifford Bradbury moved into the Windmill Inn with his wife Mary where their three daughters spent their formative years.
A good number of the pub's regular customers were engaged in mining. Jane Littler accommodated them whenever possible. For example, in March 1907 she applied for an extension to her licence in order to hold a Miners' Association supper at the Windmill Inn.
On occasions, the Windmill Inn was the setting for a coroner's inquest. In November 1909 Mr. S. W. Morgan, Deputy Coroner, held an inquest inside the pub, respecting the death of Cedric Hickman, aged 15 weeks, son of John and Frances Hickman, who was found dead in bed with his parents early one morning. Mr. W. H. Horton, of Chasetown, made a post-mortem examination, and said he could find no trace of suffocation. He told the inquest that the child had "every appearance of having died in convulsions, and had the appearance of commencing brain fever." The jury returned a verdict of "Death from natural causes." It had been the first inquest to have been held in the district for fourteen years. There had been an earlier inquest at the Windmill Inn when, in December 1883, the deputy coroner of Uttoxeter presided at the pub regarding the death of John Cole, aged 32, who died from the effects of a blow on the head, received while employed at the Cannock and Rugeley Colliery. In that case the jury returned a verdict of accidental death.
Jane Littler died in August 1914. She was buried just yards from the windmill in the graveyard of Christ Church. She probably spent the vast majority of her 67 years within a small radius of her final resting place.
Following the death of Jane Littler and her brother John Bonell, the Windmill Inn was put up for sale. Messrs. Winterton and Sons held the sale on Friday December 4th at the Old Crown Hotel in Lichfield. The fully-licensed inn and two acres of turf land sold for £900.0s.0d. to the tenant Clifford Bradbury; £200.0s.0d. was also paid for three cottages and gardens in Butler's Lane at Gentleshaw; and three closes of turf land in Butler's Lane containing 2a. 3r. 11p. realised £125.0s.0d. A plot of freehold building land in Bradbury Lane, Hednesford, with an area of 3,087 square yards, was withdrawn at £48.0s.0d.
The Windmill Inn had an air rifle club, the members of which competed in a local league. In 1925 team members of the Windmill Air Rifle Club included D. Brown, G. Brown, W. Rogers, A. Randall, S. Derry, W. Cumberlidge, G. Mellings, A. Jarvis, P. Atkins and P. Craddock.
In September 1933 the Windmill Inn was offered for sale by auction by Messrs. Winterton and Sons at the Globe Hotel in Rugeley. The Windmill Inn was described as 'a freehold fully-licensed inn with garden and turf land situate on the road from Burntwood to Hazel Slade and Hednesford, and overlooking Gentleshaw Common, a favourite resort for visitors, and comprising the site of the old Gentleshaw Windmill, an ancient land mark.' The sale notice detailed the pub as 'comprising a bar, smoke room, kitchen, with range; scullery, with sink and copper; pantry; glazed porch at rear; three bedrooms; clubroom [approached by a separate staircase]. Outside there was a garage, cart shed, two pig styes, two closets, stable, car park, and the old windmill.' It was disclosed that the pub was let to Mr. Standfield on a quarterly tenancy at a nominal rental of £22 per annum. The public house, along with two acres of land was withdrawn from the auction at £775 and was to be sold later by private treaty. The auctioneers, Winterton and Sons, confirmed that the pub was sold later in September 1933.
It was another coal miner who would keep the pub in later years. Hailing from Upper Longdon, Charles Linney was the publican during World War Two. He had married Brereton-born Martha Brass in 1913. The couple took over at the Windmill Inn during the autumn of 1933; the licence being transferred from George Standfield on October 12th 1933. Nine years later the couple's daughter, Evelyn, married William Fryatt, a serving member of the Royal Air Force.
Darts was very popular at the Windmill Inn during the post-war years. Locals and regulars formed a team and, in July 1952, were one of six new teams to be elected to the Lichfield League Division 2, along with the Bell Inn at Fradley, the Red Lion Inn at Hopwas, Castle Inn at Lichfield, the Bull's Head at Fradley and the Melrose Club at Muckley Corner.
In more recent years the Windmill Inn has been owned by Elaine Parry who has been in charge for a generation. In 2014 the manager of the free house was Dennis Duckhouse.
Licensees of this pub
1841 - Edward Bonell
1852 - Elizabeth Bonell
1861 - Jane Cumberlidge
1899 - James Littler
1899 - 1914 Jane Littler
1932 - W. Standfield
1933 - George Gerald Stanfield
1934 - Charles Henry Linney
1983 - 2015+ Elaine F. Parry
This scene would have been familiar to those living in and around the Windmill Inn during the late Victorian period when Gentleshaw Common played an important role within the local community. Women would gather wood, bracken, heather and gorse for fuel and building materials.
If you have a genealogy story or query regarding the Windmill Inn you can contact me and I will post it here in addition to including your message within the website pages for Staffordshire Genealogy.
The pub has something of a surprise sign in that sign-writer Roger Anderson has opted to portray an offshore windmill during what looks like a storm. The illustration certainly has much drama. A windmill within a rural setting was featured on the reverse side of the sign, though not a representation of the windmill here at Gentleshaw.
"Dating from the mid-1880's, the map above shows the Windmill Inn along with the adjacent windmill marked as a flour mill. Other notable buildings are Christ Church, the vicarage and an independent chapel."
Meet The Publican
"I originally moved to Staffordshire from Birmingham aged 6 with my family. My father used to take us to Ye Olde Windmill to play on the commonside
opposite; I never did think that one day I would own it. I have now had 32 happy years and brought my own son up there. In all those years I have experienced many changes in
the trade from a typical drinker's bar to a family-friendly no smoking Pub and Restaurant having 4 generations of regular customers. We had a Crown Green Bowling Green added
in 1986 and to this day have many members; it is also used for County Green Bowling competitions. Business has continued to grow and we serve around 2,000 freshly-cooked
meals a week. On May 6th 2015 we were visited by our Prime Minister Mr David Cameron on the day before the election."
Elaine Parry : May 2015
Have Your Say
If you would like to share any further information on this pub - perhaps you drank here in the past? Or maybe knew a previous publican? Whatever the reason it would be great to hear of your stories or gossip. Simply send a message and I'll post it here.
"I find little in the works of Beethoven, Berlioz, Wagner and others when they are led by a conductor who functions like a windmill."
"Whilst Mr. A. Wright clothier, of Chasetown, was calling at a house near the West Lodge to Beaudesert his horse took fright and bolted. The
trap overturned by the Windmill Inn and two children were throw out but luckily were not seriously injured. The trap somehow righted itself, and the horse continued at a
great pace across Gentleshaw Common and through the trees towards Boney Hay, until it came to the fence round Mr. Meacham's gravel pit, which is thirty or forty feet deep.
A man named Rose was working in the pit, and he took the horse and trap back."
Lichfield Mercury : October 23rd 1914 Page 8.
"At the County Court yesterday, before his Honour Judge Jordan, an action was brought by James Littler of the Windmill Inn, Gentleshaw, near
Longdon, against John Butler, engineer, of Handsworth; William Bayliss, of Bull Street, Birmingham, auctioneer; and William Fletcher, bailiff at the Birmingham County Court, to recover £50. viz £21, the value of three
ricks of hay, £20. 5s., the value of sheep alleged to have been illegally distrained and £8. 18s. damages. Mr. Kettle, for the plaintiff produced evidence to
show that the defendants levied a distress upon plaintiff's goods in respect of rent alleged to be due, though as a matter of fact the plaintiff had regularly paid his rent
for nine years, and owed nobody anything. He believed Butler had acted under a mistake. Mr. Francis, for the defence, admitted the facts, but said that Butler had been led
to believe by a man named Wright, of Birmingham, against whom a warrant had been issued upon another charge, that he had a fair title to the plaintiff's land, and that he
had employed the other man to carry out the distress. Fletcher said that Wright had taken him to Gentleshaw, and had there ordered him to make the distress, Butler
authorising to do so. The case against Bayliss was withdrawn. His Honour said that this was a most unwarrantable and impudent piece of business altogether, and it evident
that Fletcher bad been led to do what he did by the man Wright. There must be a verdict against Butler and Fletcher for £47., with special damages amounting to
£7.1s., and the legal costs."
"A Singular Case"
Lichfield Mercury : July 17th 1891 Page 8.
"The engagement is announced in this week's "Mercury" of Miss Evelyn Jean Linney, youngest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. C. H. Linney, of
The Windmill, Gentleshaw, and Mr. William Victor Fryatt [R.A.F.] elder son of the late Mr. J. Fryatt and Mrs. Fryatt, of Jacobean, Laindon, Essex."
"A Gentleshaw Engagement"
Lichfield Mercury : December 19th 1941 Page 4.
"At Lichfield on Wednesday Geoffrey Edward Tunnicliffe , of Pear Tree Cottage, Windmill Lane, Gentleshaw, appeared on remand charged with
unlawfully wounding George Thomas Cheshire , of 158, Upper Rake Hill, Burntwood, on October 11th. Supt. Hewitt said he would have to ask for a further remand until
Wednesday next, when it was hoped the injured man would be fit to attend to give evidence. Accused was remanded until Wednesday next, and his bail was extended."
"Unlawful Wounding Charge"
Lichfield Mercury : October 26th 1945 Page 3.
"Compared by counsel to Helen of Troy, and said to have broken up an engagement, 17-year-old Catherine Smith, of Burntwood, was one of the
triangle of persons that led to the appearance of Geoffrey Edward Tunnicliffe , a farm labourer, of Pear Tree Cottage, Windmill Lane, Gentleshaw, near Rugeley, before
Mr. Justice Singleton, at Stafford Assizes on Tuesday, on a charge of doing grievous bodily harm to George Thomas Cheshire , of 158, Upper Rake Hill, Burntwood, on
October 11th. Mr. W. Field Hunt, prosecuting, said that the victim, Cheshire, threatened a certain friendship between the young girl and the defendant, who had known each
other for two years. The incident took place at a point where Cheshire was to meet the girl. Cheshire complained that without any provocation or words he was suddenly
attacked, hit once on the head, and then received several blows while he was on the ground. This was done with part of a rod used for cleaning drains, which had screwed to
it at the end a metal object of two or three inches, and was a very effective weapon. He was badly hurt and became temporarily unconscious, added counsel. After Cheshire
went to a farm and was taken to hospital, where he remained some eighteen days. Tunnicliffe was seen the same night at his home and was quite "calm and collected."
He admitted that he had seen Cheshire. In a statement he said: "I heard he was taking my girl out and I went to see if he did so." The medical evidence of Dr.
Davies stated that Cheshire had five wounds upon the head and also one in the leg. He was of the opinion that "it was a violent and forcible attack." Cheshire
told the judge that he had known Tunnicliffe since they were both 11 years old. Mr. J. F. Bourke opening the defence, told the court how the boys were at school together and
were very good friends until this incident. Since it happened it was a fact that the defendant had offered reparation in money for Cheshire's loss of time, wages, hospital
charges, and also his very sincere apology for the injury done to him. A regrettable feature of this case, said Mr. Bourke, was that two excellent young men had got into
trouble over a young woman of no worth. Asked by the judge why he called her "worthless," Mr. Bourke replied: "She was practically the accepted sweetheart of
Tunnicliffe; she has been the means of breaking up another engagement already. There are women like that - Helen of Troy did it." Judge: "That was a long time ago,
wasn't it? " Counsel: "It still goes on." Smith and Tunnicliffe were not engaged, but visited each other's houses, went to the pictures, walked out, and looked
at engagement rings together, Mr. Bourke continued. It was a matter of amazement to the neighbours that he should be guilty of this, for he was known for his positive
gentleness and kindly disposition. The doctor said that he was infatuated and became a victim of a consuming jealousy, and was brooding over the matter. He felt something
had to be done, and also felt he was somewhat physically inferior. Tunnicliffe said to the judge: "I am very very sorry indeed that it ever happened. It was a very
foolish act I shall see that it never occurs again." The sentence was postponed."
"Attack on Friend Attributed to Jealousy"
Lichfield Mercury : November 30th 1945 Page 3.
"Geoffrey Edward Tunnicliffe , a farm labourer, of Pear Tree Cottage, Windmill Lane, Gentleshaw, who at Stafford Assizes last week pleaded
guilty to wounding, with intent to do grievous bodily harm, George Thomas Cheshire , of 158, Upper Rake Hill, Burntwood, on October 11th at Burntwood, on Monday received
a sentence of ten days' imprisonment. The judge commented that out of temper and jealousy about a girl, Tunnicliffe attacked a boy of his own age, but he had had an
opportunity to see what prison was like."
"Seeing What Prison Was Like"
Lichfield Mercury : December 7th 1945 Page 3.
"On Monday evening Jesse Bradbury, aged 61, a single man, and colliery engine driver, of Ivy Cottage, Hayfield Hill, Cannock Wood, was found
lying dead in a well in a field at Pear Tree Cottage, Gentleshaw, after having been missing from his home for two days. It is understood that he lived with his sister, and
left the house at 7pm on August 31st to visit the Windmill Inn, where he stayed until 10 p.m. Twenty minutes later he was seen sitting on a stile near Windmill Lane, and at
6pm on the 2nd inst. his body was recovered from the well."
"A Gentleshaw Tragedy"
Lichfield Mercury : September 6th 1946 Page 2.