1851 Census Return for the Cox family
Tom Griffiths and Customers at the Fountain Inn [c.1920]
Frontage of the Fountain Inn 
Bar of the Fountain Inn 
Interior of the Fountain Inn 
Front Room of the Fountain Inn 
Interface between Pub and Restaurant 
The 'Pen' Dining Area of the Fountain Inn 
Interior of the Fountain Inn 
Cellar of the Fountain Inn 
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Located in Temple Street, the origins of the Fountain Inn are thought to go back to 1840's when John Cox opened a huckster's shop almost opposite the Old Bull's Head. He was recorded in the 1851 census aged 31 and lived on the premises with his 26 year-old wife, Mary Ann, and a family of three. The late John Richards once wrote that John Cox converted part of his shop into a beer house in the early 1850's. However, I have not seen his name listed amongst the beer retailers for Lower Gornal during this period. Whatever, John Cox later moved with his family to the Herefordshire village of Kingsland where he worked as a nail seller.
The Fountain Inn certainly has quite a labyrinth of cellars beneath the original section of the building. How much was dug out at the time of construction is not clear - some could have been excavated at a later date. However, it would appear that the building was intended as a public house from the outset.
It was when I stumbled on a newspaper article in which Hannah Raybould applied for a six-day wine and spirit licence for the pub in August 1874 that some history of the building emerged. Her solicitor told the magistrates that "the house had been built some fourteen years back by the applicant's husband." The article stated that Hannah Raybould tenanted and owned the property which, according to these details, was constructed in 1860 by her late husband. This would make Isaac Marsh the first licensee of the Fountain Inn when the house opened to the public.
Isaac Marsh was also a butcher, a trade in which he was engaged for at least a decade. If a shop was being operated in conjunction with the beer house, this must have created a fierce rivalry with the Old Bull's Head across the road where the Guest family were running a similar operation. Isaac Marsh was a local man; he and his wife Mary Ann had a large family living on the premises. In 1861 Isaac Marsh was listed as butcher and innkeeper so the pub was presumably awarded inn status from the outset.
The Marsh family later moved to Humphrey Street where Isaac concentrated on his trade as a butcher. He was succeeded at the Fountain Inn by the aforementioned widow, Hannah Raybould. She was recorded in the 1871 census aged 44 and lived at the pub with her four children. Her son Job briefly held the licence before the property was sold to another branch of the Marsh family. Hannah Raybould moved into a neighbouring cottage that was part of a terrace traditionally occupied by miners. It is possible that she owned the terrace and this may also have been built by her husband.
Elisha Marsh was 36 when he became licensee of the Fountain Inn. Whilst he was recorded as a licensed victualler in the census of 1871, his wife Emma was listed as a fruiterer, suggesting that the building still served a dual role as a shop and public house. The couple employed Daniel Clarke, a brewer producing homebrewed ales to be sold at the inn. Elisha's son was also a brewer at the Fountain Inn. In 1886 he was blamed by his father when hauled before the magistrates on a charge of concealing wort to avoid paying duty.
The Marsh family remained at the Fountain Inn for the remainder of the century. In 1901 they were succeeded by William Plant. During the same year the Fountain Inn was acquired by Atkinson's Brewery of Aston, a company that had expanded its activities in and around the Gornal and Sedgley areas.
Following the acquisition by Atkinson's Brewery, the Fountain Inn became a managed house. Former limestone miner Eli Flavell and his wife Hannah Jane worked for the brewery during the Edwardian period.
One of the most celebrated licensees of the Fountain Inn was Tom Griffiths. There is a testimonial to this publican framed and mounted on the wall of the bar. It was found in the attic of the building. Presented to his family by his numerous friends and customers it reads: "To Tom Griffiths, as a true sportsman and gentleman, for he showed these qualities in every sphere of his life: in all circumstances and environments. As gentle as a lamb at home and as a lion in the chase, he was interested in every kind of sport and he excelled in the noble art of self defence." In fact, Tom Griffiths aspired to become the Amateur Champion of England in 1892 and he even sparred with the redoubtable World Champion Jack Johnson. He also won a gold medal for entering a Lion's cage at a Fairground at Dudley. The testimonial states that "he held a blameless record as a licensee for fifty years and the iron hand of a velvet glove was the index to a well kept inn. He could be gentle and he could be tough." It sounds like you didn't want to go starting trouble in his boozer.
Tom Griffiths was also the Vice President of the Gornal Branch of the British Legion. Following his death in 1947, his daughter's side of the family continued to run the pub until 1973.
The Fountain Inn closed during the late 1980's but was reopened in 1991 by Peter Rawson, whose sister Jane kept the pub. Peter Rawson may be known to those who used to visit Ye Olde Horseshoe in Belbroughton. Along with his partner, he also turned Oldbury's Waggon and Horses into a real ale house, long before real ale became trendy.
Allan Brookes who was also a keen real ale man. He took over at the Fountain Inn and re-opened the pub as a place where people could once again enjoy good cask ales. He was responsible for the pub's early inclusion in CAMRA's Good Beer Guide.
I am not sure why but the pub closed again in 1998 but it was salvaged by Alan Davis and Amy Knowles. They had previously kept The Waterfall at Old Hill and, in a matter of five years, had turned it into a tremendously popular pub. I used to drink in The Waterfall at this time and it was hard to get a seat on some nights. Alan and Amy however didn't own The Waterfall so the dream of running their own place was realised here in Lower Gornal. However, it was only after a bit of graft. Taking over in November 1998, they set themselves the target of five weeks to completely refurbish the place. The pub had been closed for several months and needed a complete overhaul. Alan and Amy did it all themselves and opened in time for Christmas.
Kidderminster-born Alan was previously a carpet fitter. Amy was Black Country born-and-bred. Hailing from Oldbury, she had worked behind a bar before they took the plunge into the licensed trade by taking over as managers of The Waterfall.
Alan and Amy continued to improve the property and in February 2001 they opened
an extension to the rear to facilitate a dining area. This was called The Pen.
The couple didn't miss the opportunity to celebrate the opening of the new
extension because they held a beer festival to mark the occasion. I was there
for the opening night and it was brilliant. I still visit the pub from
time-to-time and in 2014 Alan was still in charge of the place. He had a
mini-army of people running the pub and kitchen.
"On Wednesday evening, Mr. Joseph Kirby, butcher and florist, and Mr. Richard
Cartwright, both of Summit Place, Lower Gornal, started for a drive, and on
arriving in Temple Street the horse shied and caused the occupants to fall out
of the trap, the result being that Mr. Cartwright was crushed about the legs
owing to the trap running over them. Mr. Kirby was Injured about the face.
Fortunately the injuries were not of a serious nature.”
"At Dudley Police Court, yesterday, John Davis , 23, Temple Street, Lower
Gornal, was charged with obtaining, by false pretences, 5s. 9d., belonging to
his employers, Messrs. Bean and Son. Defendant was a machinist employed at the
National Factory, and put in clock card representing that he had worked from
6.49pm. on October 9th to 7 o’clock the following morning. He had not worked at
all that night, and, therefore, got 5s. 9d. in wages to which he was not
entitled. In addition, he received for the week a bonus of 3s. 10d., which he
was not entitled to, but in respect of which he was not now charged. Defendant
now said he was the factory all the night in question, but was unable to work
owing to sciatica, and spent most of night in the cabin. Defendant was fined £5,
or month’s imprisonment.”