Some history of the Neptune Inn at Old Hill
The Neptune is an apposite name for a tavern located next to the Dudley Canal. The Neptune name would have been attractive to the tough boatmen who travelled along the waterway with barges awaiting their cargo for onward transportation to other parts of the country. And the cargo was heavy in this locality. You can see from the map dated 1887 [scroll down] that the Neptune Inn was surrounded by iron works, coal mines, brick works, a chain manufactory and, notably, a saw mill and timber yard across the road from the front door. It was the Lowe family that established this business along with opening the Neptune Inn during the early years of Queen Victoria's reign. Note also that the structure carrying the road over the canal is called Lowe's Bridge.
With the construction of the Dudley Canal it was inevitable that a number of watering holes should open along its route. The Parliamentary bill for the canal was passed in April 1776. However, it was some years before construction commenced. Indeed, it was not until 1794 that work started on the tunnels that would connect the waterway to the Worcester and Birmingham Canal at Selly Oak. Joseph Clowes was appointed as engineer but, following his death, the work was undertaken by William Underhill who was working as a colleague. Despite some complications, the basin at Hawne opened in 1797 and the canal was completed in Mary 1798. The project finished way over the original budget and it was not until 1804 that a dividend was paid on the shares issued to raise the capital in the first place.
There is a little mysticism surrounding this locale at Powke Lane. Some historians have suggested that this name evolved from Puck's Lane, itself derived the Old English word "puca," meaning demon or witch, particularly of the woodlands. This legend was apparently given a degree of credence when navvies working on the canal unearthed two female skeletons in a shallow grave with their wrist and ankle bones riveted together. It was just the sort of excuse for the labourers to 'down tools' and head into a local pub for fortification. It is claimed the story went viral in the locality and a tale was soon disseminated that the practice of bonding together two women was to stop them rising from their grave to terrorise the locals. The foreman no doubt had a job getting the navvies back to work, particularly with the lure of a cosy tavern.
This photograph was taken when Richard Cooksey was the publican. He was granted the licence on December 4th, 1940 and he was succeeded by Charles Beard on February 6th, 1946. It has been suggested that the original name of the pub was the Navigation but I have not seen evidence of this. Indeed, in White's Directory published in 1851 the two fully licensed pubs appear in the listing for Rowley Regis, both being recorded in Powke Lane. The Navigation was being run by Enoch Skidmore whilst Thomas Lowe was in charge of The Neptune. The Navigation was in fact further towards Netherton and listed under the ecclesiastical district of Reddal Hill and under the locality of Windmill End, then quite a widespread area that extended along Gawne Lane and also up the hill towards Springfield. The son of Yorkshire parents, Thomas Lowe was born locally in 1792. He kept the Neptune Inn with his wife Mary. The couple's two sons, Thomas and Daniel, brought in additional income to the household by working as labourers. Younger son Solomon was engaged as a brick maker. Their daughter Olive didn't have it much easier, having to earn her keep by labouring on a pit bank. The family were able to hire a servant to undertake the daily chores at the Neptune Inn.
In January 1855 the Staffordshire Advertiser reported that "Thomas Lowe, landlord of the Neptune Inn at Rowley Regis, was killed by a horse and loaded cart he was driving passing over him." He was apparently descending a steep section of Powke Lane on Friday December 29th, 1854 when the weight of the load forced the horse forward with the result that Thomas Lowe was knocked down.
Following Thomas Lowe's death the licence of the Neptune Inn passed to his wife Mary. She remained the landlady until her passing in 1865. The pub was subsequently run by son Thomas who had been living in Dog Lane [later known as Doulton Road] whilst working as a lime burner. He had married Sarah Hadley in 1851 and the couple moved into the Neptune Inn with their children Albert, Thomas, Sarah and Florence. Thomas Lowe was also a corn and timber dealer with the timber yard being established across the road from the Neptune Inn. For as long as I can remember this site has been a scrap yard. However, this is possibly where the firm were based before moving to Waterfall Lane.
The Neptune Inn was advertised in an auction sale held by Mr. John Bent at the Cooksey's Hotel in Old Hill on August 25th 1870. The pub was one of eight lots to be sold at the auction, including Perry Park House on Waterfall Lane. The pub was advertised as "all that old licensed public house and premises called the Neptune Inn, situate at Powke Lane, Rowley Regis, and near to the Gas Works and Birmingham Canal. The premises comprise front Tap Room, front Parlour, Smoke Room, Kitchen, three Cellars, four Chambers, Under Kitchen, Brew House, Stable, Piggeries, Wash Cisterns and other outbuildings with a large plot of front garden land walled in, and now in the occupation of Mr. Thomas Lowe at the very low rent of £22 per annum." The "front garden" is a little confusing as maps do not show the building set back from Powke Lane so one must assume this refers to the adjacent land to the east of the building.
It is unclear why the pub was put up for sale - perhaps to tidy up a family dispute. Whatever, the Neptune Inn was later recorded as belonging to Edward Lowe, brother to the publican. Thomas and Sarah Lowe remained at the Neptune Inn. Sons Thomas and Albert started their working life as apprentice wheelwrights whilst daughters Sarah and Florence attended the local school.
By the 1870's industry was in full flow around the Neptune Inn. Immediately to the rear of the pub there was a wharf for the Powke Lane Brick Works [see map] which was operated by Partridge, Guest and Raybould, a firm that produced both blue and red bricks, along with tiles. The canal wharf is still visible today and no doubt provides a small haven for wildlife. The brickworks continued until the inter-war years. Pearson's Colliery was a short distance to the north-west. However, the most notable heavy industry was the Old Hill Iron Works located between Hollis's Bridge and Lowe's Bridge. Featuring two blast furnaces and a foundry, this plant once produced over 18,000 tons of pig iron each year.
The Lowe's timber business flourished and, by the end of the 1870's, over 50 men were employed at the yard run by Edward Lowe. Meanwhile the Neptune Inn had passed to the Hadley clan with Adin Hadley taking over as licensee. He kept the pub with his Brockmoor-born wife Ann. The Black Country couple had earlier lived up north in Dalton-in-Furness where Adin Hadley worked as a joiner, a trade he returned to when moving to his daughter's house in Cradley Heath as a widower.
Ownership of the Neptune Inn remained with Edward Lowe with tenants being appointed to run the business. The pub probably became a managed house following the Neptune's acquisition by the North Worcestershire Breweries Ltd. in 1896. The Stourbridge-based company proposed to improve the building and in 1903 a plan was drawn up by the Cradley Heath surveyor A. H. Sidaway. This affords a glimpse of the interior of the building before it was altered. Relatively small in size, the right-hand side of the Neptune Inn featured a tap room at the front with a smoke room to the rear. The other side of the pub had a larger bar with a servery. The Neptune Inn also had a club room on the first floor above the kitchen.
The licensee of the Neptune Inn at the time of this survey plan was the widower John Henry Stafford. Born in Dudley in 1841, he was a cooper by trade. More often than not, he combined his woodworking skills with the role of publican. In the 1870's he and his wife Prudence were running the Blue Ball Inn at Old Hill. He had married Prudence Willetts in 1863 at St. James's Church in Kate's Hill. The couple also kept the Crown and Anchor in Providence Street, Cradley Heath. Sons John and George followed their father's footsteps and trained to be carpenter and joiner. George was possibly working across the road at Lowe's timber yard whilst living at the Neptune Inn. When John Stafford retired he moved to a house in Peartree Lane where he lived with his daughter Martha and her four children. He lived to a ripe old age and died in May 1925.
North Worcestershire Breweries Ltd. generally improved the properties within their tied estate. In the mid-Edwardian period they commissioned the Stourbridge architect Hugh Ernest Folkes to draw up plans for modifications to the Neptune Inn. The plan shows that the building's size and shape were identical to the 1903 plan so it would appear that the Neptune was modified rather than rebuilt though, of course, the old foundations could have been recycled - this cost-saving exercise was sometimes deployed by breweries. The brickwork appears to be Edwardian but this again could be a re-facing job rather than a total rebuild. The key changes to the interior were the enlarged bar to the front of the building, a smoke room formed from the rear of the old bar, and the club room was brought downstairs by revamping the old kitchen. A new stable block was erected in the yard, suggesting an increase in provision for the boat trade.
No sooner had the property been improved it was acquired by Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries Ltd. who took over the entire tied estate of 135 public houses operated by North Worcestershire Breweries Ltd. in 1910. The new owners appointed John and Ethel Shaw as management couple. Ethel was from Quarry Bank but her husband originated from Ormesby in North Yorkshire. His parents, Joseph and Mary, were however from the Black Country so one assumes they moved up north for a while. Joseph Shaw was a coal miner.
I regret that I only visited the Neptune Inn towards the fag end of its life. As part of the Avebury Taverns pub group, the Neptune struggled throughout the mid-late 1990's and the place did close for a short while before re-opening in 1999. I can remember Ann Fryer as manager in 2001. She was using the former club room for karaoke and live singers at the weekends. The pub also had a pool team and an angler's club. The regulars even joked they had a swimming team! Ann Fryer also had a beautiful sandy-coloured Staffordshire Bull Terrier called Rebel.
The pub closed in 2006 which is where the photographs end with a sad-looking Neptune Inn. It is a sad sign of the times that roller shutters had to be fixed to the front door and windows to prevent vandalism or burglary. Note the raised road for the 'improved' bridge across the canal. Note also that the lovely bricks that once featured in the two gables were replaced at some point - compare these to the WW2 image further up the page. This was the end of the road for The Neptune which closed for good in 2006. The building was subsequently converted into two shops.
Licensees of this pub
1849 - 1854 Thomas Lowe
1854 - 1865 Mary Lowe
1865 - Thomas Lowe
1880 - Adin Hadley
1888 - Charles Henry Price
1891 - Charles Cowton
1892 - Caleb Price 
1896 - Moses Cutler
1904 - John Henry Stafford
1912 - John Shaw
1916 - William A Evans
1920 - Mary Ann Evans
1922 - 1929 Harry Saunders
1929 - 1933 Edgar Stanton
1933 - 1934 Wesley Thomas Pearson
1934 - 1937 James Thomas Spittle
1937 - 1938 Elsie Spittle
1938 - 1939 Mabel Bailey
1939 - 1940 Charles Mildoon
1940 - 1946 Richard Cooksey
1946 - 1949 Charles Beard
1949 - 1956 Charles Richard Hodgetts
1956 - 1965 Charles Beard
1965 - Frederick Newey
2001 - Ann Fryer
To my knowledge the Neptune Inn at Old Hill never had a pictorial inn sign so I have 'borrowed' a sign from another pub I have photographed in order to explain the name. This is a photograph of the Old Neptune inn sign at Whitstable. The Neptune was a common name around Britain's coastline as it is a reference to the Roman god of the sea. However, in very early times, during the times of the Roman empire, Neptune was adopted by those races and cultures living close to inland freshwaters. The Greek equivalent was Poseidon who was also a god of horses and horse racing. The use of a Neptune inn sign here at Old Hill next to a canal is arguably going a little far but a little licence always goes a long with publicans. The boatmen who plied their trade along the canal would have enjoyed the irony of the sign as they combined both boat and horse for transport. Besides, the Romans also claimed that Neptune was a god of water sources so perhaps customers thought the beer tasted better when brewed under the sign of Neptune. In the world of art Neptune was often portrayed as a bearded man brandishing a trident and riding in a massive seashell pulled by sea horses - in a similar fashion to this inn sign from Kent. Neptune was the brother of Jupiter and Pluto. According to legend, following the defeat of their father Saturn, the three brothers divided the world into three distinct components for their rule. Jupiter elected to rule the sky, Neptune took the sea and Pluto the underworld. Neptune's violent temper was generally blamed for rough seas and storms. Of course, there are no such worries for those travelling along the placid waters of the Dudley Canal.
Dating from 1887 this map shows the location of the Neptune Inn amid the industrial landscape of Powke Lane and Brickhouse. Note the original White Lion is marked towards the top left of the map.
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.
"Bacchus hath drowned more men than Neptune."
"An inquest was held by G. H. Hinchcliffe, Esq., Coroner, at the Neptune Inn, on the body of John Watchorn. It appeared from the evidence that
the deceased was a nailer, and was 32 years of age. On the previous Monday he was drinking at two public houses, and became rather intoxicated, and remained at Mr.
Shakespeare's public house until about three o'clock the follow morning. He then had no money with him. It did not appear that any person saw him alive afterwards; but
about five o'clock the following morning a man found cap in the canal, and on Friday it was recognised as the deceased's. The canal was consequently dragged, and the body
of the deceased was found in the water. The part where he was got out was about a quarter of mile from the public house he had left, and was not on his way home. There were
no marks of violence on the body, and the Jury, after hearing the remarks of the Coroner, returned an open verdict of "found dead in the canal."
"Death of a Man from Drowning"
Wolverhampton Chronicle and Staffordshire Messenger : May 11th 1859 Page 5.
"On Friday last, an inquest held by G. H. Hinchcliffe,
Coroner, at the Neptune Inn, on the body of William Robers, a miner, aged 25 years. The deceased was employed at Mr. Thomas Badger's ironstone pit, and on the previous
Thursday he was holing some stone previous to its being taken down, when about 4 cwt. of the stone suddenly fell, breaking his neck and injuring him on the head. The place
was about a yard wide, and the witnesses stated that the stone came out from between two faults. The deceased had put up a prop, but had not placed it against the faults,
or the stone would not have fallen. There was plenty of timber allowed for propping, and it was the duty of the men to make the place where they were working safe. The
Jury, after hearing the evidence, returned a verdict "Accidental death."
"Fatal Pit Accident"
Wolverhampton Chronicle and Staffordshire Messenger : May 11th 1859 Page 5.
"Joseph Rock was charged with assaulting Mary Low, at Rowley Regis, on April 4th. This was a most unprovoked assault, the defendant going up
to her and striking her a violent blow without any apparent reason. He was fined 10 shillings and costs."
Worcestershire Chronicle : April 16th 1856 Page 3.
"An inquest was held yesterday morning before Mr. Edwin Hooper, Coroner for South Staffordshire, at the Neptune Inn, Old Hill, respecting the
death of William Rock , a waggoner, late in the employ of Mr. John Knight, Worcester Wharf, Birmingham. The deceased on January 24th was driving a wagon laden with
timber along a road near Old Hill, when some the timber, which was not securely chained to the conveyance, fell, and caused the horse in the shafts to kick. The deceased
was cautioned by a passer-by to see that the timber was made secure, but he took no notice of the warning, and shortly afterwards a portion of the timber fell on to the
shafts of the wagon, causing the horse to kick so furiously that the deceased fell from his seat to the road, and one of the wheels of the wagon passed over his thigh. He
was picked up and conveyed to the nearest public house, where some brandy was administered to him, and he was then conveyed on the way to Birmingham, with the intention
of being taken to the General Hospital; but on his arrival at the Bear Inn, Smethwick, he died, and was removed back to Old Hill. The jury found a verdict of "Accidental
death," and expressed a hope that the road on which the accident happened, being in a dangerous condition for traffic, should be repaired."
"Fatal Accident to a Waggoner"
Birmingham Daily Gazette : January 29th 1867 Page 4.
"At the Old Hill Police Court, yesterday - before Messrs. W. Bassano and H. T. Hickman - Charles Henry Price, licensed brewer, of the Neptune
Inn, Powke Lane, Rowley Regis, was charged with using 28lb. more of sugar in his brewing then was entered in his brewing book. Mr. Davis stated that on September 13th the
defendant gave notice to brew ten bushels of malt and 28lb. of sugar. Charles Crookshank, Inland Revenue officer, said he visited the defendant's premises on the 13th
September, and found entered in the book 10 bushels of malt and 28lb. of sugar. On the same evening he again visited the house and took samples of the wort, and sent them
to Somerset House to be analysed. Upon visiting the house on the 14th the landlord told him that a mistake had been made, and that another 28lb. of sugar had been added.
Henry Wilson Davis said that 28lb of sugar had been used in the brewing of the 110 gallons of ale. Defendant was fined £20., or two months' imprisonment."
"Publican Heavily Fined at Old Hill"
Birmingham Daily Post : December 22nd 1887 Page 3.
"Yesterday Mr. E. Hooper [Coroner] held an inquest, at the Neptune Inn, Powke Lane, respecting the death of Samuel Scambler , who committed
suicide by drowning on May 9th. Hannah Hill, with whom the deceased lived, identified the body, and said the deceased came home on Saturday night drunk, from the Hawthorn
Inn, and began quarrelling with a man named Westwood about money matters, and a free fight took place. The deceased then went out of the house, and asked his sister to go
with him, adding "that the cut is your doom along with me." Nothing more was heard of him until his body was found in the canal about 8.30 the same night. George
Groves deposed that on Saturday evening he was walking along the canal side, and saw the deceased sink in the water. With some assistance he got him out with a boathook.
Most of his wearing apparel was found on the side of the canal. The jury returned a verdict "that deceased committed suicide whilst temporarily insane, and in a state
of intoxication." The Coroner said he hoped the police would not let the matter drop, as he thought there was great negligence on the part of the publican."
"Suicide While Drunk"
Birmingham Daily Post : May 13th 1891 Page 8.
"Despite preparing to celebrate a platinum 70 years of marriage, a Black Country couple have only been able to mark 17 true anniversaries so
far. Charlie and Alice Hodgetts were married at Old Hill Trinity Church, Halesowen Road, on February 29th, 1936 and will have to wait until the next leap year in 2008 to
commemorate that date for just the 18th time. The pair, from Holcroft Road, Colley Gate, met each other at the tender age of 10 when Charlie, now 90, moved in next door to
Alice in Best Street, Old Hill. But as 89 year-old Alice explained, conventions of the day meant it was a while before they began courting. They kept the Neptune pub in
Powke Lane and the Brickhouse in Harvest Road during the 1950's, and Charlie worked for British Steel. They have 12 great-grandchildren, five grandchildren and three sons -
one, Bryan, 70, has flown in from his home in Australia."
"Couple's Platinum Milestone"
Express and Star : February 24th 2006 Page 21.