There is an important piece of tangible evidence on the building itself - the letters A. W. B., along with the date of 1810. Providing this is accurate, the date of construction [see photo above in the gallery] is identified. But who was A. W. B., though it is possibly a marriage stone - with A being the first letter of the surname and W. and B. being the initials of the couple's first names.
By the time that the Fox Inn appears in trade directories, the licensee was recorded as Henry Idiens. So, frustratingly the initials on the stone remain a mystery for now - until, that is, me or another history bod gets to see some deeds for the property.
There is some conjecture that the building was originally a farmhouse and that it was owned by the principal landowner and Lord of the Manor, the Right Hon. William Heanage, Earl of Dartmouth, whose seat was at nearby Patshull House. The problem with this theory is that William Heanage Legge was not born until 1851, some forty years after the building's construction. Indeed, his father William Walter Legge did not acquire Patshull Hall until 1848. In 1810 Patshull Hall was owned by members of the Pigot family. However, the Fox Inn was part of a farm and early licensees of the pub were also farmers.
The crossroads on which the Fox Inn stands was quite an important junction in former times. The road crossing the former Wolverhampton to Bridgnorth turnpike is an extension of County Lane to the north, a divide between Shropshire and Staffordshire. The Fox stands between Pattingham to the north and Swindon to the south, with another old route passing through Trysull and heading south-east to Wombourne. Of course, the main traffic route was that of the turnpike running east-west. It is hard to imagine such a junction without an ancient tavern or inn which makes me think that this was a replacement of an older hostelry offering food and drink to travellers. This is however conjecture on my part.
The pub's name harks back to the time when the road junction in front of the building was a meeting point for the Albrighton Hunt. The pub was already up-and-running for a number of years before the Albrighton Hunt was formed. However, when the pub first opened the building was in the middle of two older hunts - the Enville hunt to the south under the Mastership of the Earl of Stamford and Warrington of Enville Hall. The northern part of the Albrighton country was the territory of the Shifnal hunt with kennels at Ivetsy Bank. The Albrighton Hunt was formed in 1825; the first Master was Mr. Boycott, of Rudge Hall, a short distance to the north-west of the Fox Inn.
Over the years the pub has become known as the Fox at Shipley, though it is located to the east of this hamlet and is technically part of Blakeley. Mind you, as early as 1851 the census enumerator recorded this building as the Fox at Shipley. Other notable names on maps for the locale are Foxlands and Gibbethill, the latter suggesting that at least one public hanging took place here.
Farmer Henry Idiens is an early recorded victualler at the Fox Inn where he employed two servants, suggesting that business was good. His brother was also an innkeeper; William Idiens kept the Talbot Inn at Pattingham. Henry Idiens had married Ann Jones at Wolverhampton in 1834 and the couple had five children before they moved to Vauxhall Road in Aston.
John York took over the licence in 1848 and, along with running the pub, farmed 90 acres employing three agricultural labourers. Born in Lower Penn around 1817, he also employed two servants at the pub which was run with his Wolverhampton wife Sarah. Together, they had five children. Due to its isolation on Shipley Common, the Fox Inn would probably have been a homebrew house. Mind you, it's hard to imagine that the breweries at Wolverhampton did not transport their beers along this main route. However, busy farmer tenants generally employed the services of a local travelling brewer. Most towns and villages supported one or more.
John and Sarah York were evidently successful farmers. They had moved to the Fox Inn from a small farm in Lower Penn and moved to nearby Shipley Grange where they farmed 182 acres of land. By the 1880's the couple were living close to the Royal Oak at Rudge Heath from where they were operating a farm of 517 acres and employing ten men and two boys.
Farm bailiff, William Onslow, succeeded John York as licensee of the Fox Inn. Born in the Shropshire village of Stanton upon Hine Heath, he had married Elizabeth Beard ten years before moving to the Fox Inn. The couple later moved back to their 'home' region.
This does seem to be a period when there was a detachment from the farmland surrounding the Fox Inn. The licensees appear to be simply innkeepers rather than farmer-publicans.
Edward Roberts hailed from Shrewsbury and took over the Fox Inn with his wife Eliza who was born in Shifnal. The couple later sought pastures new in Warwickshire when they moved to Berkswell where Edward Roberts found employment as a gardener. They later moved to the village of Allesley.
When James Harris took over as tenant at the Fox Inn he restored the traditional role of running the farm. Born in Studley, where he had been brought up on his parents' farm, he lived at the Fox Inn with his Great Bridge-born wife Frances, their six children and his elderly mother Susannah. James Harris was the licensee when this photograph was taken in the late 19th century. The Fox Inn had clearly become a popular destination for cyclists - or at least a refreshment stop for those making the two-wheeled journey from Wolverhampton to Bridgnorth. Leading against the front wall are the familiar penny farthing bicycles but look at the unusual contraption parked in front of the building.
Wolverhampton brewers, William Butler & Co. Ltd., leased the Fox Inn from the Dartmouth Estate on July 15th 1914 for a term of 21 years. Before the lease expired, the Springfield Brewery bought the Fox Inn and 32 acres of land on June 28th 1921, paying £900.0s.0d. The Fox passed into the hands of Mitchell's and Butler's when they acquired William Butler & Co. Ltd. in 1960. The inn sign from 1970 [see column to right] shows the pub being operated by M&B.
By the 1990's the pub formed part of the Bass estate. Augustin Tervel, who then leased the Fox Inn, bought the premises on September 23rd 1992, selling on the following day to Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries Ltd.
Roger Cliff and Thomas Rea were the new licensees running the pub for Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries Ltd. in 1992. I didn't meet these guys but I did talk to their successors, Alex Abdel Aal and his partner Paula. They were in charge of the Fox Inn when its status reverted from a Banks's managed house to a tenancy.
Previously living and working in Germany, Sweden and Greece, Alex had
applied the influences of these countries to construct a menu which combines the
traditional with a touch of the exotic.
Alex and Paula had been at The Fox since 1996 but took over the tenancy of the
building in November 2000. They had previously worked in a number of large pubs
and hotels - indeed, they first met at The Regency Hotel in Solihull during the
1980's. Llangedwyn-born Paula had gone there to gain valuable experience after
graduating from Birmingham's College of Food. Alex meanwhile hailed from
Alexandria in Egypt and moved to England to develop a career in management.
Together, they managed The Dudley Arms in
Himley and the Ffynnon Wen in Cardiff
before moving to The Fox. In 2008 the couple opened Alex's Restaurant Café Bar
in nearby Compton.