Some history of the Old Bell Inn at Netherton
This tavern was originally called the Bell Inn [as seen on the map dated 1855] but, at some point, gained the 'old' prefix. The photograph below shows the building amid a hotch-potch collection of housing that was similar in character to that of Lye Waste in that it was piecemeal development. The Bell was one of the first properties to be erected on this section of Hill Street [formerly listed simply as Netherton Hill], a locale that was gradually infilled so that it was a cluster of cottages featuring domestic industry and served by a few corner shops. The hill overlooked the numerous mine shafts of the Netherton Old Colliery so early patrons of the Bell Inn no doubt worked underground. Some customers may also have made the daily trip down Blackbrook Road where a variety of industrial concerns were accumulated. This included limekilns, brickyards, timber yards, Hurst Colliery and Woodside Iron Works. Blackbrook Road remains as a footpath and bridleway but it was once an important connection with Woodside and Harts Hill.
The Bell Inn was trading by the mid-1830's when Anna Maria Wright was the landlady of the fully-licensed public house. The business property included the public house, four small houses and gardens with two stables. Born around 1781, she was helped by her family; William Wright was also a basket maker. Ruth and Ann Wright also lived at the Bell Inn. The licence of the Bell Inn passed through the family. Following William Wright's death in 1867, it was held for a short spell by Mary Wright.
Solomon Garratt was the victualler running the pub by 1871, by which time the house was known as the Old Bell Inn. Solomon Garratt was locally born and spent most of his life living and working at Netherton Hill. Born around 1820, he married Elizabeth Clayton and moved into a small cottage from where he made a living as a nailer. By the early 1860's he was working as a labourer. His grafting had to support his wife Elizabeth and four young daughters. Eldest daughter Rebecca would later become a shopkeeper. Further development had occurred during the mid-late 19th century and in the early 1870's Thomas Davies was trading as a butcher close to the Old Bell Inn. Following Solomon Garratt's death in 1881, the licence of the Old Bell Inn passed to his wife Elizabeth.
The Old Bell Inn can be seen here in this photograph of Hill Street taken in 1963. The pub had by this time been de-licensed but the livery of Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries Ltd. is still visible. A window cleaner can be seen in front of the adjacent property fronting a small passage leading up to Bell Road and the upper section of St. John Street. Note the small shop on the corner of a small road cutting through to St. Andrew's Street, a narrow thoroughfare once known as Nock's Fold. The St. Andrew's Tavern, a pub later known as the Church Tavern, was located midway along this street and the property almost backed on to that of the Old Bell Inn. This was a lovely cluster of old cottages that, if they had been saved and improved would have added great charm to modern Netherton. Nowadays people have to visit the Black Country Living Museum to see such streetscape - and here it was for all to enjoy, not just here but all around the region. All gone now of course - the 1970's development has or will never cultivate such character. A couple of the properties on the left-hand side of Hill Street have survived. The car in the distance is parked in Simms Lane.
This view of Hill Street is also dated 1963. Here the person taking the photograph is standing a little higher up Hill Street with St. John Street on the right. There is an industrial building on the right-hand side of the photograph, opposite which is another small shop serving the local community.
Samuel Cooksey was the licensee of the Old Bell Inn during the mid-1880's. He kept the pub with his wife Mary Jane. The couple were both born in Netherton. At one time in the mid-1890's a member of the Hampton family was at the helm. However, by the end of the 19th century Joseph Bowater was holding the reins of the Old Bell Inn. He had previously worked as a brewer's drayman whilst living in St. John Street so almost certainly worked for John Rolinson and Son Ltd., a firm based at the nearby Five Ways Inn. The brewery had acquired the Old Bell Inn so Joseph Bowater probably swapped a life on the road for one behind a bar counter. He kept the Old Bell Inn with his wife Elizabeth.
Born in 1861 at Dudley, Joseph Bowater was the son of a miner Joseph Bowater and Ann Astley. A popular publican, he was a committee member of the Dudley and District Licensed Victuallers' Association. He was later recorded as a colliery proprietor, perhaps suffering an injury underground as he was listed as crippled in the census of 1911. He died six years later.
This recent photograph of Hill Street shows some of the old properties of Hill Street that have survived. These were just across the road from the Old Bell Inn. At the end of the Edwardian era the pub was being run by Mark and Harriet Baugh. Born in Pensnett, Mark Owen Baugh was a shoe maker by trade. Born in Pensnett in 1869, he grew up in Bell Street from where his father Enoch worked as a miner before starting up in business as a shoe and boot dealer. Indeed, young Mark Baugh earned a living as a shoe maker. He married Netherton-born Harriet Townsend in 1890 and the couple moved to Droitwich where Mark Baugh took a position as foreman at the warehouse of shoemaker Fanny Gibbs. By the end of the Victorian period Mark and Harriet [better known as Hatty] Baugh were running the Bell at Dudley Port in Tipton. The Baugh's spent a year at the Coach and Horses at Prince's End in Tipton before a spell running the Why Not Inn at Cradley. The couple's teenage children, Norah and Reginald, lived with them at Two Gates. The Baugh's were seemingly restless and their stay at the Why Not Inn was all too brief. However, they seemed content in the licensed trade and moved to the Old Bell.
David Darby was the licensee when the Old Bell Inn was absorbed into the growing empire of Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries Ltd. The pub remained part of their estate of public houses until its closure in February 1960. And that was all I had on the Old Bell Inn until ... I was offered the fabulous photograph below and so I emptied the piggy bank to obtain this great close-up of the pub. The photograph dates from around 1940 when Bert Hughes was the licensee.
Licensees of this pub
1835 - 1849 Anna Maria Wright
1849 - 1866 William Wright
1870 - Miss Mary Wright
1871 - 1881 Solomon Garratt
1881 - Mrs. Elizabeth Garratt
1884 - 1891 Samuel Cooksey
1892 - Robert Stanger
1895 - John Charles
1895 - Edward Hampton
1900 - 1905 Joseph Bowater
1905 - 1906 Thomas Shirley
1906 - 1906 H. W. Round
1906 - Jesse Grigg 
1911 - Mark Owen Baugh
1911 - 1918 Joseph Foley
1918 - 1928 David Arthur Darby
1928 - 1931 John Henry Walker
1931 - 1932 David Arthur Darby
1932 - 1934 James Holmes
1934 - 1937 Una Dorothy Holmes
1937 - 1941 Bert Hughes
If you have a genealogy story or query regarding the Old Bell Inn you can contact me and I will post it here in addition to including your message within the website pages for Worcestershire Genealogy.
I am pretty confident that the Old Bell at Netherton never had a pictorial inn sign so I have borrowed an image from another location. I took a photograph of this Old Bell at Chepstow in 2010. There's something about the bell which has made it popular with sign makers over the centuries. Perhaps it is because it is said that the bell speaks all languages. Certainly there is a religious connection because, historically, bells featuring on pub signs usually refer to both church bells and hand bells. So if you spot a Bell pub sign you will usually see a church nearby. In this case it is at St. Andrew's Church, a structure built between 1827 and 1830 by Thomas Lee. It is a Commissioners' Church with a tower and lancet windows. The graveyard of the church is noted for its many unmarked common graves. These were dug extremely deep for the victims of the cholera epidemic that hit the area in 1832. Indeed, St. Andrew's has one of the largest churchyards in the Black Country and was once the scene of a spontaneous underground fire in an outcrop of coal in 1958 which threatened the church itself.
The location of the Old Bell Inn can be seen on this map extract from the rather wonderful Roper's Survey of 1855. Note also the location of St. Andrew's Tavern around the corner in Nock's Fold. There are still plenty of green spaces at this mid-point of the 19th century. They would subsequently be in-filled with housing development.
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.
"The act of bell ringing is symbolic of all proselytizing religions. It implies the pointless interference with the quiet of other people."
"Yesterday Mr. E. F. Whitehouse, deputy coroner, held an inquest at the Bell Inn, Hill Street, Netherton, on the body of John Davies ,
who was killed by a fall of coal, on the 24th February, at No.24 pit, Saltwells Colliery [Lord Dudley's]. It was shown that the fall was due to a bump, and the jury
returned a verdict of "Accidental Death."
Birmingham Daily Post : March 2nd 1882 Page 8.