History of the Virgin Tavern at Claines and Worcester in the county of Worcestershire


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Some history of the Virgin Tavern at Claines and Worcester

The Virgin Tavern on Tolladine Road has a unique inn sign. Modern signboards erected by operators Marston's have tended to show an illustration of Queen Elizabeth I, the so-called Virgin Queen. However, the name is thought to have quite different origins. It is said that the original building on this site was formerly a presbytery and was converted into a pub called the Virgin Mary Tavern. The local Roman Catholic community objected to the name and, as a result, the pub's name was shortened to the Virgin's Tavern. Over the years the plural has been lost and it is now simply known as the Virgin Tavern.

The building seen in the photograph below is a rebuild, possibly by Lewis Clarke's Ltd., a Worcester brewery that once owned the premises. The rebuilt pub has since been extended on both sides, rather spoiling the original mock-Tudor concept. The upper floor was always decorated with timber but the ground floor was once bare brick with stone dressings to the windows. The white paint detracts from this period structure. There was once quite a nice doorway within the porch but the pub's entrance is now via the car park to the left of the building. As you can see from the photograph below, outdoor tables have been placed on the largely redundant car parking spaces - if only they'd have retained the charming bowling green that once occupied the site! In addition to a bowls green, the old Virgin's Tavern also boasted a skittles alley.

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The Virgin's Tavern, as it was originally known, can be dated back to at least 1806 when it was kept by Richard Page. He worked as a sawyer in later years when, in 1830, he was called as a witness at the infamous Oddingley Murder trials at which he stated that Richard Hemming, the man originally thought to have killed the Reverend George Parker, called at the tavern for a pint of ale on the night of the murder.

Another early reference to the Virgin Tavern occurs in August 1812 when Mr. Watkins sold the furniture and effects of his property in The Butts, facing the Infirmary Walk, as he had taken over and occupied the Virgin's Tavern.

On October 2nd 1829, the property was put up for auction. The building, then in the parish of Claines, was leasehold under the Bishop of Worcester, at a chief rent of 2s. per annum. The auction notice informed the public that the Virgin's Tavern was in the occupation of Widow Holloway.

The Virgin Tavern on Tolladine Road at Worcester [2009]

John and Margaret Dance were running the Virgin's Tavern in the early 1840's. The couple had six children living with them. Thomas Dance was summoned for keeping the Virgin's Tavern open on Thanksgiving Day in 1849. However, the customers would not have been happy to learn that, two years later, he was found guilty of short measure for which he was fined. Salwarpe-born John Dance had remarried by this time and he was running the pub with his second wife Frances. He also had to put up with a new mother-in-law living on the premises. Thomas Dance died on May 12th 1855. He was 59 years-old.

An incident at the pub reveals that the house was a homebrew pub. The licence of the Virgin's Tavern was suspended in 1863 and Mrs. Frances Dance had to appeal to the magistrates for a renewal. The licence had been suspended because her brewer, a man named Frederick Nash, had assaulted the police in the execution of their duty. When appearing before the bench in September 1863 she told the magistrates that it was her intention to discharge Nash from her employ. On the provision that the brewer was dismissed immediately, the licence was granted to Frances Dance.

Like her husband before her, Frances Dance was caught selling short measures of ale, both in 1857 and 1860. The publican was born in Hampton Lovett in 1801. She remained at the pub until her death in 1875.

Sale of Household Furniture and Effects of Frances Dance at the Virgin Tavern on Tolledine Road in Worcester [1875]

The Worcestershire Fox Hounds used to meet at the Virgin's Tavern in the early-mid 19th century. Indeed, in 1846 new kennels were built close to the pub at Elbury Cottage. However, it was coursing that drew a crowd to the Virgin Tavern as it was a working class sport in which the cost of entering a greyhound was less prohibitive. Large gatherings of people would meet at the Virgin Tavern before meetings were held across the Hindlip Estate owned by Colonel Allsopp.

The licence of the Virgin's Tavern was transferred to Joseph Hughes in October 1875. The Wardon-born boot and shoe maker kept the tavern with his wife Catherine who was from Claines.

Perhaps it was the relatively remote situation of the Virgin's Tavern in the Victorian era that resulted in the pub being a hotspot for a bit of bother. Judging by the numerous newspaper articles found for the Virgin's Tavern, it would seem that if you wanted a good punch-up in the mid-19th century you simply headed up the Tolladine Road [formerly known as Virgin's Tavern Road] and spilled someone's pint inside the boozer.

In 1891 the Chief Constable of the Police opposed the renewal of a licence for the Virgin's Tavern on account of the "dilapidated state of the premises, which were unfit for the business as an inn." However, the property had just been bought by Mr. Lewis [the brewery at Angel Place] and he assured the bench that he intended to improve and repair the pub.

William McKay [or Mackie] was appointed manager of the Virgin's Tavern by Lewis's. However, he died soon after moving into the pub. On October 1st, 1892 the licence was transferred to his widow Ann.

The Virgin Tavern on Tolladine Road at Worcester [2009]

At the end of the 19th century the Virgin Tavern was kept by William and Emily Crofts. Born in the Warwickshire village of Birdingbury, William was the son of a school teacher. He moved to Devon early in his career and worked as a coachman whilst his first wife kept a lodging house in Tormonham. Emily Crofts hailed from Prestbury in Gloucestershire. She took over the licence when William died in 1902.

As licensee of the Virgin Tavern, Elizabeth Andrew became embroiled in a romantic liaison with George Pike Yapp, a retired draper and member of the Malvern Urban District Council. However, when he broke his promise of marriage she took the councillor to court at Birmingham. The couple had met when she worked as a cook and housekeeper to one of his tenants. The widower proposed marriage to which she agreed but requested that they wait until two years had elapsed from the death of his wife. In 1902 they appear to have had a cooling-off period but this upset the counsellor who threatened to blow his brains out as he had nothing to live for. However, when he learned that she had become pregnant in January 1904 he stopped writing to her. When taken to court, Yapp denied having any intimate relations with Elizabeth Andrew for which he ultimately perjured himself. The jury were told that his denial of a marriage proposal was worthless as he had lied in court. Accordingly, they found for the plaintiff and she was awarded damages of £150.

Related Newspaper Articles

"In the list of casualties brought to our Infirmary during the past week, as stated in our last Journal, was the case of George Smith, aged 10, left arm torn off at the shoulder by a threshing machine. We are at a loss for terms sufficiently expressive of abhorrence at the callous and unfeeling conduct of the individual by whom this poor lad has sustained the serious injury we have here mentioned. It seems that the unfortunate boy was in the service of Mr. Bird, occupying Trotshill Farm in the parish of Warndon, near this city. On Friday he was employed in attending the working of a threshing machine with two men, the one named George Petford, the duty of the latter being to bind the straw into boltings, as it was brought to him from the machine, by the youth Smith. It appears that whilst thus engaged together, without an angry word, or remark, Petford suddenly seized Smith by the waist, and threw him on the drum of the machine, when it was at full work. The frightful consequence of this act was, that the poor boy's left arm was drawn in between the rollers of the machine, and ground off by piecemeal, close to the shoulder joint. He was snatched from this situation with all speed, by the second man at the machine, when Petford, as if bent upon his destruction, laid hold of him, and threw him upon the heap of threshed wheat, all bleeding as he was from his mutilated limb, and attempted to cover him with the grain, when the other man called out to him not to smother the boy, and proceeded to acquaint Mr. Bird, his master, of what had occurred, Petford in the mean time going coolly to the stable with the horses. Mr. Bird immediately directed the two men to place the poor sufferer upon a chair, and convey him to the Infirmary, which they did; but, on reaching the Virgin Tavern, Petford gave another person two shillings to take his place in carrying the boy, and left him to his fate. Smith was then brought on to the Infirmary, where amputation of what remained of the shattered limb was performed, and where he now remains. The next morning Petford went to the Infirmary to inquire about the state of the boy, and happened to enter the ward in which the injured patient was, when on seeing him, the latter exclaimed "that's the man who threw me into the machine." The nurses little heeded the remark at the time, and Petford instantly quitted the ward, and meeting the House Surgeon, Mr. Herbert Cole, he put several questions to him, as to the situation of the boy, and whether he was likely to recover. Mr. Cole, little conscious who his querist was, replied that at present the boy was going on well, but it was early yet to pronounce him out of danger. Mr. Cole naturally added some strong observations of indignation and shame at the atrocious conduct of the man, the author of this irreparable injury to the boy, and his subsequent inhuman behaviour, adding his intention to see Mr Bird, in order for steps being taken for his apprehension, in case fatal consequence, should ensue. Petford, it seems, heard all this with perfect self-possession, so as in no way to betray himself as the culprit, but stated to Mr. Cole that he should meet Mr. Bird shortly, and would communicate what he had said to him. From this time nothing has been heard of Petford With respect to Smith, who is a very intelligent, shrewd boy. and bears his sufferings with great firmness, we are glad to say, that there is every probability of his doing well under the skilful treatment he has received at the Institution; it has been deemed proper, however, in case an unfavourable change should ensue, that his depositions of the manner in which he met with his injury should be taken. For this purpose, Richard Spooner, Esq., the Magistrate, attended at the Infirmary, and who, having received the statement of the boy, issued his warrant for the apprehension of Petford. The only explanation of Petford's conduct which can be given, is, that he was labouring under the effects of drink at the time."
"Brutal Conduct"
Worcester Journal : December 7th 1837 Page 4.

"On Tuesday. Before T. G. Curtler, J. G. Watkins, J. Pidcock, aud J. W. Willis, Esqrs., and the Rev. C. J. Sale., Mr. Wilson, flour dealer, charged William Aston with assaulting him near the Virgin's Tavern. The defendant had been indebted to complainant for flour, and the plaintiff put an execution into his [defendant's] house. Shortly afterwards [the complainant stated] the defendant met him at the above place, and threatened if he did not repay him the amount of the execution, that he would "take it out his hide," raising his hand in a threatening attitude, and afterwards pushing him. The defendant denied having pushed him, and stated that he had paid Mr. Wilson the amount of his debt before the execution was put in. The magistrates considered that the assault had been committed, and fined the defendant 8s. 6d., with 11s. 6d. costs."
Worcestershire Chronicle : August 5th 1857 Page 2.

"Yesterday before S. Baker, W. Acton, and J. G. Watkins, Esqrs. William Osborne was charged with assaulting James Kettle, Claines, on October 15th. The assault arose out of a quarrel about a "bye" bowl delivered by Kettle in the bowling alley at the Virgin's Tavern, and, after some abusive language on both sides, it was alleged that Osborne struck complainant in the face, dislodging some of his teeth and knocking him down. Defendant denied the assault, and said that he merely pushed complainant, who was drunk, down, and he fell amongst the pins and thereby damaged his face. A witness for the defence did not set the matter clear, and the magistrates considered that an assault had been committed, but as it no doubt arose from a drunken squabble, they should only inflict a fine of 1s., with 12s.6d. expenses."
Worcestershire Chronicle : October 24th 1860 Page 2.

"William Hayes, bird catcher, was charged with stealing coal, the property of Messrs. Needham and Walker, on Saturday night. P.C. Walker stated that he was on duty in the Virgin's Tavern, on Saturday night, and about quarter past eleven he met the prisoner coming from the direction of the prosecutors' wharf, with the lump of coal in his possession. The prisoner could not give any account of how he became possessed of it. He took the prisoner into custody. George Bannister identified the coal as the property of Messrs. Needham and Walker. The prisoner was sent to gaol for one mouth."
"Stealing Coal"
Worcestershire Chronicle : January 13th 1869 Page 3.

"Charles Hines [18], Brickfields Road, Rainbow Hill, was charged with being drunk and disorderly in Tolladine Road on Sunday. The defendant went into the Virgin Tavern Inn, and when the landlord declined to serve him he became disorderly. He continued his noisy behaviour when in the street. Defendant was, "like a mad thing," the constable stated, and had been fighting with some other youths he was with. The Bench imposed a fine of £1. 5s. and costs, or 21 days' imprisonment in default. There was a further charge against the defendant of assaulting a man named Reuben Walter Jackson at the same time, but this was adjourned."
"Like a Mad Thing"
Worcestershire Chronicle : March 24th 1870 Page 3.

"Rose Ellen Rutter, Claines, was summoned for assaulting Eliza Brown, at the Virgin Tavern, Claines, on the 3rd August. Mr. Tree appeared for the defendant. It appeared from the evidence that the parties had had continual quarrels in consequence of some family matter, and on the evening in question, when they met at the Virgin Tavern, defendant struck the complainant. Fined 10s. and costs, £1. 2s. 6d. or three weeks' hard labour."
Worcester Journal : August 24th 1872 Page 7.

"Anthony Morrison, travelling hawker, was charged with being drunk in the Virgin Tavern Road, Claines, on the morning of the June 28th; also with being drunk at Upton Snodsbury on the 4th April. Defendant had already been convicted eighteen times of drunkenness and thrice of larceny. A fine of £1 and costs, 9s. 6d., was inflicted in the first case, and 10s. and costs, 7s. 6d. in the second."
Worcester Journal : July 12th 1884 Page 2.

"Early on Thursday morning an able seaman, named Hubert Wilson, H.M.S. Constant, stationed at Portsmouth, died at Worcester from a self-inflicted shot from a revolver. Deceased came home on furlough to Worcester about seven weeks ago. The leave expired on Wednesday, but instead of returning to his ship Wilson took to drinking, and bought a revolver, which he showed to people in the Virgin Tavern, Tolladine Road, saying he intended shooting himself or somebody else. He left the tavern late on Wednesday night, he called on a neighbour, Mrs. Marshall, who had gone to bed, saying he wanted an envelope to send a letter to his mother. She struck a light, came downstairs, and gave him the envelope, into which he put letter. While her back was turned he fired a bullet into his right temple, and it went through his head, emerging at the left temple; but he lived for about four hours. The letter to his mother stated that he intended to kill her."
"Suicide of a Sailor at Worcester"
Gloucester Citizen : November 15th 1889 Page 4.

Licensees of this pub

1806 - Richard Page
1812 - Mr. Watkins
1829 - Widow Holloway
1840 - 1855 Thomas Dance
1855 - 1875 Mrs Frances Dance
1875 - 1891 Joseph Hughes
1891 - 1892 Robert Clarke
1892 - 1892 William McKay
1892 - 1893 Ann McKay
1893 - 1897 Martin Curnock
1897 - 1902 William Goodman Crofts
1902 - 1903 Mrs. E. Goodman Crofts
1903 - 1904 Henry Marshall
1904 - 1904 William Evans
1904 - 1905 Elizabeth Andrews
1905 - 1907 Jessie Harper
1907 - 1910 Mrs. Harriet Carr
1910 - 1913 Harry Heath
1913 - 1934 John H. Walker
1934 - 1938 Garnet Fred Edwards
1938 - 1951 George Edmund Knight
1951 - 1964 Ernest Hodgetts
1964 - 1966 Cyril Mellor
1966 - 1968 Barry Payne
1968 - 1980 Norah Fisher
1980 - 1983 Richard Powell
1983 - 1984 Stephen Copestake
1984 - 1984 Barry Drysdale
1984 - 1986 Geoffrey Haydock
1986 - 1986 Wayne Astbury
1986 - 1988 Terence Mesheffrey
1988 - 1988 Malcolm Loftus
2013 - James Grimsley
Note : this is not a complete list of licensees for this pub.
Post-1873 list compiled by Bob Backenforth

Marston's Burton Ales


Map showing the Virgin Tavern [1888]

This extract from a map drawn up in 1886 shows the Virgin Tavern between Elbury Hill to the west and Leopard Hill to the south-east. Note the city boundary line along the road and around the corner, excluding the pub from the city's limits. The Virgin's Tavern was originally in the parish of Claines.

Inn Sign

Inn Sign of the Virgin Tavern at Worcester [1992]

Inn Sign of the Virgin Tavern at Worcester [2009]

Seventeen years separate these two sign boards; the second is a computer-generated sticker whilst the former was an in-house painted signboard from the Marston's brewery at Shobnall. The name is quite rare, though I have seen a reference to a Virgin Tavern in Castle Ditch at Caernarfon and another 17th century story relating to a Virgin Tavern in Bristol.

It is thought that the original building on this site occupied part of the Roman Catholic presbytery and, accordingly, when it opened as a public house, was named the Virgin Mary Tavern. The Roman Catholics were outraged by this and, in a bid to appease the church, the name was changed by dropping the name of Mary. I haven't checked out this story for myself but it's a great tale if true.

It is perhaps appropriate that in these signboards, Queen Elizabeth has succeeded Queen Mary, just as she did in 1558. Elizabeth was also known as the Virgin Queen so her image on this signboard was, perhaps, almost inevitable.

Queen Mary was born in 1516 at the Palace of Placentia at Greenwich. She was the daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. She was crowned Queen of England and Ireland after she raised a small army to depose Lady Jane Grey. She ultimately beheaded her rival to the throne. She was quite adept at ordering the occasional execution and, during a five-year period known as the Marian Persecutions, she had over 280 religious dissenters burned at the stake. This was to gain her the title of Bloody Mary.

The daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth was born in 1533. Succeeding the Catholic Bloody Mary, she was the fifth and final monarch of the Tudor dynasty. Despite courtships with several foreign suitors, she never married and she became famous for her supposed virginity, thus developing a cult status that is celebrated in contemporary paintings and portraits.

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Newspaper Articles

"A Worcester landlord has appeared in court, accused of setting his own pub on fire. Liam Kelly entered no plea to the charge of committing arson with intent to destroy the Virgin Tavern, Tolladine Road, when he appeared before city magistrates yesterday. Kelly, of Tolladine Road, who lived at the pub, spoke only to confirm his plea, name, address and date of birth. He was remanded in custody for a hearing on Monday, June 28th. Matt Dodson, prosecuting, said it was believed the fire, which was started in the bar area of the pub, had caused more than £100,000 worth of damage. Fire-fighters used a ladder to rescue Kelly, aged 42, from the first floor of the building. He was later arrested at the scene. Initial reports yesterday said it was licensee Ali Jackman, who was rescued from the pub but it later transpired to be Kelly. Firefighters from five different crews battled for three hours to bring the blaze under control and two firefighters, as well as Kelly himself, suffered the effects of smoke inhalation, receiving treatment at the scene, although no one was taken to hospital. As the Worcester News reported yesterday, the emergency services were called to the blaze at 12.25am on Saturday after they received reports of flames in the building. The pub was boarded up yesterday. Workers at the scene declined to comment to the Worcester News yesterday. A spokesman for Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service said fire-fighters were working with the police to establish the cause of the blaze. A spokesman for Marston's brewery, which owns the pub, said: "The fire at the Virgin Tavern has left the trading areas inside of the building badly damaged and in need of extensive repairs, thankfully no-one was hurt during the incident." The brewery representative added that "Marston's is committed to re-opening the pub and will be starting work on the refurbishment as soon as possible." He said it would not be possible to confirm the precise cost of the damage until further investigations had taken place. A spokesman for the brewery confirmed Ali Jackman was the licensee of the pub. Kelly was described in court as "the landlord." A pub regular at the scene yesterday, who declined to be named, said: "It definitely won't be open for the next England game on Wednesday."
"Landlord Accused of Pub Fire"
by Flora Drury in Worcester News : June 22nd 2010.