Some history of the Alma Tavern on Alma Street at Aston New Town in Birmingham in the County of Warwickshire
The Alma Tavern was at No.123 Alma Street and located on the western side of the thoroughfare, 12 doors north of Clifford Street. The public-house closed in 1968, the area being completely redeveloped in subsequent years. The old road has gone, though there is a modern Alma Street North. To be honest, I cannot see why they had to pull down this place. Even if it had stood in splendid isolation, the residents of Manton House and Reynolds House would have appreciated the Alma as a local pub. The twin 13-storey tower blocks were built on a plot of land across the road and completed in the year that the Alma was closed - how's that for planning?
This is how the Alma Tavern looked in the post-war years. A fine-looking tavern, it appears as though Mitchell's and Butler's furnished the frontage with a more solid stone appearance after they took control of the place. The more ornate first-floor windows possibly date from the brewery's improvements and perhaps the dentilled cornice too. There were three entrances close together. The left entrance led to the smoke-room which I imagine was to the rear of the building. The right entrance led to a small vestibule with a second door into the public bar. The centre door provided access to the outdoor department, probably a small service area with a hatch servery.
The core of the building dated back to the mid-late 1850s so was erected not long after Alma Street was formally laid out for development. I suspect that it opened early in 1859 when a 99-year lease was agreed. However, the property was intertwined and formed a bundle with No.117 where a lease agreement was agreed in June 1857, along with No.121 which was erected and leased in September 1856. I am curious why the beer engine, or ale machine as described here, was being sold in June 1859. Did the publican not like this new-fangled device and went back to stillage and jug service?
The Alma Tavern probably sold homebrewed ales in the early days as Henry Fincher, licensee in the late 1860s was a master maltster by trade. Perhaps he was seeking an outlet for his output. However, it would seem retailing did not agree with him for he concentrated his efforts as a maltster and hop merchant. He had premises on Hockley Hill and Lozells Road and took up residence at Woodbine Villa at Hamstead.
This advertisement published on December 22nd 1871, is enlightening as it reveals that there was a concert room at the Alma Tavern. Moreover, it shows that Joseph Wilson had formerly kept The Compasses on Brearley Street where he had gained a music licence by 1862. The last line of the advertisement states that the publican's daughter would be tinkling the keys during the concerts. This was Emma Wilson who had worked as a barmaid at The Compasses before marrying the jeweller William Potter in August 1865. Living in nearby Clifford Street, the couple had three children by the time of this advertisement.
The Alma Tavern was flagged up by the magistrates in the mid-late 19th century as there were a number of incidents resulting in court cases. This was compounded by the licensees themselves being found drunk on the premises. John Gray was found guilty of this in November 1876. The Scottish-born publican Theodore McKendrick was also summoned for being drunk on his own premises in December 1881. He had worse to come in the following Spring when he filed his petition for liquidation, his debts amounting to £1,000.
Thomas George Toney seemingly came out of retirement to become licensee of the Alma Tavern in the 1890s. Born in Birmingham around 1837, he married Sarah Price in 1863. The couple would later run the Bull's Head on Pritchett Street. In the census of 1891 he was documented as a retired publican. However, he and his wife were running the Alma Tavern after this date. They ran into a problem with the music licence in 1895 as Superintendent Walker objected to the renewal on the ground of bad ventilation and the small dimensions of the club room. However, after some deliberation, the magistrates did renew the licence.
Thomas George Toney was the leaseholder of the Alma Tavern but sold his interest for £2,025 to Henry Mitchell's in 1895 and moved to the Union Inn at nearby Berners Street where he died just before Christmas in 1899.
The Alma formed a shooting team and in 1902 joined the Aston Manor Open-Air Shooting League. In the following year a new angling club was established with headquarters at the Alma Tavern.
These views show the Alma Tavern at a time when a whole chunk of Alma Street was being boarded-up ready for demolition. The pub hung on for a few more years but ran out of steam in 1968. I particularly like the fact that a van from the Cape Hill brewery is parked outside. I wonder what was being delivered in this type of vehicle? Glasses, beer mats, general goods and cleaning products? The "Eats, Shoots & Leaves" brigade would not be happy about the lack of the apostrophes, a punctuation gripe of mine with this company as they were missing on almost all of their inn signs and fascia.
"John Gray, Alma Tavern, Alma Street, was fined 40s. and costs 13s. 6d., for being drunk on his own licensed premises on Tuesday night,
the l4th inst. The case was proved by Police-Sergeant Godfrey. As an extenuation of the state he was in, Mr. Ansell handed in a medical certificate to show that
he was suffering from nervous debility."
"A Publican Drunk In His Own House"
Birmingham & Aston Chronicle : November 25th 1876 Page 5
"The serious case of alleged wounding which has been remanded week by week since Christmas owing to the critical condition of one of
the injured men was fully gone into at the Aston Police Court on Monday, before Messrs. Hill and Wills. The defendants were James Grice, filer, 100 Alma
Street, and William Turner, brass filer, 15 Clifford Street, and they were charged with unlawfully wounding Percival Shuttleworth, traveller, 7,
Burlington Street, Aston, on December 26th, and also Esau Willis Smith, barber, Alma Street, on the same night. The Bench having decided to first proceed
with the charge of wounding Smith, the complainant stated that on Boxing Night he was in the Alma Tavern. Before he left, which was shortly before twelve o'clock,
he was told that he had better get out of the house as he was about to be "set upon." On going outside he saw Grice, who struck him with his fists. Witness
returned the blow, and in the struggle which issued they both fell to the ground Grice then hit witness several times with a buckled belt, and kicked him in the
mouth. Complainant succeeded in wrestling the belt from Grice. Turner then came on the scene, and struck prosecutor on the forehead with a heavy buckled belt.
Witness's wife and a friend got him to his bowie, the prisoners following them. When they reached home, the prisoners banged the doors. Mrs. Smith thereupon
opened one of the windows and called for the police. While she was so engaged Turner attempted to strike her with a buckled belt. An officer came shortly afterwards,
and took Grice into custody. Witness was taken to the General Hospital the same night, and had a wound which he had sustained to his forehead dressed. In reply to
Mr. J. Mutlow, who defended Grice, witness said that when he entered the Alma Tavern he was quite sober. Replying to Mr. Hooper, who appeared on behalf of Turner,
witness said he did not know that prisoner, and could not understand why he should have assaulted him. William Lissamore, baker, 164, Witton Lane, who was in the
Alma Tavern when the prosecutor and prisoners were in the house, said he heard Grice say he should fight the man there, looking at the same time in the direction
of Smith, who, however, took no notice of him. Witness went outside shortly before twelve, and when there saw Grice, who asked "Where the bastard was."
Smith then came out of the house, and Grice at once challenged him to fight. Smith paid no attention to the challenge, and Grice then struck Smith, who returned
the blow and knocked prisoner down, taking at the same time his buckled belt. Upon Grice regaining his feet, he rushed at Smith and struck him. Turner then came up,
and said to witness, "You are one of his bastard pals." He struck him on the shoulder at the same with his buckled belt, and almost immediately afterwards
he heard Grice say, "Give us a knife." Witness, Mrs. Smith, and prosecutor then went to their house, and the two prisoners subsequently paid them a visit and
smashed in the panels of one of the shutters. Mrs. Smith having given corroborative evidence, P.C. Shirley stated that he took both Smith and Shuttleworth in a cab
to the General Hospital early on the morning of the 27th December. While witness was at the hospital Grice came to that institution, and he was pointed out to witness
as one of the men who had committed the assault. Witness then took him into custody, and subsequently the same morning arrested Turner. On charging them at the station,
both prisoners denied the offence. This concluded the evidence in the first charge, and that of wounding Shuttleworth was next proceeded with. He said he was in the
Alma Tavern on Boxing Night, and left at twelve o'clock. On getting outside he saw the two prisoners, and on hearing a slight noise he asked one of them what the
matter was. Before he could receive a reply he was struck a blow by someone and knocked to the ground. He heard someone say, "You are one of his pals," and
after that he received blow after blow, and he remembered nothing more until he found himself in a cab on the way to the hospital, where he had been an in-patient
until Sunday. He recognised the prisoners as standing over him while on the ground. Witness cried out "Oh, don't," and recollected nothing more. He could
not swear that the prisoners gave him any of the blows that he received. Evidence as to the extent of the prosecutor's wounds was now given by Albert Lucas resident
surgical officer at the General Hospital, who stated that the prosecutor Shuttleworth was admitted to the hospital between twelve and one o'clock on the morning of
the 27th ult. On making an examination he found him suffering from four wounds, two on the right side of the head, and about an inch apart above and behind the ear,
one wound on the right side of the nose, and the other behind the left ear. They were all fairly clear-cut wounds, but, with the exception of the one behind the
right ear, not such as one would expect to find from a sharp instrument. It was improbable that any of the wounds could have been caused by the toe of a man's
boot, but they might have been done with the buckle of the belt produced. Mrs. Smith said she saw Shuttleworth come out of the Alma Tavern. He was in the middle of
the street when Grice approached and gave him a blow which felled him to the ground. Turner then rushed on prosecutor and struck him with the buckled belt. Someone
called out, "Get your knives out." When witness left the spot with her husband Shuttleworth was lying on the ground, and the prisoners were standing over him,
and appeared to be kicking him. After a short consultation the Bench committed both prisoners to trial at the assizes on both charges. Bail was allowed in the
case of both prisoners, themselves in two sureties of £25 each."
"Serious Stabbing Affray in Aston"
Birmingham & Aston Chronicle : January 30th 1892 Page 3
I followed up this case at the Warwick Assizes. Both prisoners were found guilty of unlawfully wounding. Grice was sentenced to three weeks' and Turner to a fortnight's imprisonment. Percy Shuttleworth was left with permanent injuries.
"At Aston Police Court on Wednesday, before A. W. Wills, W. H. Evans, C. T. Bishop, and A. Taylor, Albert Willock, cycle worker,
23, Porchester Street, was charged with drunkenness, assaulting the police and damaging the officer's cape. About eleven o'clock on Christmas Eve, Willock
accompanied a friend to the Alma Tavern, Alma Street, and called for two glasses of ale. The ale was supplied, but in consequence of Willock using bad language,
the landlord, Joseph Whieldon, took back the beer and returned the money. At this Willock picked up the coppers and threw them at the landlord. Willock was then
ejected, and soon after a large sheet of plate-glass in the front window of the public-house was broken. It was alleged that the glass was wilfully broken
by Willock. Just about midnight Police-Constable Boswell was in Porchester Street when he saw Willock, who was then in a very drunken state, come out of his
house and commenced using very filthy language. The officer requested him to desist, but he paid no heed to this injunction. Boswell then arrested him, and he struck
the officer a violent blow on the side of the face, knocked his helmet off, kicked him on the legs and tore his cape. Police-Sergeant Smye eventually came to
Boswell's assistance, but as a large crowd had by then assembled, great difficulty was experienced in conveying the prisoner to the police station. On the way.
William Ingram, 13, Park Lane, interfered with the officers, hustling them and trying to trip them up. However, the prisoner was taken to the Police Station. He
now pleaded guilty to the majority of the charges, and said that in consequence of the return home of a brother in the army he had "something" to drink.
Prisoner's mother asked the Bench to deal leniently with him as he had once had "conclusion of the brain," and when he had had a drop of beer he got
excited. The Bench said if men got drunk and became a ruffian he must take the consequences. Willock, who had been previously convicted of assault on the police,
was sent to gaol for seven days for being drunk and disorderly, 21 days for assaulting the officer, and fined 1s., and ordered to pay 2s. 6d., the amount of the
damage to the cape or, in default, three days, the first two sentences to run consecutively. Ingram was committed to prison for 14 days."
"Christmas Eve's Carousal at Aston"
Harborne Herald : January 1st 1898 Page 5