Some history of the White Lion and Town Hall Tavern on Ann Street at Birmingham in Warwickshire


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For the second half its life, this pub was called the Town Hall Tavern and the building stood where today's Council House is located. Prior to the construction of the Town Hall the pub was known by the sign of the White Lion.

The Town Hall Tavern was an important pub in that many of Birmingham's clubs and associations met and held meetings within the building. Political assemblies were also conducted within. The tavern was also frequently used as a coroner's court. In addition, it was a venue for music and poetry.

Birmingham : Watercolour Painting of Ann Street featuring the Town Hall Tavern by Paul Braddon [c.1868]

This extract from a watercolour by Paul Braddon affords a glimpse of how the old tavern looked in its halcyon days. At the beginning of the 19th century the tavern traded as the White Lion. However, by 1812 the building had become known as the Free Church Tavern. By 1835 the house had been re-named the Town Hall Tavern after the completion of the Town Hall in 1834. The castellated building on the corner is where Ann Street met Congreve Street. This element of a watercolour by Paul Braddon shows the building as both a shoe and clothes warehouse along with an "Exhibition for the "Curious Observer of Natural Phenomena." Actually, this late 18th century attraction was Allin's Cabinet of Curiosities, a typical commercial urban exhibition building in the pre-museum era. The building was later tenanted by the Suffield family, ancestors of the novelist J.R.R. Tolkien - his mother's name was Mabel Suffield. The last person to trade from the castellated building was William Bryan, a cook and confectioner. His name can be seen on the building in this painting. William Bryan did rather well in this trade and later operated from large premises on New Street.

Succeeding Thomas Griffin as publican, it was probably James Gutteridge who changed the inn sign to the Free Church Tavern. Certainly, the name of the tavern was a clear reference to Christ Church across the road because it was the first Anglican church in Birmingham to offer free pews for the poor.

Birmingham : Free Church Tavern reverting to the White Lion on Ann Street in Birmingham [1826]

This advertisement, published in the Birmingham Chronicle on September 28th, 1826, shows that the house and land agent Francis Thomas Hetherington was undergoing very extensive improvements and was to re-open with a house-warming in November 1826 under its former sign of the White Lion. The licensee was aiming to cater for a more affluent clientele, a house for the middle-classes or gentry, along with wealthy business owners. Despite, the tavern reverting to the sign of the White Lion, it was not the end of the Free Church Tavern name for a house in Paradise Street continued to trade under this sign for a number of years. Another notice in Aris's Birmingham Gazette, dated earlier in the year during March, confirmed that James Gutteridge was retiring from business. He advertised the household furniture, fixtures, brewing vessels, stock of ale and spirits, for a 'fair valuation of £300.' James Gutteridge had been at the Free Church Tavern since 1810 as he was recorded in the Quarter Session Records at Hay Market, an earlier name for the area in front of the tavern where grain was traded.

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Francis Thomas Hetherington had been in business as a land agent for many years at No.57 Great Hampton Street. His tenure at the White Lion was brief for he died less than a year after re-opening the tavern. He died at the early age of 35. Born in 1793, he married Caroline Wilson at the Parish Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Aston in February 1819. He was a collector of art but sold many of his paintings before moving to Ann Street. His collection included works by Moses Haughton and Samuel Coleman. These would be worth a few bob today! Catherine Hetherington married again in 1828 just up the road at St. Philip's. She tied the knot with John Akers, a brewer with premises in Bath Passage. However, her maiden name of Wilson suggests a relationship with Mary Wilson who became the licensee of the White Lion.

Birmingham : Sale Notice for the White Lion on Ann Street [1832]

It was through assignees of the brewer John Samuel Akers that the licence and goodwill of the White Lion was offered for auction in June 1832. The above advertisement provides great detail on the contents of the tavern. There was so much furniture, fixtures and brewing plant that it would take two days to hold the auction. Unless the next publican secured any of the lots, they would be taking over an empty shell and would be responsible for starting again from scratch. Note at the end of the advertisement that work on the Town Hall had already started.

Birmingham : Town Hall from Paradise Street [c.1932]

Noise and dust would be a feature outside the White Lion when, on April 27th, 1832, construction started on a new Town Hall. The architects of what was, at the time, a radical design, were Edward Welch and Joseph Hansom, the latter becoming a well-known name after he invented the famous Hansom cab. The Yorkshireman also founded The Builder, the distinguished architectural journal. The two architects had already designed a number of churches and public buildings. Based on the Temple of Castor and Pollux in Rome, their plans for Birmingham's principal music venue became the most significant design in the UK's revival of Roman architecture. Unfortunately, as the two men had stood surety for the builders, the escalating costs soon overrun their estimated budget, and their partnership went into liquidation. Of course, they bounced back from bankruptcy proceedings and went on to create further works. However, it is a sad tale that they failed to complete what is a remarkable building. The Anglesey Penmon Marble was conferred to the architects by Richard Bulkley, Bart, the owner of the quarry from which it was obtained. The distance travelled by the bricks was shorter as they were made in Selly Oak. Almost inevitably on such a large project, two men lost their lives during construction. On January 26th, 1833, a crane constructed to install the roof trusses broke and the pulley block failed. John Heap, a mason and architectural carver, and William Badger were the men who died as a result of the accident. Although not completed, the Town Hall was opened for a music festival in October 1834. Can you imagine how long such a building project would take in modern times? Mind you, the architect Charles Edge was commissioned in 1835 to repair weaknesses to the design of the building. He was also commissioned for the extension of the Town Hall in 1837 and again in 1850.

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William Webster was the licensee when the Town Hall opened to the public and may have been the man who changed the name of the tavern to commemorate the massive edifice that had risen a matter of yards from the front door. If it wasn't him then we can look to Charles Cork who is listed as publican in Robson's trade directory published in 1839 in which the building is recorded as the Town Hall Tavern. Born in 1815, Charles Cork was a young publican. He kept the house with his wife Ann Maria Birch whom he had married at St. Philip's in 1836. Before this Charles Cork had resided in Carver Street whilst Ann Maria, daughter of Thomas Birch, had lived in Bartholomew Row. Tragedy struck again at the Town Hall Tavern for the young licensee died at the age of 26 in 1842. The Grand Lodge of Goodfellows [No.1], held a ceremony at the Town Hall Tavern in remembrance of Charles Cork. The Birmingham Journal reported that this was "performed to a crowded audience, in the large room, at the Town Hall Tavern. A suitable address by Brother Bucknall, assisted by Brother Cash, which evidently made a deep impression on the minds of those present. Great effect was given to the solemn ceremony by the choir, who kindly gave their services on the melancholy occasion. At the conclusion, a subscription was entered into for the benefit of the relatives of the deceased."

The host of the remembrance ceremony to Charles Cork was Thomas Sutton, his successor as publican of the Town Hall Tavern. However, his term was fairly short and he handed over to a Mr. Harrison. His time at the tavern was fleeting because he was bankrupt. Indeed, he was insolvent when he entered the premises in November 1845. His tenure lasted a matter of months and the Town Hall Tavern was advertised again in April 1846. Harrison, on taking over the tavern, agree to pay £578.19s.3d., £200 of which was for the licence and goodwill, the balance being for the furniture and fixtures. Of this sum he paid down £400 in cash, and gave bills for the remainder. However, he quickly accumulated debts in Birmingham to the amount of about £500, which, together with debts due in Nottingham, where the bankrupt previously resided, amounted to £790. It was reported that when he took possession of the Town Hall Tavern he was insolvent, having been induced to proceed under promises of support from a wine merchant in Nottingham, but that assistance was not afforded. His debts in Birmingham were principally to Mr. Taylor and Mr. Walker, creditors and assignees, who possibly supplied him with wines and spirits for retail.

Birmingham : Sale Notice for the Town Hall Tavern on Ann Street [1846]

And so the Town Hall Tavern, "the best situated house for a profitable business in Birmingham," was put up for auction once more in the Spring of 1846. The above advertisement promotes the tavern's close proximity to the Town Hall, Queen's College, Bankruptcy Court, and Law Offices. In an advertisement published in the following month, this list of buildings was extended to incorporate the planned development around the tavern. Indeed, it is interesting to see how the locale was envisaged in 1846 as the sale notice mentioned the Mansion House, Judge's House, Police Station and other public buildings. Moreover, the advertisement stated that the Music Festival held in August at the Town Hall will "be a source of profit equal to one year's rent and taxes."

Stability was restored to the Town Hall Tavern when Ann Whiles took over the licence in 1846. She kept the Town Hall Tavern with her son William and daughters Ann and Eliza. The Whiles family also employed two live-in servants suggesting that the tavern was still doing moderate business. Hailing from Leicestershire, the family, headed by Joseph Whiles, had previously kept the Royal Oak Inn in Ibstock. I think they may also have been at the White Swan Inn at Castle Donington before moving to Birmingham.

Ann Whiles was in her sixties when taking over at the Town Hall Tavern so perhaps it was inevitable that she would hand over the day-to-day running of the pub to her daughters Ann and Elizabeth. The names of Ann and Eliza Whiles appear together in trade directory listings despite their mother holding the licence. This would be the last family to run the Town Hall Tavern. Daughter Ann married the brassfounder Thomas Whitehouse in October 1851 at the Parish Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Aston but remained at the Town Hall Tavern. Her husband died in 1857. Ann's sister Elizabeth married the Scottish-born engineer and manufacturer Duncan Morrison who also died around the same time. The two widowed sisters continued to run the Town Hall Tavern, the licence being transferred to Ann Whitehouse in March 1862. She remained until the local authorities finalised the compulsory purchase of the properties on the north side of Ann Street. Together with the neighbouring Bell and Candlestick, the Town Hall Tavern was closed in 1873 and subsequently demolished for the construction of the Council House.

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Licensees of the Town Hall Tavern

1802 - 1810 Thomas Griffin
1810 - 1816 James Gutteridge
1816 - 1818 Samuel Gutteridge
1818 - 1826 James Gutteridge
1826 - 1827 Francis Thomas Hetherington
1828 - Mary Wilson
1835 - William Webster
1839 - Charles Cork
1842 - 1845 Thomas Sutton
1845 - 1846 Mr. Harrison
1846 - 1862 Ann Whiles
1862 - 1872 Mrs. Ann Whitehouse
Note : this is not a complete list of licensees for this pub.

Related Newspaper Articles

"Last night [Friday], Dr. Birt Davies, borough coroner, held an inquest at the Town Hall Tavern, Ann Street, on the body of James Fraser, book-keeper, aged 50, who lately resided with his wife on the premises of Messrs. Gabriel, the well-known dentists, of New Street. Fraser was a Chelsea pensioner, having been a sergeant in the First Royals. It seems that he had been drinking from Sunday, the 30th March, until Tuesday last, the day of his death. About five o'clock in the evening of that day he went out for walk, and returned some two hours later, much intoxicated, when he went upstairs and lay down on the bed. An hour afterwards, while in the act of coming downstairs, it is supposed for the purpose of obtaining more liquor, he fell at the top of the first flight of stairs, and broke his neck. The jury returned a verdict of "accidental death."
"Fatal Results of Intoxication"
Aris's Birmingham Gazette : April 5th 1862 Page 5.

"John Yates [16], electroplater, Summer Lane, was charged on remand with stealing a till, containing 15s., from the house of Mrs. Whitehouse, Town Hall Tavern, Ann Street. On Monday last, prosecutrix left the bar for a short time, and on her return saw the prisoner running away with the till, containing the above amount. As he left the house, Police Constable Conolly watched the prisoner put the money into his pocket, and eventually took him into custody, with the money in his possession. Mr. Francis appeared for the prisoner, who was sentenced to three months' imprisonment."
"Juvenile Delinquent"
Birmingham Daily Post : August 24th 1865 Page 3.

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