Some history of the Black Swan Hotel on Bromsgrove Street in Birmingham in the County of Warwickshire


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The Black Swan Hotel was located on the northern side of Bromsgrove Street, on the western corner of Market Street. An old licence that traded here from the early 19th century, the public-house closed in the early 1970s when the markets area was redeveloped.

Birmingham : Black Swan Hotel on the corner of Bromsgrove Street and Market Street [1965]

This was a lovely building and a real loss when demolished. Unlike the catalogue-designed red terracotta public-houses, the Black Swan had plenty of originality and was created with a range of building materials in a rather fanciful hotch-potch style. Stone mullioned windows set in red brick with slate and plaster work, the designer borrowed from classical architecture and mixed it up with Tudor and Gothic. The purists may not have liked the work but it was certainly aesthetically-pleasing to many and an enrichment to Bromsgrove Street.

Originating from the offices of James and Lister Lea, the building plans for this structure were submitted on December 11th, 1885 and construction started in the following year. The building, along with its delightful corner turret, is shown on a plan dated 1889. This structure replaced the original Black Swan, a house that dated back to at least 1801 when it was listed in the licence register. The property seems to pre-date the Dolphin Inn by a couple of years and also the New Inn across the road.

John Pitchfork was the licensee in the first entry of the Black Swan in the licence register. Before the end of the Napoleonic Wars, he was succeeded by Aaron Jones, a publican who later moved to the Rose and Crown on Cheapside. He handed over to William Fulford, sometimes listed as Fullford, who remained at the helm for many years. Born in 1791, he was possibly a widower by the time of the 1841 census which shows him living on the premises with his son George. Three servants, Mary Ann Kendrick, Joseph Field and Mary Pane, were listed at the Black Swan. The house served as an inn and, at the time of the census, four of the occupants were recorded as comedians!

George Fulford became a publican himself before his marriage to Louisa Hubbard in August 1844. She was a daughter of the cordwainer Richard Hubbard. The couple succeeded his father in running the Black Swan Inn during the late 1840s. In addition to hiring Sarah Garbett as a general servant, they employed Henry Herbert as an ostler, confirming that the inn was accommodating horses in a stable block as outlined by the electoral roll at this time.

One would assume that the parents of Robert Bruce Edmonds had Scottish ancestry to bestow him with such a name. Actually, there are more Robert Bruce Edmonds than you would imagine. When I searched for him, there were plenty of others with the same name! This particular Robert Bruce Edmonds was born in Birmingham in 1813. He was a boot and shoe maker by trade and living in Ann Street when he married Sarah Andrews at the Parish Church of Saint Bartholomew at Edgbaston in November 1841. The couple established a home in Little Charles Street where they lived with their young daughters Eliza and Clara. The former worked in the Black Swan when the family moved to Bromsgrove Street in the late 1850s. They employed Elizabeth Bishop as a general servant.

Robert and Sarah had their heads screwed on and made a success of their working lives together. By the time of his death in April 1880 the estate of Robert Bruce Edmonds was some £4,000 which represented a career of good fortune and hard endeavour. The family had moved out to leafy Hall Green by this time. His brother Christopher remained in the town as he had an ironmongery business in Navigation Street.

Birmingham : Advertisement for a Pianist at the Black Swan Hotel on Bromsgrove Street [1866]

Like the building above, the original Black Swan had a first-floor club room. This was proved by an application for a music licence by Robert Bruce Edmonds in August 1863. He provided the room's dimensions to the magistrates which were 30ft by 15ft and 10ft tall. Not a huge space but it was one in which he intended to hold music events on two nights per week between 20.30hrs to 23.00hrs.

Robert Edmonds was one of those publicans who mixed with influential figures of the town. He was involved in local politics and would use the club room for political gatherings. The Black Swan also hosted meetings of the United Harmonic Chairman's Association. A man who strove for learning and erudition, Robert Edmonds became well-known for the eclectic debates held at the Black Swan. All manner of topics were discussed in the house on Sunday evenings.

Birmingham : Advertisement Notices for debates held at the Black Swan Inn on Bromsgrove Street [1860s]

Elizabeth Wilson succeeded Robert Bruce Edmonds as licensee of the Black Swan Inn. However, her stay was brief and it was Charles Hodges who steered the pub throughout the mid-1870s. He moved a short distance to run the Cross Keys on Jamaica Row.

Charles Flavell was one of those publicans who moved around a lot. He kept the Black Swan for a short spell in the late 1870s. I have encountered his name at a number of houses, including the Horse and Jockey at Digbeth and the Brown Lion on Horsefair.

Joseph Lawrence appears to have been the last person to run the old Black Swan Inn. William Kirkland was at the helm of the new Black Swan Hotel which was possibly completed in 1886 but certainly by 1887. Indeed, William Kirkland is recorded as the proprietor in the licensing records but he sold his interest to Atkinson's Brewery Ltd. The livery of the brewery can be seen in the photographs of the building.

It would seem that William Kirkland was a man who did the rounds in the licensed trade. Born in 1830 at Rugeley in Staffordshire, he came to Birmingham at a relatively young age and, living in Ladywood, worked as a gas fitter. In September 1849 he married Emma Price at St. Bartholomew's Church at Edgbaston. By the early 1860s the couple were running the Robin Hood, a beer house in Cottage Lane at Sand Pits, Ladywood. Between having lots of children, the Kirkland's were in charge of the Punch Tavern in St. Vincent Street during the early 1870s. However, in May 1872 they moved to the Greyhound Inn on Edward Street, Parade. Edward was also working as a lamp-maker during this period. However, it is a puzzle to me how he came to be the proprietor of the Black Swan Inn. Maybe his second wife Sarah was well-minted?

Birmingham : Plan showing the location of the Black Swan Hotel on Bromsgrove Street [1889s]

Dating from 1889, this plan shows the locations of the Black Swan Hotel and New Inn on Bromsgrove Street, along with the Plough and Harrow on Jamaica Row. The corner turret of the Black Swan Hotel can clearly be seen. A popular architectural feature of the period, the plan shows several others on corner buildings.

The premises on the opposite corner of Market Street housed both the post-office and the premises of James Hawley, a clock and watch maker. Next door at No.3 was the refreshment rooms of Joseph Redfern. The saddler shown on the plan at No.2 was the premises of Hannah Kinman. The Birmingham and Midland Bank on the corner was a property in Jamaica Row.

Heading westward from the Black Swan Hotel, the property next door at No.6 was occupied by the London & West of England Yeast Company and also the provisions store operated by James Feely. Arthur Smith & Co., Plumber's Merchants, occupied No.9 and next door at No.10 was the upholsterer Mrs. Elizabeth Matilda Harper.

Once the new hotel was built and opened, many societies were eager to use the swish club room for their meetings. For example, the Butcher's Sick and Dividend Society met at the Black Swan Hotel, further bonding the relationship of the building with the local traders at the nearby market. Another body to meet at the hotel was the British Amalgamated Society of Journeymen Basket-Makers.

No doubt, a key reason for the Butcher's Sick and Dividend Society meeting at the Black Swan Hotel was that the publican, William Henry Ball was himself a butcher by trade. He worked at the nearby market, making the journey to work from his home at Kyotts Lake Road in Sparkbrook. Prior to taking over at the Black Swan Hotel, he was a meat inspector for the Birmingham Markets Committee. He was once assaulted by an angry slaughterman when he seized some diseased liver which he detected on an inspection.

Dudley-born William Ball was prudent enough to take out an accident insurance policy which paid out £1,000 to his wife Martha when the publican died following a bizarre event at the Black Swan in 1895. Resting one foot on a case of ginger-beer under the counter, he was leaning on the servery reading a newspaper during a quiet session. When he turned away, possibly to serve a customer, his toe got caught between the crate and the top of the counter causing him to fall backwards. The publican, described as a very heavy man, hit his head hard on the cash register. Two days afterwards he died from a clot of blood on the brain.

Thomas and Eliza Higgins were running the Black Swan Hotel in the early Edwardian period. Eliza was from Selly Oak but her husband hailed from the village of Whittington in Gloucestershire.

London-born William Crisp Rose was the licensee at the end of the Edwardian period. His wife Ellen hailed from Loughborough in Leicestershire. The couple had earlier kept the Nag's Head at Crewe in Cheshire.

Birmingham : Black Swan Hotel on the corner of Bromsgrove Street and Market Street [c.1933]

Francis Zeller had formerly worked for Showell's before a spell working for new owners, Atkinson's Brewery Ltd. He kept the Black Swan Hotel with his Dudley-born wife Rebecca. Before the First World War Francis Zeller took up an admin role under the Showell's umbrella where he was promoted to secretary and manager in Walsall. A popular local figure, he was also a director of the Walsall Theatres Company. He lived for his three score years and ten before he died in 1930, aged 72.

Joseph and Sarah Jephcott kept the Black Horse for a short spell in the 1920s. The couple had previously run the Tamworth Arms in Moor Street. They were succeeded by Harry and Hannah Aspinall. During the Edwardian period Harry Aspinall had worked for the Corporation as a lamp-lighter. The couple would later move westward and prior to the Second World War they were running the Fountain Inn on Hagley Road at Stourbridge.

Bernard and Florence Webster managed the Black Swan throughout the whole of the 1960s. The couple had married during the Second World War.

Until the early 2020s, a large multistorey car park next to the Birmingham Wholesale Market occupied the site of the Black Horses Hotel. The site was vacant in 2022 as the whole area had been cleared [again].

Licensees of the Black Swan Hotel

1801 - 1813 John Pitchfork
1813 - 1827 Aaron Jones
1827 - William Fulford
1849 - George Fulford
1855 - William Williams
1858 - Robert Bruce Edmonds
1870 - Mrs. Elizabeth Wilson
1872 - Charles Hodges
1878 - Charles Flavell
1879 - Joseph Lawrence
1888 - William Kirkland
1892 - William Henry Ball
1896 - Emma Wentworth
1901 - Thomas Higgins
1905 - Joseph W. Coombes
1909 - Charles F. Whitcomb
1911 - William Crisp Rose
1912 - Francis Joseph Zeller
1916 - Samuel H. Evans
1918 - Mrs. Elizabeth B. Evans
1927 - Joseph Henry Jephcott
1929 - Harry Edgar Aspinall
1935 - Francis Victor Maxwell Stewart
1937 - Frederick Wyss
1940 - Charles Bromley
1941 - Norman Frank McCoy
1946 - Beatrice Maud Weeson
1947 - Fred Wolstencroft
1950 - 1953 George Henry Breakwell
1953 - 1957 Bernard Trueman Thornton
1957 - 1958 Lawson Trevor Jones
1958 - 1970 Bernard Webster
1970 - 1971 John Scott Paton
1971 - 1971 William George Walker
1971 - 1973 Peter Albert Jordan
Note : this is not a complete list of licensees for this pub. The dates of early licensees are sourced from trade directories, census data, electoral rolls, rate books and newspaper articles. Names taken from trade directories may be slightly inaccurate as there is some slippage from publication dates and the actual movement of people. The listing from 1950 to 1973 is complete and accurate as these names are sourced from licensing records. These records are hand-written and I have done my best to transcribe them accurately, though some scribbles of the clerks can be hard to determine.

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Related Newspaper Articles

"Before T. Beilby, Esq., Fanny Thompson was charged with stealing a five pound note from the person of Henry Slater. The prosecutor stated, that on the night of the 24th instant he was in the parlour of the Black Swan Inn, Bromsgrove Street. The prisoner came in, and offered some market bags for holding samples of grain for sale. He bought one from her, and he his friends were about leaving the house, when he rang the bell twice, and took a five pound note from his pocket to get changed by the landlord, to pay the prisoner for the bag. No person answered the bell, and, as he held the note in his hand, the prisoner came to him, and said, "Excuse me," and snatched the note from his hand and ran away with it. He followed her quickly; and as he was leaving the house, the landlord stopped him, and asked him to pay his bill, as he was a stranger to him. He paid him, and then followed the prisoner, whom he could not find. He gave information to the police, who apprehended her. The note then produced was the one taken from him by the prisoner. Joshua Rest Frankish, police sergeant, stated that, on Thursday afternoon, the prisoner was brought to the station house charged with uttering a forged bank note. He told her he must see the note. She replied he should not. He then sent for a woman to search her; and as soon as the woman came into the room he saw the prisoner put her hand inside her clothes. He took hold of her hand, and found in it the five pound note he then produced. He asked her where she had it from, and she said she received it in a letter from her husband, and she could produce the letter. It appeared she had been trying to change the note at several shops, and, amongst others, she went into Mr. Matthison's, in Edgbaston Street, where it was thought the note was bad, and the prisoner was taken into custody. He [Frankish] then went to the bank to ascertain if the note was good; and on his return to the station met two men, friends of the prosecutor, who told him that the latter had been robbed. Mr. Slater soon after came to the station, and identified the note and the prisoner. The prisoner was committed."
Birmingham Journal : September 26th 1840 Page 5

"William Harrison, driver, Victoria Grove, Benacre Street, was summoned for having assaulted Emily Cox, married woman, Claybrooke Street, and Mary Miles, single woman, Claybrooke Street, and further for doing wilful damage to the amount of £4. on the 1st of April. Mr. Cheston appeared for the prosecution, and Mr. Maunder defended. From the evidence adduced, it appeared that on the day named the defendant and complainants, in company with several others, went to Packington races, and upon returning in the evening the two complainants stayed at the Black Swan, in Bromsgrove Street. They afterwards returned to the house of Mary Cox, in Benacre Street, where the defendant was. A few minutes after entering he threw the contents of a glass of whisky at a person in the house named Atkins, and then commenced an aggravated assault on the complainant by knocking her down and kicking her severely on several parts of the body. He was ultimately ejected, but immediately afterwards returned, smashed the panel of the door, and again gaining admission to the house violently assaulted the complainant Mary Miles. For the defence it was urged that it was a drunken squabble and that both parties were equally to blame. The Bench considered that the circumstances of the case were disgraceful, but nevertheless nothing was done which justified the defendant making such a violent assault. He would therefore have to pay 20 shillings for the damage, or in default seven days for the assault on Cox 20s. and costs, and for the assault on Miles 10s. and costs."
"Brutal Assault"
Birmingham Mail : April 5th 1881 Page 3

"William Bird [33], Essex Street, a hostler, was charged with being drunk and refusing to quit the Black Swan public-house, Bromsgrove Street, on Monday afternoon; also with assaulting the landlord of the house. Prisoner went to the public-house about 3.30 drunk, and asked for some beer. The landlord, who had frequently been annoyed and insulted by him, refused to serve him, and ordered him to leave the place. He refused, and while a policeman was being sent for, complainant, with one of his bar staff, attempted to remove him, and in the struggle the alleged assault was committed. Prisoner, who made his eighteenth appearance, was fined l0s. and costs; in default fourteen days' imprisonment."
"Drunk and Refusing To Quit"
Birmingham Daily Post : June 7th 1882 Page 6

"William Reading, barman, was charged with having assaulted George Stevens, printer, Bromsgrove Street, on the 3rd of May. Mr. Dorsett appeared for the complainant, and Mr. Hemmant for the defendant. At about one o'clock on Saturday afternoon complainant and a friend called at the Black Swan, Bromsgrove Street, where defendant was barman. Drink was supplied, and before complainant had an opportunity of paying for it he was attacked by defendant. Some time previously they had quarrelled. Both complainant's eyes were blackened, and he sustained other injuries. A fine of 10s. and costs was imposed."
"An Assault by a Barman"
Birmingham Daily Post : June 8th 1883 Page 6

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