Some history of the Good Companions on Coventry Road at South Yardley in Birmingham in the County of Warwickshire


The Good Companions probably closed for trading during 1992. The Birmingham Licence Register recorded that the licence was surrendered on January 28th, 1993. There had been an order for some building work to be completed by December 31st 1992 and the licensing committee agreed to extend the deadline until February 1993. This work was probably not undertaken thus forcing the closure.

The hostelry, colloquially known as "The Goodies," was demolished, with a Harry Ramsden's Fish and Chip Restaurant being built on the site. The new premises was due to open in March 1993. When that enterprise closed, a bar occupied the premises for a short spell. This was called The Shooting Star, a reference to the BSA B44 motorcycle manufactured at the Small Heath factory and deemed to be a classic in the 1960s. The building on the corner of Steyning Road would later become a world buffet restaurant, first as Spicebuffet, and later as Peachy Keens. It was known as the latter by 2011. More re-branding came by the end of the decade when the premises traded as Smokey Barrels bar and grill. A Travelodge sprouted up on the land formerly used as the bowling green of the Good Companions. So, the site has seen a lot of change in recent times.

Birmingham : Map extract showing the site of the Good Companions at Yardley [1888]
© Crown Copyright. Reproduced with kind permission of the National Library of Scotland under the Creative Commons Attribution licence.

I have placed a map extract here to show the land use in the 19th century. Of course, Birmingham was still a compact town when this map was published in 1888. It had yet to designated a city. The urban sprawl during the inter-war years would see former agricultural land being converted into residential estates. Steyning Road was part of this development but two lanes on the other side of Coventry Road were in existence in the 19th century. What is now Ollerton Road passed the Manor House and led to Lyndon Green. At the time of this map survey the Manor House was occupied by the brick manufacturer, Josiah Derrington. When he died in his 86th year in December 1920, he was the sole survivor of the Birmingham Town Council elected in 1870. He will be spinning in his grave for being mentioned on a web page devoted to a public-house. The son of a pastor, he was a massive teetotaller and a leading figure in the Temperance Movement.¹

The Hollies, on the junction of what is now Rowlands Road, a lane leading to the historic Yew Tree and Yardley House, was occupied by Edmund Brewster, though shortly afterwards he moved to Victoria Road at Stechford. The land on which the Good Companions was erected before the Second World War may have formed part of Moat Farm seen on the map extract next to the milestone indicating that is was four miles to Birmingham and 13 from Coventry.

Mitchell's and Butler's put into place their plans to erect a new public-house on Coventry Road by acquiring the corner plot from [Land] Properties Birmingham Ltd. on July 15th, 1936. The brewery paid £6,245 with the provision that an additional £2,500 would be paid on successful opening of the house. This seems to have been reduced to £2,000 and was settled on August 17th, 1940.²

Inevitably, in order to obtain a licence for a new house in the suburbs, Mitchell's and Butler's had to surrender two licences in Birmingham. Consequently, they offered the full licence of the Turk's Head on Coleshill Street, along with the beer house licence of the National Arms Inn on South Road in Sparkbrook. The combined value of these houses was determined to be £4,976 6s. 6d.

Birmingham : The Good Companions on Coventry Road at South Yardley [c.1939]
© Image from author's photographic archive. DO NOT COPY

I imagine this photograph was taken shortly after construction had been completed. Mitchell's and Butler's opted for a renowned architect when they commissioned Samuel Nathaniel Cooke Jr. to design The Good Companions. Personally, I find it a rather odd edifice in that the majority of the building bore clean, modern lines, along with art deco porthole windows, in keeping with contemporary design, but featured a central first-floor pediment harking back to classical architecture. It is a curious mish-mash that begs the question why did he not go all in with a modern design? Before moving on from this photograph, note the wooden screen put in place to block light pouring out from the lounge entrance during air-raid blackouts.

Birmingham : Dancing Putti sculpture by William Bloye at The Good Companions on Coventry Road at South Yardley [1991]
© Image from author's photographic archive. DO NOT COPY

In terms of reputation, S. N. Cooke was quite a heavyweight, having been involved in a number of important civic projects, including the Hall of Memory on Broad Street, a site now forming part of Centenary Square. His legacy can be found around the city in shops, offices and civic buildings. Architectural historian, Andy Foster, remarked that Cooke's practice produced "the most important interwar commercial architecture in Birmingham." ³ It was during his work for the local authorities that Cooke collaborated with the Birmingham sculptor, William Bloye. He possibly convinced M&B that their building would be all the richer for some additional work by the sculptor. Whatever, they gave him the gig. Bloye's studio was not a million miles away at Golden Hillock Road in Small Heath. It was there that he produced the Dancing Putti featured within the baroque-styled pediment on the first floor of The Good Companions. Captured in 1991, the figures can be seen in the above image "dancing together in bacchanalian celebration."

Mitchells's and Butler's Beer Labels

Given the modernity expressed in the exterior of The Good Companions, I am still rather puzzled with the classical theme of the sculpture work. My bewilderment is compounded by the fact that William Bloye produced a wide range of contemporary designs during the inter-war years, many of which were commissioned for public-houses. For example, the lovely Fox and Hollybush that once enhanced the Fox Hollies pub. At least this work was salvaged and displayed on the Lidl supermarket at Acock's Green. The sculptures on The Good Companions are thought to be lost, though it is possible they are part of a somebody's garden feature!

Birmingham : Mask of Pan sculpture by William Bloye at The Good Companions on Coventry Road at South Yardley [1991]
© Image from author's photographic archive. DO NOT COPY

This sculpture was placed above the large entrance to the side elevation, probably the entrance used for the large assembly room on the first floor of the building. With The Good Companions holding a six-day music licence, the room would host dances and was booked for receptions and parties. This was perhaps the reason why William Bloye sculpted two musicians on both sides of the laughing mask of Pan. Grapes were largely eschewed in favour of hops that appear to be flowing locks of hair. I love it. When assessing this piece, George Noszlopy wrote : "this panel expressed a sensual pleasure typical of Bloye's sculpture yet rather missing from the architecture of this 1930s public-house." ⁴

Birmingham : Advertisement published on the opening day of The Good Companions on Coventry Road at South Yardley [1939]

The Good Companions opened for trading on July 31st, 1939. It was a managed house, the first licensee being Sidney McCracken who kept the pub with his wife Rosie. As his surname suggests, Sidney McCracken's father hailed from Ireland. James McCracken was the managing director of a firm engaged in edge tool manufacturing. During the Edwardian period the family lived at Lyndhurst at Smethwick. Born in June 1899, Sidney McCracken, following his demob from the East Riding Yeomanry, married Rosie May Hodson in 1920. The couple kept other pubs for the Cape Hill brewery before moving into The Good Companions. For example, in 1933 they were running The Shaftmoor.

Sidney and Rosie McCracken had three live-in employees helping them run The Good Companions, including Frank and Nora Griffin working as barman and barmaid respectively.⁵

Birmingham : Bowling Green and Terrace of The Good Companions on Coventry Road at South Yardley [c.1939]
© Image from author's photographic archive. DO NOT COPY

For this image, the photographer moved to the rear of The Good Companions to capture the bowling green and terrace. It would be a while before the playing surface would be mowed smooth to facilitate top bowling. Here the newly-laid grass is looking a tadge agricultural. The Good Companions did eventually put together a successful bowling team that competed in the local league. There was also a cricket team named the Good Companions headquartered at the pub. The side competed in the Birmingham Parks League.

Birmingham : Gents' Bar of The Good Companions on Coventry Road at South Yardley [c.1939]
© Image from author's photographic archive. DO NOT COPY

I particularly like some of the bar interiors of the houses constructed for Mitchell's and Butler's during the 1930s. This example, like much of the exterior, is minimalist and features clean lines. It is a pity that the brewery continued with the entrenched gender divide with usage of the interior. Note the lovely tiled floor and the beer engines positioned to the rear of the servery, enhancing the clean lines of the room. Modern pubs tend to have too much clutter so photographs like this are very appealing to my eye.

Birmingham : Gents' Smoke Room of The Good Companions on Coventry Road at South Yardley [c.1939]
© Image from author's photographic archive. DO NOT COPY

The gender divide continued in the smoke rooms of the Good Companions, the brewery making adjustments to the perceived notions of what would be more attractive to both sexes. In the 21st century this seems ridiculous but this was the way things were done before the Second World War. It could be argued that there should have been rooms exclusively for women where they could relax in a safe space and out of earshot of any toxic masculinity.

Birmingham : Mixed Smoke Room of The Good Companions on Coventry Road at South Yardley [c.1939]
© Image from author's photographic archive. DO NOT COPY

Sidney and Rosie McCracken remained in charge of The Good Companions until 1950. They seemingly remained in the licensed trade. In the 1960s Sidney was recorded as licensee of the Wheatsheaf Hotel at Broadstairs in Kent.⁶ At The Good Companions he and Rosie were succeeded by Albert and Clara Cole. Born in January 1897, Albert was probably an old school publican. He spent his formative years at the George and Dragon on Albion Street, a public-house managed by his parents, Albert and Annie. He married Clara Russell at Christ Church, Summerfield, in August 1926. He died in 1956, the licence passing to widow Clara for a brief spell.

Birmingham : Lounge of The Good Companions on Coventry Road at South Yardley [c.1939]
© Image from author's photographic archive. DO NOT COPY

The lounge of The Good Companions featured a hatch servery as patrons in this room tended to be served by a waiter. Push buttons were installed around the walls so that customers could request service when required. The tariff for drinks consumed in this part of the pub were a tadge higher.

John and Gertrude Wright took over as the management couple in 1958. As employees of Mitchell's and Butler's since the mid-1930s, the couple were running the Dog and Partridge on the Bristol Road at Selly Oak before the Second World War, during which John Wright served in the Royal Navy as a petty-office chef. I presume therefore that he was doing the catering for the Good Companions. Indeed, he had trained as a master confectioner at the Wolverhampton Technical College and was responsible for the catering at a number of civic functions in the town. He and Gertrude had also kept the Red Lion on Snow Hill in Wolverhampton. John Wright died at the age of 55 in 1967,⁷ the licence again only briefly being held by his widow. The brewery were quite harsh in the treatment of widows in those days. Very few were allowed to remain in charge of the pub.

Birmingham : Dining Room of The Good Companions on Coventry Road at South Yardley [c.1939]
© Image from author's photographic archive. DO NOT COPY

There was a small dining room at The Good Companions, a facility in which M&B aimed at capturing the emerging market sector in which motorists could call into a public-house for luncheons. Along with the large assembly room, it was here that patrons could enjoy the results of John Wright's extensive catering experience.

Birmingham : Assembly Room of The Good Companions on Coventry Road at South Yardley [c.1939]
© Image from author's photographic archive. DO NOT COPY

Many people in the local area would hold their social events in the large assembly room of The Good Companions. In this photograph a piano can be seen on the small stage at the end of the room. This was no doubt replaced by the sound system of disc jockey's who provided the entertainment in the wake of the rock 'n' roll era. Many local couples held their wedding receptions in this room, some of whom made the short trip to Elmdon to jet off on their honeymoon. The assembly room was so popular it could be hard to find an available date at the venue. Scanning old newspapers, I note that a wide variety of clubs and organisations held their functions here, one of the more unusual being the Whitacres and Shustoke Horticultural Society, a body that would bring upwards of 70 people for a dinner. Perhaps even more niche was the annual dinner and dance for the Yardley and Deritend branch of the National Newsagents' Federation who could discuss type fonts over a cocktail.

Things could get a little heated in the assembly room when it was used as the venue for discussions on industrial disputes. For example, in February 1977 50 shop stewards held a meeting at The Good Companions in which they defied their union with a refusal to call off a strike by 3,000 toolmen across eleven plants, resulting in 30,000 workers having no work.⁸ Another political event to feature in the newspapers took place in March 1966 when Ted Heath, leader of the opposition, in the run-up to the General Election, gave a speech on the car park of The Good Companions in support of the local candidate, Leonard Cleaver.⁹

Licensees of The Good Companions

1939 - 1950 Sidney Eric McCracken
1950 - 1956 Albert Thomas Cole
1956 - 1958 Clara Beatrice Cole
1958 - 1967 John Cyril Wright
1967 - 1967 Gertrude Olive Wright
1967 - 1967 Haitland Ferard Harding
1967 - 1972 John Anthony Harris
1972 - 1973 Jeffery Stubbs
1973 - 1974 Anthony Roy Prudhoe
1974 - 1975 Charles Herbert Edward Pye
1975 - 1977 Graham Leonard Stokes
1977 - 1979 Leslie John Cutting
1979 - 1985 John Martin
1985 - 1988 Peter Blick
1988 - 1989 Alan Richard Dean
1989 - 1989 Mark Brookes
1989 - 1989 Frederick Alan Sinnott
1989 - 1990 Erich Wehoper
1990 - 1992 David Malcolm Keen
1992 - 1992 Patricia Robertson
Note : This listing is a complete and accurate list of licensees as these names are sourced from magistrates records and brewery property books. 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.

Mitchells's and Butler's

Inn Sign

Good Companions by Alfred Lyndon Grace on the cover of a M&B blotter book [1937]

I will have to go around the houses to explain my theory of this inn sign. Back in the day, when people used ink pens rather than the new-fangled biro, it was necessary to have some blotting paper to absorb spillages or to quickly dry work on the written page. Office workers employed by large companies required a good deal of blotting paper when working with documents and ledgers. Mitchell's and Butler's, having an army of administration staff, commissioned blotter books for use in the offices. These were produced annually with a different cover each year. The illustration would generally feature an illustration taken from a painting, generally depicting a scene based around the tavern. The above illustration is taken from the actual cover used on the cover of the blotter book issued in 1937 - at a time when work was being undertaken on the construction of their new house on Coventry Road. The original work of this illustration is a painting by the English artist, Alfred Lyndon Grace [1867-1949], and is entitled "Good Companions" - coincidence? Perhaps not?

The phrase was contemporary as it was only a few years since the publication of J. B. Priestley's best-selling novel so many people were familiar with "The Good Companions," particularly when the work was released as a film in 1933. The sign is not that widespread but I have stumbled across two signboards during my travels. The illustration showing the shepherd and his loyal collie dog was outside the pub of this name at Eastleigh near Southampton. I took the photograph on December 29th, 2003. The sign produced for Greenall Whitley was captured in the previous decade.

Inn Sign of the Good Companions [2003]

Inn Sign of the Good Companions [1991]

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Related Newspaper Articles

"Sir Toby Belch lurched across a 12ft. x 6ft. stage in Birmingham last night, clinked silver goblets with Sir Andrew Aguecheek - then stepped from the stage, walked through the audience and ordered : "Half a bitter, please." Around the stage, glasses were steadily emptied and refilled; the cheerful "ping" of a cash register accompanied Orsino's love-lorn meanderings. For "Twelfth Night" came to a Birmingham public-house last night. The tiny stage was set in the assembly room of the Good Companions, Yardley, and the audience were the regular patrons of the saloon and public bars. The players were the Taverners, a company of London amateurs pledged to take Britain's greatest drama to public-houses in the London area. The tour of Midland towns, which began last night, is their contribution to the Festival of Britain. They have given up a week's holiday to make it possible. A waiter's subdued "Mild sir?" Certainly, sir," punctuated passages of Shakespeare's great comedy. Henry McCarthy, organiser and producer of the play, beamed benevolently. "We certainly don't want the bar to stop serving as we play," he said. "We're quite used to a liquid accompaniment, and we like it that way." He stated : "The company was started because so many British people were ignorant of their own finest drama and poetry. There was one obvious place to bring it to them - the pubs." He added : "We find pub audiences very appreciative. But they are also very discriminating - only the best plays will do." In the background, the landlord, Mr. Albert Cole, scratched his head thoughtfully, "We've never had anything like this here before," he said. "But it' good."
"A Pint Of Beer - And Shakespeare"
Birmingham Daily Gazette : May 22nd 1951 Page 1

1. "Presentation To An Old Temperance Worker" : Alliance News; May 25th, 1899, Page 9.
2. M&B Property Ledger 1935-40, Page 9.
3. Foster, Andy [2005] "Birmingham" London : Yale University Press, Page 28.
4. Noszlopy, George T. [1998] "Public Sculpture Of Birmingham" Liverpool : Liverpool University Press, Page 162.
5. 1939 England and Wales Register : Birmingham > Registration District 384/8 > Enumeration District : QBEP > Schedule Number 385.
6. "Chase By Police Dogs After Pubs Break-In" : Thanet Times; September 1st, 1965, Page 12.
7. "Licensee [55] Dies" : Wolverhampton Express and Star; February 6th, 1967, Page 16.
8. "Leyland Strikers Refuse To Go Back" : Wolverhampton Express and Star; February 26th, 1977, Page 1.
9. "A Hot Pace On Cold Day After False Start" : by John Solan and David Talbot in Birmingham Daily Post; March 26th, 1966, Page 36.

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