Some history of the Big Bull's Head in Digbeth in Birmingham in the County of Warwickshire


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I have listed this public-house as the Big Bull's Head as it has been known as such since the early 1870s. Once trading as the Stag and Pheasant, the pub's name later changed to the Bull's Head Inn and the New Bull's Head, the latter differentiating the building from the nearby Old Bull's Head on Digbeth. The two pubs are separated by the former Digbeth Civic Institute, along with a couple of shop units that form part of the same development which saw the re-modelling of the Big Bull's Head during the second half of the Victorian period.

The name of this Bull's Head with its 'Big' prefix could simply have been adopted due to the increased size of the premises; the building certainly stands much taller than its counterpart. Mind you, the Big Bull's Head had to compete for daylight when the large warehouse and retail building was erected on the opposite corner of Milk Street. Constructed of polychromatic brick with stone dressings, that imposing edifice, once home to a liquor vaults, was designed by William Jenkins in 1882. Though not exclusively tied to the licensed trade, Jenkins was a prominent pub architect during this period of Birmingham's development. His design on the corner of Milk Street was restored in the 21st century when the Digbeth Campus of the South & City College of Birmingham was opened.

Birmingham : Big Bull's Head on the corner of Digbeth and Milk Street [c.1933]

Before looking back at some history of the Big Bull's Head let's take a look at the building. The above photograph was taken in the early 1930s when the pub was already in the hands of Atkinson's Brewery. The Aston-based company operated the Big Bull's Head until they were taken over by Mitchell's and Butler's in 1959. The Triple-A logo of Atkinson's is featured in several places along the fascia of the Big Bull's Head, along with being embedded within the etched-glass window panes on the ground floor. These large glass panes were replaced by leaded-glass windows at a later date when the old corner entrance was lost. Much of what you can see of the Big Bull's Head in this photograph is a legacy of both the Ward family and the Birmingham Criterion Limited - more on them later.

Atkinson's Ales - Held Up as The Best!

Before moving on it is worth taking a look at this section of Digbeth during this period. The aforementioned warehouse on the corner of Milk Street is part of High Street Deritend. It is the Big Bull's Head that is the last building along the northern side of Digbeth - or the first if you are heading into town! At the time of this photograph, the licensee of the Big Bull's Head was Harry Carter but his stay was quite brief and he was succeeded by George Smith. The shop immediately adjoining the pub was occupied by Mrs. Lilian Girling who had a hairdressing salon. She also had the next shop from where she traded as a draper. These are the two shop units protected by canopies [behind the cyclist]. Isaac Brown occupied the next shop along Digbeth at No.78 from where he sold wallpaper. The next group of shops were all part of the Digbeth Civic Institute development. These included a cycle shop and a branch of Boots the Chemists. And next to Boots was the Old Bull's Head.

Etched Glass for Atkinson's Brewery of Aston

An early reference to public house on this site dates from an entry in Wrightson's trade directory published in 1808 in which carpenter Richard Taylor is listed as the occupier. In the early years of the 19th century the house was known as the Stag and Pheasant. This name appears in subsequent years within rate books for the locality. However, in Sketchley's trade directory for Birmingham published in 1767 there is a listing for a public-house at No.75 Digbeth and this is known by the sign of The Gun, a name that is, in some cases, related to the Dog and Pheasant. The Gun was kept by Harry Gunn and a man called Turner. It is possible that this tavern was lodged between the Old Bull's Head and the Stag and Pheasant rather than being a forerunner of the Stag and Pheasant. In the late 18th century The Gun was numbered at No.75 whereas the Old Bull's Head was listed at No.79. The Stag and Pheasant was located at No.77. These property numbers all changed in subsequent years but only by a few digits. Early rate books suggest that the Stag and Pheasant was originally at No.67 though, in 1774, this property was occupied by the cutler and engraver John Freeth. It is worth noting that much of Birmingham's gun trade was based around the mills of the River Rea before a dedicated gun quarter evolved around the streets within the Weaman Estate. Consequently, a tavern named The Gun could have served those working in Digbeth's arms trade.

Recorded in a rate book for Digbeth, Joseph Chirm Jr. is certainly listed as the publican of the Stag and Pheasant by 1825. He is also listed in a licensing and justices document held at Warwick where the name of Joseph Chirm is mentioned alongside the Stag and Pheasant at No.67 Digbeth. In 1825 he moved from No.5 Easy Row where he traded as a cooper and victualler. He was possibly part of the family which had long been prominent in Birmingham affairs, particularly in legal matters. When serving as head borough constable of Birmingham, a Joseph Chirm brought Booth The Forger, of Booth's Farm at Handsworth, to justice in 1812. Joseph Chirm, publican of the Stag and Pheasant, died at Edgbaston on July 1st 1827 at the age of 38.

Joseph Chirm was succeeded by Timothy Wall and it was this publican who changed the name from the Stag and Pheasant to the Bull's Head. And the reason for this was that he moved from the Old Bull's Head and brought the name with him. I have seen instances of this in many other parts where a publican, in order to retain trade built up at one public-house, would remove the name to other premises to maintain the loyalty and goodwill of existing customers. Possibly to provide some clarity to the situation, the Bull's Head Inn became known as the Old Bull's Head. In some years the older pub was also called the Great Bull's Head. Meanwhile the Stag and Pheasant was listed as the Bull's Head or New Bull's Head. From here, I will refer to the pub as the Bull's Head Inn until the next name change some forty years later.

Although the building would later stand on the corner of Milk Street, the Bull's Head Inn was not connected to the rest of what would become Milk Street as this thoroughfare was not cut through to Digbeth and High Street Deritend until 1880-1. Until this period Milk Street ended at Moore's Row. In the early years of the 19th century Milk Street had few properties and the road headed out to fields and open countryside - one can only speculate that the road led to a dairy farm given the name? The long straight lane had previously been known as Rope Walk - a clue perhaps to the early industrial activity around the site of the Big Bull's Head.

Back in the day it was possible to walk from the junction of Milk Street and Moore's Row through to the rear of the Bull's Head Inn via Meeting House Yard. This former street layout can be seen on the 1855 plan. The name stems from the 'New' Meeting House, a place of worship for Presbyterians or Unitarians erected in 1692. It is thought that this was abandoned around 1730 in favour of a new building at Moor Street, though these dissenting chapels would be destroyed in the political riots of 1791. Following the riots the Unitarians gathered at Carr's Lane Meeting House and then at another place in Livery Street until a new building was constructed in 1803 at Moor Street and the appropriately-named New Meeting Street.

The tranquil nature of Milk Street would rapidly change as it was developed with shoddy housing that quickly degenerated into slums. Living conditions were appalling. The squalor in Meeting House Yard was particularly horrendous - not that any stranger dared to step foot into the yard for it was a notorious den of iniquity. The people who lived in the back-to-backs and tenements were amongst the poorest in Birmingham and, according to a report by Dr. Alfred Hill, the City's Medical Officer for Health during the Victorian period, life expectancy of those living in this locality was half that of other parts of Birmingham. In January 1867 James Williams, a resident of a lodging-house in Meeting House Yard, was added to the list of people who had died of starvation. Some food was sent to him by Mr. Lewis, of the Birmingham Arms public-house, but the frail labourer was unable to eat. The publican had earlier allowed the poor man to warm himself by the fire inside the Moat Row tavern and was attempting to get him admitted to the Birmingham Workhouse. Paying his lodging-house rent, the publican sought help from the relieving officer but it was all in vain and James Williams perished. The jury at the coroner's inquest, held inside the Bull's Head Inn, returned a verdict that the labourer had "Died by the Visitation of God" and he was simply added to the atrocious statistics for Birmingham.

Advertisement by Charles Hieatt for the Bull's Head Inn at Digbeth in Birmingham [1832]

In 1832 the licence for the Bull's Head Inn was transferred from Timothy Wall to Charles Hieatt. A trade directory for Birmingham published in 1837 records Timothy Wall at the Wellington Tavern on Bristol Street. It is not clear if this is the same Timothy Wall. Certainly, by the early 1840s a Timothy Wall is recorded as a maltster at Great Colmore Street.

Charles Hieatt kept the Bull's Head Inn with his wife Matilda. He was born in 1801; Matilda being three years younger. Suggesting that the Bull's Head Inn was a very busy house, the couple employed a small army to help run the business. Mary Ann Ansty worked as barmaid with kitchen duties being run by a cook named Ann Cross. The letting rooms and other hospitality was the charge of Susan Wilday, a young chamber maid. In relation to the advertisement [above], James Newey was employed as an ostler whilst William Litchfield worked as a car man. I particularly like the florid communication used in old advertisements whereby the publican begs to return thanks to patrons who have honoured him with their custom - a far cry from the language of today.

As can be seen in the 1832 advertisement, an important component of trade at the Bull's Head Inn was centred around equine transport. Digbeth and High Street Deritend formed the main arterial route in and out of Birmingham connecting with Warwick, Stratford, Oxford, along with London and other destinations. One can only imagine the noisy humdrum of horses, waggons and carriages rumbling up and over the Deritend Bridge a few yards from the front door of the Bull's Head Inn. Indeed, at times it could be a very dangerous road. For example, on one Saturday afternoon in May 1833, Edmund Greswolde, accompanied by a friend, was entering the town in his gig from Solihull, when the horse he was driving suddenly became unmanageable. The horse darted across the read narrowly missing the Amicable stage coach which was on its way to Leamington. The horse mounted an earth bank at speed which caused the two men to fall out of the gig, the wheels of which passed over their bodies. By now the horse was running at liberty and ran over three children in the road. All three were very seriously injured. The horse continued in the direction of the town and mounted the left-hand footpath and hit and killed a young child. Still running furiously, the horse continued onwards before smashing the gig to pieces after it collided with a lamp-post. The horse ran towards the Bull's Head Inn and collided with a car belonging to the publican. The spirited horse hit the vehicle with such violence that it partly forced itself between the body and one of the rear wheels. The force of impact was such that the spikes behind the wheel penetrated the creature's flank, and it became necessary to remove the wheels in order to disengage the horse. Edmund Greswolde, a prominent figure in Solihull, offered relief to the families of the dead and injured.

In addition to the changing faces at the Bull's Head Inn, the industry conducted to the rear of the pub in Meeting House Yard also varied down the years. In 1837 John Boyce was occupying premises here manufacturing umbrellas, some of which he retailed in his shop at Smallbrook Street. Also during this period Jennens and Co. were busy in Meeting House Yard as button manufacturers. Courts 18 and 19 were packed to the rafters with people who had come to the growing town of Birmingham and worked in the numerous workshops and factories.

Charles Hieatt died in the Autumn of 1844 and it was all change at the Bull's Head Inn. His widow Matilda died in her 55th year on August 18th, 1855. A few come-and-go licensees came and went before Thomas Rainsford took over the reins at the Bull's Head Inn. Rainsford was the licensee when the pub was documented in the 1847 rate book for St. Martin's. In that year the annual ground rent on the licensed public house and premises was £63.0s.0d. Thomas Rainsford paid the rates of £4.10.0d. in full. Born in 1803 in Warwickshire, Thomas Rainsford kept the Bull's Head Inn with his wife Caroline. Like previous tenants, they employed several servants at the hotel.

Advertisement by Joseph Baylis for the Bull's Head Inn at Digbeth [1854]

Former landlord of the neighbouring Old Crown Inn, Joseph Baylis took over the pub in 1851 and soon after splashed out on large advertisements in the local paper and trade directories. The advert [pictured above] illustrates the size of his establishment. With livery stables and lock-up coach houses, the Bull's Head Inn had every accommodation for families visiting the town. This advertisement also confirms that homebrewed ales were sold at the Bull's Head Inn. Enjoying inn status, the Bull's Head could, by law, remain open as long as long as a bed was empty and the pub offered victuals for any visitor to Birmingham. By hook or by crook, many landlords ensured that a bed was always available thus ensuring they were open for business around the clock. To distinguish his establishment from the neighbouring Old Bull's Head, Joseph Baylis changed the name of the pub and by the early 1850s it was listed as the New Bull's Head.

Advertisement by Joseph Baylis for the Bull's Head Inn at Digbeth [1853]

At first, I considered that one possible reason for the change of name may have been the repairs and restoration of the property following a terrible flood in November 1852. The advertisement here is for a special dinner hosted by Joseph Baylis following the flooding of the Bull's Head Inn. More than forty of the publican's friends attended the dinner and, on the following evening, a well-attended ball was staged which, according to newspaper reports, was a great success. The combined events helped to restore the fortunes of the water-besieged inn.

Digbeth and the surrounding lowlands of the Rea valley have been renowned for flooding down the centuries. The river is benign for most of the year - benign that is until it rains heavily on Windmill Hill between the Lickey Hills and the Clent Hills, the source of the Rea. Floodgate Street's name serves as a reminder that Brummies earning a living here had to occasionally contain and suppress the water source that once provided their main source of power. However, the digging of channels for the moat and various mills exacerbated the problems of flooding. The torrent of November 1852 saw damage to properties along the length of the river within Birmingham. Upstream at Gooch Street the retail brewer William Burton lost £14 worth of ale, John Hawkesford of the Boar's Head lost a similar amount. Closer to the Bull's Head Inn, the Railway Retreat retail brewery in Rea Street, belonging to Thomas Osborne, property amounting to at least twenty guineas was lost. The damages were worse at the Royal Oak, also in Rea Street, where the damage was estimated at between 70-80 guineas. James Chance reported serious damage to the Greyhound Inn on Bradford Street and Mr. Palmer of the Anchor Inn had damages amounting to around £150. The nearby Old Bull's Head, run by Mrs. Sarah Ferrer thought she would have to spend £100 on repairs and here at the New Bull's Head Joseph Baylis reported that it would take a similar amount to repair the damage suffered at the New Bull's Head. The story was similar downstream with publicans counting their losses. Factories and warehouses all suffered as a result of the flood. In some cases, machinery was washed away by the water. It is worth noting that reports of this disaster described Joseph Baylis's establishment the New Bull's Head so the name had already changed beforehand.

Born in 1797, Joseph Baylis hailed from Stratford-on-Avon. He married Mary Ann Bransby in 1821 and, as mentioned, the couple had previously run the Old Crown Inn. Joseph died in November 1854 and early the following year the licence was transferred to George Lowe. But just as things are beginning to look clear and a demarcation firmly established between the two Bull's Head pubs, this following article appeared in the Birmingham Daily Press on August 4th 1855 : "Married on the 13th of July, by licence, at Harborne, Samuel Baylis of the Old Bull's Head, Digbeth, Birmingham and Miss Mary Lowe, eldest daughter of the late George Lowe of the New Bull's Head, Digbeth." Not only had George Lowe died, but the Baylis name is linked with the other Bull's Head. Within a few days the New Bull's Head appeared again in the paper : "Thomas Bowdidge has received instructions to offer by public auction, on Thursday next, August 16th, at five o'clock in the afternoon precisely - the licenses, goodwill and immediate possession of the New Bull's Head, old-licensed victualler's house. The house is one of the most convenient for carrying on an extensive trade in the borough and consists of large liquor shop, smoke rooms, tap room, traveller's room, large club rooms, several attics and chambers [the beds of which above pay the rent], good cellaring, large yard, and stabling for sixty horses. Rent, which is moderate, can be greatly reduced by let-offs." This description of the property shows that pub was commodious to say the least.

Notice of an Auction Sale at the Big Bull's Head Inn at Digbeth [1855]

For some reason, the pub was offered for auction again, possibly the sale fell through. The next auction was held at the pub in September 1855. I have included a sale notice [above] for this auction - firstly, because it offers a different description of the business with details of the brewing equipment and, secondly, because it is the first reference I have seen of the building being called the Big Bull's Head. I believe that the pub had been rebuilt by this stage and its location moved slightly further away from the river. Stephen Birch was seemingly the highest bidder but his stay at the pub was very brief for George Bell appears as the occupier in an 1856 rate book. However, his stay was also short-lived for within two years Edward Alfred Banks was the licensee. Born in Birmingham in 1820, Edward Banks was a tailor and had previously lived in Balsall Heath when working in the cloth trade. He returned to this profession after his short spell at the New Bull's Head and he and his Claverley-born wife Martha opened a shop on Smallbrook Street. Indeed, at one point he was both publican at the New Bull's Head and operating the shop - this became apparent when I stumbled upon a newspaper article from June 1859 in which the curious details of a theft came to light two years after the event. In this case, Henry Howell, a 53 year-old tailor living in Thomas Street, but working for Alfred Banks in 1857, was entrusted with the materials to make a coat. He made the garment, and on one Saturday brought it downstairs folded up. A daughter of Alfred Banks [I don't know if this was Matilda, Emma or Emily] asked him what he was going to with it, and he replied that he was going to take it to her father, who was at the time also landlord of the Bull's Head Inn, Digbeth. Howell then left the shop, and nothing more was heard of him. Information was given to the police, and Detective Alexander and other constables searched for the prisoner, but were unable to find him. Henry Howell probably thought he had got away with his crime but he hadn't figured on the memory of Alfred Banks and, indeed, the long arm of the law. More than a year had passed when Alfred Banks spotted him in the Bull Ring, and accused him of the robbery. A crowd gathered but Howell denied that he was a tailor, and said he was a blacksmith, and did not know Mr. Banks. He then ran away along Park Street. Alfred Banks followed him, but was mobbed and prevented from following Howell. Detective Alexander was alerted and Howell was taken into custody when found in a lodging#45;house in Thomas Street. He told the same story, but when near Duke Street Police Station be admitted that he was a tailor, that he had the coat to make, and added that his son had stolen it from him. The latter had since enlisted in the 24th Foot, and was serving in the East Indies. The police were having none of his tales and charged him with the offence. At Birmingham Police Court in June 1859 Henry Howell pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one month's hard labour.

After his brief foray in the licensed business Alfred Banks concentrated on his main trade of tailoring. He was succeeded by George Page whose stay at the New Bull's Head was even shorter. The Birmingham Daily Post reported the transfer of the licence to Samuel Brookes on June 3rd 1859. The new gaffer lasted less than a year because on March 1st 1860 the licence of the New Bull's Head was transferred to William Caswell. In newspapers and trade directories the building was still referred to as the New Bull's Head despite the earlier auction sale notice describing the business as the Big Bull's Head.

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William Caswell brought some stability to the proceedings at the New Bull's Head and halted the run of revolving door licensees. Although the maps of the period show that the boundary between Aston and Birmingham passed through the building it is still a quirky peculiarity to find the New Bull's Head entry in the Aston Rate Book of 1860. It lists the estimated ground rent for the stables, coach house and premises at £18.0s.0d. The remainder of the property came under the Birmingham rating. William Caswell paid this part of the rating of £1.6s.0d. in full.

Born in Knightwick, Worcestershire in 1811, William Caswell kept the New Bull's Head Inn with his wife Amelia. She hailed from the village of Bosbury in Herefordshire. The couple had one Birmingham-born daughter; nine year-old Lydia was recorded as a scholar at the time of the 1861 census. William had worked hard as a tripe dresser before entering the licensed trade. He and Amelia also took in lodgers at their house in Lower Priory. By 1861 he was listed as a Cab Proprietor and Innkeeper employing 11 people. Not that it was all plain-sailing. In February 1860 the publican was hauled in front of the magistrates for keeping the pub open during 'improper' hours on Sundays. He was fined five shillings plus costs.

The individuals who were lodging at the New Bull's Head Inn during 1861 combined to form one of the most cosmopolitan households in Birmingham. 48 year-old Jamaican-born Frederick McConnell Coftow was a Hawker of Fancy Goods. Catherine McConnell Coftow, his 47 year-old wife was here with him. She was born in Ireland, as was Peter and Mary Ann Kelly, another couple described as Hawkers. They travelled with their 6 year-old son William who was born at St. Mary's in London. 39 year-old Henry Atchason hailed from St. Alban's in Derby and was described as a musician. No occupation was given for John Ellis who also lodged at the inn although the enumerator recorded that he was born in Hackney, London in 1823. Judging by the occupations of the guests, I think the census must have coincided with the Onion Fair. Some of William Caswell's employees lived on the premises. 26 year-old James Harris, born in Cofton Hackett, Worcestershire, was hired as an Ostler. William Johnson was also born in Worcestershire and also employed as an ostler. He hailed from St. John's. With space for sixty horses at the rear of the pub, it is no surprise to find that 22 year-old Birmingham-born Joseph Williams was also engaged as an Ostler. The only other Brummie at the New Bull's Head was Diana Bradley who worked as a general servant. Born at Oxfordshire in 1843, Charles Mace worked as a cab driver. The earliest rail links to Birmingham stopped short of the centre of the town and terminated at places like Vauxhall, Curzon Street and Camp Hill. Passengers arriving at these stations would require either accommodation or transport into the centre of Birmingham. William Caswell ensured he did not miss out on either of these lucrative opportunities by operating his own cab business. Any traveller picked up would no doubt seem to end up at the New Bull's Head for a drink, a meal and possibly a bed too!

At this time Digbeth was packed with pubs. The road from St. Martin's to Camp Hill comprising of Digbeth, Deritend High Street and Bordesley High Street represented mission impossible in terms of a pub crawl.

William Caswell issued his own tavern checks from the New Bull's Head. This was a fairly common practice in taverns and beer shops during the 19th century. Most of them were made by Birmingham diesinkers and stamping workshops. William Caswell certainly had checks for the value of 2½d. - at the time this was the price of a bottle of stout.

By the mid-1860s success at the New Bull's Head had ostensibly started to wane for the Caswell family. There was seemingly no funds for further investment and this caught up with William Caswell in June 1864 when he was charged by Inspectors Cooper and Woolley for having his "cabs in a dirty and dilapidated condition when on the stand plying for hire." He was brought before the magistrates at the Birmingham Public Office and the bench imposed a fine of five shillings and costs against the publican. Worse was to follow in February of the following year when William Caswell had to face the Birmingham Police Court when summoned by Mr. George Choyce, the local officer of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The publican and cab proprietor was charged with allowing an old race horse, named Joe Test to be worked whilst in an unfit state. The driver was summoned on the previous day, and fined 10 shillings and costs, and Mr. Kynnersley, the magistrate before whom the case was heard, ordered a summons to be taken out against his employer. William Caswell told the bench that he had frequently expressed his intention of having the horse killed, but still worked him. The horse had a fall sometime ago which had injured him, that he was rendered unfit for further service. He was ordered to pay a fine of £5 and costs.

Notice of an Auction Sale of the Big Bull's Head Inn at Digbeth in Birmingham [1864]

It was probably getting all a bit much for William Caswell. In fact, he had already been attempting to sell the remaining term of his lease of the New Bull's Head. The advertisement above is for an auction sale for the leasehold property which was to be held on June 21st, 1864 at the Union Inn on Union Street. The details here reveal some changes at the pub which possibly reflected a change in the economic climate in Birmingham. For example, space devoted to stabling had been reduced, suggesting that new transport innovations and the construction of railway stations in the town centre were affecting the traditional role of the inn. Some of the space had been converted to warehousing which had been let to John Guest. The separate retail shop in the tenure of Mr. Wheatley was probably once part of the public house. Notice also that the freehold of the property was held by the Governors of King Edward's Grammar School, considerable landowners in Birmingham. It would seem that the auction was not a success - perhaps a reserve price not being met? Whatever, William Caswell remained at the New Bull's Head until the end of 1866 by which time he was bankrupt.

Thankfully, Digbeth is a much safer place to drink these days. In the mid-19th century the place could be described as a tadge unruly. For example, in July 1867 there were some folks enjoying a glass of ale in the Big Bull's Head when 21 year-old Robert Brown suddenly burst in and challenged to fight any bricklayer's labourer to a fight. I am not sure why the resident of No.14 Meeting House Yard, to the rear of the pub, had such a grudge against bricklayer's labourers - people didn't usually go around challenging big burly hod carriers. The matter might have passed peacefully enough except that James Godsall was in the boozer. Maybe he felt he needed to defend the honour of his trade so the bricklayer's labourer said to Robert Brown "why are you challenging the whole house in that way, and that if he wanted to fight he might perhaps have one." At first it looked like Brown didn't fancy his chances as he beat a retreat from the Big Bull's Head. However, within minutes he was back with a number of men. Moreover, he was carrying a large heavy stone which, with all the force he could muster, he threw at James Godsall. The stone's weight was such that a report on the incident suggested that if it had hit Godsall it would have killed him. As it was the heavy missile missed. However, Robert Brown followed with an attack on the imbiber and knocked him to the floor. Before he could stand up Brown kicked him violently in the mouth, knocking out three of his teeth. James Godsall was now insensible, and a surgeon was immediately sent for. The publican and other customers thought he might be dead. During the melee Maria Cantland, a Deritend prostitute who had earlier been ejected out of the Big Bull's Head for disruptive behaviour, took the opportunity to smash several windows in the pub. At a hearing at the Birmingham Public Office on the following Saturday James Godsall said he had never seen Robert Brown before that night, and knew of no cause why he should treat him in such a way. Robert Brown was committed to stand trial at the following Sessions. Meanwhile, Maria Cantland was fined 20 shillings and 40 shillings for damages. For the Deritend Moll this would represent a few busy nights trade in the Digbeth area - the alternative being a six week jail sentence.

Advertisement by John O'Neill for the Bull's Head Inn at Digbeth in Birmingham [1867]

Henry Denton held the licence for a brief spell before John O'Neill splashed out on a series of advertisements in September 1867 to announce that he was the new publican at the New Bull's Head Hotel. He advertised his 'ordinary' that was available every Thursday and he also provided cold luncheons at any hour. John O'Neill was a horse dealer and this was the part of the business on which he focused. He particularly targeted 'Noblemen and Gentlemen' that the Bull's Head Hotel offered every accommodation for their servants, horses and carriages. He claimed that the stables were unequalled in Birmingham, having lately been thoroughly repaired and patent drains put to each stall. He could accommodate 50 horses in loose boxes and covered coach houses.

Despite this new approach to the business, it would seem that it was still tough to make a go of the pub in the mid-Victorian period. John O'Neill was on his way in the following year, the licence being transferred to John Turner in May 1868. However, following a short spell of some 18 months, he too got into financial difficulties and was declared bankrupt. The licence was subsequently transferred to Thomas Williams.

By the time of the 1871 census George Cole was the licensee. He was recorded as a 26 year-old Birmingham-born licensed victualler. He lived here with his father John Cole who had briefly held the licence beforehand. He was born at Gretton, Northamptonshire in 1810. George Cole's four brothers all lived on the premises. 20 year-old Phillip worked as a carpenter, 18 year-old Walter was an upholsterer whilst Charles [14] and Frederick [11] were scholars. All four were born in Birmingham. George Cole employed 19 year-old Stourbridge-born Ali Brown as a barmaid. 20 year-old local lass Ann Rion was engaged as a domestic servant and 16 year-old William Roberts worked as a porter. He hailed from Lugwardine in Herefordshire. Staying overnight at the inn on the night of the survey was Francis Williams, a French polisher and William Freeman who worked as a painter. Both were from Brighton in Sussex. The 1871 rate book for St. Martin's shows that the rent for the licensed public-house, brewhouse, maltroom, stables, shed and premises was £70.0s.0d. and the annual rates £4.16s.8d. During the mid-1870s the New Bull's Head Inn was listed as a Wine and Spirit Vaults. This was a possibly a response to the proliferation of beer houses in the Digbeth area. By 1890 almost half of Birmingham's 2,178 public-houses were beer houses.

Notice of Auction of Brewing Equipment at the Bull's Head Inn at Digbeth in Birmingham [1871]

This advertisement suggests that the production of homebrewed ales ceased by 1871 and the brewing equipment was sold by auction. Some public houses opted to buy in beers from the emerging large breweries rather than retail the more inconsistent ales produced to the rear of the house by the publican or by a travelling or 'jobbing' brewer.

If ever there was a day when the pub would enjoy bumper takings it was November 3rd, 1874. This was the day that a royal procession passed in front of the building. It was during a visit to Earl and Countess of Aylesford at Packington, that the Prince and Princess of Wales declared an interest in visiting Birmingham to see some of the town's principal manufactories. Despite a few objections from Republicans within the town council, the authorities sanctioned a massive budget and rolled out a red carpet for the royal couple. The vast majority of Birmingham's citizens spent the best part of three weeks decorating the streets for the event. The Birmingham Daily Post reported that almost half a million people were in the streets when the royal couple made their way into Birmingham.

Royal Visit to Birmingham by the Prince and Princess of Wales [1874]

Lined by a detachment of Good Templars, the royal procession, headed by a troop of Lancers, came along the Coventry Road where a Gothic arch was erected near the Greenway Arms for the carriages to pass under. Anything deemed ugly was covered up - the railway bridge at Bordesley was disguised by crimson cloth and Venetian masts were deployed for decoration. Flags were hung out from the Deritend Drapery House and numerous other buildings on High Street Deritend. The Nelson Inn was decked out extensively with evergreens. I particularly like the words of one reporter who summed up the Brummie humour when he penned "the Good Templars were received by the crowds with a good deal of derisive jocularity, which, fortified probably by a conviction of the worthiness of their crusade against intemperance, they bore with tolerable equanimity."

The route down High Street Deritend was lined by the Manchester Order of Odd Fellows. As the route drew closer to the Big Bull's Head, Deritend Bridge was draped with crimson cloth and on the opposite side of the road a platform had been constructed for 1,000 children from the parish church of St. John's. The children sang "God Bless the Prince of Wales' but were drowned out by the cheers of the vast crowd and the clanging bells of the church.

The crowds gathered in Digbeth were staggering. As the press reported : "The pathways on each side of the road were filled so close that scarcely another foot could have found standing room. Every window had its crowd of sightseers; balconies were thronged, house-roofs even had their crowd of adventurous spectators. At every available front platforms were erected, on waste land, in front of public buildings, wherever indeed, a few planks could be fastened together. Even the churchyards were utilised for this purpose. Nearly a thousand policemen patrolled the streets."

The neighbouring Old Bull's Head upstaged the other public-houses by setting up a brass band on the roof. The musicians struck up the anthem to the Prince of Wales which "aroused the enthusiasm of the assemblage in the neighbourhood who cheered vociferously." According to the newspapers this was a blessing for the noise of the crowd drowned out the "painful music of the band.' The procession continued onwards to the Bull Ring and towards the awaiting dignitaries at the Town Hall, leaving the crowds of Digbeth and Deritend to continue the drinking celebrations. They had been lining the route for hours and the tedium of waiting was only broken by a few distractions - and the odd glass of ale.

Edwin Ward took over the licence on March 1st 1877. This was to herald a new era for the Big Bull's Head which would be transformed into one of Digbeth's most successful public-houses of the late Victorian period. The son of an agricultural labourer, Edwin Ward was born in 1845 in the Eynsham/Hanborough area of Oxfordshire. He moved to Birmingham as a youngster and lodged with the baker Ellen Green at her premises in Unett Street. Under her tuition, he learned and mastered the craft of baking. He married Gloucestershire-born Elizabeth Evens in 1863 at St. Philip's Church. The couple later moved to their own bakery in Wheeler Street where business prospered. By the early 1870s they were employing two bakers and a servant for general duties. Their two eldest sons, Edwin and Albert, spent their formative years at this bakery.

Edwin Ward was evidently a man of action. In December 1868 he heard a neighbouring shopkeeper shout "Stop Thief" and immediately jumped over his counter and ran in pursuit of three men who were sprinting down Wheeler Street. The athletic baker managed to catch William Reeve, a resident of Summer Lane who, along with two other men, had smashed the window of a watchmaker's shop run by Samuel Alexander. The Summer Lane gun implement-maker was found to have two stolen watches in his pockets so the police were called and William Reeve was taken into custody and committed for trial. Although his goods were of less monetary value, Edwin Ward also had to deal with theft from his shop. In the same year two women, Ann Parkes and Fanny Jacques, were sentenced each to seven days' imprisonment after stealing a piece of pork from the baker's shop.

Publican Ejecting a Customer on the Black List

Having experienced the hassle of running a shop in Birmingham, you have to wonder why Edwin Ward would want to run a pub? Believe me, I have worked behind the counter of a pub and you get all sorts of idiots walking through the door! That's the thing about the word pub - it means public-house and any member of the public can venture inside. Mind you, like me, Edwin Ward was not one to suffer fools and quickly ejected any troublemakers. By all accounts he was not a man to be messed with and he often found himself on the wrong side of the law for dealing with the riff-raff himself. For example, in May 1891 he was put out by the way an ostler, Thomas Rudge, was executing his duties. A row ensued during which Rudge allegedly struck the publican. However, it was the ostler who pressed charges against Edwin Ward and when he appeared in front of the magistrates a few days later he was sporting two black eyes. Rudge told the bench that the publican attacked him and inflicted such injuries that he had to go to the Queen's Hospital. Edwin Ward brought two witnesses to state that he acted in self-defence but, under cross-examination, their stories conflicted so the publican was fined forty shillings and costs. During the following year Edwin Ward was vexed with Oliver Read, a whip-maker from Alcester Street whom the publican claimed had botched a repair job he had paid for. The two men clashed in Mr. Fawdry's shop where Edwin Ward gave the whip-maker a beating, knocking out two of his teeth. With a growing reputation for administering his own punishment, you have to question the logic of those who entered the pub determined to start trouble. On more than one occasion a misguided soul with ill-manners and an air of malevolence would fall foul of Edwin Ward's wrath and find themselves being forcibly ejected out into the street.

Despite his short-temper, Edwin Ward had a recipe for success where previously others had failed and the fortunes of the Big Bull's Head soared. The 1881 rate book shows that the annual ground rent for the licensed public-house, brewhouse, malt room, stable, loft shed and premises had increased to £104.0s.0d. Edwin Ward paid the rates of £10.1s.3d. in full and was also responsible for the stable, smithy and premises next door. He spent much of the 1880s improving the property. The city archives has a record of four building plans but sadly all have been lost. These include general improvements in September 1880, an additional building at the back of No.77 in 1883 and some alterations and additions over the stables in March 1885. This was a period of investment in pubs - all of the following pubs in Digbeth were improved during the 1880s : The Royal George, Castle and Falcon, Horse and Jockey, Old Guy, Three Crowns Inn, Horse and Groom, Three Tuns, Unicorn Inn and Swan with Two Necks.

Edwin and Elizabeth Ward would eventually have six sons and, at one time, they all lived at the Big Bull's Head when the couple took over the business. By the time eldest son Edwin was 15 years-old he was helping his parents at the pub. The family were able to employ Flora Ganderston as a barmaid, Emma Morris as a housemaid and John Edwards as an ostler.

Following his marriage to Eliza Millichamp in 1887, Edwin and Elizabeth Ward's eldest son, Edwin, branched out and took over the Vine Inn on Summer Lane. Indeed, his wife had grown up in the nearby Cross Guns as her father was also a publican. Meanwhile, at the Big Bull's Head, the other children of Edwin and Elizabeth Ward started their careers working at the pub. George and Harry worked as barmen whilst Arthur was a cab driver. Like previous landlords, Edwin Ward continued to operated a cab business from the yard and the nearby stands. Jesse Ward, the youngest son, worked outside of the family business and was employed as an iron bedstead-maker. Edwin Ward employed 26 year-old Lottie Griffiths as a general servant. She hailed from West Bromwich, as did Polly Essex, 24, who was also hired as a general servant. 20 year-old Thomas Stone had found his way from Enfield to work here as a potman whilst 33 year-old Robert Cooper was employed as the night watchman - a sign perhaps that crime was a persistent problem in the Digbeth area.

If Edwin Ward had lived in the 21st century he would no doubt have been duped by some online fraudsters. The publican appeared in the Birmingham Daily Mail on September 21st 1894. The article entitled "The Alleged Clever Swindle in Birmingham" told how James Lloyd, alias Charles Allen, a 38 year-old cattle dealer, was placed in the dock on a charge of obtaining £25 by false pretences from Edwin Ward.

Allen had crossed the Atlantic about five weeks earlier and selected the Great Western Hotel during his sojourn in Birmingham. His visit was prompted by business, with which he intended mixing as much amusement as possible. According to his story, his friend Lord Dudley had invited him to his marriage in London.

At the beginning of September Allen hired a dogcart from the Big Bull's Head and on the 7th invited Edwin Ward to the Great Western Hotel, where he was staying. When Edwin Ward turned up he found Allen at the writing desk. "I shall not keep you a minute" coolly observed Allen, "I have just paid my hotel bill, which comes to £3, and I want you to drive me to Mr. Brame's in Union Passage, where he will change these drafts for £200." Whilst stating this he produced a bill, upon which £35 had been written without the cognisance of the hotel people. At the same time he "flashed" what purported to be a couple of drafts for large amounts.

Edwin Ward, the newspaper reported, was carried away with Charles Allen's paraded wealth and became an easy prey. Allen visited Mr. Brame's office, leaving Edwin Ward in the street. Returning to the trap he told the licensee of the Big Bull's Head "They want to charge me 15 per cent, which is preposterous; I have told them to put it through which will cost me." However, this was a tall tale. He had merely asked for Mr. Brame and on meeting him shook hands and made an appointment for the next day, an engagement he did not keep. However, Edwin Ward knew nothing of this, and at Allen's request, lent him £9 on the 8th and £8 on the 9th. Allen made him believe that he had deposited the drafts, and worked himself into a state of indignation at the delay of the payment.

On the 17th Allen concocted another story about his drafts, and on the strength of his statements induced Edwin Ward to advance a further sum of £10. In the meantime he ran up a considerable bill for vehicles before disappearing suddenly. It was not until this point that the rather gullible Edwin Ward began to suspect that he'd been duped.

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An investigation established the falsity of Charles Allen's story. Instead of being a wealthy ranch owner, he turned out to be a Birmingham man who had been abroad for a few years. As soon as the police got on the scent he commissioned someone to remove his luggage from the Great Western Hotel to a house in Radnor Street. From there it was taken to Heathfield Road but was traced by the police. At night time the house was surrounded under the directions of Detective Sergeant Wizzard and Detective Ferry. The front door was tapped, and Allen instantly bolted out of the back. He was seized and dispossessed of his revolver and locked up. He admitted that he had no drafts. In his possession was found an American cheque book concerning which it was ascertained that the writing at the commencement was totally different from that at the end, the inference being that two people had used the same cheque book. Allen was jailed for the offence.

Dorothy Ward : granddaughter of Edwin and Elizabeth Ward of the Big Bull's Head at Digbeth

When on down-time from running the Vine Inn on Summer Lane, Edwin's son would have visited the Big Bull's Head to visit his parents. He and his wife would have brought their daughter Dorothy. Edwin and Elizabeth's granddaughter went on to become a very famous actress and singer. Indeed, she is regarded as one of the greatest exponents of pantomime. More often than not she would play the principal boy, cast alongside her husband Shaun Glenville who played the dame.

Dorothy Ward : granddaughter of Edwin and Elizabeth Ward of the Big Bull's Head at Digbeth

Lester Collingwood, proprietor of Birmingham's Alexandra Theatre, gave the young Dorothy her first chance in his production of "Bluebeard" staged in the 1905-1906 pantomime season. She played a small part but proved to be a big success. By the age of 15, she became Collingwood's greatest find. Night after night she melted the hearts of Brummies with her rendition of "How'd You Like To Spoon With Me?," a song that often brought the house down. Replete with energy and a dashing style, Dorothy Ward was tall and handsome. In 1906 she made her London debut at the Apollo Theatre in "The Dairymaids." It was the first of many bill-topping performances. Lloyd George, The Duke of Westminster and Winston Churchill were among her legion of admirers. Dorothy Ward's legacy is such that her 1917 recording of William Dillon and Harry von Tilzer's "I Want a Girl" was featured in BBC Radio One's all-time great records of the Millennium played by John Peel at the end of 1999. A guest of Roy Plomley, Dorothy Ward appeared as a "castaway" on Desert Island Discs in December 1954. She lived a long life and died aged 96 in 1987.

Dorothy Ward Video

Dorothy Ward : granddaughter of Edwin and Elizabeth Ward of the Big Bull's Head at Digbeth

The Ward family's long association with the Big Bull's Head came to an end towards the end of the 19th century. On January 7th 1898 the licence was transferred to William Jones. He and Walter Jones formed The Birmingham Criterion Ltd., arguably the first retail pub company of the Midlands. They may have even invented the term 'Corporate Identity' because each time they took over the lease of a pub they changed the name of the premises to The Criterion. And so, the Big Bull's Head, as part of a small chain of public-houses around Birmingham, became known as The Criterion. Other public houses operated by the company, and all re-named to The Criterion included : The King's Arms on Suffolk Street, Sir Charles Napier on Gooch Street, The Brook Vaults on Jamaica Row, The Wellington at Mary Street, the Hen and Chickens on Constitution Hill, the Old Rodney Inn at Hurst Street and the Spread Eagle on Spiceal Street.

The Criterion [Wellington] on the corner of Mary Street and Balsall Heath Road [c.1911]

I have not seen or heard of an image of the Big Bull's Head when it traded as The Criterion. Consequently, I have uploaded a photograph of the former Wellington on the corner of Mary Street and Balsall Heath Road when it was part of the Birmingham Criterion Ltd. The photograph shows how their pubs looked - all were named The Criterion and featured huge lanterns with the branch number the property represented within the pub chain. Note that the pub was retailing Bass ales.

The successor to Edwin Ward was a relatively young entrepreneur. William Jones was born in Birmingham in 1876. Three years his senior, his wife Annie hailed from Sutton Coldfield. The couple had a young daughter called Winifred who was born in 1900. A rate book compiled in the following year shows that the annual ground rent charged to the Birmingham Criterion Ltd. for the licensed public-house, warehouse, stabling and premises was £135.0s.0d and the rates £13.8s.4d.

Within a few years the day-to-day running of The Criterion was the responsibility of a manager employed by the company. The first of these was a Scotsman called Walter Cook [listed as William Cook in trade directories]. Born in Annan in 1870, he managed the pub with his Nuneaton-born wife Mary. The couple had married in 1896. They had previously lived at Balsall Heath Road from where Walter Cook worked as a barman, possibly in the aforementioned Wellington Inn, part of The Criterion chain.

Christopher Hall was the manager of The Criterion in November 1914 when the pub hosted a concert in aid of the Birmingham Belgian Refugees' Fund. The concert was arranged by Mr. A. Clynes and a small committee under the auspices of the Workers' Union. Mr. Bates presided over the event. Contributors to what was described as an "excellent programme" were Mr. and Mrs. Louie, entertainers : Jolly Jack Woodhouse, Master Blacknam, Mr. S. Clynes. Mr. Cranby, Mr. Grant, Miss P. Dixon, and others. Mr. C. Proctor accompanied at the piano.

Beer Mats issued by Atkinson's Brewery of Aston

Thomas Wythes was the manager when the Birmingham Criterion Ltd. failed and the chain of pubs were acquired by Atkinson's Brewery of Aston. The Big Bull's Head name was restored shortly afterwards. Thomas Wythes was born around 1862 and spent his early years in Mount Street. His father, James, worked at the Birmingham Asylum. Like Edwin Ward, Thomas Wythes trained as a baker and ran his own shop in Sherborne Street at Ladywood with his Somerset-born wife Hannah. The family later moved to Grosvenor Street West where they operated a bakery and provisions shop. For some reason, there was a complete change of tack and by the end of the Edwardian period they were running a Marine Store at Warley Road in Smethwick. Thomas and Hannah Wythes worked hard all of their lives and built up a little nest egg. When the publican died at the Big Bull's Head in 1924 he left effects of £236.1s.2d. to his daughter Eliza Lavinia Ford.

Hannah Wythes succeeded her husband as licensee and remained until 1927 when the licence of the Big Bull's Head was transferred to Thomas Stirrop. He had married to her daughter Alice in 1921. This was a brief interlude in the career of Thomas Stirrop who operated a successful business as a currier and leather dresser in Floodgate Street. He and Alice moved out to Haslucks Green Road at Shirley.

Thomas McGeorge Bell was one of many licensees during the inter-war years as the pub went through another era with a high turnover of managers. It was during this period that the Big Bull's Head became the headquarters of the Birmingham Branch of the Royal Welch Fusiliers Old Comrades Association. Members would gather at the pub for regular meetings and excursions.

The Big Bull's Head on the corner of Digbeth and Milk Street [c.1959]

This image of the Big Bull's Head dates from around 1959 at the end of its days as an Atkinson's house. The Aston-based brewery were soon to be taken over by Mitchell's and Butler's. The licensee during the change of ownership was Walter Ward. He remained at the helm until September 1960 when Edgar Norris became the licensee. In this photograph you can see the old stable block and coach house to the rear with an entrance in Milk Street. This part of the pub has since been demolished, though the four-bay extension of old remains in the 21st century.

Digbeth Civic Hall and Institute in Birmingham [1960]

This photograph is just a little later and shows a glimpse of both the Big Bull's Head on the extreme right and the Old Bull's Head to the left. The photographer was, of course, focusing on the Digbeth Institute, also known as Digbeth Civic Hall. The building still stands but much has changed, particularly the shopping facilities on the ground floor. In this view from March 1960 one can see the neat and tidy shop frontages of Boots, a BSA Cycle outlet, Digbeth Electrical and, at No.77, a tailoring shop operated by Israel and Leah Bassovitch. Digbeth Institute has served many different uses in recent years however it was originally designed for community and civic use. In 1944 Wallace Lawler founded the Public Opinion Action Association, a forum which met weekly at the Digbeth Institute.

The shop immediately adjacent to the Big Bull's Head is vacant in this photograph - I have memories of this as Sparky's Magic Piano Shop, a quirky emporium that, towards the end of its days, was run by Terry Sly, the son of the shop's founder John 'Sparky' Sly who claimed to be a direct descendant of William Shakespeare. One of Brum's most colourful characters, he once took a piano to Loch Ness to serenade its monster for four days. After playing the Blue Danube, John claimed that Nessie came to the surface for ten seconds. A number of famous people have bought a piano from Sparky's including Victoria Wood. Oasis even dropped in for an impromptu session when they performed at the nearby Institute. Click here to view a lovely video of this shop and the characters that helped make the place such a peculiar experience. This leads us nicely into full glorious colour ....

Digbeth from High Street Deritend [1968]

This superb view of Digbeth was captured by Phyllis Nicklin in 1968 when she worked as a staff tutor in Geography at the extra-mural department at the University of Birmingham. She would have been stood in High Street Deritend. Including the car showroom, the buildings in the foreground to the right are long gone and the site is now occupied by the Digbeth Campus of the South & City College of Birmingham. The Big Bull's Head can be seen just beyond the parked Ford van. The licensee at the time of this photograph was Christopher Callaghan. Beyond the Big Bull's Head the Digbeth Institute can just be seen, then the Old Bull's Head where folks are queuing at the bus stop. Just beyond is the former warehouse of Bonser & Co., a structure that was still standing in the 21st century and used as a retro-chic clothes shop. The Rotunda had been completed three years prior to this photograph. Designed by King's Heath-born architect Jim Roberts, construction on the building started in 1961 and was completed in four years at a cost of £1 million.

A very popular couple to run the Big Bull's Head in the 1980s was John and Mary McGrath. It was during their time here that the Big Bull's Head became a popular Irish music venue. When John McGrath died hundreds of people attended his funeral.

In 2019 the pub was being run by Sue Bevan who took over the licence of the Big Bull's Head on January 17th 1991. This makes her one of the longest-serving licensees in the city.

Licensees of the Big Bull's Head

1808 - 1813 Richard Taylor
1813 - 1820 Henry Parker
1820 - 1823 Charles Read
1823 - 1827 Joseph Chirm
1827 - 1832 Timothy Wall
1832 - 1844 Charles Hieatt
1844 - 1846 John MacDonald
1846 - 1847 John Brown
1847 - 1851 Thomas Rainsford
1851 - 1855 Joseph Baylis
1855 - 1855 George Lowe
1855 - 1856 Samuel Baylis
1856 - 1856 Stephen Birch
1856 - 1857 George William Bell
1857 - 1858 Edward Alfred Banks
1858 - 1859 George Page
1859 - 1860 Samuel Brookes
1860 - 1866 William Caswell
1866 - 1867 Henry Denton
1867 - 1868 John O'Neill
1868 - 1869 John William Turner
1869 - 1870 Thomas Williams
1870 - 1871 John Cole
1871 - 1874 George Cole
1874 - 1875 Thomas Baker
1875 - 1877 Job Hulme
1877 - 1898 Edwin Ward
1898 - 1904 William Jones
1904 - 1912 Walter Cook
1912 - 1914 George Sale
1914 - 1918 Christopher Hall
1918 - 1924 Thomas Wythes
1924 - 1927 Mrs. Hannah Wythes
1927 - 1928 Thomas Jukes Stirrop
1928 - 1929 Thomas McGeorge Bell
1929 - 1934 Harry Carter
1934 - 1935 George Vernon Smith
1935 - 1937 Norman Meider
1937 - 1939 Samuel George Smith
1939 - 1941 Arnold Henry Heath
1941 - 1944 Frederick Green
1944 - 1948 Samuel Brown
1948 - 1949 Samuel Astley
1949 - 1951 Raymond Harry Swinson
1951 - 1954 Arthur Williams
1954 - 1955 Charles McCarte
1955 - 1955 James Wilfred Briggs
1955 - 1956 John Wallace Harris
1956 - 1960 Walter Ward
1960 - 1962 Edgar John Norris
1962 - 1962 Peter Henry Williams
1962 - 1966 Dennis Walter Whitehouse
1966 - 1969 Christopher Thomas Callaghan
1969 - 1969 Albert David Bridges
1969 - 1983 Stephen Kelly
1983 - 1988 John Francis McGrath
1988 - 1991 Mary McGrath
1991 - Gwendoline Susan Bevan

"I came across this article on The Big Bull's Head and the list of landlords. Charles McCarte is listed and I am fairly certain he is my grandfather. In fact I don't think there's any doubt it is. Would have any more info on him? Do you know if the pub has old photographs on the walls or anything like that? I am in Glasgow but would perhaps visit. I believe he moved on to the Sir Charles Napier before passing away in 1957."
Gerry McCarte, Glasgow

The pub does have some historical material on the walls but it is best to check with the licensee if you are looking for an image related to your grandfather. I just checked the licence register for the Sir Charles Napier and he did indeed run that pub from 1955 to 1957. Kieron

Atkinson's Ales

Plan Showing the location of the Big Bull's Head [1855]

This extract from a Pigott-Smith plan drawn up in 1885 shows the location of the Big Bull's Head before Milk Street was cut through from Moore's Row. Note that the plan shows a proposed sewerage pipe system and that it was to be laid through Meeting House Yard, suggesting perhaps that plans were already in place to cut Milk Street through to Digbeth. Meeting House Yard was packed with both industrial buildings and cheap slum housing for those who toiled in the workshops.

Plan Showing the location of the Big Bull's Head [1875]

This extract from a plan of the Gooch estate dated 1875 shows the earlier location of the Big Bull's Head in more detail. Note the properties between the Big Bull's Head and the Old Bull's Head that are set back from the pavement of Digbeth. The main building of these was Digbeth House which is shown in the image below.

Digbeth House at Birmingham

In the mid-19th century Digbeth House fronted the Birmingham Battery and Metal Company, manufacturers of brass and copper tubes, along with brass and copper wire, kettles and bells. Managed by Thomas Gibbins, the factory extended back to Coventry Street. The company was founded around 1836, the business name making reference to a method of metal production and forming. In the early 1870s the firm opened another plant at Selly Oak and over the years the company was relocated to the new site.

Plan Showing the Big Bull's Head on the corner of Digbeth and Milk Street [1889]

This extract from a plan drawn up in 1889 shows the Big Bull's Head on the corner of Digbeth and Milk Street. Note the extensive stable buildings to the rear of the busy hotel. The second floor ballroom is also marked on the plan. In 1889, the date of this plan, the Big Bull's Head was operated by Edwin Ward. A tailor's shop is marked next to the Big Bull's Head at No.76. This business was run by John Dean, though Frank Rainsford was the foreman. Next door at No.77 was Mann Brothers' tobacconists. The brothers were Richard and William Mann. The plan shows a china and glass warehouse at No.78. This business was operated by Benjamin Eades. A collection of adjacent buildings made up the premises of the Birmingham Battery and Metal Company. With the main business being transferred to Selly Oak, the manager of this site, at the time of this plan, was Henry Condry. It would have been noisy and messy when this business was in operation. The buildings on the eastern side of Milk Street were part of High Street Deritend. At the time of this plan, the ground floor of the corner building was a branch of the Birmingham Coffee House Company Limited. Next door at No.223 was the premises of W. T. Fawdry, baker and corn dealer. The plan highlights that a cycle repair workshop was operated on the second floor above these shops. At No.222 was the Old Leather Bottle public house run by Mrs. Emily Grimes. There was another boozer next door at No.221 where Mrs. Louisa Baker kept the Three Crowns. No.220 was the shop of the photographers L. & W. E. Baker. Louisa Baker was also the proprietor of the dining rooms at No.219.

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Inn Sign of The Bull's Head

I have not seen an inn sign swinging outside this pub so I have adapted one to provide some information on the hostelry's name. The Bull's Head and its older relative, The Bull, are both ancient and widespread signs. It is thought that the bull name is originally derived from a reference to a papal bull - the leaden seal attached to the pope's edicts [the Latin name being bulla]. A bull's head was introduced into the arms of Henry VIII after he had defied the papal bull of 1538 which at least gives an approximate date for the origins of the pub name itself although it has remained a popular pub sign over the course of time.

Painting of the Big Bull's Head at Digbeth by Steven Roy Brown

This watercolour of the Big Bull's Head and Digbeth Institute was painted by Steven Roy Brown.

Smoke Room Glass at the Big Bull's Head in Digbeth

Birmingham : Big Bull's Head on the corner of Digbeth and Milk Street [2001]

Birmingham : Big Bull's Head on the corner of Digbeth and Milk Street [2002]

Birmingham : Bar of the Big Bull's Head on the corner of Digbeth and Milk Street [2002]

Birmingham : Big Bull's Head on the corner of Digbeth and Milk Street [2017]

Birmingham : Bar of the Big Bull's Head on the corner of Digbeth and Milk Street [2017]

Birmingham : Smoke Room of the Big Bull's Head on the corner of Digbeth and Milk Street [2017]

Atkinson's Aston Brown Ale

Atkinson's Punch Stout

Atkinson's Aston Brown Ale

Related Newspaper Articles

"On Tuesday, before T. Clark and T. Bolton, Esqrs., an information was laid by the officers of excise, against Charles Hieatt, of the Bull's Head, Digbeth, for having made an untrue entry on his weekly excise office return of horses hired out by him. Mr. Forbes, excise officer, stated, that, on the 27th of June 1840, Mr. Hieatt hired a horse and gig to Mr. John Webb, attorney, for the use of which he received fifteen shillings, out of which he ought to have paid three shillings and sixpence duty. He, however, only returned in his list ten shillings received. When the officers were examining the return, they found an error, which they could not account for' and, on making enquiries, with a view to correct that error, they accidentally ascertained that the entry relative to Mr. Webb's money was incorrect. Mr. John Webb was then examined, and he stated, that, about the 27th June, he hired a horse and gig from Mr. Hieatt, for the use of which he paid fifteen shillings. He received a ticket from Mr. Hieatt, which he gave to the tollgate-keeper at Sparkbrook. John Lawrence, tollgate keeper, produced the ticket, and identified it to be the he received from Mr. Webb. Mr. Rollings, solicitor, said, the facts were these : When Mr. Hieatt was applied to by Mr. Webb for the horse and gig, he had not a gig of his own disengaged. He was, consequently, obliged to hire one, for which he paid five shillings; and having received but ten shillings himself, he thought he was responsible for no more than his own actual gain. Mr. Barlow : But, unfortunately, the act makes no provision for the gig at all. It is for the hire of the horse the act provides. Mr. Forbes said, the act ran as follows : "That, in case of calculating the amount of duty to be paid, one-fifth part of the sum charged for the letting of any horse for hire, such one fifth sum shall be charged for and in respect of such horse let for hire, and for the carriage, if any used therewith." Mr. Hieatt said he had not been aware that he ought to have returned any more than his actual gain. He had been many years in business, and never had a complaint of the kind laid against him before. Mr. Forbes said, the officers were aware that Mr. Hieatt was a respectable tradesman, and they did not wish to press a conviction for the full penalty of twenty pounds. If the expenses, amounting to about six pounds, were paid, they would be satisfied. The magistrates made an order for that amount, and the parties left the office."
"Public Office"
Birmingham Journal : November 7th 1840 Page 7

"Edward White was charged with assaulting and attempting to rob Thomas Goode, at Birmingham, on the 6th of November 1856. The prosecutor and prisoner were drinking at the Bull's Head, Digbeth. Soon after midnight they were turned out so that the house might be closed; the prosecutor was walking away when White and two other men attacked him. White knocked him down and held him on the ground while the other men searched his pockets, but found nothing. White then knelt upon the prosecutor's stomach, and himself searched the pockets. Next day he was apprehended at a beer house in Glover Street. The jury returned a verdict of "guilty," and White was sentenced to six years' penal servitude."
"Warwickshire Winter Assizes"
Aris's Birmingham Gazette : December 22nd 1856 Page 2.

Atkinson's Strong Aston Ale

"James Kane, retail brewer, Thomas Street, was charged by Andrew Rawlings, a coal dealer, Bull's Head Yard, Digbeth, with violently assaulting him on the preceding night. Mr. Palmer appeared for the defence, instructed by Messrs. Powell and Son. A long enquiry, involving much contradictory evidence, showed that on the preceding night, between ten and eleven o'clock, complainant, with his friend, who proved to be also a coal dealer, named Joseph Law, went into the defendant's house, and calling for some ale, Rawlings swore that his friend in payment gave Kane a half-sovereign. The defendant took it to his bar, returning with 3d. only as the change, and when told that a half-sovereign had been given him, said it was only 6d.. When the case was part heard, Law made his appearance in Court, and confirmed the statement of Rawlings. On cross-examination, he said that when he gave defendant the gold he had in his pocket 16s, in silver and l0d. in copper, and that his reason for getting change was for fear he should pay away the half-sovereign for a sixpence. The complainant further stated that asking for his change, and this done coolly and with civility, he was assaulted by Kane, pushed down, and kicked savagely on the head and face. He appeared in Court with bandages and plasters over these parts. For the defence Mr. Palmer called witnesses, who said that the money tendered for the ale was only a sixpence, and that the complainant and his friend were both tipsy. As to the injuries Rawlings had received, they were caused, not by the defendant, but by the complainant falling with his head against the kitchen fender. They said further, that Kane did not assault Rawlings at all. Without calling upon Mr. Palmer for reply, the Stipendiary directed that the summons be discharged."
"Singular Charge of Assault Against a Retail Brewer"
Birmingham Journal : January 16th 1858 Page 7.

Atkinson's Pale Ale

"The committee appointed by the sufferers from the late flood in Deritend and Digbeth to take measures for bringing their claims before the Corporation and the public, held a meeting at the Old Bull's Head, Digbeth, on Tuesday evening; Councillor Clements presiding. There was a numerous attendance of the sufferers, and, after a discussion, a deputation, consisting of Messrs. Emerson, Miles, and Chandler, was appointed to wait upon the Public Works Committee, on Monday next, to lay before them the state of the sewerage, and the amount of loss sustained; and also to request them to take into consideration plans for preventing future danger from the same cause. A meeting to receive the report of the deputation will be held at the Old Bull's Head, on Monday evening."
"The Late Flood in Digbeth"
Aris's Birmingham Gazette : August 25th 1860 Page 5.

Atkinson's Triple A

"Mary O'Brien [32], no fixed abode, was charged with wilfully breaking the window of the Bull's Head Hotel, Digbeth, belonging to Mr. Edwin Ward. On Saturday night the prisoner went into the prosecutor's house drunk, and was promptly ejected. When she got outside she pulled off a heavy boot she was wearing, and smashed a plate-glass window of the value of £10. The son of Mr. Ward witnessed the offence, and tried to prevent the prisoner committing the outrage. While he was giving evidence she exclaimed, "Why didn't you prevent me breaking the window, when you are a man and I'm only a delicate woman?" She was arrested by Police Constable Barrier, to whom she said, "I wish I had the chance of breaking another window." She was committed to the sessions for trial."
"More Window Smashing"
Birmingham Daily Post : February 7th 1893 Page 7

Atkinson's Double Punch Stout

"Yesterday at the Birmingham County Court, before Judge Chalmers, an action was brought by Harry Gibson, shirt manufacturer, 16 Coleshill Place, Cowper Street, against Edwin Ward, landlord. of the Bull's Head Inn, Digbeth, to recover £15, as damages for personal injuries sustained through the alleged negligence of the defendant. Mr. Mutlow appeared for the plaintiff and Mr. Tanner for the defendant. The facts of the case were stated as follows: Ward was driving a four-wheeled vehicle to the England vs. Ireland football match at Perry Barr on the 25th of February last. When near the terminus at Perry Barr the defendant drove his break on to the path to avoid colliding with an engine and car which were standing in the roadway. The plaintiff, who was walking on the path, was knocked down by the break, and sustained the injuries for which he now claimed damages. He was able to walk home, but afterwards the effect of the accident was to make him so ill that he could not attend his business for some days. He had to seek medical advice, and he was attended for lumbago and lameness directly caused by the accident. It was stated that the defendant was driving past the engine at the rate of at least eight miles an hour. In defence, it was urged that Ward was driving at four or five miles an hour, when, just as he was about to pass the stationary car the engine spurted steam. The result was the near horse became frightened, and caused its companion to run on the path, and the plaintiff was knocked down. The accident was entirely due to the frightening of the horse by the steam, and there was no negligence whatever on the part of the defendant. In giving judgment for four guineas and costs, the Judge said there could be little doubt that the defendant was hurrying to the match with his load of passengers, and he thought it could not be said that the emission of steam was the sole cause of the accident. No doubt, however, such engines constituted a great danger to street traffic. In the absence of any medical evidence it was impossible to say to what extent plaintiff's illness was due to the accident."
"Sequel to a Street Accident"
Birmingham Daily Post : June 1st 1893 Page 6

"On Monday evening, an inquest was held at the Big Bull's Head, Digbeth, on the body of Kate Webb, a little girl who was knocked down by a horse and cab, and received such injuries that she died almost instantaneously. A verdict of "Accidental death" was returned."
Birmingham Journal : September 22nd 1860 Page 5.

"A poor sweep named Stych, residing in New Meeting House Yard, Digbeth, went out yesterday and swept two chimneys; for one he received three pence, and for the other two pence, and was proceeding to sweep a third in Sherlock Street, for which he was to receive sixpence, but unfortunately he got fixed in the chimney, and upon the brickwork being taken down the poor fellow fell a corpse at their feet. He has left a wife and two children [one of whom is sick] in a most destitute condition."
"A Case For Sympathy"
Birmingham Daily Gazette : February 11th 1864 Page 6.

Mitchell's & Butler's Brew XI Bitter

"Edward Kingsland [20], jet worker, no fixed residence, was charged with stealing a suit of ciothes from a bedroom in the Big Bull's Head, Digbeth, the property of Ernest Walter Cole. On January 4th, the prosecutor, son of the landlord, left a suit of clothes in his bedroom, where the prisoner, who lodged there, was sleeping. At night the prisoner left, and shortly after he had gone the clothes were missed. Information was given the police, and the prisoner was apprehended on Tuesday night by Police Constable Timmins. On being charged with the theft, he said he had the clothes and had worn them out. The prisoner pleaded guilty, and was sent to gaol for three months."
"Robbery by a Lodger"
Birmingham Daily Gazette : June 22nd 1871 Page 7.

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