Some history of the Lee Bridge Tavern
An imposing structure on the corner of Heath Street, the Lee Bridge Tavern bears the date of 1919 on the corner gable. The attractive red-brick and terracotta building was erected for Mitchell's and Butler's who surrendered the licences of some older boozers in the city in order to get this new construction sanctioned. A document from Cape Hill lists the value of these surrendered licences at £4,299 but, frustratingly, the names of the properties are not included.
If we had a date boldly displayed on all public houses, like it is at the Lee Bridge Tavern, it would make life much easier when tracing the history, but perhaps not so much fun. The date is actually when construction started on the building. Work continued through 1920 before the public house was completed. It served the local community for eight decades.
Unfortunately, the fortunes of the Lee Bridge Tavern went downhill in the late 20th century. In February 2001 the police objected to the renewal of the licence and the public house closed. I presume there were some unsavoury incidents that caused problems for the local constabulary and the easiest course of action was to pull the plug. The building stood empty for a number of years and was subsequently converted into a fast food outlet. In the end, it probably didn't represent a good return on investment because this attractive building would have been quite costly to construct.
Unlike many other corner sites around Birmingham, there was not an older public house on the corner of Heath Street prior to the construction of this property. However, a glance of the map extract dating from 1889 shows that the corner plot was once occupied by an older building of a similar shape. Note also the dense housing surrounding the pub, particularly along Heath Street. The vast majority of these properties have since vanished.
Lee Bridge was already a few decades old by the time this map was drawn. Work on the bridge that spanned the canal was undertaken during 1826. Indeed, such was the pace of construction, work continued on Sundays. This was considered a "serious breach of decorum on the Sabbath" by one local gentleman who wrote to the Birmingham Gazette to complain about the noise created by the great number of bricklayers and labourers. Mind you, he also complained about the noise emanating from the large manufactory between the bridge and the locks from which "the noise of the hammers on a Sunday too often disturbs the country for a mile around it."
Mentioned in 1565, the road across the old heath is a particularly old route connecting Birmingham and Dudley. A route between the two towns probably existed in very early times. In 1727 the road was said to be "greatly used for the carriage of iron goods, coal, and lime." Such heavy traffic caused tremendous degradation to the road surface and it was in a very poor state until improved by the turnpike trust in the mid-18th century.
The railway line of the Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Stour Valley Railway Company was authorised by an Act of Parliament passed in August 1846. Construction started during the following year and the line was up-and-running in four years. The poor navvies were worked into the ground but the Victorians knew how to get a project completed on schedule. A station was later constructed for Winson Green and was accessed a short distance away on the bridge carrying Winson Green Road across the line.
There was a residence named Lee Bridge House that adjoined the bridge next to the junction with Aberdeen Street. In the mid-19th century it was occupied by Charles Belton. The Shropshire-born metal broker lived in this elevated position with his wife Mary Ann. The detached residence was surrounded by a walled garden. The house contained an entrance hall, breakfast room, a drawing room opening into a conservatory, large dining room with china closet, six chambers and dressing room, bathroom, two kitchens, a yard with stable and coach house. The Belton's employed a cook, housemaid and nurse. The Public Works Committee purchased Lee Bridge House in 1875 in order to widen the road junction into Aberdeen Street.
This aerial photograph of the locality shows the high number of chimney pots that once surrounded the Lee Bridge Tavern which stands out like a beacon amid the sea of housing. As you can see the pub was a short distance from Lee Bridge which carries Dudley Road over the railway and the 'Telford cut' canal. The bridge witnessed many a suicide attempt during the 19th century, some of which were successful - if that is the correct term? Have a look through the related newspapers section to read more on these incidents. If you click on the photograph you will be taken to an earlier aerial photograph dating from 1920 which shows the Lee Bridge Tavern still under construction.
Back on ground level this photograph shows a Number 31 tram emerging from Heath Street, a thoroughfare running parallel with the 'New' Birmingham Canal. A sign outside the pub states that "all cars stop here" so the Lee Bridge Tavern made a good port-of-call for passengers. The tram in this photograph is numbered 89 and is on the No.31 route. This photograph was taken just before the service was replaced by a bus route in September 1939. However, this particular car was one of a number that went into storage for emergency use during World War Two. Preparations for the war are at an advanced stage by this time. Sandbags have been piled up in front of the property in Heath Street. A sign for an air raid shelter can also be seen on the traction pole to the right of the photograph. It would seem that one would have to run down the entry next to the furniture shop on the corner to squeeze into the shelter located in the yard. Shelters were spaced at regular intervals, the next one up the hill was at Summerfield Junior and Infants School. In the opposite direction there was a shelter near Spring Hill Bridge opposite Hooper Street. Notice also that the fender of the tram had been painted white in preparation for blackouts during the evenings. The kerbstones were also painted white at regular intervals.
At the time of this photograph George Warburton was the licensee of the Lee Bridge Tavern. Succeeding James Bradley, the licence of the pub was transferred to him on January 17th, 1938. He kept the Lee Bridge Tavern with his wife Kate. George Warburton was a local man. Born in 1908, he spent his formative years in Capstone Passage, Coralie Street from where his father worked in the jewellery trade. Both he and his wife Kate were listed as caterers so it would appear that some sort of food offer was available at the Lee Bridge Tavern in the late 1930s. Although there was no such thing as servants during the inter-war years, breweries would still allow managers to hire employees with accommodation being part of their remuneration package. The Warburton's took on Mary O'Brien in such a role and she would have had a room upstairs. Maureen Malone was also added to the staff list.
I am not sure of George Warburton's role during the Second World War but on October 17th 1940 the licence of the Lee Bridge Tavern was transferred to his wife Kate. After the war the couple kept the New Inns, one of the brewery's flagship pubs on the Holyhead Road at Handsworth.
I thought it would be a good idea to drop in a simple plan with street numbering so that some sort of sense can be made when referring to the shops and properties that were close to the pub and can be seen in the photographs. For example, in the 1939 image above, No.143, located on the opposite corner of Heath Street, was occupied by Harry Wadley and Son who traded as Furnitureland. Harry Wadley rented the shop, he lived with his wife Elsie at Rawlings Road in Bearwood. Next to the Lee Bridge Tavern at No.147 was Fletcher's butcher's shop. 147a was occupied by Ambrose and Lilian Goodenough, the latter working as a laundress. No.149 Dudley Road, three doors away from the Lee Bridge Tavern, was a branch of Freeman, Hardy and Willis, the shoe and boot retailers. The Mitchell family lived above this shop. No.153 was a small outlet of the Co-operative Society and next door was a branch of the Birmingham Municipal Bank.
The street numbering was almost the same in 1880 and a trade directory for this year shows that No.145, the corner building, was a draper's store run by Joseph Cooper. Indeed, there were similar businesses at both No.147 and No.161. Joseph Cooper was still trading from the corner of Heath Street in 1890. The adjacent retail space had become a butcher's shop by this period. It was operated by Jacob Tyler. The shop on the opposite corner of Heath Street was a grocery store run by the Payne Brothers.
In November 1894 Lloyd's Bank advertised that they were opening a sub-branch on the corner of Heath Street. The bank was opened in the following month on December 3rd with Howard Lloyd as the general manager. A different turn of events may have seen a new bank building being erected on this site rather than the Lee Bridge Tavern. However, the bank later secured a prominent site on the corner of Dudley Road and City Road and put up a marvellous red brick and terracotta structure in order to trade at Summerfield, Winson Green. The building on the corner of Heath Street reverted to its former use and was operated by the Cash Drapery Company.
This photograph of the recently-completed Lee Bridge Tavern was taken in 1921. Mitchell's and Butler's probably dispatched a photographer to capture the splendour of a building on which they had lavished a few quid. I cannot say it is a building of its time as it was erected during a period when pub design was going through a transitional stage. It is possible that the plans had been drawn up some years before and that the First World War prevented the building of a new house. Incorporating elements of classical architecture in the pick'n'mix terracotta from the build-by-numbers catalogues, the Lee Bridge Tavern has been an aesthetically-uplifting element of the local townscape for generations.
It seems to have taken a few years before the Lee Bridge Tavern was listed in trade directories for Birmingham. Former World War One veteran Alfred Beasley appears in the 1925 directory. He was an employee of M&B who had earlier kept the White Horse Cellars on Constitution Hill. However, prior to taking over at the Lee Bridge Tavern he had managed the British Queen at Oldbury. By 1927 he had moved to the Acorn Inn on Wheeler Street at Lozells.
One of the more unusual elements of the licence granted for the Lee Bridge Tavern is that there was an undertaking "not to allow females in the basement." This seemed odd but then I learned that the pub had an underground smoke room. I discovered this through a newspaper article that reported on heavy rains that affected Cape Hill and Dudley Road in July 1930. The problem stemmed from the lower ground at the City boundary where the sewers were unable to cope with the torrent of water from an unusually heavy rainstorm. The Smoke Room of the Lee Bridge Tavern was flooded to a depth of about 15 inches. But returning to the decision of the magistrates in 1919, one has to wonder what they thought women would get up to if allowed downstairs in the smoke room. This was fairly typical of the attitudes of straight-laced men in wigs. Women could keep the factories running during the war but how dare they think they can enjoy a subterranean tipple!
In the late 1920s the Lee Bridge Tavern was kept by John and Annie Harris. Mary Little and Hetty Gallier were working and living at the pub during this period. The Harris couple were succeed by Harry and Phyllis Berry. They would later move to City Road from where Harry served as an A.R.P. Warden during the Second World War. Phyllis became manager of a dry cleaning store.
Licensees of this pub
1925 - 1927 Alfred Ernest Beasley
1927 - 1928 Joseph Henry Jacques
1928 - 1932 John Frederick Harris
1932 - 1936 Harry Leslie Berry
1936 - 1938 James John Bradley
1938 - 1940 George Warburton
1940 - 1946 Mrs. Kate Warburton
1946 - 1948 Arthur Edward Shorthose
1948 - 1961 Thomas James Sutton
1961 - 1962 Irene Sutton
1962 - 1968 George Taylor
1968 - 1971 John Turk
1971 - 1975 Edward Payne
1975 - 1976 Paul Creed
1976 - 1978 Thomas Patrick Dunne
1978 - 1988 James Anthony Conaty
1988 - 1989 Christopher John Stapleton
1989 - 1992 Margaret Angela Quinn
1992 - 1994 Desmond McDonagh
1994 - 1996 Lillian Marie Atkinson
1996 - 1997 John Arthur Organ
1997 - Bernice Anne Walker
Note : this is not a complete list of licensees for this pub.
If you have a genealogy story or query regarding the Lee Bridge Tavern you can contact me and I will post it here in addition to including your message within the website pages for Birmingham Genealogy.
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Related Newspaper Articles
"At about a quarter past one o'clock yesterday afternoon, a man came by his death in a shocking manner, at Lee Bridge, about midway
between Edgbaston and Soho Stations on the Stour Valley Line. It appears that the train from Liverpool, due at Birmingham at 1.30, was proceeding at a moderate speed
between the above stations, when the driver observed a man standing on the centre of the line, looking in the direction of the train. He immediately whistled, but the
man paid no attention, and then he shut off the steam. The train had, however, by this time, got to within a few yards of where the man was standing, and before it
could be stopped it had gone over him. As soon as it was brought to a standstill, the guard and driver returned to where the poor fellow was lying, when they found
that he was not only quite dead, but also mutilated in a shocking manner. His head and face were so shattered that it was almost impossible to distinguish his features,
and his arms were also frightfully torn and mangled. Assistance having been procured, the body was removed to the house of Mr. James Haynes, the Birmingham Arms, Spring
Hill, where it now lies awaiting the Coroner's inquest. Deceased was respectably dressed in a suit of dark clothes, with Wellington boots, and appeared to be about
50 years of age. The name "T" or "E. Parsons" was found written on the lining of his hat, but beyond that there was nothing found about his person to
give any clue to his identity. There is every reason to believe that he had premeditated self-destruction, as he stood with his face to the engine, and must have
seen the train approaching."
"Supposed Suicide near Lee Bridge"
Birmingham Daily Post : November 21st 1862 Page 2
"Some alarm and excitement prevailed in the neighbourhood of Lee Bridge, Spring Hill, yesterday morning, in consequence of a report that
a woman had drowned herself in the canal. It appears that some clothes belonging to a female were found upon the footway leading from the end of the bridge to the
towing path, and were removed by the police to the Kenyon Street Station for the inspection of any persons who may know of the recent disappearance of any female. The
clothes consist of a brown stuff dress, a green skirt, a pair of stays, a pair of black woollen stockings, a pair of old boots, and a hair net, and the fragments of an
old bonnet. All the clothes were much worn. Footprints were noticed from the spot where the clothes were found to the edge of the canal. It was reported that a patient
had escaped from the Lunatic Asylum but on enquiry this was found to be untrue. The police were occupied for a considerable time dragging the canal, but did not succeed
in finding the body of any person; but this might be accounted for by the fact that there were a number of boats passing and re-passing, and the action of the
water would be likely to drift a body some distance away."
Birmingham Daily Post : October 21st 1863
"At about half-past seven o'clock yesterday morning the body of a woman was found in the canal near the Lee Bridge, Dudley Road.
She was wearing a black skirt and brown checked ulster. The body removed to the Kenyon Street Mortuary, and Dr. Vince, who was called in, stated that the body had
been in the water for some days."
Birmingham Daily Post : March 28th 1888
"Shortly before three o'clock yesterday afternoon a respectably dressed man committed suicide in Dudley Road, by jumping from the parapet
of Lee Bridge. He struck the towing-path with fearful force, and his head was terribly injured, being almost smashed. Police Constable Godfrey was fetched, and conveyed
the body to the Kenyon Street mortuary, where it was identified last evening as that of Henry Hernshaw, aged sixty-two, who lived at 100, Steward Street. Deceased had
been under medical treatment for nine weeks past, and it is supposed this unhinged his mind."
"Determined Suicide in Dudley Road"
Birmingham Daily Post : May 8th 1889 Page 4
"An inquest was held upon the body of Henry Hernshaw , 1 Steward Street. The deceased was a machine-fitter in the employ
of Mr. Josiah Pomphrey. At one time he earned 30 shillings a week, but eighteen months ago his wages were lowered 10 shillings, which troubled him a great deal. He had
suffered severely from bronchitis, and had recently been very strange in his behaviour. On Tuesday he left home and made his way to the Dudley Road. He then climbed
over the parapet of Lee Bridge and, letting go of his hold, fell on to the embankment thirty-two feet below, being killed instantaneously. The jury returned a
verdict of "Suicide whilst temporarily insane."
"Inquest in Birmingham"
Birmingham Daily Post : May 11th 1889