Some history of the Vampire Tavern on Great Hampton Row at Hockley in Birmingham in Warwickshire
The name of this beer house has been the subject of much speculation so I may as well throw in a bit of my own conjecture. The original spelling of the tavern was Vampyre, corresponding with the earliest known use of the word in English literature in 1734. And it is within the short stories, poetry and tales of the mid-late 18th century, in which the legend of vampirism was embellished, that the subject captured the imagination of people. In England an early influential printed work was published in 1810 - it was a poem entitled "The Vampyre" written by John Stagg and featured within "The Minstrel of the North." Appearing in print nine years later, Byron was also credited with a piece called The Vampyre. However, it was probably the gothic horror tale of Varney the Vampire by James Malcolm Rhyme and Thomas Peckett Prest that truly excited Victorian England. This first appeared in 1845 within the so-called penny dreadful pamphlets and, due to the inexpensive price, reached a wide audience. John Stagg's earlier work no doubt benefited from the increasingly popular genre. The author was a Cumberland poet and minstrel who spent much of his life in Manchester, though he died in Workington in 1823.
Imagine for a moment that your name happens to be Neil Armstrong and you are opening a new public-house in the early 1970s. When considering what to call your new pub, would it prove irresistible to refer to the recent moon landings? Most of your friends have already ribbed you with regard to your name so why not? Well, perhaps that was the sort of thinking that went through the mind of the man who successfully applied for a new beer licence for No.33 Great Hampton Row in the mid-1850s. Having a name associated to "The Vampyre" poem, why not give the tavern a name that corresponds with the story? And just to compound the legend of vampirism, the licensee decided to fill the tavern with dead animals. Yes, it was John Stagg who opened the Vampyre Tavern in this pocket of Hockley. It was probably a pub name that didn't find much favour with the local vicar across the other side of Tower Street. But then again, attendance at Saint George in the Fields possibly increased with local residents who were troubled by the activities of John Stagg.
It is possible that John Stagg was a distant relative or descendant of the Cumberland poet. I am not sure where his father originated but William Stagg married Ann Harding at Saint Martin's in Digbeth in 1805. The couple later lived in Whittall Street. John Stagg was born in 1806. His brother William was two years younger. Curiously, in the 1840s they were living next door to each other in Sheepcote Street and both were married to a woman called Sarah. And just to keep it in the family even further - they both had sons named John.
John Stagg had married Sarah Barnsley at St. Mary's Church in Handsworth in 1827. He was a brass founder by trade and worked in this field for a good number of years. He had eight children with Sarah but she died in 1842, possibly through complications arising from the birth of son William. Two other children had died in infancy. John Stagg married again in 1844. He and his second wife Eliza later moved to Saint George's Parish.
There is another possibility for the name of the tavern opened by John Stagg. He would have needed some capital to open a new beer house and perhaps, just perhaps, he had some luck betting on a famous horse of the period - the Duke of Richmond's Vampyre. It would not be the first case I have heard of in which a pub has been launched on the back of gambling. Some public-houses were even won and lost on the turn of a card. And, perhaps I should mention that The Blue Vampyre was an attraction at the Vauxhall Gardens in Duddeston. Was this the inspiration for a new boozer? Well, I guess we will never know for certain the origins of the name but in 1854 John Stagg started his career as a publican.
As you can see from the above advertisement, John Stagg was keen to establish more than just a place to sup ale so decided to open the Hockley Natural History Museum!! One can only wonder if he and his wife had been collecting the exhibits over the years. There were no public museums and art galleries in those days so the Vampyre Tavern must have caused something of a sensation when it opened, particularly as admission was free. Of course, as the advert suggests, John Stagg's hopes were that visitors would spend a few bob in the tavern after looking around the exhibits.
One clause of John Stagg's lease for the building was that he would expend at least £200 improving the property. Another addition to attract custom and ensure long-term patronage was the addition of a bowling alley. However, this facility was the scene of a fight during August 1857 in which one of the pub's customers died. This fatal fisticuffs caused much excitement in the locality and around 300 people gathered outside the St. George's Tavern where the inquest was held.
As a retail brewer producing homebrewed ales, John Stagg was at liberty to host a meeting of the Retail Brewers' Protection Society in February 1858. Key concerns of the assembled brewers were the rise of tee-totalism and the increase in legislation seen as a threat to their trade.
John Stagg, like many publicans of the period, was nabbed for selling beer during restricted hours of Sunday. In August 1859 he had to attend the Public Office in Moor Street to answer a charge of trading on Sunday. The publican was fined 20 shillings and costs. John Stagg clearly did not learn from this and during the following month he was hauled before the Bench on the same charge. The magistrates were clearly not impressed and slapped a larger 60 shillings fine upon the publican.
As can be seen from the advertisement from 1859, the pub hosted regular piano and sing-a-long sessions for the entertainment of customers. This was the Victorian version of today's Karaoke. A licence was granted for the game of bagatelle inside the Vampire Tavern but frustratingly for John Stagg in May 1861 somebody robbed the house of the balls which were valued at 20s. In August of the same year John Stagg attempted to elevate the status of the Vampire Tavern [note the spelling had changed by this period] by applying for a licence for music and dancing. Whether he had designs on opening a music hall-style of entertainment we will never know for the magistrates refused his application.
By the early 1860s vampirism was in full swing in Birmingham. The New Theatre in Moor Street boasted a long-run for a stage play billed as a 'grand visionary dramatic romance' entitled "The Vampire; or The Bride of The Isles,' whilst advertising a future production of "The Outlaw of Bohemia." The local press reported on the popularity of "The Vampire" remarking that "although it is played with considerable effect, it was another manifestation of the love for unhealthy horrors which at the outset of the undertaking so sensibly affected its repute among the more intelligent classes of the community." In February 1864 the Royal Adelphi Theatre had a hit with "The Vampire Lover," a romantic drama in which the company "acquitted themselves very well, the acting of Mr. Henry Drayton, Mr. George Douglass, and Mr. Melville respectively being particularly worthy of commendation." The newspaper theatre critic added that "the gallery was very well filled, and we have no doubt the pit and stalls might be on future occasions, if the house in front of the curtains were put in decent state of repair. At present, what with freezing draughts, mildewed and obliterated decorations, and shattered chandeliers, even such spirit-stirring pieces as the above fail to keep the requisite amount of enthusiasm." I would have thought that such conditions would be perfect for setting the tone for a Victorian version of a Hammer Horror.
Although John Stagg [this advertisement contains a spelling error] remained as the leaseholder of the Vampire Tavern, this notice appeared in Birmingham's newspapers in May 1862 in which the freehold of the beer house was offered, along with the neighbouring butcher's shop run by a man with an apposite name. The sale also included the 13 houses in the rear court which became known as Vampire Yard. In this advertisement we can see that John Stagg had renewed the lease in 1862. He agreed a 12-year term which would taken him up to March 1874.
John Stagg was a man possessed of civic pride and, accordingly, in March 1863 when Birmingham celebrated the marriage of the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra, he had a whip-round in the tavern in order that the Vampire Inn could provide a star-shaped illumination for the evening spectacle. Despite his diligence to civic duty, it would appear that John Stagg remained unsuccessful when it came to obtaining his music licence. As a result in September 1868 he was summoned for permitting music in the Vampire Tavern without a licence. At the hearing an officer deposed to 'visiting John Stagg's house, where, in the club room, he found about 200 persons assembled, and a pianoforte being played.' The publican was fined £5 and costs. I was impressed that they had crammed in that many people in the club room - a bumper crowd by any standards. I assume the piano player was a demon on the keys-
In October 1868 John Stagg decided to relinquish his interest in the Vampire Tavern and Wine Vaults and advertised the lease in the local newspapers. The advertisement stated that he was retiring due to ill-health so was selling the lease, goodwill and possession of The Vampire for the sum of £300. The sale may not have gone ahead for John Stagg was still banging on the doors of the Public Office in August 1869 in his long quest to obtain his music licence. However, by November 1869 John Collins had succeeded him at the Vampire Tavern. John and Eliza Stagg moved to a house in Wilton Street where the former publican died a few years later in 1873.
John Collins, the next licensee of the Vampire Tavern, hailed from Derbyshire. His wife Susan however was born in King's Cross at London. The couple had previously lived at Tower Street in Mile End Old Town. They had four children living with them at the pub when the census of 1871 was conducted. John Collins told the enumerator that he was a viewer in the Royal Small Arms factory. Indeed, prior to the census, he gave the reason for him putting the Vampire Tavern up for let as "having a Government situation to fill." And yet, later in the year he, like his predecessor before him, was unsuccessfully applying for a music licence for the establishment which was, by this point, trading as the Vampire Inn rather than Vampire Tavern.
John Collins left the pub soon afterwards and was succeeded by George Jones, the licence being transferred on March 7th 1872. The Vampire Inn remained a place selling homebrewed ales and it was during the production of a batch of ale that a terrible accident took place in October 1873. It was reported that George Jones, the 44 year-old landlord, was "standing on a range of three boilers in the brewhouse, throwing hops into one of them, when his foot slipped, and he fell backwards into a furnace which contained boiling ale. He was rescued by his son and daughter, and removed to the General Hospital, where it was found he had been scalded to a serious extent on various parts of his body." George Jones did not recover from his burns and he subsequently died. The licence passed to his wife Elizabeth on December 4th 1873 and the lease of the Vampire Inn was advertised early in 1874.
Thomas Willetts became the next leaseholder and took over the licence of the Vampire Inn on March 5th 1874 and joined the list of publicans to apply for a music licence for the house. His time at the Vampire Inn was brief and the place was again advertised in November of the same year. There was no interest at £350 so the price was gradually lowered. By February 1875 the asking price was £140, reflecting perhaps the waning popularity of the Vampire Inn compared to the boom years enjoyed by John Stagg. Thomas Willetts was probably looking for a quick sale to offset his financial difficulties. In the end, however, with liabilities of £398.2s.11d. and assets amounting to £71.8s.10d., the retail brewer was declared bankrupt.
William Simpson took over the Vampire Tavern [the name seems to alternative between tavern and inn around this time] and he also spent time pleading with the magistrates for a music licence. You would think that the Bench would grant a licence just for sheer persistence. From the late 1870s throughout much of the following decade there was a long list of revolving-door publicans, some lasting only a matter of months - always the sign of a 'difficult' public-house. In November 1880 the lack of consistency led to the sale of the brewing plant at the Vampire Inn, after which date the house would have bought in beers from a large brewery. Although this would be an early date for it to be a brewery-owned tavern, it is possible that it had been bought by one of the local brewers at this stage. The high turnover of licensees suggests a managed house rather than being operated by a tenant.
Islington-born Henry Maynard was at the Vampire Tavern at the time of the 1881 census. However, such was the rapid turnover of publicans, he was gone in a jiffy. However, for a very brief spell the former jeweller lived on the premises with his wife Priscilla who hailed from Ashbourne in Derbyshire. For some years, Henry had worked as a journeyman in the jewellery trade which may explain how this couple met. Residing in Clissold Street, they had moved to Birmingham some years prior to having a go at running a public-house.
Thomas Banford lasted three months before Edward Trueman came back for a second time. 1884 saw three licensees at the Vampire Inn which may as well have been called the Poison Chalice during this period. Many of the licensees seem to have worked in the jewellery trade, some perhaps thinking they could double-up their income stream. Richard Moxon was one such jeweller who was running the Vampire Tavern in 1886 when he was charged with violently assaulting his wife Phoebe in October of that year. It was reported that she gave her evidence at the trial very reluctantly but she told the magistrates that she and her husband quarrelled one evening when he knocked her down and threw a glass at her. The glass hit her on the back of her head and inflicted a wound. She added that she was afraid of the publican. Richard Moxon was sentenced to six weeks with hard labour, and the magistrates granted his wife a separation order. In his younger years, Richard Moxon had lived behind the pub in Vampire Yard for he was the grandson of the first licensee John Stagg.
Following this dark episode in the pub's history, the licence of the Vampire Tavern continued to change hands in quick succession. William Glover was recorded here in the 1891 census. However, the turnover of publicans was so quick I am note sure if he was granted a licence - two other men were licensees in the same year. This beer house has one of the highest turnover rates that I have seen. William Glover was a chandelier maker by trade and lived on the premises with his wife Alice.
This photograph was taken around 1902 when James Goodall was the licensee. His name can be seen above the door. It would appear that the tavern was staging some kind of horticultural event. Some of the men are proudly displaying the plants they have cultivated. Note that the beer house was an outlet for beers made by the Holt Brewery Company. Check out the meat hanging up outside the adjacent butcher's shop and inside the entry to Vampire Yard. At the turn of the 20th century the shop, once run by George Slaughter, was the domain of Henry Knight who later moved to the corner of Tower Street. If that is James Goodall stood in the front door then that is probably his wife Elizabeth stood next to him. The couple married in February 1899 at the Church of Saint James at Handsworth. She was Elizabeth Catherine Thompson prior to her marriage to the former publican of the nearby St. George's Tavern in St. George's Street. In later years they lived at No.218 Cooksey Road at Small Heath.
Taken towards the end of the life of The Vampire, this photograph dates from around 1910-11 and shows Frederick Dawes on the doorstep of the beer house with what looks like a Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Frederick Dawes was born in Birmingham in 1854. He kept The Vampire with his wife Florence. At the time of this photograph two of his daughters, Florence and Kate, were living at the pub. They both worked in local factories.
At Birmingham's annual general licensing meeting held on April 6th 1911 the Vampire was referred for compensation and subsequently closed. It was one of a large number of beer houses to be closed by the local authorities in the same sessions.
"The vicinity of St. George's has and still continues to be the scene of excitement from the fact that a young man named Edward
Williams, a pearl button maker, Henrietta Street, met his death under the following singular and painful circumstances. On Monday afternoon last another young
man of rather intemperate habits, named John Eccles a stamper and piercer, living in a court in Brearley Street, went to the bowling alley attached to the
Vampyre Tavern, kept by Mr. John Stagg, in Great Hampton Row. Some time after Williams came and, after a game or two, a dispute arose as to a sixpenny wager laid
on the game between Williams and Eccles. This was about eight o'clock in the evening, and we are assured that, at the time, both parties were sober. However,
not being able to convince each other to which was right in the dispute, a fight, or rather a pully-hawley encounter ensued, and after what might be termed
three rounds, occupying only a very short space of time, the parties closed upon each other - struggled for the mastery - and both falling, poor Williams
came undermost against the edge of the alley bench with such violence that his death instantly ensued. The keeper of the tavern, Mr. Stagg, who happened to upstairs
at the time, instantly ran to the spot, in time to see what we have just described. His son, Mr. Stagg junior, who had witnessed the commencement, strongly advised
a settlement of this trifling affair, but without effect. Of course the landlord instantly sent off for medical aid, and Mr. Pasquin, St. George's, promptly
attended but he pronounced life to be extinct. But some of the bye-standers, thinking subsequently that they perceived a twitching movement of poor Williams's
body, Mr. Pasquin again came, but in vain. We understand that Mr. Stagg conducts his establishment in a careful and orderly manner, and is of course much distressed
at such a melancholy affair occurring on his premises. We have noted that the parties were both young men, they were neither of them married, and deceased especially
was a very tall and muscular person, Eccles being a little less so. Deceased appears to have been sadly obstinate in this case, "He would stay all night sooner
than lose his sixpence." In proof of the short duration of any encounter between two such strong young men, we may state that the only external mark on the body
of the deceased is a great discolouration at the back of the neck, extending from just under the left ear upon which he fell [Eccles being upon him] to the
right. Of course an inquest will held, of which we shall, as usual, give an account in Saturday's Journal. Eccles was at once given into custody, and on being
brought up the at the Public Office, yesterday, on a charge of manslaughter, was remanded until the result of the inquest is known."
"Fatal Row on a Bowling Alley"
Birmingham Journal : August 5th 1857 Page 2
"The question of manslaughter arose at the inquest on the body of Edward Williams, which was held before Dr. Birt Davies, on
Wednesday last, at the St. George's Tavern, Harford Street. The evidence of Mr. Stagg's son-in-law, a young man, a gold swivel maker, named Wallace
Winkles, and of Mr. Joseph Peters, a young man, a jeweller, in Smith Street, went to show that the preceding account is a reliable statement as to the main facts of
this melancholy occurrence. The wager for the money stood thus : a third party was, about eight o'clock in the evening, playing on the alley, and the number
he might knock down formed the subject. Five pins were knocked down, and a sixth knocked off its centre did not fall from its leaning against another, and deceased
said he should not pay the bet, because in fairness that pin ought to be counted. Upon this words took place; Williams positively refused to pay the 6d., saying
"I'll fight him all night, and then he shan't have the tanner." Eccles then began to unbutton his waistcoat, and Williams seeing this called out,
"It will not take long if that's it," and instantly took off his apron and cap, and facing each other, and sparring a short time the fight commenced.
Five rounds were fought, each of very short duration : at the fourth Williams fell, and hit his head against a pin, but got up smiling, and was not hurt. The
fifth and last round ended in the usual closing and struggle for the fall, and the deceased, again undermost, went down forcibly upon the alley bench plank, and
the square part to which it had been attached. These two witnesses were present at the time of the occurrence, and gave the above details with great clearness.
Mr. D. Johnson, surgeon, had under the Coroner's precept, made a post mortem examination of the body, and gave it as his opinion that death had resulted
from effusion of blood upon the brain, and that this had arisen from the effects of the fall. At this stage of a long inquiry, Dr. Birt Davies asked, did the Jury
require further evidence, and an answer in the negative being given, Eccles, who was present in custody of Sergeant Fletcher, [No.306] was asked if he had
anything to say, and replied he had not, neither had he asked the two witnesses any questions. The Coroner sent the case to the Jury, and after about twenty minutes
consideration, they returned a verdict of "manslaughter" against John Eccles, and he was then removed in custody. Nearly 300 persons had assembled around
the house where this inquest was held."
"The Fight at a Bowling Alley"
Birmingham Journal : August 8th 1857 Page 8
"Henry Sheppard , Vampire Yard, Great Hampton Row, brassfounder, and Fanny Sheppard, his wife, were charged with
stealing a stuffed owl and shade from the shop of Mr. Septimus Hutchinson, Harford Street, on the 8th inst., and valued at 10s. 6d. Police Constable Baker went to
the prisoners' house about three o'clock on the morning of Thursday, and found the missing owl upon the table. The male prisoner told him he bought the owl
about two months previously. When before the Magistrates he pleaded guilty, and said his wife took no part in the robbery. She was accordingly discharged; but
her husband, who had been twice previously convicted, was committed for trial at the Sessions."
"Stealing an Owl"
Birmingham Daily Post : March 16th 1862 Page 6
"Joseph Birch , brass polisher, Princip Street, was sent to gaol for 14 days, to be followed by five years in a
reformatory, for having stolen 1s. 11d. from the till of the Vampire beer house, Great Hampton Row."
"A Boy Thief"
Birmingham Daily Post : August 17th 1893 Page 7