History of the Barton's Arms on High Street Aston in Birmingham in the county of Warwickshire.


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Some history of the Barton's Arms

In terms of public houses, the Barton's Arms is the jewel in Birmingham's crown. It has not always been loved by Brummies who have attacked the building on more than one occasion. Even the city council have been indifferent to the place at times. Indeed, in the 1960s it was at risk of being demolished. However, now that it has defiantly stood since 1901, people are starting to appreciate and cherish the old place. I am not going to harp on about this pub cathedral too much - that has been done to death online. But if you are not from the area and do not know the Barton's Arms then I suggest that you watch this short film. Made in 1974, this period piece still has some validity because the building is not that far removed from the one featured half a century ago.

Birmingham : BFI Film of the Barton's Arms in High Street Aston [1974]

Watched the film yet? Many claim that it is one of the finest examples of Victorian pub architecture in Great Britain. Which pub is the best - well, that is hard to say as architecture is inherently subjective. However, I think that the Barton's Arms would comfortably slot into most expert's List of Top 10 Victorian public-houses. It is only just Victorian. By the time the building was completed and opened to the public, King Edward VII was on the throne. However, the building's interior is Victorian in spirit and style. As wonderful as it is, the fixtures and fittings were once even better. There has been some 'tinkering' with the building, particularly in the early 1970s and, again in 1980. The earlier work saw some of the interior partitions thrown into a skip and an interior wall opened out. However, although some of the old character was lost, the Barton's Arms has retained more original features than many other notable Victorian public-houses.

I am not certain if Mitchell's and Butler's regarded this as their flagship public-house as the Cape Hill brewers erected a number of palaces around Birmingham and Smethwick. However, it would seem that no expense was spared when they instructed James and Lister Lea to create this house of opulence and grandeur in Aston.

Birmingham : The Barton's Arms at High Street Aston [October 2002]

Influenced by and borrowing neo-Jacobean elements of Aston Hall, the architect credited with the design of the Barton's Arms was Henry Bernard Brassington. At the time he was described as an architectural assistant. In the late 19th century, James and Lister Lea were taking on so many new commissions it was standard practice for them to delegate work throughout the firm. Moreover, the assistants worked closely with the terracotta and tiling companies supplying the construction materials so that some alterations to the original drawings often went without credit. By the end of the Edwardian period Henry Brassington was fully qualified. I am not sure if he remained with James and Lister Lea or whether he established his own practice. He was almost certainly responsible for the firm employing his son Henry. The latter was killed during World War One in the Battle of Guillemont on the Somme. A resident of Wylde Green, Henry Bernard Brassington served as alderman of Sutton Coldfield Town Council for more than 20 years. As an architect, he frequently appeared as a professional witness for brewery companies at Midland Licensing Sessions. He died in September 1942.

Birmingham : Advertisement for an auction of the Barton's Arms at Aston [May 1845]

I will return to the work of Henry Brassington but it is time to look back at the earlier Barton's Arms. William Aston is recorded as the licensee at the Barton's Arms in 1840. The above auction notice shows that he was the occupier of the public-house five years later. The newspaper advertisement announced that an auction for the Barton's Arms Inn was to be held at the White Horse Inn on Congreve Street on May 14th 1845. The advertisement provides a brief description of the property which consisted of bar, parlour and tap room. The inn had nine bedrooms and a club room which suggests that it was a substantial public-house. In terms of width and length, old maps convey a building that was similar in size to the current building. A brewhouse and malt room formed part of the outbuildings and these were in use by William Aston who, in the census of 1841, was recorded as a retail brewer. There can be little doubt therefore that the old Barton's Arms Inn sold homebrewed ales. The census suggests that the rooms were all taken at the inn kept by the 45 year-old publican and his wife Sarah. The rooms were mostly occupied by stone masons and excavators. Perhaps they were working on roads and buildings as this part of the old turnpike road to Walsall was being improved and developed.

Birmingham : Coat-of-Arms at the Barton's Arms at Aston [202]

Most folks seem to be perplexed about the name of this public-house. I have wondered about it myself. In its early days, the Barton's Arms had plenty of open space around the building. Aston Hall, a short distance away, was probably visible from the building. Writing an article on Birmingham Inn Signs in 1936, C. H. Lea asserted that the inn's name is a reference to Richard Barton who was a steward to James Watt Jr., resident at Aston Hall. I have seen a number of examples around the Midlands where the Lord of the Manor has rewarded long-serving staff with a cottage or, in some cases, a public-house. I do not know if Richard Barton was given a parcel of land here but it is a possibility. During the Victorian period one elderly person recounted to the press that "in the olden days the site of the pub was occupied by Barton's Wood, Barton being the name of the owner of a farm in the vicinity, hence the name of the adjoining Barton's Bank." Incidentally, there was once a beer house called the Barton Arms on the corner of Bell Barn Road and Great Colmore Street. To my knowledge, despite typos etc., the pub name at Aston has always had an apostrophe. I took the above photograph of a coat-of-arms mounted on the wall of the Barton's Arms in 2002. Featuring the motto Spes Bona, this seems to be a variant of the Coat-of-Arms of Cape Town in South Africa. What this has to do with the Barton name I have no idea. But you can never bank on the accuracy of signwriters. Incidentally, Spes Bona is Latin for "Good Hope."

It seems that Samuel Perry succeeded William Aston as licensee of the Barton's Arms Inn. William was still at the public-house in 1850 but in the census conducted during the following year Samuel Perry is recorded as the licensed victualler. The Bilston-born publican kept the Barton's Arms Inn with his wife Sophia who was a Brummie. The couple kept the pub for much of the 1850s but by 1860 the licence of the Barton's Arms Inn had passed to Thomas Fulford.

Thomas Fulford was the occupier of the Barton's Arms Inn when the ground rent was advertised in the local press in September 1864. 74 years were left to run on the existing lease agreement. The property was one of many being offered in a bundle of ground rents, all clustered around the junction of High Street and Potter's Lane, including the Plough and Harrow beer house.

Birmingham : Advertisement for a servant girl at the Barton's Arms at Aston [November 1870]

Thomas Fulford was a member of the Fulford brewing clan and highly esteemed in the trade. He was elected President of Aston Licensed Victuallers' Association, meetings of which were regularly held in the Barton's Arms Inn. Thomas Fulford was born in Birmingham in 1818. His wife Emma, also a Brummie, was three years younger. The couple kept the Barton's Arms Inn throughout the 1860s but Emma died after a long illness in April 1870. Thomas remained as licensee and maintained the house with the help of his daughter Emily and son Thomas. The Fulford family employed two live-in servants to help with the chores around the property.

In an article published in the late Victorian period, Thomas Fulford was described as a "genial, portly figure, famous for his courtesy, and altogether a typical host of the good, old-fashioned type. He prospered at the Barton's Arms Inn and his bar would be filled in an evening with the leading men in the district, to whom it served as a club. In those days Park Lane was not thought of, and Newtown Row was known as Walmer Lane or, colloquially, "Wamber." Walmer was the owner of another farm, but his name not having been preserved like his neighbour Barton."

The brewer and maltster George Fulford became licensee of the Barton's Arms Inn by 1884. However, although he held the licence it would seem that he installed managers to run the house whilst he concentrated on producing the ales sold over the counter. In 1891 management of the pub was being carried out by Sheffield-born Thomas Forrester and his wife Emma. Thomas came to Birmingham early in life as a result of his father moving south in search of better work. He and his Wolverhampton-born wife Emma kept a number of pubs in Birmingham. In the early 1880s they were in charge of the Wagon and Horses on Coleshill Street.

Another couple to manage the Barton's Arms Inn for George Fulford were Edwin and Jane Harrison. The couple also kept the Park Tavern and around 1899 were managing the White Hart in Cromwell Street. It was whilst the couple were at the White Hart that a silverer by the name of John Davis, a middle-aged married man, developed a crush on Jane Harrison. Although it was suggested, it is not known for certain if the two had a relationship. However, on one occasion the wife of John Davis turned up at the door and confronted Jane Harrison over her husband's frequent visits to her. Jane Harrison told the woman that "she could not get rid of him."

I can only speculate on the reasons but Edwin Harrison was subsequently admitted to Hatton Asylum. He had been an inmate of that institution for five years when the most shocking incident took place at the home of his wife Jane. It would appear that John Davis, who had been away for a period in Liverpool, had discovered her address in Tower Road and started to call on her again. Along with her son Edwin, she had been living in Tower Road for around a year and both were well regarded by neighbours.

Between ten and eleven o'clock one Saturday morning he entered the home of 42 year-old Jane Harrison and within twenty minutes neighbours heard an argument before the sounds of a piercing scream. Several women ran to the house to offer assistance but Jane Harrison ran out into the yard and was caught just before she collapsed, the result of a neck wound from a razor. The local doctor attempted to stem the bleeding and she was conveyed to the General Hospital but she died within a few minutes of her admission.

John Davis had tried to slip away but was caught by locals who handed him over to the police. Subsequent questioning by detectives revealed that Davis had called at the house on the previous night. The neighbours suggested that Davis was pressing his attention upon Mrs. Harrison, knowing probably that her husband was is in an asylum. If this were the case, it was stated, it may be presumed that the woman resented his overtures. This view was borne out by Jane Harrison's reputation in the neighbourhood. On ail sides she was spoken of as a most respectable and industrious woman. Davis subsequently appeared at the Warwick Assizes where he was found guilty of murder. He was sentenced to death and executed on New Year's Day 1907.

It is not easy to find out the names of managers running a pub when they are not the licensee. However, the name of James Walker turned up in a newspaper item dated January 1889. The manager of the Barton's Arms was fined 10 shillings by the magistrates for being drunk on licensed premises on Christmas Eve. Not much festive spirit on The Bench!

In September 1888 George Nicholson, a journeyman baker and regular customer of the Barton's Arms, was arrested and charged with murdering his wife Mary Ann Nicholson at their home in Burlington Street. He had spent the day lounging about the streets of Aston, with occasional visits to a neighbouring tavern, before going home in the evening. He was visited by James and Mary Ann Eccleston, children of his wife by a former husband. The married couple were apparently on bad terms with each other, but no words passed between them. About nine o'clock the Eccleston's left, and within a few minutes, Mrs. Wark, the next door neighbour, heard Nicholson quarrelling with his wife. They were rowing about the money he should pay for his night's lodgings - Nicholson earned a precarious living. Mrs. Wark then heard a noise, which she described as like the falling of a chair, followed by Nicholson passing from the back parlour, through the front room, into the street. The Nicholson's returned to the house, and to their horror found Mary Ann Nicholson sitting in a rocking chair by the back room fireplace, with blood streaming from her head. She was breathing heavily, and her forehead was resting in her right hand. James Eccleston ran for Vincent Jones, surgeon, of Asylum Road but it was too late for the woman. The doctor, upon inspecting her head, discovered three distinct wounds of a terrible character, two of them completely laid open the brain. She had been attacked by a coal hatchet. Her husband took his wife#39;s purse and money from her pocket, and also her silver watch and gold chain. He went straight to Newtown Row and got 23 shillings for them at a pawn shop run by Mr. Rubenstein before travelling to Walsall. It was whilst he was walking through the town that he was apprehended by Police Sergeant Walker. Nicholson was not difficult to spot for he had a deformity across his back. His identity was confirmed when the pawn-ticket in his pocket. George Nicholson was found guilty of murder and executed at Warwick in January 1889.

Mitchell's and Butler's acquired the freehold of the Barton's Arms on June 2nd, 1899. The Cape Hill brewery paid F. S. Poole the sum of £13,292 for the property. This was an extraordinary sum to pay for a building that they were going to replace, a sign perhaps of how much they wanted this site at Aston. The name of Arthur Wade Edge appears in trade directories shortly afterwards. However, he was not involved in the running of the Barton's Arms but retained the licence in his name on behalf of Mitchell's and Butler's. He acted as a Superintendent of Licensed Houses and his name crops up in listings for a large number of properties, generally holding the licence whilst building work was being undertaken and the house temporarily closed for business. He grew up in the gun quarter where his father operated a small works. He helped in this business before a career change which saw him do well for himself. He became a well-known Birmingham Freemason and was father and past master of the Lodge of Freedom.

Birmingham : Building Plan showing Ground Floor of the Barton's Arms

I have not ascertained how long it took to pull down the old Barton's Arms and replace it with the new cathedral. I have wondered if the cellars were extended at this point or had they already been dug out as the older building sat on the same site. Whatever the case, the building has very large cellaring. The building plan of the ground floor shows the original interior layout of the 'new' Barton's Arms. A key difference is that there were many small rooms or interior spaces created by wooden screens. These were removed in the early 1970s - if you watched the film linked at the top of the page then you will have heard the architect talking about his work on the building. It was probably at this time that a couple of interior walls were also opened out. Originally there were three smoking rooms, two bars and a saloon bar. Note in the bottom left of the plan there was a proposed tram waiting room. The Birmingham and Aston Tramways Company had proposed such a room in 1895 but the matter was referred to the Highways and Buildings Committee.

Birmingham Trams

Originally the 'penny stage,' the triangle in front of the Barton's Arms was a key stop on the tram line to Six Ways and Perry Barr. It could not be described as rapid transport - one local resident wrote to the Birmingham Mail in November 1906 stating that: "one could walk to town from the Barton's Arms in less time than it takes the trams." The angry resident added that "besides the inconvenience of being so slow, there is the element of danger to be considered." He recounted how within the previous month he had travelled on the tram when the car had left the metals. Indeed, in September 1909 there was a collision between two trams at the junction outside the Barton's Arms. One of the Birmingham Corporation tramcars was travelling in the direction of Perry Barr and, when crossing the points from the single line of rail to the double set, struck another tram broadside. Although the passengers were shaken, there were no serious injuries reported.

It was pedestrians crossing the road that were involved in the more serious accidents. In March 1905 an elderly gun worker was seriously injured by a steam tram near the Barton's Arms. It was shortly after half-past nine when 61 year-old Samuel Heath crossed the High Street and was knocked down by a steam tram going uphill towards six-ways from the Barton's Arms. He was dragged underneath the engine, but on this occasion, jacks were at hand to raise the ponderous machine. In the opinion of eye-witnesses the driver and conductor of the car were extremely quick in extricating Samuel Heath from his terrible position. First aid was rendered by Dr. Whitcomb, and then the victim was taken by Police Constable Hull in the Aston police ambulance to the General Hospital. His condition was described as critical. Both of the poor man's legs were broken above the ankle. His right leg was later amputated but his condition never improved and he died in the hospital from exhaustion.

Birmingham : Colour Postcard of the Barton's Arms at Aston [Posted 1906]

Seymour John Melhuish was the man charged with making the 'new' Barton's Arms a success. Born in Gloucestershire in 1863 he spent his formative years in different parts of the country as his father was a railway inspector. He spent his early years at Upper Llanfrechva in Monmouthshire before the family uprooted to Taunton in Somerset. He married Leonora Coombs at Cheshire in December 1891 and the couple's son Herbert was born in Liverpool. In 1901 the couple briefly kept the Leopard Inn at Kingswinford.

I find it curious that Seymour Melhuish landed this gig. He was something of a journeyman and I would have thought that Mitchell's and Butler's would have installed one of their best management couples. Perhaps Seymour impressed when he was interviewed for the position. Whatever, by 1908 he and Leonora had moved to the Rose and Crown in Wheeler Street. The couple later moved to Worcester to run the Royal Exchange Hotel.

Birmingham : Map showing the Barton's Arms and Aston Hippodrome [1913]

During the mid-Edwardian period Henry Gomm was brought in to run the Barton's Arms. Early in the decade he and his wife Clara had kept the prestigious Woodman Inn on Easy Row. The publican was hauled before the magistrates when his dog bit a child in the Woodman Inn and he was fined £20. The couple's stay at the Barton's Arms was brief and they moved to the Crown Inn on Broad Street. Henry Gomm was succeeded by William Thomas Mathieson as licensee. He had earlier kept the Red Lion on Church Street.

Birmingham : The Barton's Arms and Aston Hippodrome [April 1952]

Across the other side of Potter's Lane there was a major change that would prove beneficial for the Barton's Arms. James and Lister Lea & Co., the architectural firm responsible for the Barton's Arms, submitted plans for the Aston Hippodrome and these were approved by the Aston Surveyor and Town Council in February 1908. Work started at the end of July and the Hippodrome opened on December 7th in the same year - now that is how a project was delivered on time in the Edwardian era. It was reported that the work would be carried out upon similar lines to the Birmingham Hippodrome and other Hippodromes in the country.

Max Erard and Zona Vevey

Along with members of the Borough Council, the Mayor of Aston attended the opening night. The Vaudeville star Zona Vevey headed the bill, accompanied by her husband Max Erard who composed most of her material. Possessed of a clear voice, Zona Vevey became a very popular performer in Birmingham and was described as "Britain's Daintiest Comedienne." Also on the bill were Carter Livesey and Lilian Rosebery who, it was reported, "were responsible for an irresistibly funny skit." Leo Trainor apparently kept the audience amused with his patter and songs. It was also said that Paul Vandy was deservedly applauded for some clever sleight of hand. Baddow also proved an up-to-date ventriloquist, and other 'turns' were in the hands of Nelly Montague, Charles Ulrick and Barney Armstrong.

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Meanwhile at the Barton's Arms William Mathieson was busy with the influx of trade brought by the Hippodrome. Born in Bow, London in 1871, he managed the house with his wife Agnes who hailed from Stapenhill near Burton-on-Trent. William had earlier worked as a clerk in one of the breweries in Burton. He married Agnes [Aggie] Ford, the daughter of a timber merchant, at Stapenhill in August 1895. Their budget from Mitchell's and Butler's allowed the couple to employ three live-in bar staff at the Barton's Arms. At the end of the Edwardian period these were Frederick Jones, Thomas Worrall and Stephen Chant.

William Maybury was the manager of the Barton's Arms for a decade. He was brought before the magistrates by a customer in March 1920. At the Birmingham Assizes £10 damages were awarded to William Edward Craven, of 23, Barrows Road, Sparkbrook, against the manager of the Barton's Arms for an alleged slander. It was stated that the publican had said to a large number of people in the lounge of the Barton's Arms that "he pinches for his living, and has never done a day's work in his life."

Ernest and Jessie Ryland were running the Barton's Arms when a devastating fire destroyed much of the Aston Hippodrome in February 1939. The blaze, which burnt away the greater part of the gallery, caused the roof to collapse and destroyed practically the whole of the circle, except for the front half-dozen rows. The estimated damage to the building, according to Mr. S. H. Newsome, managing director of the company controlling the theatre, was about £30,000, and the level of destruction meant that almost the whole of the auditorium had to be rebuilt. The stage and rear part of the theatre, in front of which the safety curtain was lowered during the whole of the time of the fire, had not suffered. In total 18 fire engines and more than 100 firemen from all central and north Birmingham stations were deployed. The activity brought many hundreds of people from their beds in the locality.

Laurel & Hardy during their final tour [1954]

Following the Second World War Henry Norman Gomm took over as manager of the Barton's Arms, some forty years after his parents had run the place. He was born in October 1912 when Henry and Clara were managing the Crown Inn on Broad Street. Henry Junior managed the Barton's Arms with his wife Marjorie whom he had married 1936. The couple were in charge of the house when Laurel and Hardy were guests whilst they performed at the Hippodrome in their final tour of 1954. It is said that they got Stan and Ollie to pour pints of beer! It is claimed that Marie Lloyd, Sid Field, Enrico Caruso and Charlie Chaplin also drank and lodged at the Barton's Arms.

Birmingham : Aston Hippodrome [1958]

Henry Gomm was still the licensee of the Barton's Arms when this photograph was taken in 1958. The end of the Hippodrome's days as a theatre was nearing the end. The place that had once hosted stars such as Laurel and Hardy, Judy Garland, George Formby, Gracie Fields and Morecambe and Wise struggled to provide or attract quality entertainers and throughout the 1950s concentrated on striptease revues. It all became rather grim. The theatre operators failed to recognise that they were driving away their core audience by not adhering to family entertainment. Ticket sales declined as people spent their money on hire-purchase payments for a telly on which they could watch the likes of Bruce Forsyth and Norman Vaughan on Tonight at the London Palladium. Bingo and wrestling became popular around this period so I guess it was inevitable that the Aston Hippodrome had a change of use. The last balls were drawn in 1980 before the swing-balls swung into action. The Drum arts centre was built on the site of the old Hippo.

Birmingham : The Barton's Arms with High Street Aston and Potter's Lane [c.1965]

Like the Hippodrome across the road, the Barton's Arms struggled throughout the 1960s. Dwindling trade was not helped when the local community was being displaced to the outer suburbs. Samuel Twyford was the licensee when this photograph was taken. It is one of the last images of the old High Street before a major road-widening scheme and the development of a new shopping centre. Here you can see the large number of chimney pots around the Barton's Arms - these represented the local customer base and they were soon to vanish from the landscape.

Birmingham : The Barton's Arms during road-widening of High Street Aston [1967]

And here we are a couple of years later when High Street Aston was being widened for the motor car, the mode of transport that has dominated planning departments throughout the UK and has destroyed the urban environment. Notice here that they were building a tunnel so that pesky pedestrians did not interfere with the traffic - like forcing people to walk underground like ants was a good idea! The Barton's Arms was under real threat of demolition at this point. In fact, the local authority slapped a compulsory purchase order on the building, the red tape only being lifted in 1970. The neighbouring shops were hanging on for dear life but these would be removed and a big road junction was later created.

Birmingham : Elevated view of The Barton's Arms and Aston Hippodrome [1972]

This elevated view of High Street Aston was captured from a tower block across the road. Notice that all the buildings along Potter's Lane have vanished. There was a reprieve of eight years before the Hippodrome would be demolished. The Barton's Arms had emerged as an isolated beacon of another time period. Joseph Smyth was the licensee of the pub when this photograph was taken, shortly after Mitchell's and Butler's announced that they were going to tidy up the place by steam-cleaning the exterior and redecorating inside.

Birmingham : The Barton's Arms in High Street Aston [c.1972]

This photograph was possibly taken to show off the Barton's Arms following a good cleaning job of the brickwork. Unfortunately, Mitchell's and Butler's were being rather disingenuous by advertising "Good Honest Beer" on the building. I spotted the electric keg dispense fonts in the film clip [above] from which they were serving pasteurised ale with extraneous carbon dioxide. Still, at least the company saved the building, though not as it was originally designed. This was the period when the old smoke rooms vanished. In the film clip Peter Hartley mentions that some tinkering with the place had been undertaken.

Birmingham : The Barton's Arms under scaffolding [1979-80]

In the 1972 image the neighbouring shops are still trading next to the Barton's Arms and help to enclose the building - there is something about splendid isolation that is actually not that splendid. In the film made just two years later the shops and buildings had been demolished. By that time Dennis Ward was the manager of the pub. At the end of the 1970s scaffolding had been erected around the Barton's Arms. This made me wonder if the steam-cleaning had helped to remove a lot of the cement and needed repair? In any case, this work was part of the brewery's bid to revive the pub in a rebranding exercise.

Birmingham : Re-opening of The Barton's Arms [1980]

In this photograph Councillor George Canning, Deputy Mayor of Birmingham is pulling the first pint at the re-opening of the refurbished Barton's Arms in 1980. Not as impressive as Norman and Marjorie Gomm getting Laurel and Hardy to pour some beers almost 30 years previously. I wonder why the brewery did not have some local sports star or celebrity for this event?

Rebirth of the Barton's Arms 2002

The decline of the Barton's Arms and the building's degradation accelerated when it was taken over by Enterprise Inns. Things went downhill fast when it was later operated by Taverna Inns of Nottingham. Dwindling trade, shocking incidents of crime and massive under-investment led to the pub's inevitable closure by the end of the 20th century. The Barton's Arms closed for three years.

The Barton's Arms was placed on the market for what was a bargain price. Well, a bargain for such a pub cathedral. It was certainly priced to sell and it attracted the attention of Oakham Ales, a dynamic business that were at the forefront of microbreweries dabbling with American hops. It seemed like a bizarre fit for a brewery based in Peterborough to take on a troubled pub in Birmingham. However, the people running the business at that time fell in love with the building and were determined to give it a go. In May 2002 Jake Douglas, marketing manager for Oakham, asked my thoughts on their possible takeover of the Barton's Arms. I told him that it represented a considerable risk but I did not realise how low the asking price was for the building. I remarked to Jake that, although this is an architectural jewel and that I was excited about Oakham beers being available in Birmingham seven days a week, I personally thought it would be a hard slog to make such a pub viable in Newtown in the 21st century. I was being frank and honest.

Original Pump Clips of Oakham Ales

The explosion of craft brewing was some years away and Oakham Ales were making some of the most dazzling beers in the UK. Furthermore, in 2002 it was still a bit of a real ale desert in Birmingham. Strange therefore that the reception by local drinkers was lukewarm. New fangled beers were still a hard sell in Brum. Two publicans made a real effort to change that. Gerry Keane turned the Anchor at Digbeth into a regular beer festival whilst Nigel Barker, a man who had been around the pub block a bit, set about bringing thousands of different ales to the city centre. He even tried to make a go of the Barton's Arms in the mid-1990s but back then it was a tough job to sell real ale in Newtown. For all his effort, the customers did not really show up in any numbers.

Leicester : Simon 'Sammy's Saunders at the Swan and Rushes [2002]

Personally speaking, I think Oakham Ales underestimated the task of increasing the footfall passing through the doors of the Barton's Arms. However, they did their utmost to install sound managers to make it work. They targeted one of the best when the directors tried to lure Simon 'Sammy' Saunders down to Aston from Leicester where he was running the Swan and Rushes for Grant Cook. A host-extraordinaire, it was my pleasure to work with him for a brief period. To be honest, I am glad he declined the offer from Oakham Ales as he would have been a square peg in a round hole - or a refined gent in a rough hole. Sammy later moved to the Sandy Park Inn at Chagford, a 16th century inn on the edge of Dartmoor where no doubt everyone fell in love with him.

Oakham Ales turned to Colin and Teresa Smith who, as it turned out, were also a good choice. Indeed, it seemed like Oakham had found the perfect couple to take over the pub. The brewery did not advertise the post - they headhunted them from the legendary Fat Cat in Norwich.

Birmingham : Colin Smith at the Barton's Arms at Aston [October 2002]

I first met Colin when he was helping to decorate the pub in mid-October 2002. He and his family had moved into the Barton's Arms before the delayed opening. Rather than sit twiddling his thumbs waiting for the opening date he got stuck in with a roller brush. Colin [pictured above] hails from Essex but Teresa is Norwich born-and-bred. They met at The Reindeer in Norwich. Colin was at the Fat Cat for 11 years and Teresa 5 years. They were already big fans of Oakham Ales when the offer came to run the Barton's Arms. However, they did not bank on being up to their necks with DIY as Oakham Ales told them the business would be open by October. However, they had to move to Newtown in time to get their two children settled at new schools. The Smith family were forced to live in the massive function room upstairs whilst work was being undertaken. Progress on the pub was slow because planning permission had to be obtained for almost every screw and nail.

Birmingham : Renovation work in the bar of the Barton's Arms at Aston [2002]

Structurally, the pub was still fairly sound and much of the original interior on the ground floor was intact. However, despite a caretaker occupying the accommodation upstairs, six original fireplaces went missing. Some repairs to the fabric were required but, on the whole, it was a case of refreshing rather than renovations. This may have been down to the bloke who was installed as a security guard when the pub was closed for a lengthy spell. He simply let a couple of Alsatian dogs have the run of the place downstairs. Potential thieves did not fancy their chances with angry gnashers and chose not to break in and wreck the place. One of the pitfalls of this strategy is that the pub gradually filled up with dogshit. Apparently, they had crapped everywhere!

Colin and Teresa made a valiant effort to get the pub going but their stay was all too brief and by 2005 they had moved to a quiet part of East Anglia as tenants of The Locks at Geldeston, a pub then owned by the Green Jack Brewery. I suspect that they did not want to bring up their children at the Barton's Arms, a building that was firebombed during a disturbance in 2012. Colin was the gaffer at The Locks for around 14 years.

Birmingham : Renovation work to the servery of the Barton's Arms at Aston [2002]

As it turned out, after a slow start, the Barton's Arms proved a success. In addition to their renowned beers, they brewery installed a family from Thailand to operate a highly popular food offer from the far east. We visited not long after the pub was relaunched and could sit anywhere we wanted. After a few months it was harder to find a table, within a year the place was full at the weekend.

Birmingham : Ground Floor Restoration at the Barton's Arms at Aston [2002]

Birmingham : Ground Floor Fireplace of the Barton's Arms at Aston [2002]

The Barton's Arms suffered a setback in July 2006 when the building was damaged by fire, reportedly caused by an electrical fault. The pub suffered further damage during riots in 2011. The pub was looted, windows were smashed, and fires started. The fast response by manager Wichai Thumjaron prevented major damage to the building. In a decade of ups and downs, the Barton's Arms pub was named one of the UK's ten most historic pubs by The Guardian. The newspaper wrote that it is "a Victorian temple in carved wood, gleaming tile work, stained glass and wrought iron. Every square inch was designed for maximum aesthetic impact." The Telegraph stated that the Barton's Arms "stands comparison with the Philharmonic in Liverpool and the Princess Louise in London's Holborn as one of the finest pub interiors in England.

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Photographs of the Barton's Arms

Once it had reopened in 2002, I took some photographs of the Barton's Arms over several visits and I am showcasing them here as a gallery to a remarkable public-house.

Birmingham : Lantern at the Barton's Arms at High Street Aston [2002]

Birmingham : Barometer at the Barton's Arms at High Street Aston [2002]

Birmingham : Central Servery of the Barton's Arms at High Street Aston [2006]

Birmingham : Floor Mosaic of the Barton's Arms at High Street Aston [2003]

Birmingham : Staircase Hall of the Barton's Arms at High Street Aston [2003]

Birmingham : Snob Screens of the Barton's Arms at High Street Aston [2006]

Birmingham : Staircase of the Barton's Arms at High Street Aston [2006]

Birmingham : Servery in former Saloon Bar of the Barton's Arms at High Street Aston [2006]

Birmingham : Former Smoking Room of the Barton's Arms at High Street Aston [2003]

Birmingham : Entrance Doors to Smoke Room of the Barton's Arms at High Street Aston [2006]

Birmingham : Bar Vestibule of the Barton's Arms at High Street Aston [2006]

Birmingham : Bar of the Barton's Arms at High Street Aston [2006]

Birmingham : Smoke Room Glass Panel of the Barton's Arms at High Street Aston [2006]

Birmingham : Staircase Window of the Barton's Arms at High Street Aston [2002]

Birmingham : Tile Painting of the Barton's Arms at High Street Aston [2006]

Birmingham : Etched Glass for Gentlemen's Toilet of the Barton's Arms at High Street Aston [2002]

Birmingham : Urinals of the Barton's Arms at High Street Aston [2002]

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Licensees of this pub

1840 - William Aston
1851 - Samuel Perry
1860 - Thomas Fulford
1884 - George Fulford
1900 - Arthur Wade Edge
1904 - Seymour John Melhuish
1907 - Henry Gomm
1909 - William Thomas Mathieson
1917 - Albert John Cole
1918 - William Maybury
1928 - William Edward Gwynne
1932 - Ernest Clifford Ryland
1939 - 1942 Ernest Clifford Ryland
1942 - 1944 James Aden Barratt
1944 - 1947 Samuel Adkins
1947 - 1961 Henry Norman Gomm
1961 - 1967 Samuel Twyford
1967 - 1968 Alan Clifford Price
1968 - 1971 John Thomas Lovin
1971 - 1972 Joseph Daniel Ignatius Smyth
1972 - 1973 Malcolm Mavis
1973 - 1974 Dennis John Ward
1974 - 1977 David Anthony Woollard
1977 - 1977 David John Sutton
1977 - 1979 Eric William Banner
1979 - 1983 Edmund James Guinan
1983 - 1987 Terence Harry Long
1987 - 1990 Stephen Lefever
1990 - 1991 Christine Evans
1991 - 1991 Gary Raymond Adcock
1991 - 1991 Leon Elkanah Jackson
1991 - 1992 Dorothy Anne Hynes
1992 - 1994 Anthony Joseph Burnside
1994 - 1994 Barbara Ann Winters
1994 - 1995 Susan Buckley
1995 - 1997 Nigel Barker
1997 - 1998 James McCormick
1998 - 1998 Geoffrey Hopkins
1994 - 1998 Sarah Louise Hopkins
Note : this is not a complete list of licensees for this pub.

Mitchells's and Butler's

Genealogy Connections

If you have a genealogy story or query regarding the Barton's Arms on High Street Aston you can contact me and I will post it here in addition to including your message within the website pages for Birmingham Genealogy.

Have Your Say

If you would like to share any further information on this pub - perhaps you drank here in the past? Or maybe knew a previous publican? Whatever the reason it would be great to hear of your stories or gossip. Simply send a message and I will post it here.

Related Newspaper Articles

"An inquest was held on Thursday morning last, at the house of Mr. Samuel Perry, the Barton's Arms, Aston New Town, before W. S. Poole, Esq., of Kenilworth, touching the death of Louis William Lupson, aged fifty-two, die sinker, who came to his death under the following painful circumstances. From the evidence of a son and son-in-law of the deceased, it was shown that the deceased had been for a long time in the employ of Mr. Hincks, of Newhall Street, but about nine weeks ago, from a fading in his eyesight, he had left that gentleman's service, and was residing with his family in Victoria Terrace, Aston New Town, until the time of his death. The wife of the unhappy man, it was stated, carried on the business of a stay and corset maker, and their circumstances were by no means impoverished or uncomfortable, although the deceased appeared deeply to regret his inability to add his earnings to the family fund. On the morning of Sunday, the 28th of December, the deceased was discovered in the kitchen, on his knees, surrounded by a pool of blood, and it was found that he had cut and haggled at his throat with a common table knife, producing the most frightful injuries, but he contrived to exist until the 6th instant when he expired. Mr. Meek and Mr. Johnson, surgeons, had been called in, and had paid unremitting attention to the case, but from the jagged state of the wound or wounds inflicted, there were no hopes entertained from the first. During the time the deceased had been at home he had paid great attention to mesmerism and phrenology, and in sundry scraps of writing, being incapable of articulating, he had expressed his deep regret that he had done so, attributing the deed he had committed to the wickedness of such studies. He also wrote on a paper "that he did not like to eat the bread that he did not provide," but there was nothing clearly to show that he was in an unsound state of mind at the time he inflicted the injuries on himself. After some little deliberation the Jury, through their foreman, Mr. C. A. Larson, chemist and druggist, of Aston New Town, returned a verdict that the deceased committed suicide, but in what state of mind he was in at the time there was no evidence to show."
"Melancholy Suicide"
Birmingham Journal : January 10th 1857 Page 8

"Thomas Adrian, of Alma Street, Aston, was charged with being drunk and disorderly, and damaging a door to the amount of 2s., at the house of Mr. Thomas Fulford of the Barton's Arms Inn, Aston New Town. Mr. Fulford stated that on the night of the 15th of December defendant came into his house about half-past eleven o'clock, and had three pennyworth of rum and water and followed it up with some more a second time. He asked for some a third time, which complainant refused to supply, as it was twelve o'clock, and the defendant was completely intoxicated. On being refused any more liquor he became excessively abusive, and complainant, with the assistance of his man, were obliged to eject him, which they did, without using any violence, upon which the defendant began kicking the door, and damaged it to the extent complained of. Defendant commenced a rambling detail and a whimsical cross-examination of complainant. He said he had been a teetotaller for six weeks, but as he was passing a public-house he thought to himself he should just like "a little drop," and he accordingly had three of ale and a glass of rum. He said he certainly was drunk, and he went to Mr. Fulford's, and had some more drink, which made him worse. If he got out of this scrape he would be a staunch teetotaller for the future. He denied that the damage was nearly so much as stated. The Magistrates ordered him to be fined 1s., 2d. for the damages, and 16s. 6d. costs."
Birmingham Daily Post : January 2nd 1864 Page 4

"On Tuesday an inquest was held at the Barton's Arms Inn, Aston New Town, on the body of William Winkles, aged forty-six years, landlord of the Crown and Cushion, High Street, Aston New Town. Deceased was found tied to a bed-post in his bedroom on Sunday night at about eight o'clock. He was quite dead. It was said that he had been drinking hard, which had affected his mind. The jury returned a verdict to the effect that deceased committed suicide whilst in a state of insanity."
"Suicide In Aston"
Birmingham Daily Mail : December 28th 1871 Page 2

"Before Messrs. Smallwood and Yates, Thomas Brown, bricklayer, Inkerman Street, Aston, was charged with being drunk and refusing quit the Barton's Arms, High Street, and also assaulting Police Constables Goodridge and Pearson. Thomas Brown, who under the influence of drink, was ordered leave the Barton's Arms on Monday night, in consequence of his disorderly conduct. As he refused to do so Police Constables Goodridge and Pearson were called in and prisoner was ejected. When in the street prisoner kicked and bit Goodridge, who in the struggle was knocked down and kicked by Brown while on the ground. Prisoner also kicked Pearson, and on the way to the lock-up remarked, "I shall have another go for it," accompanying this observation by a violent kick, which brought both officers to the ground. In consequence of the prisoner's brutality Goodridge was severely injured, and had been incapacitated from duty. Having been previously convicted for assaults on the police, prisoner was sentenced to two months' hard labour for the assault, and fourteen days in default of payment of a fine of 2s. 6d. for refusing to quit."
"Brutal Behaviour"
Birmingham Daily Post : October 19th 1889 Page 7

"An alarming motor accident occurred in High Street, Aston, on Saturday afternoon. It appears that a motor-cycle was coming down the incline from Six Ways to the Barton's Arms, and when approaching the foot of the hill the machine suddenly skidded, and the rider was tossed over the handle-bars and struck the kerbstone with his head with great force. He was picked up unconscious and removed to the General Hospital, by which time he had recovered sufficiently to state that his name was Milton Drew, of Perry Barr Flour Mills. His head was badly injured, the right side of his face was badly bruised and grazed, and the little finger of the right hand was broken. During the morning the tramlines running down the road had been freely watered, and were consequently in an extremely slippery condition. A skid was undoubtedly the cause of the accident. Mr. Drew is a member of a well-known local family. A remarkable mistake was made at the Aston Fire Brigade Station on the receipt of the message for the horse ambulance. Through the man on duty misreading the message it was thought there was a fire, and the whole of the brigade, with a couple of engines, quickly turned out. It was only a matter of a moment or two, however, before the mistake was made known, and the horse ambulance was quickly out."
"Motorist's Ugly Spill"
Birmingham Daily Gazette : May 14th 1906 Page 6

"Prosecutions of interest under the new Central Control Board Order were heard at the Birmingham Police Court this afternoon. The defendant in the first case was Thomas Freeth, of 28, Barton Street, who was summoned for unlawfully taking from the Barton's Arms, High Street. Aston, three half-pints of beer 8.40 p.m. on December 24th. It was mentioned by Mr. J. E. Hill, who prosecuted, that the Control Board had set up a series of stringent orders in regard to the supply of intoxicants for consumption off the premises. The closing time for off-licensed houses was 8.30 p.m. In this case the defendant went to the Barton's Arms before 8.30, but, said Mr. Hill, he must have tarried in the passage for at least ten minutes. The man then walked out with his jug of beer, and was met by Inspector Husband, who took him back to the Barton's Arms. The barman declared : "I served him some time ago. He must have stayed if he has only just gone out.' It was only a technical offence, said Mr. Hill, but these were abnormal times, and the Chief Constable had been particularly requested by the Home Office to see that the Order was strictly enforced. Defendant told the court he had the beer before 8.30. A friend of mine, he added, "wished me a Merry Christmas, and we stopped a minute or two talking." The Chairman [Mr. W. L. Powell] : The authorities are anxious that the law should be obeyed, and asked the magistrates to treat these cases seriously. A fine of 10s. was imposed. Emma Speake, 17, Parliament Street, Aston, and Edith Bethel, 15, Parliament Street, were the defendants in the second case. The former was summoned for treating Bethel, and the latter for consuming a quantity beer supplied by Speake. Mr. Hill again prosecuted, mentioning that Speake entered the Barton's Arms on December 18th, leaving the other woman outside. She came out with glass of beer, out of which she had had a sip, and handed it to Bethel, who drained the contents. The highway adjoining a licensed premises was deemed to be part of the premises for the purposes of the Order. Inspector Husband said when he spoke to Speake she declared : "I am very sorry; I never gave it a thought.' Bethel said, "I own I had a drink out of the glass; I held the child while she went in to get half a pint of beer." Replying to the Chairman, Mr. Hill said the maximum penalty was £100 and six months' imprisonment. The Chairman : This the first case of the kind? Mr. Hill : Yes. The Chairman : I hope this case will be a warning to the public generally. I suppose the defendants did not realise what they were doing at the time. A fine of 5s. will be imposed in each case."
"A Drink Outside an Aston House"
Birmingham Mail : January 5th 1916 Page 3

"Albert Findlay McLean, a barman, was charged before the Birmingham Stipendiary today with giving false particulars to the registration officer, and also with being a deserter from the Canadian infantry. The allegations were that McLean registered on 9th November as an American, giving the name of Raymond James Logan and in consequence of information which came to the police he was seen where was employed a barman, at the Barton's Arms, High Street, Aston. An officer said to him: "I don't believe you are an American, and think your right name is McLean?" He replied: "No." When the officer added, "You are a deserter from the Canadian infantry,' he answered, "There is only one person who could give you that information and she caused me to desert." Prisoner was remanded until tomorrow."
"Alleged Deserter"
Evening Despatch : March 21st 1917 Page 3

"Rival Communist and Fascist meetings in Birmingham last night produced more laughs than jeers. Aston and Lozells branch of the Communist Party held a weekly open-air meeting in the open space outside the Barton's Arms, Aston. Fascists decided to stage a march from their Stafford Street headquarters half a mile away, and hold what they described as an opposition meeting. While a Communist speaker was bawling through a megaphone, deriding Fascism and dictatorships, the Fascists marched past. Police were stationed along the route, a large posse - plain clothes and uniform - were at the ready in the square. Union Jack and Fascist flag flying, drums beating. the Fascist procession approached. There were 14 of them - 13 men, one woman. Alongside swarmed a horde of children. Escorted by police, Fascists marched into New Street. Fifty yards from the Communist meeting they staged their demonstration. At one time rival speakers were howling abuse at each other's party at the same time. Gradually the crowd trickled from the Communist meeting over the way. Finally over a hundred blocked New Street, nearly 10-1 anti-Fascist, heckling the speaker. Only once did police interfere - to quieten a section that began a "Down with Fascism" chorus. After an hour's demonstration the Fascist procession marched back to headquarters."
"Street Politics Comedy"
Birmingham Daily Gazette : March 10th 1938 Page 3

Taste & Tours

I was contacted by John Ullah who runs the Birmingham branch of the Laurel & Hardy Appreciation Society called Laughing Gravy. He is a tour guide at the Back-to-Back houses on the corner of Hurst Street and Inge Street. He also runs the Taste & Tours of the Barton's Arms. These run around once per month, sometimes a couple per month. For more information just click on the poster below. PLEASE NOTE : I am only providing this information in case of interest - I am not involved with these tours.

Click here for more information

Brummagem Boozers

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