Some history of the Woodman Inn on South Road at Sparkbrook in Birmingham in the County of Warwickshire


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The Woodman Inn, a public-house that also traded as the Woodman Hotel in earlier times, was located on the corner of South Road and Henley Street. The tavern seems to have emerged in the mid-late 1870s. The house traded for just over a century until 1980 when the licence was allowed to lapse. In the 21st century the site is occupied by South Road House, a hostel. Indeed, all signs of Victorian and Edwardian life have vanished in the close vicinity of the premises.

Birmingham : Map extract showing the Woodman Inn and National Arms on South Road at Sparkbrook [1889]

The premises were marked up as the Woodman Hotel when this map was published in 1889. The building sat on a prominent site amid a cluster of back-to-back housing, most of which were simply numbered, though two were named South Terrace and Linden Terrace. Many of the Woodman's "bread-and-butter" customers lived in this locale. The house was also frequented by workers toiling in the factories along Montgomery Street, along with a timber yard close to Jenkins Street, also known as Small Heath Bridge. There was also a tram depot opposite, on the north side of Henley Street. So, despite being tucked away from the main drag of Stratford Road, there was still plenty of footfall in front of the Woodman Inn.

Birmingham : The Woodman Inn on South Road at Sparkbrook [1979]

Frederick and Mary Ann Luckett were running the Woodman Inn by the time of the 1881 census. At this stage the premises were only licensed to sell beer and wine. It was due to the persistence of Frederick Luckett that the house gained a full licence. He started his legal crusade in August 1882 by applying for a full licence at the Birmingham Annual Licensing Sessions held at the Public Office. He was refused but this did not prevent him from having another go in 1883. It was the same outcome so he went back in 1884 and 1885 but to no avail.

Birmingham : Notice of Application for a Full Licence at the Woodman Inn on South Street at Sparkbrook [1884]

This is the notice of application submitted by Frederick Luckett in August 1884. Such applications cost publicans money in newspaper notices and legal fees. This did not seem to put off a spirited bid by Frederick Luckett. He was back again in August 1886 applying for a full licence, or new victuallers' licence. At the same sessions Henry Moorhouse was also seeking an upgrade of his licence for the nearby National Arms Inn. He was unsuccessful, his disappointment compounded by the fact that Frederick Luckett had been granted his licence at the Woodman Inn. He was possibly aggrieved as he was running an older business. Kelly's Directory of Birmingham published in 1876 includes Henry Moorhouse whereas there is no mention of another beer house.

The notice of application for August 1884 is interesting in that it includes the name of John James Hill to whom the Luckett's paid their rent. Their landlord was formerly a retail brewer at the Brush Makers' Arms on Cheapside. He and his wife must have been fairly successful for them to dabble with other licensed houses. When collecting rent from the Luckman's, John James Hill was, as this notice of application shows, running the Queen Inn on Wenman Street in Balsall Heath.

Birmingham : N. W. Goose Club at the Woodman Inn on South Street at Sparkbrook [1882]

July was quite early in the calendar to start a Goose Club but, as can be seen from this notice, Frederick and Mary Ann Luckett launched theirs at the same time as some other houses detailed above. Many working-class folks of Brum prided themselves on dishing up a goose on Christmas Day. However, such an expensive meal required savings. Publicans such as Frederick Luckett facilitated this by forming a goose club at the Woodman Inn. This was a savings club in which patrons of the tavern would, providing they did not drink all their wages, pay into the fund each week in order to guarantee a bird for the family dinner. The formation of a club was not all altruism on the part of the publican for this was a method to ensure regular patronage at the house where many would pay their shilling for the goose and order a couple of glasses of beer at the same time. In addition, buying meat in bulk probably resulted in a lower price for the publican, a saving that was not passed on to the customer. Still, most people were eager to join such schemes.

Frederick Luckett was born in Birmingham in 1838. He had a number of jobs before his marriage to Mary Ann Page in January 1865 when he was recorded as a chandelier-maker. His father, Thomas, was a brewery agent so he would have some idea of how the licensed trade worked. He employed Robert Smith as a brewer at the Woodman Inn.

Things started to unravel for Frederick Luckett in the late 1880s. He and his wife separated, Mary Ann, otherwise known as Jane Armstrong, gaining something of a reputation as a loose woman. In October she was part of a drinking session that ultimately ended with the death of Charles Cook, a farmer of Walmley Ash, Minworth, who was also a member of the Aston Board of Guardians. After settling some business in the Spread Eagle Inn, Spiceal Street, where he drank brandies-and-sodas, he went to The Criterion, where two gentlemen and two married women came in and were treated to drinks by him. One of the married women was Jane Luckett, the other being Sarah Sassons. Together, they stayed there till seven or eight o'clock, and continued drinking. The barman then refused to serve more liquor to them as they were being too rowdy and were singing. So, they left The Criterion and adjourned to the Black Swan Hotel, on Bromsgrove Street. There they went into the "cosy" and had about two drinks more all round. The others then left the pub but Charles Cook stayed with the two women. They left the Black Swan at nine o'clock. Frederick Luckett's estranged wife was later seen with a gentleman going up Ravenhurst Street, towards the Ship Inn. A witness said that neither of them were sober. They turned up Lowe Street, and went into an entry. When they came out Mrs. Luckett fell, and the man walked away hurriedly. I will leave you, the reader, to ponder what she was doing up an entry whilst intoxicated.

Besides reading about his wife in the newspapers, in July of the following year Frederick Luckett was in financial trouble and declared bankrupt. He was forced to give up the Woodman Inn and went to live at Ladypool Road. At his public examination it was disclosed that his debts were £673, and his assets £13.

The licence of the Woodman Hotel was transferred to V. Gunter on October 1st 1891. Two years later the licence was transferred to Rueben Roberts. He also applied for a music licence for the Woodman Hotel. In 1894 he was wheeling and dealing and used the address of the Woodman Hotel as auctioneer's offices. He may be the same Reuben Roberts later listed as a wine and spirits merchant on Coventry Road.

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There was a period in the 1890s and early 20th century when they may as well have installed a revolving door as publicans came and went. Indeed, one of them had a revolving door life before winding up bankrupt. Francis Henry Revell kept the Woodman Inn for a brief period in 1901. He was present just about long enough to be nabbed by the census enumerator and to feature in Bennett's trade directory of 1902, though he had long gone by then, probably giving somebody the slip to whom he owed money. When he had to face questioning at the County Court in August 1901, it was stated that he had had "a chequered career since 1894, when he left work as a tool finisher. His public examination in bankruptcy was held before Mr. Registrar Glaisyer, the debts in the case amounting to £453, and the deficiency £431. Francis Revell first became manager of the Horse and Groom, Holte Street and received 35s. a week; then he borrowed £61, and took to the Swan With Two Necks, Lawley Street. That money was repaid. In 1898 he went to the King's Head, Allison Street, but only stayed there six months, next going to the Chequers Inn on Park Street with wet stock from the previous house of the value of £129. Later he moved to the Coach and Horses, Steelhouse Lane, and went to the Woodman Hotel, South Road, paying £81 for wet stock, out of £98 received for the Coach and Horses. On November 26th a writ was served upon him in respect of foreign wines, and it cost him £38 to meet the claim, which exhausted the capital he had. The Birmingham Brewery Company then bought the house, and made him manager, and he stayed there till March. He admitted, in reply to Mr. L. J. Sharp, that he increased the amount of his purchase in July, August, and September last year, and he accounted for this by the necessities of increased trade. He denied more than £5 a year by betting; all the money he had lost was in connection with sickness of his wife, now deceased. Bankrupt said he had kept no accounts of money received, and the Official Receiver expressed his regret that there was no punishment for a man who failed to keep such accounts. The examination was closed." It was not the end of Francis Revell's career in the licensed trade - in 1905 he was running the The Board on Digbeth and he was at The Globe in Great Colmore Street during the following year.

Under the stewardship of Francis Revell's successor, Richard Moores, the Woodman Hotel was the venue of the Sparkbrook Committee of the Bordesley Ward Conservative Association in December 1901. This would suggest that the pub was making some attempt to become respectable. However, the reputation of the house took a major dent in the following year. Benjamin Heath was licensee when a group of men drinking in the pub started to get worked up over a trivial argument, the drink getting the worse of them. Although Benjamin Heath, managed to eject them from the house, it ended in tragedy in the timber yard across the road. During the subsequent investigation, it was found that the publican had actually loaned money to one of the men in order that they could continue their drinking session.

In the early Edwardian years, the Woodman Inn hosted a number of air-rifle events and competitions. The constant changing of publicans was stablised when former gunmaker William Checkley arrived around 1908. He kept the Woodman Inn with his wife Alice. The couple employed Emily Hicks as a domestic servant. Born in 1868, William Checkley had grown up in Adderley Street and Watery Lane before entering the gun-making trade. He married Alice French in September 1892 at Holy Trinity Church at Bordesley. Her father, Henry, had been the publican of the Wellington Inn on Bridge Street West. Accordingly, it was probably Alice, perhaps with a little guidance from her father, who had to show the ropes to William on how to run licensed premises.

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William and Alice Checkley were managers for, or tenants to, Cheshire's Brewery Limited of Smethwick, the brewery having acquired the Woodman Inn from the aforementioned retail brewer John James Hill. Cheshire's were taken over by Mitchell's and Butler's in 1913. Consequently, despite some later livery for Bass, for the rest of its days the house sold beers produced at Cape Hill.

The sale of the Woodman Inn to Cheshire's Brewery Limited included not only the pub but also twenty-two neighbouring houses on South Road and Henley Street. I imagine that publicans, as part of their duties, had to collect the rents on behalf of the brewery. When Mitchell's and Butler's took over the Woodman Inn, the pub and block of 22 houses was valued at £4,663. It was not freehold but the lease was for 500 years, the term dating from September 29th, 1870, the possible date when the corner was developed. So, had the Woodman survived, the lease would have expired in the year 2370. There is a note in the property records that re-building of the premises was completed on June 21st, 1939.

Soldiers' Comforts Fund of the Woodman Inn [1943[

The Sparkbrook branch of the British Legion held meetings at the Woodman Inn in the 1950's.

Licensees of the Woodman Inn

1881 - Frederick Luckett
1891 - V. Gunter
1893 - Reuben Roberts
1898 - Ernest E. Hawkins
1899 - Clement Smallwood
1901 - Francis Henry Revell
1901 - 1902 Richard Thomas Moores
1902 - Benjamin Heath
1904 - George Henry Thomas
1906 - Joseph Philip Keyes
1907 - Walter Tanser
1908 - William Checkley
1913 - William Halford
1916 - Thomas Harris
1922 - Thomas Harris
1925 - Arthur Janes
1928 - Ronald Walton
1929 - 1937 Herbert Samuel Elton
1937 - 1938 Nellie Elton
1938 - 1941 Joseph Standley Ross
1941 - 1945 Mrs. Elizabeth Ross
1945 - 1950 Joseph Standley Ross
1950 - 1957 Thomas Joseph Brown
1957 - 1959 Henry Alfred Harris
1959 - 1959 Gerard Francis Insull
1959 - 1962 John Jones
1962 - 1964 Albert Harrison Cox
1964 - 1964 Derek Smith
1964 - 1968 Henry William Morris
1968 - 1969 Edward Charles Deakin
1969 - 1971 Frederick Crump
1971 - 1972 John Alfred Rogers
1972 - 1973 Frederick John Reedham
1973 - 1976 James Anthony Shuter
1976 - 1976 Michael Joseph Iommi
1976 - 1979 John Joseph Johnson
1979 - 1980 Josephine Johnson
Note : this is not a complete list of licensees for this pub. The dates of early licensees are sourced from trade directories, census data, electoral rolls, rate books and newspaper articles. Names taken from trade directories may be slightly inaccurate as there is some slippage from publication dates and the actual movement of people. The listing for 1950 to 1980 is complete and accurate as these names are sourced from licensing records and brewery property books. These records are hand-written and I have done my best to transcribe them accurately, though some scribbles of the clerks can be hard to determine.

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Related Newspaper Articles

"The Birmingham Police are enquiring into the circumstances surrounding the death of a man named George Woolridge, aged 39, of 15 Park Buildings, Arden Road, Saltley. Woolridge worked as a hammer-man at the Royal Small Arms Factory, in Montgomery Street. He left at midday yesterday, and with his brother and others adjourned to the Woodman Inn public-house. There is said to have been a quarrel there and it is suggested that the deceased and another man named Thomas Mander fought together in a timber yard. At any rate Woolridge was seen coming out of the yard with blood flowing from a wound on the head. A cab was called, and Woolridge and his brother were driven to the Saltley Bridge Road, and opposite the Country Girl public-house they alighted from the vehicle. Here they parted company. The injured man was afterwards found lying on the footpath in Parkfield Road. The police were called, and he was taken to the General Hospital, where he died at four o'clock this morning. A man is in custody charged with causing Woolridge's death. The police, in co-operation with the detective department, are occupied in investigating the case. It seems somewhat doubtful whether the fatal injuries were actually received in the fight. Between six and seven in the evening, some hours after the altercation with Mander, the deceased was seen to stumble near some waster land in Parkfield Road, and fall heavily on to the pavement. On a lad going to his assistance he was found lying with his head in a pool of blood, The accused is stated to be a respectable working man, with a wife and family, and to be in regular employment. Isaac Thomas Mander, aged 39, steam-hammer worker of 61 Albion Road, Greet, was this morning brought before the Birmingham Stipendiary [Mr. T. M. Colmore], of having caused the death of George Woolridge, of 15, Park Buildings, Arden Road, Saltley, by striking his fist and knocking him down in a fight in a timber yard in South Road, on Tuesday afternoon. Supt. Clarke applied for a remand until Friday. Mr. Willison, for the defence: Is it not a fact Superintendent, that prisoner, having read something about the case in last night's papers, came and gave himself up at Duke Street Police Station? Superintendent Clarke: I took him into custody at the Small Arms factory. In answer to the Stipendiary, the Superintendent said he had nothing to add at present to what the prisoner had told him. Mander said that the two men had spent the whole day together, that they went into the yard and commenced to fight. It was said that the injury which caused death was sustained during the fight. Mr. Willison asked for bail, but the Stipendiary, in ordering the man to be put back, said he could not grant bail before Friday. The arrest was made at 8.40 this morning by Superintendent Clarke, at the Royal Small Arms factory, where the accused, Isaac Thomas Mander was working. The prisoner is 39 years of age, a hammerman, and resides at 61 Albion Road, Greet. It is stated that the men had decided to settle a difference by fighting. The accused is alleged to have struck Woolridge, who fell down in the timber yard, and thus received his injuries. The man's skull is believed to have been fractured."
"Alleged Fatal Fight"
Evening Despatch : February 5th 1902 Page 6

"As the outcome of a fatal fight at Sparkbrook on Monday last, an inquest was held by the Deputy Coroner [Mr. Hebbert] today. The deceased, George Woolridge, a steam-hammer driver, of Park Buildings, Arden Road. Saltley. was 37 years of age. His death is alleged to have resulted from a blow struck by Isaac Mander, a forge-smith, of Albion Road, Greet, Mander was now present in the custody of Inspector Clark, with Mr. Philip Baker as his legal representative. On Monday last, the evidence showed. Woolridge, Mander, and others engaged at the Small Arms, at Sparkbrook, had dinner at a public-house, the Woodman Inn, in the neighbourhood. They borrowed 5s. from the landlord, and spent part of the afternoon drinking. Following a taunting remark by Woolridge, a dispute arose, and Mander and the deceased repaired to an adjacent timber yard to fight. Describing what took place, William Palmer, one of the party, said that Mander aimed a blow at the deceased, but that was "nothing of any account," Next Mander struck Woolridge on the temple, and felled him to the ground. The deceased being too intoxicated to fight, witness advised him to desist, but he continued, and Palmer saw him fall to the ground again. His opponent procured some brandy, and Woolridge swallowed a little, and vomited. The deceased's brother then came up and struck Mander in the mouth. Blood was trickling from Woolridge's left ear, he was dazed, and had to be assisted to his feet. He declined to go to the hospital, and was driven home in a cab. Witness thought Mander was "not exactly sober, but muddled." In answer to Mr. Baker, Palmer added that when advised Woolridge to desist, Mander said, "Yes, we've been mates too long to fight." It was a perfectly fair fight. Another witness, Joseph Whitlard, a furnaceman, stated that Woolridge dealt the first blow, and Mander struck back in self-defence - a swinging right-hand blow. Woolridge was a quarrelsome man in drink, though right enough when sober. Witness had always found Mander one of the least offensive of men. Benjamin Heath, landlord of the Woodman Inn, denied that any of the party were intoxicated when they left his house. They created a disturbance, and he had to eject them and bolt the doors. He estimated that they had five or six quarts of beer. Witness thought it almost impossible for a man doing heavy work to get drunk on "fourpenny" - "they would burst first." Thomas Woolridge, brother of the deceased, admitted having been so drunk that he could remember little or nothing of what occurred. Other was evidence given of a fall the deceased had in Parkfield Road, Saltley, after leaving Sparkbrook. He staggered and fell, and his head struck the corner of wall. Mr. Nuttall, house surgeon at the General Hospital, attributed death to compression of the brain, consequent upon a fracture of the base of the skull. The bleeding from the ear would indicate such a fracture, and it was therefore probable that it was caused in the timber yard. By Mr. Baker: Blood might flow from the ear as the result of a blow, without the skull being fractured. - A verdict of "Accidental death" was returned."
"The Fatal Sparkbrook Fight"
Birmingham Mail : February 7th 1902 Page 5

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"The circumstances attending the death of George Woolridge, after a fight with Isaac Thomas Mander, who was charged with the manslaughter and eventually discharged, again came before the Police Court today. The defendant on this occasion was Benjamin Heath, licensee of the Woodman Inn, South Road, and he was summoned for permitting drunkenness on his licensed premises on February 4th, the day of the fight. Mr. Hill appeared for the prosecution, and Mr. H. Stubbins [instructed by Messrs. Bickley and Lynex] for the defendant. The evidence given before the Coroner and the Stipendiary was repeated before Messrs. Phillips and Hallewell Rogers. The principal witness in support of the licensing prosecution was William Edward Palmer, a gun stamper, who worked with the deceased and the other men at the Small Arms Factory, and who paid for the beer they consumed Woodman Inn on the Tuesday afternoon mentioned. He borrowed 5s. from the landlord, and spent it all in dinner and beer. Altogether they had nine quarts of "four ale." Then Mander and George Woolridge had an argument as to which was the best striker. They gradually warmed up till one threatened to strike the other, and then the landlord turned them all out and bolted the door. They adjourned to timber yard close by, and Mander and Woolridge fought. The latter was too drunk to defend himself, and he had to be taken away in a cab. In answer to Mr. Stubbins, Palmer said there were no signs drunkenness before the argument, and after that the landlord's wife refused to serve them with any more beer. For the defence, Mr. Stubbins contended that the only evidence of drunkenness related to the deceased and his brother, and there was no evidence that either of them was served with beer by the defendant or his wife. Mr, Barradale [the clerk] replied that so far as the licensing law was concerned, if beer was sold to one of party and shared between them they ware all served. The defendant stated he turned the men out of the house at five o'clock because they were quarrelling, and not because they were drunk. He had been a publican for many years, and had never had a complaint brought against him before. Joseph Whittard, who was in the house all day, said the landlord was very strict, and none of the men were drunk when they were turned out. The Chairman, [Mr. Phillips] said it was a very disgraceful thing for the landlord to lend his customers money to spend in the house. He hoped it would be a caution to him not to keep men drinking in the house so long in future."
"Sequel to the Sparkbrook Fight"
Birmingham Mail : February 26th 1902 Page 4

"Yesterday afternoon Mr. Hawkes, borough coroner, held an inquest at the Woodman Inn, South Road, on the body of Richard Riley [36], labourer, of Stratford Road. Deceased was in the employment of Job Wragg, aerated water manufacturer, Digbeth, and on the 19th. inst., whilst reaching a bottle on his master's premises he accidentally knocked it against one of number of soda-water bottles, which burst in consequence. A fragment of the shattered glass struck his left forearm, causing a wound about half an inch long. He went to the hospital, where the injury was dressed, and he was treated for some days as an out patient. The wound, however, assumed serious form; erysipelas supervened in the arm and left side, and deceased relapsed into unconsciousness. Mr. Cox, surgeon, was called in attend him, but deceased died on the 26th inst. The jury returned a verdict of "Accidental Death."
"Death Through The Bursting of a Soda-Water Bottle"
Birmingham Mail : June 29th 1877 Page 2

"An inquest was held yesterday afternoon by the the borough coroner [Mr. H. Hawkes], at the Woodman Inn, South Road, on the body of Phoebe Briggs, three months old, whose parents reside at White Road. Three weeks ago deceased had an eruption of the skin, and her mother took her to Mr. Whitehouse, a chemist residing in that district, and he gave her some drops and some ointment, which he said would cure the child. The ointment lasted the child until a few days before she died. On Friday last the child became convulsed, and its mother sent for two doctors, neither of whom, however, was able to attend. The child gradually grew worse, and the father went away from home about five o'clock on Saturday morning, leaving instructions that a doctor should be sent for at once. At eight o'clock a boy was sent to Dr. Lloyd's but the doctor did not attend until twelve o'clock in the day, when he found the child dead. Dr. Lloyd stated yesterday that no urgency was pleaded when he was sent for, the boy simply saying that the baby was suffering from a rash. The Coroner said Mr. Whitehouse had done a thing that he had right to do, and he was liable to penalty for doing it. That, however, was nothing with Coroner's Court. It was a thing that the local authorities ought to look into, but they would not do it. Whether the chemist had formed a right opinion in what he had prescribed for the child he could not say. A verdict of "Natural death was returned."
"Singular Death of a Child"
Birmingham Mail : June 23rd 1881 Page 2

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