Some history of the Crown Inn
The Crown Inn was located on the corner of Villa Street and Nursery Road, though as you can see from the photograph below, this part of the thoroughfare was once known as Nursery Terrace. The street names were marked on stones set into the brickwork of the public house.
The Crown Inn was a solid corner house that, judging by the photographs from 1961, was in sound condition but was lost to the redevelopment of this locality when everything was simply swept away in the name of progress. In the rush to regenerate and renew this locality where Hockley and Lozells meet, the planners forgot to leave some pillars of the community such as pubs, meeting rooms and social clubs.
Joseph and Lucy Bennett were mine hosts of the Crown Inn during the 1860s. The couple had previously kept the Navigation Inn on Wharf Street. Born at the turn of the 19th century, Joseph Bennett hailed from North Stoke in Oxfordshire. Lucy, however, was an Edgbaston woman. Their daughter Sarah helped with the running of The Navigation, a pub located near the Worcester Wharf.
The Bennett's were running the Crown Inn when the sensational case of murder and suicide took place close to the pub. The Crown Inn was subsequently used for the inquests that followed the tragic events in which the jeweller John Hampton strangled his wife before shooting himself.
Lucy Bennett died in February 1871 following what was described as a "lingering illness." Helped by his daughter who returned to the household, Joseph remained as publican. However, this arrangement was brief and soon a new couple took over the running of the Crown Inn. Former glass cutter Charles Vale and his wife Sarah moved down the road from the Vine Inn in what would have been viewed as an elevation in status within the licensed trade as the Crown Inn was a larger business and fully licensed. The Handsworth-born publican eventually returned to the glass trade but was still residing in Villa Street in the 20th century where he was documented as a glass manufacturer.
The Crown Inn was only a matter of yards from the Hockley Brewery based in Nursery Terrace. At present I do not know if there was a business connection between the two - it would be nice to think that the Crown Inn was a tap house for the beers produced close to the pub. What is certain is that the Hockley Brewery was acquired by Showell's Brewery Co. Limited in 1889. As can be seen in the above extract from the Crown Inn's page within an old Birmingham Licensing Register, the pub was once owned by the Langley Green brewery prior to Ansell's Brewery Ltd. It could just be a coincidence, but it is possible that the Hockley Brewery was operating the Crown Inn.
Note the factory building to the right of the Crown Inn in the above photograph. Still standing in the 21st century, this was erected on the site of the former Hockley Brewery. In more recent times this building has housed a range of business and social enterprises, including a storage and retail space for catering equipment and refrigeration units.
In Edwardian times the building was the factory and warehouse of Cockrell & Co. Limited, pinafore manufacturers. I am mentioning it here as I would like to think that many of the workers who toiled here nipped into the Crown Inn for a beer after their shift. The building features two tall gables in red brick and terracotta. The factory has large windows for light assistance, typical of a mill or clothing factory of the period. This image also offers a glimpse of the post office that once stood across the road from the Crown Inn.
You will notice that the ground floor frontage of the Crown Inn was extended up to a new building line level with the front gardens of the houses in Villa Street. This work was undertaken when John Houghton was the licensee during the 1880s. However, he landed himself in trouble for undertaking such work. At the licensing sessions in September 1887 the police objected to the renewal of his licence, on the grounds that the ground floor extension had been completed without the plans being approved by the justices. Superintendent Walker told the Bench that John Houghton had made very considerable alterations since the previous licensing day. This included the extension of the premises by six feet. In addition, an entrance was added in Nursery Terrace, where none formerly existed. John Houghton managed to get away with the alterations and continued to hold the licence for some years.
This photograph shows two of the doorways added to the pub on the frontage to Nursery Terrace. The first became the entrance for the outdoor where jugs of ale could be purchased for factory workers or bottles of beer for consumption at home. The second entrance led to a passage to the rear smoke room. The alterations to the Crown Inn were typical of the changes to public houses during the late Victorian period when large windows and wooden fascia and pilasters borrowing from classical architecture made them more attractive to potential customers. In particular, the bright lights pouring out of the windows during the evening made the pubs advertising beacons. Poor folks living in dark, damp, cold houses were drawn to the warmth of the public house, despite the fact that it is was often unaffordable. But there was no telly or radio back then and the pub offered an escape. Sadly, women were left at home with children whilst their menfolk squandered money on ale.
If I had to guess, I would speculate that John Houghton undertook the improvements to the Crown Inn with a loan from the brewery with whom he operated as a tenant. A rate book for Aston Manor compiled in 1901 shows that the building was owned by Showell's Brewery Co. Limited. Certainly, his investment resulted in a lengthy spell at the Crown Inn under the family's stewardship. Born at Nether Whitacre in Warwickshire in 1852, John Houghton had earlier worked as a brewer when living in Guildford Street - perhaps he was employed at the Hockley Brewery? He and his wife Mary Ann kept a busy house for they were able to employ a barmaid and domestic servant. Their children Arthur and Emily also worked in the pub, suggesting trade was good as they were not sent out to earn additional income at a local business.
Following the death of John Houghton in 1903, the licence of the Crown Inn was transferred to his son Arthur. Earlier in the year he had married Edith Skelton who had grown up in Berners Street but had moved to Nursery Road. She worked as a milliner's machinist so possibly worked for the aforementioned Cockrell & Co. Limited. She may have met John Houghton as a customer of the Crown Inn or perhaps his heart melted when she walked past the pub from time to time. They forged a long life together in the licensed trade. In the 1930s they were running The Roebuck on Broad Street, possibly arranged through Ind Coope who had taken control of the former Showell's tied estate through their acquisition of Allsopp & Sons Ltd. Arthur Houghton died in 1944.
Albert Bunn was another licensee to put in a few years at the Crown Inn. Like his father, he was formerly a hairdresser. He married May Amelia Grindley in August 1903 at St. George's Church. The daughter of a gun engraver living in Great Hampton Row, she worked in the electroplate industry at the time of their marriage. They moved to the Crown Inn during the mid-1920s but it would appear that the licensed trade was not to her liking. In 1938 soon after a legislation change, Albert Bunn, successfully petitioned for divorce and was granted a decree nisi, with costs, against his wife who was then living in Wheeler Street. The grounds of the petition were that she had deserted her husband fifteen years previously. At the time of the case Albert Bunn had left the Crown Inn and was running the Cat In The Window at Knowle.
Victor Zissman was the licensee just before World War Two. He had married Florence Greves in 1933. After the war they kept a shop on the Yardley Road at Acock's Green.
Thomas Hiron took over the licence in 1940 and, together with his wife Harriet, kept the Crown Inn until 1958. Born in Cheltenham in 1897, Thomas Hiron spent some of his early years living at a post office run by his parents. He served in the military during World War One and, in September 1921, married the widow Harriet Howse, daughter of the engineeer John Blake.
When moving to Birmingham, the couple lived for many years in Musgrave Road, from where Thomas Hiron worked as a packer and timekeeper. He was also an air-raid warden.
In March 1949 the publican was fined £40 for rationing offences. Eight charges of receiving 26lb of bacon were dismissed but he was fined £20, with £20 costs, after he bought the bacon from William Hunt, an employee of Baldings Ltd., of Brougham Street. No coupons or other documents were passed between the men. Hiron told the magistrates that he did not know the bacon was stolen. Stating that it was surplus, Hunt had initially brought the publican small amounts of bacon. However, the amounts increased gradually until the pair were rumbled.
The name above the door of the old entrance to the Spirit Vaults when this photograph was taken in August 1961 was that of Arthur Richard Briscoe. The former spectacle frame maker kept the Crown Inn with his wife Florence. The Crown Inn had two more licensees before the Ansell's house closed in 1969. Below is a photograph of the site in more recent years - not as nice as seeing a traditional old pub!
The premises occupying the site of the former Crown Inn is that of L. J. Millington, silversmiths, manufacturers of high quality sterling silver giftware. Leonard John Millington founded the business in 1966. He served his apprenticeship with silversmiths, A. L. Davenport in the famous "Pelican" building on Great Hampton Street before moving to Sanders & Mackenzie in Spencer Street. Working in the jewellery quarter throughout his life, he passed away in January 2013.
A Look at the Neighbours
Returning to the main photograph of the Crown Inn, I thought it might be nice to look at the neighbouring properties, particularly the shops close to the pub. With a glass plate negative it is possible to zoom in on these businesses in order to discuss them - not in massive detail but just a little background information on the people who lived and worked next to the Crown Inn.
In this 1961 photograph the shop immediately next door to the Crown Inn was occupied by the turf accountant George Davis, though the sign above the window shows that it was once Patricia - which, to me at least, sounds like a ladies' hairdressing salon. The next shop was also dedicated to haircuts, in this case it was for men to have a short back-and-sides. The shop had been a hairdresser's for many years. In the Second World War it was operated by John Henry Jones. At this time Patricia's was both the sub-post office and a fancy draper's store run by Rose Agnes Hardy.
There were more shops a few metres further down Villa Street and here we can see a coalman walking along with a full sack on his back. If I were him I would have parked the coal lorry a little closer to the drop! An elderly man is just returning home, perhaps from work, and his wife is on the doorstep. Maybe she is telling him she had the kettle on. The shop looks to be a general store that also sold cigarettes.
Licensees of this pub
1860 - Joseph Bennett
1872 - Charles Henry Vale
1888 - John Houghton
1903 - Arthur William Houghton
1922 - William Jones
1923 - George Green
1925 - Albert J. Bunn
1936 - Harry Carter
1937 - Victor J. Zissman
1940 - 1958 Thomas Reuben John Hiron
1958 - 1959 George Arthur Hardman
1959 - 1965 Arthur Richard Briscoe
1965 - 1968 Raymond Joseph Lock?
1968 - 1969 David Williams
Note : this is not a complete list of licensees for this pub.
This map extract from 1889 shows the location of the Crown Inn on the south-western corner of the crossroads formed by Villa Street and Nursery Terrace. Note that all of the Villa Street properties on the western side of the thoroughfare in this map extract can be seen in the photograph featured on this page which shows two shops adjacent to the pub. Note also the close proximity of the Hockley Brewery.
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
"Mr. W. S. Poole, one of the Coroners for Warwickshire, opened the inquest touching the death of Mrs. Hampton on Saturday afternoon last,
at the Crown Inn, Villa Street. After the Jury had viewed the body, Samuel Hampton, the eldest son of the deceased, was examined. He said, at about half-past nine
o'clock on Thursday night last he went home and found his father sitting in a chair by the fire, in the room downstairs, asleep. His mother was not there, having
gone to bed. Awakening his father, he asked him if he was going work in the morning at six o'clock, as his employer [Mr. Dingley] wished. In reply, he said
that he was. He then sat down and remained there until half-past ten or eleven o'clock, when he bade his father good-night, and retiring to rest, went to
sleep, He heard nothing more until the following morning, shortly after six o'clock, when he was awakened by hearing a cannon go off in his father's room,
situated on the first floor. Upon that he jumped in a sitting posture, and immediately afterwards heard his father call "Sam." Going in the room, he saw his
father, who said, "Sam, I have shot myself. I have done it." He asked where his mother was. Upon which he pulled the bedcover from her. She was lying beside
him on her back, and appeared to be quite dead. Witness asked him why he had done it; and he replied, "Through jealousy." When he first entered the room,
he asked his father how he did it, and replied, "I lay down right side, and put the cannon where it is." [It was lying across the knees of the deceased as
she lay by his side.] "I lit it with a fuse, and it went through me." His shirt was on fire. The body the Jury had viewed was that of his mother, Eliza
Keren-happuch Hampton. She was 39 years of age. Superintendent Bloxham produced the cannon with which the man shot himself. It is about eleven inches of the breech part
of the barrel of a fowling-piece, securely fasted by nails and an iron band to a lump of wood about a foot and a half square. The young man said it was one of a
number of such instruments which had been used at the "outcome" of a fellow apprentice [we presume for the purpose firing a feu-dejoie], and
that his father, taking a fancy to it, bought it. Dr. Poncis said he was sent for to the house of Hampton about half-past one o'clock on Friday morning last,
where he found the deceased and Hampton lying on the bed. Having first ascertained that the deceased was dead, he proceeded to examine Hampton, who had two wounds, one
in the chest, just above the region the heart, through which the ball had passed; and the other in the back, out of which it had escaped. On the deceased, Hampton
said, "You will not find any blow marks of violence." Witness said, "There a discolouration round your wife's neck;" to which Hampton replied,
"That is where I strangled her." Witness said, "How did you do it?" and he answered, "With my hands." There were marks upon the body of the
deceased, which appeared to have been made by fingers. Witness made a post-mortem examination of the body, and found considerable ecchymosis about the
neck. There were some slight abrasions, as if made by a finger-nail. His opinion was, death had resulted from strangulation, He had attended the deceased two days
previous to the occurrence, having attended her professionally. There had been frequent quarrels between the deceased and her husband. At this stage, the Coroner
adjourned the enquiry till the 11th of December, at half-past ten o'clock in the forenoon."
"The Murder in Nursery Terrace"
Birmingham Journal : December 1st 1866 Page 11
"The adjourned inquest to enquire into the circumstances connected with the death of Eliza Keren-happuch Hampton, was resumed on Tuesday, at
the Crown Inn, Villa Street, before Mr. W. S. Poole, District Coroner. It will remembered that the deceased was strangled by her husband, John Wallis Hampton, a jeweller,
who afterwards shot himself with a cannon, inflicting a wound, from the effects of which he subsequently expired at the General Hospital. Dr. Birt Davies, Coroner for
Birmingham, held an inquest on his body several days ago, when the Jury returned a verdict "Committed suicide while in a state of insanity." Dr. Steele,
house-surgeon at the General Hospital, was examined, and said Hampton was admitted into that institution on the day of the occurrence. During the time he was in the
Hospital witness conversed with him, and from the result of these conversations was of opinion that Hampton was under a delusion with regard to the subject of his
wife*#39;s infidelity, though he always spoke rationally on other subjects. Several witnesses were called, whose evidence went to show that Hampton, irrespective of the
delusion with reference to his wife's conduct, was of perfectly sound mind. All the witnesses agreed that his suspicions were without foundation, and that she was
faithful to him. While an in-patient at the Hospital, Hampton made the following statement to Police Constable Thomas Pearson, of the county constabulary, who
remained in attendance upon him in the day time. "I did not go to bed with my wife. I went upstairs after her, and asked her to give me a kiss, but she refused to
do so, turned round, went to sleep, and never spoke. I then put my hands round her neck, and strangled her. She struggled a little, and I then put her in the position
in which she was found. I afterwards loaded the cannon, for fear anyone should come into the room, and then smoked my pipe. After that I put the cannon on my wife's
knees, and fired, thinking it would go through my heart, but it went little lower." The Coroner, in summing up, referred to the letters written by Hampton. He said
their tone was to the effect that he was sorry for what had done on account of his family [which seemed to apply as much to his own suicide as to the murder his
wife], and that he still believed she had been unfaithful to him. In one of the letters the name of some person was mentioned by him as having had improper intercourse
with his wife. Both letters were to the same effect; one being addressed to his eldest son, and the other to the family generally. After consulting for about an hour,
the Jury returned the following verdict: "That the deceased, Eliza Keren-happuch Hampton, was wilfully murdered by her husband, John Wallis Hampton, by
strangulation, on the 23rd of November."
"Murder and Suicide in Nursery Terrace"
Birmingham Journal : December 15th 1866 Page 3
"This afternoon Mr. W. S. Poole [coroner for North
Warwickshire] held an inquest at the Crown Inn, Villa Street, on the body of
Elizabeth Stevens , who resided at 194, Burbury Street, Aston. George Stevens, a clerk in the Birmingham Post Office, husband of the deceased, said that his
wife had been ill for the last eighteen years, during which time she had been attended by various medical men. She had been suffering from chronic bronchitis, but for
the past month had not been attended by any medical men. Judith Hewson said that she had been attending the deceased for some time past, and on Monday morning last,
when she came downstairs, complained of feeling ill, and asked for some whisky. This was supplied, and deceased also drank two bottles of soda water, after which she
fell back into witness's arms and expired in a few minutes. Mr. Stevens was called up, and witness went and fetched Mr. Vinrace, the surgeon, who attended at once.
In reply to the Coroner, witness stated that the deceased had often told her that her husband had beaten her, and she believed that quarrels took place between the
husband and wife in consequence of their children. Mr. Vinrace, surgeon, Hockley Hill, said he had attended the deceased for some years past, but not for the last month
or so. He had seen the body since death, and believed that death had resulted from syncope. The last time he saw the deceased she was suffering from the effects of
intemperance. She had given way to intemperance for some years past, and he had seen her in a most pitiable condition from this cause. The Coroner: Have you ever
heard her complain of being ill-treated by her husband? Witness: No; I have heard that her children ill-treated her. The Coroner: Have you ever seen
any marks of violence? Witness: I have seen her with two black eyes, and deceased had told me that her husband allowed her children to ill-use her. Mr.
Stevens, recalled, said he did not know that his wife was intemperate. A Juror: How came your wife to have black eyes? Witness: She told me she had fallen
down. The Foreman of the Jury: I don't believe that. Mrs. Hewson, recalled, said that Mr. Stevens had often complained to his wife about her excessive drinking.
The Coroner: Has he ever put drink in her way? Witness: He sometimes brought something home. The Coroner: Do you think he has ever encouraged her to
drink? Witness: I can't say. The Coroner, in summing up, said that there was direct evidence of ill-treatment. The jury returned a verdict to the
effect that deceased had died from syncope, the result of intemperance."
"A Sad Story of Intemperance"
Birmingham Mail : November 23rd 1883 Page 3
"Mr. S. G. Shaw. honorary secretary, Crown Inn Angling Society, Hockley, Birmingham, asks to warn anglers who visit Jackfield and Coalport
to keep a sharp eye on their fishing gear. On Sunday two members of his club had their creels and contents stolen. This is not by any means an isolated instance of what
can, and does, happen to unwatched tackle."
Sports Argus : October 28th 1950 Page 2