Some history of the Villa Tavern
The Villa Tavern was located on the western side of Villa Street, roughly halfway between Nursery Road and Wills Street. In addition to trade from regulars and locals in the street, the Villa Tavern was well placed to cater for those working in several factories nearby. For example, across the road was the Pearl Button Factory of George E. Cope & Son, along with J. and T. E. Jennens Engineers Ltd., brass founders.
It was the neighbouring Villa Street Works, where weighing machines were manufactured by Southall and Smith Limited, that provided the Villa Tavern with a strong customer base. Back in the day it was deemed acceptable to have a pint or two during the lunch hour, even if the individual was operating dangerous machinery. Publicans would also line the counter with full glasses of ale in time for the sound of the hooter at the end of the day's work. The first beer was generally consumed by thirsty workers in double-quick time.
Founded in 1902, Southall and Smith Limited had moved to Villa Street in order to meet demand by increasing production in larger premises. Manufacturing automatic weighing machines for commodities such as tea and flour, the firm moved into a former watch manufactory at the end of the Edwardian period. W. and T. Avery acquired a fifty per cent stake in the business in 1920, finally taking over the company by 1928. It would seem that the Villa Street operation continued with a large degree of autonomy. The works grew in size in a somewhat piecemeal fashion. Dating from 1933, the above photograph shows that the company had occupied a former house next door to the Villa Tavern.
A new factory would eventually be constructed next to the pub, possibly to meet the requests by the Ministry of Supply to design and manufacture new types of special purpose machines for the war effort. The factory can be seen here many years later in a photograph dating from 1958. A year after this photograph was taken W. and T. Avery acquired Geo. Driver and Son Ltd. which resulted in a merger with Southall and Smith Ltd. to form Driver Southall Ltd. Production was eventually shifted to a facility at Tame Bridge, near Walsall.
Before looking back at the history of the Villa Tavern I will refer to the first photograph dating from around 1933. At this time the pub was operated by Atkinson's Brewery Ltd. Above the etched pane the lettering shows that billiards and snooker was played at the Villa Tavern. The right-hand door was for the outdoor only, a key component of the pub's trade. The front of the building is quite unusual and a rather ungainly and inelegant affair. At the time of this photograph the licensee of the Villa Tavern was Edgar John Leeson. He was the gaffer from 1933 to 1935.
Born on New Year's Eve in 1901 at Birmingham, his father, also named Edgar, was a watchmaker. Both his mother and father had moved to Birmingham from Coventry. At the end of the 19th century Edgar senior had a shop in Gooch Street. In the Edwardian period however the family moved to the High Street at Stirchley. Edgar was a schoolboy at this time but his elder sisters all worked at the Cadbury Chocolate Factory at Bournville. His father relocated his business to Smallbrook Street around the time of World War One. Edgar was still living above the shop with his parents in the mid-1920s. The shop was between the Three Tuns and Black Lion. He married Winifred Hampton in 1932 so the Villa Tavern was an early home for the couple. Within a few years however they moved to Grange Road at Small Heath. However, it was not the end of their association with the licensed trade. By the start of the Second World War the couple were stewards of the ex-Service Men's Memorial Institute on the Pershore Road at Cotteridge.
John Robbins is the earliest reference I have seen for the Villa Tavern. I think he may have been a key figure within the local Jewish community. Certainly he was running the fully-licensed pub with his wife Eliza by 1849. The couple came and went several times during the mid-19th century, which suggests that they had signed a lease for the pub and either sub-let the property to other people or installed managers to run the place for them. John Robbins was a button stamper and maker by trade and seemed to concentrate on this career path rather than serving beer. It is likely that he sub-let the house but a couple of these publicans failed in the business and this forced John Robbins to take over the licence until he found another couple to run the pub. He was generally close at hand because his workshop was close to the Villa Tavern.
Christopher Cooke is one publican that spent a short period in Villa Street. He was running the Villa Tavern by the end of 1851 and started up a £50 Society on January 12th 1852, a savings scheme that sprang up in the Victorian period and were operated from many public houses.
John Robbins took over the licence again before Joseph Lingard became the publican in the mid-1850s. He divided his time between the pub and working as a brass tube maker. His wife Sarah no doubt kept the Villa Tavern going when he was earning another income grafting in a factory. The couple would later run the Wellington Inn on Bridge Street West.
Following another stint by John Robbins, John Pickering became the licensee in the mid-1860s. It was not a successful time for the publican. He lasted until the Spring of 1868 when the licence was transferred back to John Robbins, the Villa Tavern's boomerang, on May 13th 1868. John Pickering was declared bankrupt in June 1869, following which he and his wife Ellen moved to lodgings at Sutton Place in Lennox Street. He had tried to pick up the pieces by working as a clerk and warehouseman. He lost his wife but recovered his career and subsequently kept a linen drapery on Aston's High Street.
Ownership of the Villa Tavern changed towards the end of 1871. John Robbins, button maker and several times licensee of the public house, retired to Poplar Place in George Street. The above advertisement appeared in the press during November 1871 and it is the first reference I have seen that there was once a brewery to the rear of the Villa Tavern. It would appear that, like the neighbouring Vine Inn, the Villa Tavern was once a homebrew house. The pub itself featured a smoke room, bar and tap room.
William Thrustance was recorded at the Villa Tavern in 1871. He and his wife Emily moved from the Latimer's Arms in Latimer Street so jumped from beer house status to that of a fully licensed house. An extension of Upper Gough Street and close to Saint Thomas's Church, Latimer Street was later called Ridley Street - it is not to be confused with the Latimer Street at Lee Bank which was formerly known as Latimer Street South. Prior to the Latimer's Arms, William and Emily Thrustance had kept the Anchor Inn on Islington Row. Their stay at the Villa Tavern was, however, brief and by 1873 they had moved to the Dolphin on Irving Street. They seemed to enjoy that pub more and remained there for some years. The couple did well for themselves and eventually retired with some wealth to Ferndale Cottage in Shirley.
It would seem that the Villa Tavern was still producing homebrewed ales in the 1870s because George Heeley's son was recorded as a brewer. The Heeley family had previously kept the Navigation Inn at Oxford Street.
As can be seen from the above notice in the Birmingham newspapers, George Henry Edwards was mine host of the Villa Tavern by February 1887. He held regular meetings of the Birthnight Society, a term that has two meanings. The first is that patrons of the pub would gather, and make merry at the expense of the members whose birthday happens to have fallen during the preceding week. They were regarded as very harmonious and convivial evenings. However, I have seen a reference to the same term meaning that a Birthnight Society is "avowedly established upon political grounds and intended for the express purpose of keeping under a regular union among the Conservative party." Judging by the newspaper notice in which George Edwards stated that 'all friends are cordially invited,' it would appear that it was an evening of singing rather than one of political discourse. George Edwards also attempted to launch a Dramatic Club at the Villa Tavern and in January 1890 advertised for new members to come "with a view to stage."
We are getting close to the period when the larger brewery concerns of Birmingham started to buy up public houses in order to develop tied estates in which to retail larger volumes of beer. I do not know the date of purchase but the Villa Tavern was definitely snapped up by Holder's Brewery Ltd.
The Villa Tavern's ownership is recorded in the licence register compiled by the Magistrate's office and this shows a rather unusual pattern for this public house. Generally, a pub is usually purchased by a common brewery in the late 19th century and then ownership changes as the brewery is acquired by a larger rival. So, for example, a Holder's house would typically remain with the Aston-based brewery until they were taken over by Mitchell's and Butler's in 1919 - and this can be seen in the register. The pub would usually remain with the Cape Hill brewery until the licence was extinguished or until the merger of Mitchell's and Butler's with Bass, Radcliff and Gretton Ltd. in 1961. However, this was not the case at the Villa Tavern as the public house was taken over by Joseph Charles Egginton. He was involved with a number of pubs in the Coventry area but during the First World War was residing at the Royal Oak at Dudley Port, a pub that was once also a Holder's house until they were taken over by Mitchell's and Butler's. I suspect that some form of wheeler-dealing or property exchange took place but, in the absence of any documents, this is conjecture on my part. The Villa Tavern was eventually taken over by Atkinson's Brewery Ltd. The Villa Tavern can be seen in the company's livery in the photograph dating from 1933. The pub would sell their beers until 1959 when the company was taken over by Mitchell's and Butler's.
The gracefully-named Henry Heaven was the licensee of the Villa Tavern in the early 1890s. Like many of the previous incumbents he had to earn an income in a local factory whilst his wife kept the pub open during the day. The machinist had married Amy Heath in 1885 and, by the time the couple were running the pub, they had two sons, Harold and Charles. The boys were both born in Smethwick so it would seem that Henry Heaven had moved over the county border in order to find work. This was a blueprint for the family as his father, a blacksmith by trade, had uprooted from Mangotsfield in Gloucestershire, the birthplace of Henry Heaven, in order to ply his skills in Birmingham.
Henry and Amy Heaven committed to the licensed trade, though once again the allure of the Villa Tavern did not induce the couple to stay for any length of time. The couple would later run the White Swan on Victoria Road at a time when the pub was operated by Rushton's Brewery Limited. After working for/with two of Birmingham's large breweries, Henry and Amy Heaven managed to gather the finance to buy their own pub. In a rate book compiled in 1906, Henry Francis Heaven was recorded as owner and publican of the Swan with Two Necks in Lawley Street.
At the beginning of the Edwardian period the factory next to the Villa Tavern was occupied by the Claremont Cycle Manufacturing Co. Ltd., a firm that had previously built cycles in Bishop Street. It was in 1892 that the cycle manufacturer William Russon went into partnership with W. C. Lloyd, the financial backer of the enterprise. Together, they established a cycle factory in Sherbourne Road at Balsall Heath. Rapid growth resulted in them moving to new premises in Bishop Street. In 1896 the Claremont Cycle Company Ltd. was rolling out 150 bicycles per week. The move to Villa Street seems to have been the result of a financial dispute between the partners. William Russon had established the Colossal Cycle Company, again with W. C. Lloyd, but this was broken up and Russon continued independently in Lancaster Street before opening a string of shops trading as "The Main Wheeleries." He was declared bankrupt in 1904. The Villa Street factory of the Claremont Cycle Manufacturing Co. Ltd. was wound up in the early Edwardian period.
In the last years of the 19th century Henry James Melhuish was the publican at the Villa Tavern. He kept the Holder's house with his wife Mary Ann. This couple certainly introduced a different accent to the place as Henry was born in 1857 at Bridgewater in Somerset, whilst Mary Ann hailed from Rhymney in Monmouthshire. The couple had previously kept the Plume of Feathers in Miles Street in the Spring Vale area of Bordesley.
The Villa Tavern appears to have been unoccupied at the time of the 1901 census. Perhaps Holder's Brewery Ltd. were upgrading the property. Certainly, Henry and Mary Ann Melhuish emerged shortly afterwards at The Compasses at High Street Deritend, a tavern also operated by Holder's. Perhaps the brewery relocated the couple whilst work was conducted at the Villa Tavern?
It is satisfying sometimes that, during the research of publicans, one can find part of the story behind people's movements. Looking back on Henry Melhuish, it can seen that he was born at Bridgewater but his father's work on the railways took him to Monmouthshire which almost certainly explains how he met his wife. However, when looking at the family household in a cottage at Llanfrechfa during the early 1870s, one finds his younger brother Seymour. He would later work as a plumber in Taunton where his father had once again moved for the railway company. Meanwhile Henry made his way to Worcester with his young wife before they settled in Birmingham.
At around the same time that Henry and Mary Ann Melhuish were moving their things from the Villa Tavern to The Compasses, younger brother Seymour, along with his wife Leonora Florence Coombs, moved to Kingswinford to briefly manage The Leopard in Summer Street. Perhaps his elder brother suggested life was good at Birmingham, because soon after Seymour and Leonora took over the helm at the Barton's Arms in High Street Aston.
Mary Ann Melhuish died in early 1906. Two years later Henry married again, the ceremony with Elizabeth Ann Dawes taking place in August 1908 at St. Martin's Church. The couple may have installed a live-in manager or servant because they resided at No.39 Golden Hillock Road. However, around the end of the Edwardian period they moved out to Ward End to run Ye Olde Barley Mow. The couple only stayed at Ward End for a few years before they moved again, running the Hare and Hounds on Marsh Hill at Erdington. Henry and Elizabeth clearly liked their new location and remained there until the early 1930s. Elizabeth died in March 1932 by which time Henry had given up the pub game. However, together with his daughter Marion, he was recorded as a wine and spirits merchant at Gravelly Lane. He died at Western Road in March 1944 and left a little nest-egg to Marion who had married Thomas Wright Wilkinson.
Edward and Agnes Glover were running the Villa Tavern at the start of King George V's reign. The son of a baker, Edward Glover was born in Leominster in Herefordshire. As a young man, he lived at the Stour Valley Inn on the corner of Monument Road and Great Tindal Street where he worked as a barman for Caroline Morton. In February 1892 he married Agnes Suckling at Saint Mark's Church. The couple may have spent some time at Wolverhampton because their daughter Hettie was born there in 1894. However, by 1901 they were back in Hockley and running the Great Western Inn on Icknield Street.
Frank Stokes became a 'celebrity' publican of the Villa Tavern by 1913. He had recently hung up his football boots after a distinguished playing career. As a left full back, he started his career with Port Vale, his local team. He moved to Reading for two seasons before joining Birmingham when they were known as Small Heath Alliance. He made his first team debut at Muntz Street on October 12th 1903 in a Charity Cup match. His first league match was versus Blackburn Rovers a week later on October 17th. During his ten years with Birmingham he was reserve to the England full-back and Blackburn Rovers legend Bob Crompton. For his service to the club, the proceeds of a game against Manchester City in October 1909, was a benefit to Frank Stokes. He signed for Worcester City at the start of the 1910-11 season but this was the twilight of his playing days. A serious knee injury put paid to his career by the time he was 30 years-old. When he stopped playing he became a publican but seemed to move around a fair bit before settling down. At the time of the 1911 census he and his wife May were running the Bath Tavern in Brougham Street. Frank Stokes was born in Burslem in The Potteries whilst May hailed from Derby. They had a son named Frank who was born just a few weeks before the census was undertaken. He would train to be a dentist in adult life. The couple would later have two daughters, Marion and Eileen.
After a spell at the Villa Tavern, Frank and May Stokes moved to the Crown and Anchor on Watery Lane. They had moved by the outbreak of World War One. Indeed, not long after they had moved to Bordesley, Frank Stokes got into a lot of trouble when he accused Jacob Freedman of being a German. In fact, Jacob Freedman, a resident of Speedwell Road who had a jeweller's shop in New Street, was Russian by birth but a naturalised citizen. However, such allegations caused a lot of issues for the accused as the public generally reacted in a very poor manner. In some cases, traders would be driven out of business. Jacob Freedman sought legal advice to defend his reputation and Frank Stokes was forced to publicly apologise for his actions in November 1914.
Following the First World War, Frank and May Stokes moved to the Swan Hotel at Coleshill for several years. However, they returned to Birmingham to run the Roebuck on Broad Street for a good number of years. It is hard to keep up with the constant movements of the Stokes family. However, another pub I have found them running in the late 1930s was the Great Western Hotel at Acock's Green.
It was reported that at the beginning of the Second World War Frank Stokes retired to Broadway but when hostilities ceased he took over the Coventry Cross at Kenilworth. Frank and May Stokes finally hung up their bar towels around 1952 and moved to Hill View at Baddesley Clinton near Chadwick End. Frank Stokes died there in 1957 at the age of 76.
Albert Hill was the publican of the Villa Tavern throughout the First World War, following which Albert Price took over behind the servery. I have found a few details about this man - it is an unusual story and I wish I knew more because there is seemingly a lot between the lines. The son of a carter, Albert Price was baptised in June 1881 at Ladywood in 1881, though his parents were living in Rocky Lane at Nechells in Aston. By the start of the Edwardian period the Price family had moved to Byron Road in Small Heath where Albert, at the relatively young age of 21, was documented as a manager in the timber trade.
Albert Price married Maria Stevens in April 1905 and the couple established a home in Byron Road. During the First World War Albert and Maria Price moved to Hockley where they rather curiously took over a grocery shop and off-licence. After more than five years selling beer for consumption off the premises, they moved to the Villa Tavern where they could socialise with their patrons. The couple's stay was however brief with Albert going back to work with wood. Indeed, in 1925 he established his own timber business in Bennett's Hill. Commuting from his home at No.68 Dora Road, Albert Price was industrious and, working with his son Cyril, the enterprise was successful.
Maria Price became very ill in the early 1930s and was confined to bed for several months. She was just getting out-and-about when tragedy struck in 1933 as she died after being involved in an accident in the car driven be her husband. Albert Price told the subsequent inquest that his wife had been very ill for years. He was driving the car when it skidded into a stump on the Digbeth side of Park Street. He told the coroner that he had a Mr. Warren sitting in the front seat with him and in the back of the car were his wife, Mrs. Warren and his daughter. The former publican stated that the near-side rear brake-drum of his car had three times been reached by oil, which caused the wheel to lock at the slightest application of the brake. Since the accident, he added, it had been found that apparently the wheel had locked in this way. He went on to say that, at the time of the accident, he applied his brake, when he was travelling at about 25 miles an hour. The car started to skid and turned broadside. The off-side of the back of the car, where his wife was sitting, struck the post. The two other passengers in the back were thrown against his wife. "If the tram-lines had not been there," continued Albert Price, "I should have got out of the skid." The jury expressed an opinion that Albert Price used due care, and that the cause of the accident was a faulty rear brake.
In the same year  Albert Price moved the timber business to Washwood Heath Road at Ward End. The widower bought a house a little further towards Castle Bromwich and employed a housekeeper and domestic to do the chores. His son Cyril moved into No.53 Douglas Avenue with his wife Margery. The will of Albert Price makes for interesting reading. The success of the business can be gauged by the fact he left an estate of £100,723. However, many eyebrows were raised when the newspapers reported that his secretary was the main beneficiary. She had worked for Albert Price when she left the Aston Commercial School until his death on May 19th 1960. Under the will, Miss Beatrice Rooker of Standlake Avenue in Ward End, was to receive £15,500 on trust for life and a cash sum estimated at £12,000. Albert's son, Cyril, was simply left his father's bureau bookcase. His father had stated that he had made no other bequest to him as he was otherwise well provided for.
During its history, nobody really stuck at it at the Villa Tavern. Publicans came and went - never a great sign for a boozer. Mind you, if the locals didn't particularly like the gaffer at least it wasn't long before another incumbent arrived. This was the case in the 1920s when at least eight different people held the licence of the pub. After a brief spell under the ownership of the aforementioned Joseph Egginton and his wife Annie, Henry Lapidus took over the reins. I imagine that in later years he made strenuous efforts to hide the fact that his middle name was Adolph.
Henry Lapidus was certainly no stranger to pubs. His father Samuel, a former chandelier-maker from Ledbury in Herefordshire, kept a couple of Birmingham boozers with his Worcester-born wife Elizabeth. In 1891 the couple were running the Compasses Inn on Great Francis Street. Henry lived there with his parents whilst working as a brass founder.
Henry Lapidus was still living with his father, a widower, when he was manager of The Crown on Church Road in Aston. Henry had evidently become a skilled worker and was recorded as an art metal worker in the 1911 census.
1911 was a life-changing year for Henry Lapidus. He got married and later made a career change. His friends may have joked that he was having a mid-life crisis! He married Annie Matilda Garraty of Saltley in July 1911 and lived for a short period in Harrison Road before the couple took over at the Queen's Head on Farm Street.
Annie Lapidus was the sister of Billy Garraty, a prolific goalscorer for Aston Villa between 1897 and 1908, a period when the club were regarded as the best in England. In his youth he played for Highfield Villa, Lozells F.C. and Aston Shakespeare before signing for Villa. Billy Garraty won the man-of-the-match award in the 1905 F.A. Cup Final in which Aston Villa beat Newcastle United 2-0. Surprisingly, he only played one game for England and can be seen above in his shirt worn against a game versus Wales in 1903. After a brief spell with Leicester Fosse, he signed for West Bromwich Albion in 1908 scoring 22 goals in 59 games.
Once Billy Garraty's football days were over I believe he worked for Ansell's on the drays before becoming a publican for the brewery. He was manager of Ye Olde Green Man at Erdington. His sister Annie, along with Henry lived above the pub for a while and this is possibly where they decided that a life running a pub was for them.
Henry and Annie Lapidus were running the Queen's Head on Farm Street by 1920. Within a few years they moved the short distance to the Villa Tavern. Their stay in Villa Street was however brief and, by 1925, they moved to the the Aston Tavern on Aston Hall Road They remained at the latter house for over a decade when Henry Lapidus died on Boxing Day in 1935. He left over £1,461 in his will which, in those days, represented a successful working life. His young brother Alfred died a few months later. He too had been a publican and had once been the landlord of the Beggar's Bush Hotel at New Oscott. At the time of his death he was running the Liverpool Arms Hotel at Beaumaris on Anglesey.
Harry and Violet Cox were behind the servery in the mid-1920s. They later took on a shop in Freeth Street but returned to the licensed trade to run the Dolphin Inn on Charles Henry Street. Henry Benjamin Hawthorne moved to the Villa Tavern after a short spell running the Queen's Head in Burbury Street.
Ownership of the Villa Tavern was transferred when Atkinson's Brewery Ltd. were taken over by Mitchell's and Butler's in 1959. The Villa Tavern was possibly deemed surplus to requirements, though this would be strange because the pub offered competition to the nearby Vine Inn which was an Ansell's boozer. Whatever the reasoning, with former munitions worker Stanley Cope as the last licensee, the Villa Tavern closed for trading on February 23rd 1960.
Licensees of this pub
1849 - John Robbins
1853 - Christopher Thomas Cooke
1856 - John Robbins
1857 - Joseph William Lingard
1864 - John Robbins
1867 - John Leonard Pickering
1868 - John Robbins
1871 - William Thrustance
1872 - George Heeley
1872 - James Finch
1876 - William Townsend
1881 - George Heeley
1883 - Richard Seaby
1888 - George Henry Edwardss
1892 - Henry Francis Heaven
1895 - William Fox
1899 - Henry James Melhuish
1905 - Mrs. Alice Fox
1911 - Edward John Arthur Glover
1913 - Frank Stokes
1914 - Albert Edward Hill
1920 - Albert Austin Price
1921 - Joseph Charles Eggington
1923 - Henry A. Lapidus
1925 - Harry Elwen Cox
1926 - Henry Benjamin Hawthorne
1927 - Albert J. Clemmons
1928 - Arthur Willard
1931 - Alfred Henry Ansell
1932 - George Henry Harding
1933 - Edgar John Leeson
1935 - Harry Hill
1937 - Joseph Alfred Smith
1939 - 1952 Ernest Thomas Dickinson
1952 - 1954 Josiah George Herbert Barnes
1954 - 1955 Arthur Edward Hatton
1955 - 1958 John Samuel Baker
1958 - 1958 Lilian Baker
1958 - 1960 Stanley Douglas Cope
Note : this is not a complete list of licensees for this pub.
This map shows the location of the Vine Inn during the early 1950s. Although the pub was listed at No.127, the boozer had been extended into the adjacent property which would have been No.125. The pair of properties can be seen in the map extract below dating from 1889. Here the two separate buildings can be seen - the map extracts show that the outbuildings of the Vine Inn were rebuilt at some stage, possibly new toilet facilities being installed by the brewery. In the Victorian map extract the Fire Brigade Alarm Office can be seen on the opposite side of Villa Street. This was later sub-divided to form Nos. 124 and 124a Villa Street.
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'll post it here.
Related Newspaper Articles
"Yesterday [Friday] afternoon, Mr. Poole, coroner for North Warwickshire, concluded an enquiry commenced on the previous day at
the Villa Tavern, Villa Street, Aston Manor, touching the death of Mr. George Perry, commercial traveller, aged 45, who resided in Wills Street. The deceased, who was
a married man with four children, had represented the firm of Messrs. Wilder, of London, Birmingham and the district, in the wine and spirit trade, for the last seven
years. His employers had every confidence in his integrity, and he seems to have acted with remarkable fidelity towards the firm until a few days ago, when, from some
suspicion entertained, Mr. Wilder came down to Birmingham to investigate Perry's accounts. The deceased saw his employer in Birmingham on Tuesday last, and on
returning home about noon he went upstairs into an attic, without speaking to any one, and presently the servant, who was engaged making the beds, heard the report of
fire-arms. She ran up towards the attic, and there saw her master sitting in an arm chair, enveloped in smoke, and blood issuing from his head and face. It was
found that he had shot himself with small pistol, which he still held in his hand. Mr. Bury, surgeon, was immediately summoned, and remained with the deceased up to
his death, which occurred about half past one the same afternoon. It was found that the ball had entered the soft palate and passed through the roof of the mouth, near
the nostril, into the brain. Mr. Wilder having been telegraphed for from London, attended the adjourned inquest, and showed the state of the deceased's accounts with
the firm. He also spoke in high terms of the deceased's business settlements prior to this sad event. During the last fortnight the unfortunate man had been in a
very excited state from having become involved in pecuniary difficulties. The jury returned a verdict of "suicide in a state of temporary insanity."
"Shocking Suicide at Aston Manor"
Aris's Birmingham Gazette : June 8th 1861 Page 5
"The Child probably woke up and found the place on fire. He must have got out of the bed and tried to get out of the room. That is the only
way one can explain the burns on his face and thighs. Being unsuccessful, he crept back to bed again and wrapped himself up in the bedclothes, where he was found by Miss
Bayliss" "This statement was made by the Birmingham Coroner [Dr. W. H. Davison] when he recorded a verdict of "Accidental Death" at yesterday's
inquest on Stanley G. Smith, aged five, who was rescued from a fire by Sylvia Bayliss, 23-year-old barmaid at the Acorn Inn, Garrison Lane, Birmingham, but was
dead on arrival at the General Hospital. "She entered the room in a very brave way, and I accord her the highest praise for entering that blazing room and searching
round in the smoke," said the Coroner. "Had he been a healthy, normal boy she would undoubtedly have been rewarded for her bravery by saving the life of this
little fellow." Miss Bayliss, replying to the Coroner, stated that she rushed upstairs behind Mrs. Berry, wife of the licensee, as soon as the shout of
"Fire!" was heard from Mr. Berry. Mrs. Berry went into the room first, but came out saying that she could not find the boy. The Coroner: She was only
there a few moments, and you were not satisfied? Miss Bayliss: No. And did you rush in because you felt that the child was still there? - "Yes."
"I made for the bed first," Miss Bayliss added "and found the child at the bottom of the bed with all the bedclothes over him. I pulled him out and carried
him downstairs. He was unconscious, and seemed to be dead." The Coroner: Was he burned? - "About the face and thighs." Was there any fire near
the bed clothes? - "No, it was round the fireplace and windows." Joseph Alfred Smith, the boy's father, said he had been licensee of the Villa
Tavern, Villa Street, Lozells, until last Wednesday, when he moved to a private house at 52 Dixon Road, Small Heath. The boy was staying with his aunt at the Acorn Inn,
on Monday [the day of the tragedy] because the furniture at his own house was being moved. "He was ill last June with an abscess in the glands," the father
continued, "and was in Dudley Road Hospital for 27 weeks. On leaving hospital we were informed that the least excitement would cause a relapse, as his heart was left
in a very weak state." Alphonso Berry, licensee of the Acorn Inn, said that he discovered the fire soon after midnight, when, on going into the bar to check the till,
he heard a crackling noise. He looked up and, in the corner where he knew the fireplace to be in the room above, he saw a burning patch with smoke coming through. He went
upstairs, an on opening the door of the room found it full of smoke. The Coroner: Did the fact that the fire was there make you think there was anyone in the room?
Mr. Berry: No, I didn't realise that. Having seen the fire where did you go? - "Into another room, to get the money out of the house." And let
your wife to attend to the fire? - "Yes." What happened after that? - "When I returned the wife and the girl had got the child out of the
room. There was some linoleum on the floor which protruded underneath the kerb round the fireplace." Wasn't that rather dangerous? - "Yes." I
suppose there is no doubt in your mind that this fire started round the fireplace, in all probability through a coal falling and catching the linoleum? -
"No." Replying to a representative of Ansell's Brewery, Mr. Berry said that he and his wife had been living and sleeping in the room for three weeks, and he
had no idea that the child was there on that particular night. Dr. Leedham-Green, of the General Hospital, said the child's thymus gland weighed 50 grams, whereas
in a normal child it should reach a maximum weight of 26 grams at the age of two years. Such a condition made the child liable to sudden death from trivial injuries,
shock, or excitement. A normal child would not have died from the burns which he had received. A Fire Brigade officer said he felt certain that the fire was started by a
live coal igniting the linoleum inside the fireplace. "If the person who fitted that kerb had thought about it," the Coroner commented, "he would have seen the
danger in having a fire with this linoleum projecting into the hearth." Asked who fitted the linoleum, Mr. Berry said that it was done by the brewery company."
"Two Midland Stories of Fire Heroism"
Birmingham Daily Gazette : March 13th 1937 Page 9