Some history of the Oak Inn at Oswestry in the county of Shropshire.
Facing the parish church of Saint Oswald, the Oak Inn stands of the eastern side of Church Street. The building is thought to date from the early 18th century. The tavern certainly had a feel of antiquity when we enjoyed a few beers one evening in the bar. It is a very nice traditional house that is listed in CAMRA's "Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors." The entry for the Oak Inn states that it is an early 19th century building. However, it looks a tadge older to me. I would hazard that it is late 18th century. The inventory also states that the "pub had a significant refurbishment in the 1950s and is barely changed since." I hope it stays that way as few public-house interiors are spared some trendy refurbishment these days.
The Oak Inn can be seen in the foreground on the right-hand side of this image dating from the mid-1970s. The building is a few doors from the Wynnstay Arms Hotel. A sign for Worthington E can be seen projecting from the frontage. Thankfully, when we patronised the pub in 2017 it was a free house selling Bass and three guest ales. For many years in the mid-20th century the Oak Inn, as part of the tied estate of Worthington & Co. Ltd., sold Worthington Bitter and Wrexham Lager. The company operated a number of outlets in Shrewsbury but not so many in this part of the county.
In the early 19th century the tavern went by the name of the Royal Oak Inn. The Royal element seems to have been eschewed by the mid-Victorian years. John Stevens was recorded as the victualler in charge of the house in Pigot's Directory of 1828-9. He had married Mary Davies at Selattyn in August 1814. Following his death in December 1831, widow Mary Stevens became the landlady, living on the premises with her brother and elderly mother. John Davies was recorded as a farmer and a newspaper article dated 1889 indicates that some farmland was attached to the Oak Inn. In these times the Albion Inn traded between the Oak Inn and the Wynnstay Arms Hotel.
New Marton-born Edwin Brown kept the pub for much of the late Victorian period. He followed in his father's footsteps by working in agriculture so the land he farmed along with running a pub no doubt suited him. He was a widower by 1880 but was helped by his sons. His daughter Mary was instrumental in keeping the Oak Inn ticking over nicely. She was the main beneficiary following the death of her father in April 1900 and also became the landlady of the Oak Inn. Her brother Edwin lived on the premises whilst working as a butcher. Also resident of the tavern was Donald Davies who produced the homebrewed ales sold at the Oak Inn.
I believe Mary Brown married in 1903 to the Shifnal-born coal merchant William Martin. They took up residence at Normanhurst in Queen's Road, a fine residence in which the former landlady hired a servant to undertake the house chores. The couple had one son named Oswald, possibly because Mary Brown had looked across to the parish church for the first three and a half decades of her life.
Mary Brown's brother Thomas succeeded her as licensee of the Oak Inn, thus maintaining the long spell the house was in the same family. However, he was declared bankrupt in September 1906. In the following month at the Wrexham Bankruptcy Court when his finances were examined it was found that the publican's liabilities were £1,569, and his assets were £140. His causes of failure, he alleged, was "short of capital, bad trade, and pressure by creditors."
Thomas Brown told the bankruptcy court that he formerly kept the Boot Inn at Church Gresley, near Burton-on-Trent, which he left in 1896 because the brewers who owned the house trebled his rent. He then traded as a butcher in the same village. In 1902 he bought the Oak Inn by public auction for £2,600. He told the court that the Oak Inn had formerly belonged to his father, and he had willed it to his sister. It was reported that there was a small brewery attached, and he brewed his own beer. He had no previous experience of brewing, but had a man to assist him. He raised £2,000 on mortgage, his sister gave him £200, and he borrowed the remainder. He told the court that the Oak Inn was offered by auction in July 1906, but there was no bid. The advertisement for this failed auction provides a good description of the premises in the mid-Edwardian period .....
At the time of the court case the property was valued at £1,600, meaning that Thomas Brown had lost £1,000 on the transaction. He thought that it cost him 24s. for every barrel he brewed. He owed £436 for money lent. Thomas Brown denied having made a practice of betting, stating that "he had only had two or three bets in his life, and then he only risked a few shillings." Asked as to claim of £7. 10s. by an Oswestry bookmaker. he said "the money was the balance of loan of £20 which he borrowed to pay some debts.
The below image is taken from a trade postcard commissioned by the licensee of the Oak Inn not long after he had taken over the pub following the failure of Thomas Brown. The new incumbent was Richard Corley who kept the Oak Inn with his wife Rose. It is almost certain that Richard Corley is the man stood on the threshold of the premises.
Richard Corley had married Rose Rubie at Woolwich in 1904, suggesting a back story somewhere. Richard Corley had been in trouble as a teenager growing up in Oswestry. He and his friend Charles Davies were arrested in 1892 on a charge of stealing ducks from the yard of the Barley Mow. There was insufficient evidence against Richard Corley but his friend was sentenced to twelves strokes of the birch rod at the hands of a constable. This behaviour must have been somewhat embarrasing for his father who held the post of station master at the railway.
The above notice for the lease of the Oak Inn shows that Richard and Rose Corley were tenants of the house, though the advert shows the house was free-of-brewery-tie. Indeed, the photograph shows that Home Brewed Ales were still being advertised in the window.
Despite his colourful past, Richard Corley was deemed fit to hold a licence of the Oak Inn by the magistrates. I am not sure of the date that he took over the licence of the Oak Inn but the sale notice suggests that it is post-May 1908. Certainly, Richard Corley and his wife Rose, a former dressmaker from Charlton, were living in Dulwich in 1907 when their daughter Victoria was born. Rose Corley was pregnant when moving north as her first son was born in Oswestry in 1908. Whilst running the Oak Inn the couple had many more children, though a couple of them suffered from infant mortality.
Richard and Rose Corley would later run the Bell Inn further along Church Street. The couple would later move to No.3 Lower Brook Street from where Richard Corley worked as a night watchman. It was in the winter of 1940 that he died when travelling to work. On December 2nd it was reported that the former licensee died suddenly at the age of 61. Shortly after ten o'clock he was walking to his duties as a night watchman at Llanforda when a motorist gave him a lift. Whilst they were talking about German aeroplanes Richard Corley collapsed and died almost immediately.
Marjory Corley, daughter of Richard and Rose, was a confectioner at No.1 Lower Brook Street during the 1930s. Her brother Ernest was a Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery during the Second World War in which he was a prisoner-of-war in a Japanese camp. I am relieved to report that he survived the war, was later promoted to Captain, and lived until February 2007.
Joseph and Margaret Kerr kept the Oak Inn during World War Two. They enjoyed some success at the pub, later moving to No.12 Park Drive, north of the town, off the road to Selattyn.
"An inquest was held on Thursday last, at the Oak Inn, before Mr. Hales, coroner, and a jury of whom Mr. John Jones, hatter, foreman, on
the body of a child five years-old, named Hannah Davies, who died under the following circumstances. It appeared from the evidence of the father, that the child
and a younger sister, were undressed and put into bed on Tuesday evening, at about eight o'clock, and shortly afterwards, the father was alarmed by loud shrieks
from the bedroom. He went upstairs and found the eldest girl in flames. Some of the neighbours came in, and the proper remedies were applied, but on Wednesday, the
child was worse, and Mr. Blaikie was sent for. The child died on Wednesday evening. No clue could be obtained to the manner in which the poor creature's
night-dress took fire, further than a supposition that she must have got possession of lucifer match. The younger child, about three years-old, said her sister
struck a match, and the father stated that there were some matches in the pocket of a waistcoat hanging in the room, within the child's reach. The jury brought
in a verdict, in accordance with the evidence."
Oswestry Advertiser : June 15th 1859 Page 3
"A lodge of the Order of Druids Friendly Society was opened on Monday last at the house of Mr E. Brown, Oak Inn, Church Street, under a
dispensation granted by the Board of Management of the Order, which is now stationed at Hull. A most excellent dinner was provided by the worthy host for the occasion.
Justice having been done to the superabundant supply of good things, the officers of the Wirral [Birkenhead] District proceeded to open the lodge; and
judging from the number of young men who enrolled themselves as members, and from the fact that the lodge will form part of a very prosperous district, its prospects
must be considered good. There are at the present time over 1,200 members in the district, and it has a Funeral and Widow and Orphans' Fund worth nearly
£1,000, each lodge in the district keeping its own sick fund."
"The Order of Druids"
Oswestry Advertiser : March 7th 1866 Page 4
"Early yesterday morning, as some men were proceeding to their work, near the Shelf Bank, they found that a haystack of about 20 tons,
belonging to Mr. Edwin Brown of the Oak Inn, Church Street, was on fire, on the Oak Farm, which adjoins Cabin Lane. An alarm was raised, and Mr. Brown informed of
the occurrence, and he, accompanied by his sons, at once proceeded to the fire. Meanwhile the Fire Brigade had been called out, and under the command Lieut. F. G.
Jones, from the Surveyor's office, they went to the scene of action, and at once directed their efforts to save the stock. The fire had got good hold, and only
about four tons were saved that will be of any use. The origin of the fire was spontaneous combustion. The damage is estimated at £60. Sergeant Elcock was
present and rendered efficient help."
"Farm Fire near Oswestry"
Oswestry Advertiser : August 14th 1889 Page 8