Some history of The Four Crosses Inn at Bishop's Offley in Adbaston in the County of Staffordshire


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The Four Crosses Inn was generally listed under Bishop's Offley but technically it was a little further north at Offleybrook. The hamlet was partly in Adbaston and partly in Eccleshall. The premises was on the edge of the parish boundary formed by the River Sow. The building, latterly known as Brook House, still stands and offers bed and breakfast accommodation.

Adbaston : Map extract showing the location of the Four Crosses Inn at Offleybrook [1901]

The hamlet of Offleybrook, or Offley Brook in some records, was centred around the corn mill which generated a certain degree of traffic. Though not on a major road, weary travellers making their way from Eccleshall to Cheswardine would call in for refreshments at the Four Crosses Inn. Those in need of running repairs could seek the services of the blacksmith operating next to the Four Crosses Inn and fronting the road junction.

Replacing an older structure, the mill is thought to date from the mid-18th century. It was one of several mills constructed along the course of the River Sow, a tributary of the River Trent. The miller's house was erected in the 1780s by William Heath. Most watermills are now defunct so it is pleasing to see that this example is still in operation. The Howell family have owned and operated the mill since 1943. I believe that a key part of the business is producing chapatti flour. The mill pond provides a valuable wildlife habitat and supports a variety of birds and flora.

Adbaston : Four Crosses Inn at Offleybrook [c.1910]

Captured around the end of the Edwardian period, this image shows the Four Crosses road junction. The former Four Crosses Inn is the white building across the road junction. The smithy can be seen on the crossroads, the river flowing between this and the former tavern. The smithy has long since been demolished. To the left of the photograph is another surviving structure and is known as Greatwood Cottage. This building is thought to date from the 18th century. The Four Crosses Inn is said to be older and the main core of the building may date from the 17th century. The steep pitch of the older section of the house could have been thatched at one time.

Offleybrook : Notice for a sale of farming stock and furniture at the Four Crosses Inn [1821]

Thomas Jackson was the innkeeper at the Four Crosses in the early 19th century. The above notice for a sale of farming stock and furniture was enforced as he had been declared bankrupt. Somehow he managed to survive this financial disaster as he was recorded at the house in later years. Perhaps patrons had to bring their own stool or sit on the floor until the publican got himself back on a stable financial footing. In White's History, Gazetteer and Directory for Staffordshire published in 1834 Thomas Jackson was documented as a victualler and maltster. In the latter part of the business he may have worked in conjunction with the miller. It could be that this Thomas Jackson was the son of Thomas Jackson, the latter being described as a gentleman in October 1813 when news of the wedding of his youngest daughter, Caroline, was published in the Staffordshire Advertiser. She tied the knot with an Eccleshall bookseller named John Goodall.

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At the time of the 1851 census the master shoemaker Thomas Poole kept the pub with his wife Elizabeth. There were a number of shoemakers plying their skills in the parish so there was possibly a temptation to change the sign to that of The Crispin. Thomas Poole was 68 years-old when the enumerator called in to fill in the cenus forms, without trying to spill his beer on the pages! His entry shows that Thomas Poole's wife was six years his senior.

It was in January 1866 that the Four Crosses Inn became known throughout the land as the tavern was central to a terrible crime that ended in the murder of John Poole for which the perpetrator went to the gallows at Stafford.

Croxton : Photograph of John Poole [c.1860s]

The murdered man, John Poole, sometimes recorded as Pool, was a 49-year-old excavator and navvy from nearby Croxton. Described as being in the prime of life, John Poole was a strong man, of good repute, and much respected. It was reported that he was a man of a roving disposition, and thinking he could do better in the far West, that land of promise to the poor, emigrated to America in the 1850s. There he remained for several years, and having saved some money, returned to England where he went to reside with his father and sister at Croxton. As a navvy he occasionally travelled to different parts of the country to work on various construction projects, between which he invariably made his way home. A popular local character, he was dubbed "American Jack" on account of his travelling to the United States. When not working, John Poole had a partiality for showy attire and dressed rather flamboyantly. He was particularly fond of a red plush waistcoat, embossed with black braided flowers and studded with white pearl buttons. He wore this garment for an early photograph, he having enough disposable income to pay for what was a relatively new medium. The photograph may have been taken during his time in America.

Having returned home after working on a railway being constructed in North Staffordshire, "American Jack" decided to enjoy a relaxing day and walked to the Four Crosses Inn wearing his favoured apparel that he usually reserved for holiday occasions. On Monday January 6th he left his father's house about nine o'clock in the morning wearing a nearly-new pair of strong waterproof lace-up boots. He was next seen by William Birch, a tailor, at between one and two o'clock, and was then still wearing the plush waistcoat, which Birch had made some years before. Poole was next seen at two o'clock, at the Four Crosses Inn. Familiar to the family running the establishment, he went into the kitchen and sat down to enjoy some ale.

It was not too long afterwards that George Bentley, a "a miserable, half-starved-looking wayfarer, tramping from his native Eccleshall, apparently to a situation in the country, came to the public-house door, and begged of the landlady, Jane Turner, to give him a drop of beer." She said she had no "common beer," and refused to serve him. He was walking reluctantly away, when the rough navvy, his kindly heart touched, as it often was, with a generous impulse, hailed him, invited him into the kitchen, and calling for a fresh supply of ale, "treated" him to a drink. During their conversation it transpired that they had been casually acquainted years before, both being natives of the locality. On this discovery another jug of ale was ordered, which Poole paid for, as he had the former round, out of a brown canvas bag, which he took from an inside pocket of his waistcoat in which he was accustomed to keep his money. The bag contained a number of half-crowns and florins, and the sight of the money would appear to have aroused Bentley's cupidity, and incited him to commit the murder.

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In the course of conversation John Poole told Bentley that he had made £6 out of his last job, along with the new pair of boots he was wearing. Bentley said he had work to go to at Crewe. More ale having been disposed of, at four o'clock in the afternoon John Poole left the Four Crosses Inn but, before heading up the road, called at the blacksmith's shop next door, possibly for a quick chat with the occupier Richard Dodd. He then went right at the crossroads, taking the road towards Walk Mill, in the direction of a house where an acquaintance named Hitchens resided. His way home would have been by another of the cross-roads. It was probably because of this that soon afterwards George Bentley, wearing a slop, moleskin trousers, and a red handkerchief, with white spots in the middle and a white stripe at the outside, came to ask Dodd, who could from his smithy see all who passed down the four roads, which road old Jack had taken. The blacksmith indicated the way Poole had gone, and Bentley went in the same direction at some pace. The blacksmith later observed that John Poole was slightly the worse for liquor, while Bentley was quite sober.

In the following morning a little boy named Thomas Hocknell went into Walk Mill Lane, to look for a pocket knife he had lost the previous day. It was scarcely light, and by a clump of firs he found his knife, and stumbled over the bleeding body of John Poole, with his head on the bank-side, and his feet in the road. The boy was scared and dare not pass the body, but ran across the fields and told his parents of what he had seen. The night had been wild and dismal, and drizzle of rain, snow and sleet had been falling from the time the unfortunate man had received the fatal blows, which eventually deprived him of existence; but though unconscious, or at any rate unable to call for assistance, his pain must have been acute, for one foot had worn a hole in the surface of the ground by continual motion, as he drew up and down in his agony. His boots had been taken off his feet, his gaudy waistcoat cut from his body, and one of his trousers pockets half torn out. His hat was off, and the weapon with which the murder had been accomplished lay by his side, with a red handkerchief, having white spotted centre, a white border, containing a stone weighing 21bs. l0ozs., tied sling-fashion in the corner. It was the same handkerchief George Bentley had been wearing round his neck at 4 o'clock the previous day, within a few minutes of the commission of the crime.

John Poole being still alive was removed from a spot near "The Coppy" on the road to Walk Mill by Richard Dodd to an empty house near the Four Crosses Inn. Questions were later asked why he was not taken to the Four Crosses Inn, where more comfort might have been procured. Dr. Swift, of Eccleshall, was sent for, who found the sufferer still in a state of insensibility. There were four wounds on the head, one a frightfully contused wound, the blow having literally crushed - or as the doctor put it - "smashed" the bone to the brain. The other wounds were comparatively unimportant, this being the fatal one. Stimulants were used to restore consciousness, but were of no avail, and on Wednesday morning, as a last resource, the operation of trepanning was resorted to for the purpose of raising the depressed bones from the brain, but without success, and Poole expired at five o'clock on the evening of the same day. The wound which had caused his death, Dr. Swift was of the opinion, had been occasioned by some blunt instrument, such as the stone which had been discovered in Bentley's handkerchief.

On the Monday night, the same night on which the murder was committed, George Bentley was seen around Eccleshall with plenty of money in his possession and treating people to a drink in the public-houses. He finally went into the Royal Oak, where getting into a disturbance, an ex-police sergeant named Robinson was called in, and recognising Bentley as an army deserter, arrested him on that charge. He was missing from the 17th Regiment of Foot. When apprehended he was wearing new slop and a new handkerchief. On Thursday morning, when the outrage on Poole had been discovered, the prisoner was searched, and a purse containing 19s. 6d., chiefly in half-crowns and florins, was discovered on his person, He was also found to be wearing the boots and the much-prized waistcoat of the murdered man, which had marks of fresh blood upon it. He said he had bought the waistcoat in Yorkshire, and the blood had got upon it during a row at Shrewsbury. The waistcoat had been cut down the sides, showing that it was taken from the body without removing the jacket which was worn over it. Two knives were found in his pockets, and one of them it was proved, belonged to the deceased.

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On the following Tuesday the prisoner's old slop was discovered in a brook, not far from the scene of the crime, by a young lad named Thomas Johnson. On the following Thursday the same boy found the prisoner's old boots in the hedge near Offley Brook. At his trial it was proved that George Bentley had purchased on the Monday night a new slop and a red handkerchief with part of the booty he had taken from his victim. In due course, therefore, Bentley was arraigned and tried at the Stafford Assizes for the murder of John Poole, and Mr. Justice Montagu Smith, before whom the case was tried, requested Mr. Motteram to conduct the prisoner's case. Mr. Motteram suggested that the deceased might have met his death in a fair stand-up fight with the deceased, and made a powerful appeal to the jury, but in a few minutes they found a verdict of guilty against the prisoner. His Lordship. in passing sentence of death. characterised the crime as a "foul and dreadful crime." The prisoner, he remarked, "for the sake of paltry gain, had cruelly murdered the man who had befriended him." In conclusion his Lordship implored him to make his peace with God whom he had so greatly offended, as no hope of mercy could be held out to him. The prisoner received his sentence in a calm and composed manner and, following his condemnation, maintained the same sullen demeanour which characterised him throughout his trial. In fact, for a long time previous to his trial he seemed to imagine that his desertion from his regiment was a greater crime than the murder.

George Bentley, who subsequently confessed his crime to a chaplain, was publicly executed on Tuesday morning, 27th March 1866, soon after 8 o'clock, in front of the county prison at Stafford. The procession began to move from the condemned cell precisely at eight o'clock. By the day of his death, the murderer appeared to be very penitent. Two thousand people were present for the hanging, their conduct being orderly. The executioner was a man named Smith, a 60-year-old cattle dealer, of Dudley. A man of powerful build, he had for several years filled the office of hangman at Stafford.

The couple running the Four Crosses Inn when this heinous crime was committed were James and Jane Turner. He was a blacksmith by trade and possibly operated the adjacent smithy as the census of 1861 does not show another blacksmith in this location. The previous entry show a higgler by the name of Joseph Helton, whilst the entry after the tavern is that of the shoemaker William Boulton.

James and Jane Turner would later run New Mill Farm at Cheddleton. The shoemaker James Warrilow was licensee by 1881. He kept the Four Crosses Inn with his wife Mary Ann. The couple had previously lived at Offley Rock. Moses Barlow would later become publican after marrying this couple's daughter.

The licence of the Cross Keys Inn was not renewed in the summer of 1909.

Licensees of the Four Crosses

1821 - Thomas Jackson
1851 - Thomas Poole
1866 - James Turner
1896 - James Warrilow
1904 - Moses George Barlow
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.

Related Newspaper Articles

"George Barlow, landlord of Four Crosses Inn, Bishop's Offley, was charged with permitting gambling on the 4th April with games of skittles for a gun, jerseys, and fowls. Defendant pleaded guilty. He was further charged with permitting drunkenness at the same time and place. Mr. Burke defended, and Mr. Breaton prosecuted. Frank Furber said was the inn on Easter Monday. He saw Elias Hitchen there. He was very drunk, and fell down in the bar. Witness afterwards found him in Henry Marsden's stable, near a horse. He got him away, and put him in another stall. Mary Ann Holland of Walk Mill; Elizabeth Hogan, Bishop's Offley, and Elizabeth Marsden gave corroborative evidence. Mr. Burke called Arthur Key, Thomas Foster, Elizabeth Woodcock, who all swore that Hitchen was not drunk. The Bench dismissed the case; but for permitting gaming defendant was fined £1 and £1 11s. costs."
Wellington Journal : April 30th 1904 Page 11

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