Some history of the Haberdashers' Arms at Knighton in Adbaston in the County of Staffordshire


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Many moons ago taverns like the Haberdashers' Arms permeated throughout rural Britain. Indeed, many such houses survived until the 1970s. Sadly, amendments to legislation, combined with economic and cultural change has seen a sharp decline in the number of traditional taverns sans provender in which good ale and conviviality pervades amid an interior environment where modernisation has been eschewed and time-honoured traditions have been upheld. Inevitably, this creates a dichotomy in the modern world in which homogenised consumers are dissuaded from venturing into what some regard as a museum piece, the effect being a negative effect on takings. As a result, the Haberdashers' Arms closed down in the mid-1990s. But ..... through the efforts of local campaigners the pub was re-opened within a year.

Knighton : Haberdashers' Arms [2014]

I took this photograph on one of the occasions we have ventured out to the Staffs-Salop borderlands on our bikes. We rolled into Knighton on a Saturday afternoon in the spring of 2014 and, whilst we were in our version of pub heaven, only one other patron called in for a drink during our stay. This made me fear for the future of the pub but, as I type here in 2022, the Haberdashers' Arms is hanging in there, not least because of the efforts of those running the place who offer some quirky events, some regular and others annually. I will come back to the campaign to save the pub but, first of all, I will have a look back on a little bit of history.

Knighton : Map extract showing the location of theHaberdashers' Arms [2014]

Before starting on this page I noted that the What Pub? website stated that "The pub was built in 1840 by the London-based Worshipful Company of Haberdashers when they bought the estate. It had previously been owned by William Adams founder of Adams Grammar School Newport." This needs unpacking a little as it is rather ambiguous. Firstly, if this statement is accurate and the building was erected in 1840 then it replaced an earlier tavern. However, the old place was known as the Bull's Head. The name of the pub was changed in the mid-1850s. Indeed, and it is speculation on my part, I wondered if the new name was applied to a new build? It would be interesting to see the documents for this property.

Born in nearby Newport in 1585, William Adams made a fortune in the haberdashery trade in London but seemingly never forgot his roots and he built almshouses in his hometown and set up several charities, along with establishing a free grammar school. He also acquired the township of Knighton, including the lordship of the manor. His wealth also bought power and influence. According to Tim Cockin's "Encyclopaedia of Staffordshire" he provided funds for King Charles II. Accordingly, an Act of Parliament was passed in 1660 in which the charity for the maintenance and governance of his gifts was established. By this act, Knighton manor and Knighton Woods, along with the land on which the grammar school stood, was exempt from the payment of all taxes. As a result anybody living on the charity lands was exempt from tax, an arrangement that lasted until the Community Charge and Council Tax was introduced towards the end of the 20th century.

It was near the end of his life that William Adams, in 1656, gave certain lands in Knighton manor, together with the lordship of the manor to the Haberdashers' Company. Indeed, the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers, one of the Great Twelve City Livery Companies, has gradually moved away from its medieval roots and connections with the trade of haberdashery and has evolved into a significant supporter of schools and education.

The Bull's Head was built on charity land which made it a rather unique hostelry in many respects. Occupiers of the tavern would pay rent to the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers but they did not have to pay taxes, though I cannot imagine this arrangement extended to the duty on alcohol.

The Hayward family were in charge of the Bull's Head for much of the mid-19th century. White's History, Gazetteer and Directory of Staffordshire published in 1834 lists Joseph Hayward as blacksmith, parish clerk, overseer and a beer house keeper. The latter is significant because, as a beer house the property could only have been licensed following new legislation in 1830. Property details were included in the Commissioners of Inquiry report which set forth the state of the buildings on charity land. In April 1856 the building was described as "a public-house called the Haberdashers' Arms that was formerly a cottage and shop let to the Hayward family, and a blacksmith's shop, and 9a. 2r. 23p. land, let to Joseph Hayward as a yearly tenant." This is the earliest reference I have seen of the tavern being called the Haberdashers' Arms. In the census conducted five years earlier, it was listed as the Bull's Head.

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The Bull's Head was trading by 1832 as a notice for an auction of growing wheat was featured in the Staffordshire Advertiser, the sale being held at the Bull's Head on August 7th of that year. An Adbaston/Knighton Facebook page states that the landlord of the Bull's Head was Mr. Arkinstall when the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal was being excavated. However, although Thomas Arkinstall may have lived in the old premises, he was only described as a farmer when declared bankrupt towards the end of 1830.

William Dargan painted by Stephen Catterson Smith the younger [1862]

The remarkable narrative of the Arkinstall family of Knighton is the connection with the development of the Irish economy in the 19th century. Thomas Arkinstall's daughter, Jane, married the engineer William Dargan during his spell working on the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal, an inland waterway for which the Knighton Reservoir was excavated. William Dargan went on to enjoy an extraordinary career in which he became dubbed "The Father of Irish Railways." I particularly like the fact that his Irish patriotism meant that he refused the offer of a knighthood by the British Viceroy in Ireland. Queen Victoria even visited Dargan at his home in August 1853 and offered him a baronetcy. He sent her packing. Although he amassed quite a fortune, he lost much of his wealth with ill-fated business enterprises. He was close to financial ruin when he died from injuries sustained when falling from his horse during 1866. The engineer and philanthropist died in the following year.

I have not seen any record that Thomas Arkinstall kept the Bull's Head which, based on other evidence, was not in existence prior to the bankruptcy of the farmer. Joseph Hayward was certainly running the Bull's Head in 1834. Born locally, he was baptised in the parish church of Saint Michael and All Angels' in October 1786. He would be married in the same church when he married Darmaris Icke on May 12th 1822. By the time of the first detailed census in 1841 the couple had four children living on the premises, along with the publican's mother Ann Hayward. A man with a busy workload, in the census of 1851 Joseph was recorded as a victualler, farmer of ten acres and a blacksmith. By this period he was able to employ farm labourers to help on the agricultural side of the business. As a widower, he was still in charge of the Haberdashers' Arms in his mid-80s, though he was helped by his daughters Elizabeth and Johanna. The family also hired a general servant.

Hard work seemingly did not stop Joseph Hayward enjoying a long life. The publican died at the age of 92 during November 1878. The licence of the Haberdashers' Arms was transferred to Edward Worrall at the sessions of March 1879. He had married Johanna Hayward, the publican's daughter, three years earlier in June 1876. He was publican and wheelwright across the county border in Great Soudley. Indeed, at this time the Worrall family kept both the Wheatsheaf Inn and the Robin Hood Inn at Great Soudley. Edward Worrall would return to his home village where he concentrated his efforts as a wheelwright.

William Swinnerton was licensee in 1880. It did not take long for him to be admonished by the justices. At the Eccleshall Petty Sessions held in August 1871 the Magistrates "expressed their feelings as to the quietness and good conduct of the public and beer houses in the Eccleshall Licensing District, and the Chairman hoped that publicans would continue to conduct their houses in a proper manner." There was, however, one exception. A complaint had been made against William Swinnerton of the Haberdashers' Arms and this dismayed the Bench. The Magistrates cautioned the publican and warned him about his future conduct.

William Swinnerton had earlier worked with his uncle at the nearby blacksmith's shop and he continued in this trade whilst running the Haberdashers' Arms with his wife Elizabeth. She was a member of the Talbott clan and members of this family also moved into the pub whilst working in the smithy.

Following the death of William Swinnerton in May 1884, Elizabeth married James Dodd during the following year. A level of sobriety was introduced to the Haberdashers' Arms when it was kept by this couple during the late 1880s. For example, in January 1889 the Hawkstone Friendly Society of Oddfellows' held their anniversary at the tavern before an annual tea meeting at Market Drayton Baptist Chapel. Later in that year members of the "Flower of the Heath" Lodge Friendly Society, No. 1670, held their anniversary on July 23rd at the Haberdashers' Arms. Tickets for the dinner cost 2s. 6d. per person, after which there was a tea party and dance.

Born in Adbaston in 1857, James Dodd was the son of a wheelwright but worked as a farmer and butcher whilst running the Haberdashers' Arms with his wife. His niece Ada Talbot helped with general duties around the house. She married Richard Weate and remained in the household from where her husband also worked as a butcher. I imagine therefore that one of the buildings to the rear of the Haberdashers' Arms was used as a slaughter house.

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Richard and Ada Weate had five children living on the premises by the time of the 1901 census. However, there was a big family falling-out during the mid-Edwardian period in which the family had to leave the Haberdashers' Arms. Things got rather ugly, resulting in a court case in which James Dodd sued Richard Weate for £40, including a colt. Weate counter-sued the publican for the value of goods left on the premises during their hasty departure. The judge found in favour of both parties, though the amount to be paid by Richard Weate was to be reduced on return of the colt.

In the 1930s, and during the Second World War, the licensee of the Haberdashers' Arms was Ernest Clowes who had specialised as a poultry farmer, though he did also auction dairy cows when he left the pub in 1945. One of the men working for him was found guilty of causing an accident in 1933. Driving a lorry and trailer one evening in failing light, he had pulled up opposite Walton Hall Farm to make a delivery. He disconnected the lorry and trailer and left the latter standing on the highway while he drove the lorry down into the farmyard. His mistake was not displaying a light on the trailer and Bernard Clews, a plumber living at Stafford, came along the road on his motorcycle. Without a light he did not see the trailer in the dark and crashed into it. He brought a case to court and was awarded £70 in damages. The reason for the lorry rather than tractor was that Ernest Clowes was a heavy haulage contractor. It was his wife Fanny who managed the Haberdashers' Arms when he was on the road. They had a daughter named Audrey who also helped around the house.

Landlady of the Haberdashers' Arms [1979]

Fast forward to the 1970s .... this photograph hangs inside the Haberdashers' Arms. On my visits to this tavern there wasn't anybody who could tell me the name of this woman. She is behind the servery and the calendar on the wall reveals that the photograph was taken in June 1979. I think it may be Mrs. Parker. If any resident of Knighton or Adbaston can enlighten me I would be grateful.

Knighton : Tap Room of the Haberdashers' Arms [2014]

The Haberdashers' Arms was closed down in November 1996. Lord Sackville of Kent, the owner of the building, claimed that it was not a viable business and instructed his agents, Strutt & Parker, to put in planning permission to convert the building into a private house. The pub's regular patrons mustered local residents and filed a 200-strong petition to save what was an important community hub. The campaign was spearhead by Jack Taylor and "Titch" Sanders. The agents conceded and advertised for new tenants of the pub. Selling their own house, Trevor and Sue Milburn applied for the tenancy of the tavern affectionately known as "The Dashers." When the pub re-opened in August 1997 journalist Sarah Kirby wrote that "the whole business of the rebirth of the pub is a triumph of people power."

Licensees of the Haberdashers' Arms

1834 - 1879 Joseph Hayward
1879 - Edward Worrall
1880 - William Swinnerton
1889 - Joseph Dodd
1932 - Ernest Clowes
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.

Painting of the Haberdashers' Arms at Knighton [2010]

Painting of a Steam Traction Engine outside the Haberdashers' Arms at Knighton [2000]

These two paintings of the Haberdashers' Arms are mounted on an interior wall. The first was completed in 2010. The signature looks like Altan but I am not sure. Painted ten years earlier, the painting of a steam traction engine outside the pub was the work of B. Laz.

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Inn Sign of the Haberdashers' Arms at Knighton [2014]

The inn sign features the coat-of-arms of the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers, one of the Great Twelve City Livery Companies and ranked eighth in the order of precedence of the livery companies in the City of London. The merchant guild was founded in 1448.

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Related Newspaper Articles

"On Monday last, Valentine Vickers. Esq., held his annual tithe rent charge for Adbaston parish at the Haberdashers' Arms, Knighton. At three o'clock the tenants sat down to an excellent dinner, served in Mrs. Hayward's best style, under the presidency of Mr. Joseph Sharrod. The toast of V. Vickers. Esq., and family was proposed by the Rev. J. H. Bright in eulogistic terms, and suitably responded to by Mr. Pritchard on behalf of Mr. Vickers. The company was enlivened during the evening by some excellent singing."
Staffordshire Advertiser : February 9th 1861 Page 5

"On Wednesday, an inquest was held at the Haberdashers' Arms, Knighton, before Mr. W. Morgan, coroner, on the body of Dr. Swift, of Elford. near Eccleshall, who met with his death on Sunday last, under circumstances particularised below. John Pritchard, labourer, said that on the day mentioned he went from Adbaston to Tunstall, by the cart road. When he got into the first field through which the road passes, he found it divided by sheep hurdles. They were firmly fixed across the road, but not fastened by coupling links. He returned from Tunstall at twenty minutes to nine o'clock. On reaching the hurdles, he saw the body a man lying near them, and horse not far away. He recognised the body, which was quite lifeless, as that of Dr. Swift. The hurdle that was across the road when he first passed the spot was upset. It was not removed from its place, but simply knocked down, the other was standing. Witness had seen deceased at three o'clock the same afternoon, and he did not appear to be sober. The hurdles could only be seen a few yards off when witness returned from Tunstall. Joseph Hayward, landlord of the Haberdashers' Arms, deposed that deceased called at his house at half past six o'clock on Sunday evening. He appeared to be "fresh." He had nothing to drink there. Witness heard his daughter tell him he had had enough, and that he had better go on his way. He went in, however, and, after being seated for a short time, fell asleep. He went away at eight o'clock. Witness could remember a cart road from Adbaston to Tunstall for seventy years back, during which period it had been looked upon as a "regular road," and constantly made use of. He had never known the parish repair it. The field where the accident occurred was in the occupation of Mr. Veitch. William Key saw Mr. Veitch's man set up the hurdles across the road on Friday last. He also saw deceased come that way the same day, and noticed that when he came to the hurdles he got off his horse and removed them. Witness, who had known the road fifteen or sixteen years, had never known any obstruction whatever to be placed across it. John Vyse said he set up the hurdles by order of his master. Mr. Veitch. He was told to place them across the road, from hedge to hedge, but he was so to do this that people could get through them. They were therefore not coupled, and it was intended that the one in the road should be lifted and moved back when any person passed that way. Richard Fletcher, who had been servant to deceased, said his late master was sixty-four or sixty-five years of age. The cob he rode on Sunday was a quiet animal. Witness was told Sunday night of the accident that had befallen his master, and he went to Adbaston immediately. The body was found about six yards from the line of hurdles, and the cob was marked with mud, as though it had been down. Witness assisted in the removal of the body. After the above evidence had been given, the enquiry was adjourned for a fortnight."
"Fatal Accident to a Physician"
Wellington Journal : January 11th 1868 Page 8

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