Some history of the Bell Inn at Cradley Heath in the County of Staffordshire


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This pub, located on the eastern side of St. Anne's Road, was originally called the Bell Inn but later traded as the Bell Hotel. The photograph below shows the Ansell's-operated pub in all its splendour. Neat lines, fine leaded windows and tidy fascia, all maintained by a large company. Although the building still stands, the property which has been converted into flats, looks a little tatty nowadays, a far cry from the Bell's halcyon days.

Cradley Heath : Bell Hotel on St. Anne's Road [c.1975]

The address of the Bell Hotel has changed quite a bit down the years. It was first listed at No.53 Scholding Green Road before becoming No.46 Dudley Wood Road by 1921. However, fifteen years later it was officially listed at No.88 Dudley Wood Road, though this was later designated St. Anne's Road.

During the 19th century the Bell Inn was the domain of the Billingham family, an extended clan that had their fingers in many pies, including the metal and chain trade, along with farming, brewing and meat processing.

Cradley Heath : Benjamin "Benny Fiddler" Billingham of the Bell Hotel

Benjamin Billingham was a very popular landlord of the Bell Inn and, indeed, a man considered most benevolent, particularly with those employed in the chain industry. A larger-than-life character who weighed something in the region of 29 stones, he was colloquially known as "Benny Fiddler" due to him entertaining patrons with his skills on the violin. Legend has it that he couldn't climb the stairs inside the Bell Inn so had to be hoisted to his bedroom via pulley blocks and rope!

The son of John Billingham and Phoebe Tibbits, Benjamin was born in August 1810 and spent his early working years toiling as a chainmaker. In October 1831 he married Ann Grove at St. Thomas's Church at Dudley. The couple opened their doors to the public around 1840 when they obtained a beer house licence for what would become the Bell Inn.

By 1851 Benjamin Billingham was recorded as a retail brewer so customers were almost certainly drinking homebrewed ales in the Bell. In later years Benjamin Billingham was listed in trade directories as a farmer and victualler, suggesting he was diversifying his business activities. He acquired land in the locality and eventually became quite a wealthy individual. Following his death in October 1895, he left £5,532.5s.6d. to his sons John, Benjamin and Jeremiah.

Victorian Prostitutes

Benjamin Billingham had actually hung up his bar towel five years before his death but continued to live in the locality. His tenure at the Bell Inn was not without scandal for, in June 1888, he was hauled before the local magistrates charged with selling ale out of prescribed hours and with "harbouring women of ill-fame." He was fined £10 and his licence was endorsed. This is not to say that the Bell Inn was a knocking-shop but Benny Fiddler was probably allowing women to solicit for trade in the tap-room.

With the risk of losing the licence, Benny Fiddler brought in somebody else to run the Bell Inn. More popularly known as Harry, Charles Partridge was appointed manager in 1890 and kept the hotel with his wife Louisa. The couple had married in July 1882. She was the daughter of Barzillai and Mary Ann Beasley, a couple who owned a butcher's shop. After their spell running the Bell Hotel, Harry and Louisa Partridge moved across the road where they operated a shop specialising in boot and shoe repairs.

At the turn of the 20th century the Bell Hotel was managed by Robert and Annie Horton. The son of Thomas and Sylvia Horton of Cokeland Place, he was also a chainmaker by trade. I believe that this couple, along with their son Walter, later emigrated to Pennsylvania.

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Cradley Heath : Ground Floor Plan of the Bell Inn on Scholding Green Road [1903]

A building plan drawn up for the local authorities at this time has survived and provides a glimpse of how things looked inside the Bell Inn at the beginning of the 20th century. It is a very simple layout of bar and smoke room for the public. There was also a club room on the first floor.

You can now compare the 1903 plan with a later drawing [below] by the architect Frank C. Lewis. Unusually, the later plan bears no date but I imagine it was drawn up for Plant's Brewery who altered and extended the building. I should be able to remember if this is the same layout to that which I frequented during the 1970s. I used the bar quite a lot and that looks the same room with which I am familiar. I would, on occasions, walk along a passageway to the rear smoke-room, though I cannot recall it being left and right around a kitchen. I seem to think that the rear room, a bit of a lounge really in the 1970s, had a serving area. You can click on the below plan for a larger version.

Cradley Heath : Ground Floor Plan of the Bell Inn on Scholding Green Road [c.1920]

Former coal miner Benoni Buttery was granted the licence of the Bell Hotel in the late Edwardian period. He had previously lived at Cherry Orchard in Old Hill where his father also worked as a miner. He married Martha Priest at Dudley in 1892. The couple were able to appoint two servants, Annie Vincent and Lucy Forrest, for general duties around the Bell Hotel.

Sometime around 1914 Robert Botfield took over at the Bell Hotel. He was the head of a family who did the rounds in Cradley Heath. He married Phoebe Kitson at Dudley in May 1899. Together, they had previously kept the Anchor Hotel across the road, along with the Beehive Inn in Grainger's Lane. During their time at the Bell Hotel their son George was in charge of the Salutation Inn. The Botfield clan were also involved with the Jolly Collier Inn and the Round of Beef before the Second World War.

When Robert Botfield died in April 1927 his wife Phoebe took over the licence of the Bell Hotel. She later became a shopkeeper and lived in Clyde Street close to Tittlebally Gullet, a narrow footpath connecting Clyde Street and Lawrence Lane. The name derives from the naughty fondling of young women by their boyfriends. Phoebe Botfield did spend some time running the Jolly Collier Inn at the outbreak of World War Two. She died in June 1956, leaving a little nest-egg to Bert Botfield who was working as a chauffeur.

Beer Label for No.1 Strong Ale by Thomas Plant & Co. Ltd. Steam Brewery in Netherton

By 1919 the Bell Hotel was operated by Thomas Plant & Co Ltd. of Netherton. This explains why the pub can be seen in the livery of Ansell's in the photograph above - the Aston-based brewery took over Plant's in 1936. The Bell Hotel officially became an Ansell's outlet on June 2nd, 1937.

Cradley Heath : Bell Hotel on St. Anne's Road [c.1975]

The Bell Hotel later [c.1988] formed part of the Mad O'Rourke chain of pubs and was called the Little Sausage House. This name was changed to the Little Sausage and Porter and, later, the Cradley Sausage Works. The whole interior was decked out in butcher's shop and slaughterhouse equipment and the floor covered in sawdust. A skittles alley was also installed in a bid to attract large parties. There was even a beer garden in the old yard!

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Although other boozers in the Little Pub Company empire succeeded, this one was a bit of a flop. Well, that is how is seemed to me because the place was never very busy when I nipped in for a pint. When Colm O'Rourke's chain of 19 pubs was acquired by Usher's Brewery in May 1998, the pub's name changed again - this time to the Red Hen. It was a complete failure and the pub closed down for good around the turn of the millennium. If memory serves me correct it closed down in 1999.

Cradley Heath : Little Sausage & Porter on St. Anne's Road [1995]

This watercolour of the pub was painted in 1995 when the former Bell Hotel was trading as the Little Sausage & Porter. An eye-catching feature on the outside was the large Toucan bird perched on the inn sign bracket. Commissioned by me, the painting was the work of John Buckingham of Wollaston.

Licensees of the Bell Inn

1840 - 1891 Benjamin Billingham
1890 - Charles Henry Partridge
1896 - Alfred Guest
1900 - Robert Horton
1911 - Benoni Buttery
1916 - Robert William Botfield
1923 - 1925 John Turner
1925 - 1927 Robert William Botfield
1927 - 1929 Phoebe Ann Botfield
1929 - 1932 Richard Jones
1932 - 1934 Thomas Joseph Harper
1934 - 1946 William Botfield
1946 - 1955 Isaiah Aston
1955 - 1957 Ralph Windsor
1957 - Cyril Rogers
Note : this is not a complete list of licensees for this pub.

Ansell's - The Better Beer

Cradley Heath : Map of Public-Houses around the Five Ways [1884]

This 1884 map extract shows the area around the Five Ways with the location of the Bell Inn marked. Other nearby pubs are marked in red and includes the Anchor Hotel, Crown Hotel, Five Ways Hotel, Old Cross Guns Inn, Railway Hotel, Red Lion and the Salutation Inn. The earthworks of the Whitehall Colliery can just be seen on the left-hand edge of this map extract. This land was transformed into a public park in the 20th century. Note the open space on the corner of Five Ways where Christ Church would later be constructed. The Bethel Chapel, serving the town's Methodist New Connexion congregation, was just off the top of this map at the 'top' end of Scholding Green. The chapel was thought to date from at least 1836 but moved when the new church was erected on Five Ways.

Inn Signs

Cradley Heath : Inn Sign of the Cradley Sausage Works [1991]

Cradley Heath : Inn Sign of the Red Hen [2001]

The first sign dates from 1991 when the pub was trading as the Cradley Sausage Works. The second sign dates from 2001 when the pub was operated by Usher's and traded as the Red Hen.

"I should be able to fill in some blanks for the mid-1970s here as I used to drink in the Bell Hotel quite regularly. However, I cannot remember the name of the woman who kept the pub! She was sort of romantically involved with the manager of the Fine Fare supermarket in the High Street, the employees of which used the pub at weekends. I am embarrassed to admit I cannot recall the names of any of them. One of the firemen at Old Hill's station was in the cribbage team. He used to drive a Ford Granada like the one in The Sweeney! The Bell was quite restrained at the time of the Queen's Jubilee in 1977. I do remember sitting in the bar and buying a commemorative bottle of beer produced by Ansell's."
Kieron, Cradley Heath

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Related Newspaper Articles

"At noon, yesterday, the enquiry into the circumstances attending the deaths by suffocation of four persons, at Scolding Green, was opened at the Bell Inn, Five ways, Cradley Heath, by Mr. E. Hooper, Coroner for South Staffordshire. The names of the deceased were: Edward Whitehouse [31], his wife, Phoebe Whitehouse [27], who died yesterday morning; Joseph Edmunds [29], brother-in-law to Mrs. Whitehouse, who died at half-past five o'clock on Tuesday night; and George Edward Edmunds, eleven months old. The first witness called was James Edmunds, who identified the bodies of the deceased, and said George Edward Edmunds was his [witness's] son, and lived at the house where the bodies were lying. About half-past twelve o'clock on Monday, a servant girl, who did not sleep in the house, came running to his [witness's] house, saying, "They are all murdered." She referred to the deceased. He went down to Whitehouse's, and found in a back room of the house his son and Edward Whitehouse dead. One person was in the front room. They were all in their night clothes. He saw no bucket about, but the things had been moved. There was no fire in either of the rooms; the window was open, and he was not the first person who went into the room. He could not say how they came by their deaths. The Coroner; "Do you believe that they came by their deaths from any other cause than suffocation?" Witness: "I cannot say; I should like to know." The Coroner: "Have you any suspicion?" Witness: "No, I have no suspicion." The Coroner: "Did they live comfortably together?" Witness: "Yes. They might have had words occasionally, as other people." Catherine Billingam, a neighbour, deposed that she last saw the deceased alive on Sunday morning. Her husband rapped at Whitehouse's door about half-past eight o'clock on Monday morning, but received no answer. She went to the door at half-past nine o'clock herself, but found it still closed, and the window blinds were drawn down. About twelve o'clock Whitehouse's nurse, who had been waiting some time, by her [witness's] instructions, broke open the window, and thus gained admittance. The nurse kindled a fire and began to sweep up the place. Witness, subsequently, curious to know why the Parties had not risen, rapped at Mr. Whitehouse's bedroom door. She received no answer, however, and as the door was not fastened, she opened it and walked in. She at once saw that Mr. Whitehouse and the baby were quite dead, and that Mrs. Whitehouse was insensible. They were wrapped in the clothes, but appeared to have been struggling. There was "a queer atmosphere" in the room and fresh air was required. She was on very friendly terms with the deceased, and had seen some gleads in a bucket in the room. The house belonged to Whitehouse, and was of one storey, and the sleeping apartments were, of course, on the ground floor. Benjamin Billingham, of the Bell Inn, said he was called to the house on the morning in question, and carried Mrs. Whitehouse out of the room. She was not dead then, but died soon afterwards. He saw Joseph Edmunds removed to the outer room. Mr. Thomas Standish, surgeon, of Cradley Heath, said he was called to Whitehouse's about one o'clock on Monday. He found upon the sofa in the outer room Joseph Edmunds, who was in a state of coma. In the other room he found the baby lying dead, and in another bed Edward Whitehouse was lying dead, and his wife was in a state of insensibility. His first idea was that the deceased had been poisoned, but he failed to discover any traces of poison. In walking about the room he kicked against a bucket, which was hot, so hot that he could scarcely bear his hand against it. The bucket contained gleads. After that, discovery he came to the conclusion that the deceased had died, and that those who were not dead were suffering from carbonic acid gas poison - suffocation. There was no ventilation in the bedroom, with the exception of that to be obtained from a small hole, from two to three inches in diameter, and which was partly filled by a chain. He had no doubt that the deceased had died from suffocation. Mary Pratt, who was engaged at the house as a nurse, said she last saw Mr. Whitehouse on Sunday night. She left the house to go hone about nine o'clock on Sunday night, and Mr. and Mrs. Whitehouse and the baby were there then. She had been nurse for the Whitehouse's about six months, but had never known them have at fire in the bedroom. She recognised the bucket found by the surgeon as Whitehouse's coal bucket, which was generally kept by the kitchen door. David Davis said, he had never known a bucket containing a fire placed in the room before, but Whitehouse's mother told him that it had been done previously. The first witness was recalled at the request of the foreman, with the view of eliciting some information respecting the ground for the deductions he appeared to entertain. The witness said he was not quite satisfied, and said he could not see how the deaths could have been caused by suffocation. The Coroner said that was not the first or second time he had to hold an enquiry like the present, and he was never more clearly satisfied as to the cause of death and that from the medical evidence. Still, if the Jury insisted it, he would adjourn the inquest."
"The Shocking Tragedy at Cradley Heath"
Birmingham Daily Post : January 23rd 1873

"The inquest on the bodies of Edward and Phoebe Whitehouse, Joseph Edmunds, and George Edward Edmunds, was resumed yesterday, at the Bell Inn, Cradley Heath, before Mr. E. Hooper, District Coroner. The circumstances of the sad affair will be fresh in the recollection of the public. The Jury agreed upon a verdict, viz., that the deceased had been accidentally suffocated."
"The suffocation of a family at Cradley Heath"
Birmingham Daily Post : January 30th 1873

"Yesterday morning, another meeting of the men on strike took place in a yard attached the Bell Inn, Cradley Heath, and, as on all the previous occasions, and notwithstanding a by no means pleasant fall of rain, there was a large muster. Mr. Homer, after alluding to the determined position of the chainmakers, which, instead of weakening, as the masters supposed it would, was getting still stronger, referred to the proceedings before the Magistrates, Dudley, on Wednesday last. He thought that Mr. Coldicott, who acted as Magistrates' Clerk, owing to the absence of the appointed one, was not a disinterested person advise the Bench, for he believed Mr. Coldicott was the adviser of Mr. Lewis. Mr. Forrest then offered some remarks to the meeting, he advised the men in future to take care and return the masters' iron when a strike broke out, as this gave opportunity to the masters to take them before the Magistrates. He said that if another strike took place, they must manage better. There were three branches in the trade, that is to say, the American trade, the country trade, and the shopping trade. In future they should take care to let only one third of the men strike, so that the other two-thirds might support them, while it lasted. He thought on the course of another week a great many of the small masters' men would be at work. The masters were now getting very short, and some orders were very pressing. He thought there was a necessity for rules relative to men being allowed to return to their work, now, some of the men had and some had not been allowed to return when masters consented to the advance. As to the restriction on the work a man should do in day, he thought - as had been the case with some factory men who had resumed work - that the outworkers might voluntarily agree to work but a certain number hours in a day. He then alluded to the advertisement inserted the Daily Post, in which the masters contradict the men's advertisement that they get but 11s. per week on the average, and say their wages average from 15s. to 40s. He said they could prove their statement to the public. They would take this course. They invited the masters to meet them at any place they [the masters] would choose. The masters should send any five gentlemen they liked, and the men would select a similar number. A reporter should be present to give forth to the world; and let them have an umpire unconnected with the trade. If the masters made good their statements, the men should immediately return to their work; but, on the other hand, if men proved their own statements to be true, the masters should agree to their demands. ["Hear, hear," and applause.] The men employed Mr. Parkes, of Lock's Lane, were at the meeting, and although not hitherto acting with the men on strike, they there agreed to give notice for the advance. After some other matters had been alluded to, a vote of thanks was awarded to the reporter of Journal, and the meeting broke up."
"Chainmakers' Meeting Yesterday"
Birmingham Journal : September 3rd 1851 Page 5

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