Some history of the Beehive at Old Hill in the County of Staffordshire
To many people who grew up and lived in Old Hill during the 20th century, The Beehive was simply an off-licence. However, it is was once a public-house until its conversion to an outdoor. I have memories of the place, though I cannot recall shopping there - there were, after all, other off-licences closer to home. And in my early years I lived at an-off licence a little over a kilometre away from this building.
The building was located on the High Street, later called Highgate Street, on the north corner of Elbow Street. Here you can see the off-licence in a photograph from around 1970. By this time the shop was being operated by Foster's. This wines and spirits firm were based at Queensbury Road at Wembley in Middlesex but were formerly based at St. James' Place. The company had acquired the off-licence from Annie Slater of the King's Head Inn on Elbow Street. The Slater family had operated the shop and nearby pub for many years.
As can be seen in the photograph, it was a fine-looking building that incorporated some nice architectural detail. Once again, this begs the question of why did they have to pull the building down? And the answer in many cases, as indeed this one, is the motor car. The 'top' end of Elbow Street, along with a section of Highgate Street, was lost when the new Old Hill by-pass was laid out.
The clock on the corner of the building formed part of an advertisement for Mackeson ales. There is also an illuminated sign for M&B, "the marvellous beer" and inside the Elbow Street window another for Guinness, with the slogan claiming that it was good for you. Notice also that the building is in line with the neighbouring properties. However, an earlier building used to stand back from the corner somewhat [see map extract below] The building in the photograph does seem to date from the late Victorian period and appears to be a 'new' build rather than an extension of an older property.
At times the Internet can be a wonderful thing. I received an e-mail from Andrew Burns of Edmonton in Alberta who wrote: "I recently purchased an old brewery sign that has a beehive carved on it and has Darby's Home Brewed Mild and Bitter Ales written on it. Andrew wanted to know any history of this brewery and the place and people behind it. Well, to be honest, I thought he had acquired a sign related to Darby's of West Bromwich with some connection to an Old Hill pub they may have operated. However, when Andrew sent me a photograph of the sign I realised that he had acquired something far more unique. The census of 1881 shows that Thomas Darby was the licensee of The Beehive here in Old Hill so this sign was probably commissioned by the grocer and brewer.
Wow! What an item to find at an antiques store operated by Clinton Beck in Edmonton. I wonder how such a sign found its way to Canada? Another story to uncover no doubt.
Born in 1851, Thomas Darby was the son of the maltster, brewer and publican Samuel Darby of the Horse Shoe Inn on Waterfall Lane. Along with his siblings, he learned the art of brewing at these premises. His father was also a provision dealer so he also developed skills that would stand him in good stead as a grocer, the path he initially took when occupying the premises on the corner of Elbow Street and what was then Garratt's Lane. His brother Benjamin would also become a maltster and brewer. They may have centralised production to benefit from some economies of scale but the sign does feature a beehive so it would seem that brewing took place behind these premises.
Thomas Darby was later recorded as a corn merchant and grocer and seemingly prospered as the census of 1891 shows that he and his wife Elizabeth employed two servants and a governess to teach their children. Elizabeth was the daughter of Joseph Cole who was publican of the Corngreaves Hotel. Thomas Darby would later operate the Corngreaves Brewery behind the Corngreaves Hotel in addition to running the Beehive Corn Mills at Old Hill. The Darby family later moved to leafy Colman Hill at Cradley, though Thomas Darby retained ownership of The Beehive which was run by tenants in the late 19th century. Thomas Darby was a wealthy man by the time of his death in May 1916 at The Chase in Pedmore, the new family home. The corn merchants business was continued by his son Walter.
Looking at the surviving photograph of the premises it is possible that the beer house was contained within the High Street frontage and the corner dedicated to the grocery and provision trade. In the late Victorian era the retail space was occupied by the butcher Josiah Weston, another person linked to Corngreaves via his family roots. Unfortunately for the publican and butcher, he got into financial difficulties and, with unsecured liabilities of £537 5s., entered into a deed of arrangement during the spring of 1898. By the autumn the Beehive, which had gained inn status - in name at least, had been taken over by Harry and Ellen Letts
Harry Letts was born in Halesowen in 1860. After serving an apprenticeship in the drapery trade, he married Ellen Weobley at Stourbridge in 1883. Born in Dudley, she had moved to Halesowen to work for her uncle Ephraim Ball, a nail merchant trading in Great Cornbow. The couple went into the licensed trade soon after they were married. They kept the Beech Tree Inn for a number of years before moving down the hill to run the Beehive Inn. It was here Ellen Letts was violently assaulted by a customer. In the subsequent court case held in September 1898, she told the magistrates that Henry Howell came into the Beehive Inn and asked for a bottle of soda water. She said that he was very drunk and refused to serve him. Demanding a drink from her, she told The Bench, Howell jumped over the counter and struck her in the face. Harry Letts who was outside at the time came into the house and, together with some other men, prevented him from striking his wife again. It was stated that Howell then left the bar but went into the smoke room and threw a glass through a window. He was arrested outside the Beehive Inn when Police Constable Beech found him being disorderly and using bad language. The drunkard, by this time, had several marks on his forehead and was bleeding. His defence solicitor claimed that undue violence had been used by some of the customers when ejecting him from the house. The Bench found Howell guilty of assaulting Ellen Letts, for being drunk and disorderly and also for refusing to quit the premises. He was fined a total of £2 for the offences, an amount that put quite a dent in the wage packet of a working man in those days.
Harry and Ellen Letts went on to run the Loyal Lodge at Halesowen. Yorkshireman George Miles held the licence of The Beehive in the early years of the 20th century. He was also a butcher by trade and was possibly attracted to the building due to the retail space.
Noah Windsor was landlord for a brief spell in 1903 during which period he managed to find himself facing questions from the magistrates for permitting drunkenness on the premises and supplying drink to a drunken person. This came about after Police-Constable Smith saw William Skitt in such a drunken state he had to use the handrail to support himself as he staggered down the steps and toddled off to his home in Waggon Street bouncing off walls. The police officer's description of three steps at the front of the beer house seems to confirm that the entrance to the drinking rooms of the Beehive Inn were via the door along the High Street rather than the corner of Elbow Street.
Thomas Darby was seemingly not vetting the people he was allowing to run the Beehive Inn. Edwin Barnett was another licensee who soon found himself on the wrong side of the law soon after being granted the licence in October 1903. In the following February he was hauled before the magistrates on two charges of permitting gambling on the premises. He was subsequently placed on the Black List. However, in December 1904 he applied for the licence of the Prince of Wales Inn at nearby Wright's Lane. During the session it was stated that he had held licences in various parts of the Midlands during the previous two decades. His solicitor told the Bench that Barnett had operated an air-gun shooting club at the Beehive Inn and that patrons had only been shooting for beer. Despite the protestations of local police, the magistrates granted a licence for the Prince of Wales to Edwin Barnett on account of his good conduct running public-houses in the previous 20 years.
Succeeding the ousted Edwin Barnett, David Jeavons was granted the licence of the Beehive Inn during August 1904. In February of the following year he was also fined for allowing gaming on the premises.
At the end of the Edwardian period Abel Siviter was running the Beehive Inn with his wife Louisa. Abel Siviter was later publican at the Queen's Head further up the road.
It was in 1919 that The Beehive lost its licence as a beer house and the property was subsequently converted into a shop for off-sales. As part of a reduction in the number of licensed houses in Staffordshire, the committee met in January 1919 and refused to renew the licences on fifteen houses, the Beehive being the only one in the Rowley Regis Division.
The licence of The Beehive was transferred to Joseph Slater on October 1st 1919. He was the son of Edward Slater of the King's Head Inn just along Elbow Street. Joseph had spent all of his childhood in that pub. The licence granted to him was for spirits and wine only. It was not until 1947 that the Beehive off-licence was allowed to retail beer. However, the magistrates only permitted the retailing of beer provided it was not sold via handpulls and that beer would not be sold in jugs. In addition, they applied a rule that the shop could not sell less than three pint bottles at any time. This strict ruling, which put the Beehive at a disadvantage to rival outdoors, was kept in place until March 1953.
"Thomas Darby, landlord of the Beehive, Elbow Street, Old Hill, was charged with permitting drunkenness on the 3rd inst. PCs
Rowlands and Rowe visited defendant's house at 7.45 on the evening in question, and found a man named William Green sitting in the room asleep and drunk.
Defendant's wife was behind the counter, and she told them that the man had been told to go a dozen times, but would not. The defence was that the man went to
the house early in the evening. He was then sober and was supplied with ale. He then left, professedly with the intention of getting something to eat. In about
half-an-hour he came in again, when it was noticed that he was drunk, and was refused ale. He was also told to leave but refused. Several witnesses bore
out the above statement. Fined 40s and costs. Mr. Bassano said the licence would not be endorsed, in consideration of the man not being supplied with ale the
West Bromwich Weekly News : September 24th 1881
"Henry Howell, was charged , with assaulting Emily Letts, wife of Harry Letts. landlord of the Beehive
Inn, Old Hill. , with refusing to quit licensed premises,  with being drunk and disorderly in the highway,  with doing wilful damage
to property belonging to Emily Letts. Mr. Tinsley, Dudley, defended. Mrs. Letts said that on the 11th inst. defendant came to her husband's house and asked for a
bottle of soda water. He was very drunk so she refused to serve him. He then said that he should demand a drink and immediately jumped over the counter and struck her
in the face. Her husband, who had been outside, at this period came in and defendant asked to be served with a drink. Mr. Letts also refused to serve him and ordered
him to leave the house. He refused, however, and some men endeavoured to prevent him from striking her again. He then left the bar room and went into the smoke room
and soon afterwards she heard a crash, and subsequently found that a pane in the smoke room door and a drinking glass had been broken. She estimated the damage at
about 2s. 6d. Henry Letts corroborated. Samuel Hughes said he saw the defendant leap the counter and demand a drink, and when refused, he saw him strike Mrs.
Letts. Other evidence was given in support of these charges. P.C. Beech said that on the 10th inst. about 9.45 he saw the defendant drunk and heard him making use
of very bad language. He was bleeding from the face and there was a mark on his forehead. Mr. Tinsley for the defence, said unfortunately he should have to ask the
Bench to rely on the defendant's statements, as he had no witness. He submitted that the damage was not proved, as there was no one who actually saw defendant
break the glass. He also submitted that defendant jumped over the counter to escape the taunts of some men who were in the bar room, and contended that Mrs. Letts
might have been knocked in the struggle which took place when the man was ejected. He could scarcely combat the charge of refusing to quit, but he suggested that
there was undue violence used in ejecting the man, and this would perhaps account for his state of mind when seen by P.C. Beech. The Bench fined defendant 20s. and
costs for the assault, 10s. and costs for refusing to quit, the costs and 2s. damage for malicious injury, and 10s. being drunk and disorderly."
"A Violent Customer"
Dudley Herald : September 24th 1898 Page 8