Some history of The Empire Vaults at Tamworth in Staffordshire
The Empire Vaults is a public-house with a rather complicated history and the licensed premises underwent a number of trading names. In the early 19th century it was known as the Coffee Pot Inn which later became the Old Coffee Pot. With a new owner, it became Tait's Palace of Varieties in the late Victorian era. This evolved into the New Empire Palace of Varieties before being shortened to the New Empire Vaults. This title was again shortened to the Empire Vaults before becoming the Empire Inn. This was the last name before the licence was transferred to a new venue to the rear known as The Marmion.
Many local people still remember The Marmion which, in the early 21st century was trading as O'Keef's. Only Tammies of a certain age will recall any reference to the Empire Inn so I have inserted the above map extract to help clarify the location of the original licensed house. The map dates from 1976 and shows The Marmion to the rear of No.22, the site of the Empire Inn. Back in the day there was another public-house two doors away at No.24, a place known for many years as Oliver's Hotel. During the inter-war years the property between the two pubs was used as the district offices of Frederick Smith's of Aston.
I took this photograph in 2006 to show the site of the former Empire Vaults. The building occupied the site of this gift card shop. In this year Woolworth's was still trading, though it would not be long before they held their closing down sale. The green inn sign between Woolworth and Birthdays is for O'Keef's.
The Marmion evolved when its adjacent site was redeveloped for Woolworth's, the English version of the old five and dime stores of the United States. They started trading in Tamworth in 1930 when they occupied the former Facey's furniture store [Facey's moved further up George Street]. Woolworth's expanded and built a larger store between 1968-1970. The new retail outlet was officially opened on October 22nd, 1970 by Hughie Green, the popular host of ITV's "Opportunity Knocks." An estimated crowd of 3,000 turned up to see the television celebrity. The enlarged Woolworth's store occupied the site of Oliver's Hotel and two popular small shops - Crutchley's butcher's shop and Whitehead's clothes store.
In the above photograph, captured four years after the map extract of 1976, the site of the old Empire Inn has been developed and a new retail outlet was occupied by a branch of Evans, the clothing retailer. Here in 1980 The Marmion was trading as a Disco Bar, a theme somewhat removed from the original concept of Ansell's Retail who initially decorated the interior in Victorian style, the walls being lined with music hall stars of the Victorian and Edwardian period. Originally known as The Penny Farthing, the Victoriana was possibly an acknowledgement of the former Palace of Varieties that had stood on the same plot. The first licensee of The Penny Farthing was Cyril Savage, though probably in name only whilst the new pub was being constructed. As an area manager, he worked for Ind Coope and was responsible for all their managed houses in the region. For some reason, the name was changed to The Marmion by August 1970. By the mid-1990s the venue had evolved into another fad of Allied Breweries and was trading as Mr. Q's, a branch of Punch Tavern's ill-fated snooker, pool and sports bar chain.
This image of The Marmion's inn sign was captured in 1972 and shows the coat-of-arms of Marmion of Tamworth, Winteringham and Torrington. Following the Norman conquest, the wooden fortifications erected by Ethelflaeda became the property of Robert le Despencer before his cousin, and another of William the Conqueror's barons, Robert de Marmion, ordered work to commence on the construction of a castle.
So, having looked at what happened to the old licence of the Empire Inn, it is time to look back at the old hostelry that existed in George Street for generations. In photographs that simply show the façade of the building it may not be clear just how extensive the premises were. In this image captured in January 1967, the life of the Empire Inn was coming to an end. The building was still trading and formed part of Ansell's Retail. In this view, which shows the clearance for the development of a new Woolworth store, one can see that the Empire Inn extended way back from George Street - the reason for such a large building will become clear as I look into its past glory.
The Empire Vaults possibly dates back to the 18th century though, as previously mentioned, the property was previously known as the Coffee Pot Inn and the Old Copper Pot. I have marked it as such on the map extract below. The map dates from 1885 when Oliver's Hotel was known as Logan's Wine and Spirits Vaults.
The size and layout of the Coffee Pot Inn was different in this period. Note the X on the map to the right of the Coffee Pot Inn. This was a passage through which horses and vehicles could be taken to a yard with stabling. The Coffee Pot Inn would benefit from the additional trade brought in by offering accommodation to visitors and travellers, particularly on market days.
The house was known as The Coffee Pot during the reign of King George III and in the year that Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" was published Mary Dudley was the licensee. The Coffee Pot name suggests that it was indeed a coffee house. Acting as important social gathering places, coffee houses first appeared in Britain during the 17th century and had become enormously popular by the Georgian period. Not that the establishment favoured them - indeed, King Charles II made an attempt to suppress the coffee houses in the capital as he viewed them as "places where the disaffected met." Regarded as social levellers in that anybody could sit and chat over a drink, the coffee house did become associated with equality and republicanism. Generally however, the coffee house was where the latest gossip or news of events could be picked up. Many business transactions were conducted on the premises and copies of early newspapers and gazettes were generally available.
By the 1840s the Coffee Pot had been taken over by the Beard family, brewing entrepreneurs of early 19th century Tamworth. In the 1840s maltster and brewer, William Beard, operated at both the Coffee Pot Inn and the Bricklayers' Arms further down George Street. Thomas Beard was the publican of the Dog Inn during the same period. In 1818 the Beard clan, who were also brick-makers, operated malthouses in both Gungate and Church Street.
William Beard was born in Tamworth in 1813. He kept the Coffee Pot Inn with his wife Sarah who hailed from Newtown in Warwickshire. They lived on the premises with their daughter Mary. Sarah's sister Eliza was also in residence, perhaps helping out within the business. It is interesting to note that Ann Boonham was a house servant for the Beard family - more on this woman later.
As a widower William Beard later kept the Railway Tavern further along George Street, a public-house also known as the George Inn and George and Dragon. By 1860 the Coffee Pot Inn was run by William Smith, a 32 year-old Derby-born licensed victualler who kept the pub with his locally-born wife Ann. They moved on after a few years and were succeeded by James Starkey who was declared bankrupt in January 1865.
James and Mary Ann Chipman kept the Coffee Pot Inn during the mid-late 1860s. The couple had married at St. Editha's Church in October 1845. Following their spell in the licensed trade they moved to Packington to run a farm. They sold up in 1875 and went to run the Prince of Wales Feathers at Lichfield. However, it was whilst they were at the Coffee Pot Inn that they had a son named Francis James Chipman. He attended the old Sir Robert Peel School in Lichfield Street and, in later years, recounted the uniform that included a peaked cap and a velvet suit with brass buttons.
In 1879, when his parents were at the Prince of Wales Feathers, two of his friends had gone to Australia. Being something of an adventurer himself he decided to head to Sydney. For about a year he was employed by a carrier before becoming associated with Alfred Lamb and Co., stevedores, and went all through the business. He remained with the firm which evolved into Gilchrist, Watt and Sanderson Ltd., one of the largest shipping agents in Sydney.
Francis Chipman took an active role in public life and served three terms as Mayor of Mascot, a suburb on the north-west side of Botany Bay. He served for over 30 years as an Alderman of the town. When he was Mayor in 1910 he had the honour of sending congratulations to the King on his accession. Many world-famous flights ended at Mascot and Alderman Chipman received many such people as Amy Johnson, Kingsford Smith, Jean Batten, Ross Smith and Hinckler. In 1935, after more than fifty years in commerce, he made a return visit to his birthplace in Tamworth, prior to which he laid a wreath at the Cenotaph in London on behalf of the returned soliders. He had played a leading part in the erection of a war memorial at Mascot.
By the time of the 1871 census the Coffee Pot Inn was kept by James and Sarah West. Born in the Leicestershire village of Barlestone in 1834 James West, the son of a framework knitter, had moved to Wednesbury in the Black Country to find work. His wife Sarah hailed from Derby. Their stay at the Coffee Pot Inn was brief and the licence of the house was transferred to Charles Beesley in August 1872. James and Sarah West later ran the Dog Inn before opting for a new challenge by moving to Swadlincote to run a bakery.
After taking over as licensee in August 1872, Charles Beesley decided that the pub was of sufficient antiquity to add an 'Old' prefix to the Coffee Pot name. He had previously worked as the toll gate keeper at Oakley on what is today the A513 connecting Tamworth and Alrewas. He was born in the Oxfordshire village of Thornton but his wife Mary Ann hailed from Bonehill near Fazeley.
Along with his brother David, Charles Beesley was a proprietor of the Coffee Pot Inn. David Beesley was a well-regarded figure and when he died at his residence, Gungate House, in January 1929, the Tamworth Herald reported that he "was in his 88th year. For seventy years he had resided in Tamworth and district, where he was popular figure. At one time he had charge of toll-gates in the district, along with carrying on the businesses of farmer and a coal merchant. For about forty years he was lessee of the market tolls at Tamworth and Atherstone."
The Old Coffee Pot was at the centre of a police investigation in November 1872. Police Constable Small would have interviewed Charles and Mary Ann Beesley to ascertain the last sighting of a Harlaston woman named Pegg. Click here to read more details of this case. I am not sure if Professor W. H. James was an advocate of the laudanam favoured by Mrs. Pegg. However, he made an appearance here at the tavern in January 1873 to offer his advice for all ailments. Charlatan or not, I believe he did use Medicinae Baccalaureus after his name, though why he was plying his trade within a public-house is a curiosity.
An army recruiting depot had been established at the Old Coffee Pot Inn by the early 1870s. This was ascertained after finding an article in the local press that reported on a robbery of the pub's cash box by a man purporting to be a new recruit in March 1873. With his pockets lined with the Beesley's hard-earned cash, the thief went AWOL before he had even joined up.
Charles and Mary Ann Beesley tried to maintain an orderly house but during their time at the Old Coffee Pot Inn the establishment appeared regularly in the Tamworth Herald for one thing or another, mainly drunkenness or assault. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that the police did not seek the licence to be removed at the annual licensing sessions. John Coleman, a labourer living in Church Street, joined the long list of people who appeared before the magistrates on a charge of being drunk inside the Coffee Pot Inn. He had entered the house with his wife and, after a few drinks, she became abusive to Samuel Shepherd, a dyer from George Street. She accused him of being a police spy but he not only rebuffed her claims but gave her a few choice words of his own. At this, John Coleman became enraged and made a rush at the dyer and knocked him from his seat before delivering a few blows. When he appeared in front of the Bench, Coleman said he had only drunk two glasses of rum, and said that Shepherd had exasperated him by saying he had "never seen such a lot of Irish bastards about, the ground regular stunk with them." The defendant was fined ten shillings and made to pay a further ten shillings in costs. His wife Mary Coleman was also fined for wilfully damaging a bottle of whiskey and four glasses during the incident. Meanwhile Catherine Field a, local married woman, was fined for aggravated assault against John Bull. So, another regular night at the Old Coffee Pot Inn.
Charles Beesley had his own issue with alcohol and was fined for being drunk on the highway driving a horse and trap. He may have been out and about more than one would imagine for a publican, and perhaps engaged in other work. In December 1875 a valuable mare belonging to the publican was drowned when drawing a cart load of stones along the side of Glascote basin. It was reported that one of the wheels had run over the bank and the cart toppled over into the water, dragging the unfortunate animal with it. The accident may have had a happier outcome if it had occurred elsewhere. However, the water at this location was particularly deep. The loss of the horse was a serious blow for Charles Beesley as he had paid £36 for it only a fortnight earlier. Taking into account the robbery of the cash box, it would seem it was a case of one step forward, two steps back for the publican. Bad luck was seemingly just around the corner. He was even robbed of some horse-hair kept in the back kitchen at Christmas in 1875.
The Beesley's also had problems with the staff working at the Coffee Pot Inn. Sarah Collins, a young girl of 13, was hired as a domestic servant. In March 1877 she was arrested and convicted for stealing goods belonging to a lodger at the inn. James Payne, a travelling hawker, elected to spend the night at the Coffee Pot Inn and left some of his wares on the stairs during the night. Sarah Collins helped herself to six pairs of stockings which she hid in a box in her room. Not exactly a criminal mastermind. Police Constable Lawton found the items and took her into custody. On account of her young age she received a very short sentence - she was sent to prison for one day.
When only 34 years of age, Charles Beesley died at the Coffee Pot Inn during November 1877. It is possible that the Coffee Pot Inn was the death of him. The pub had appeared on the radar of the police and he had been warned by the magistrates on how the business was conducted. Trouble-makers continued to use the premises and cases of drunkenness piled up in the police inspector's in-tray. Following his death, the licence of the Coffee Pot Inn was subsequently transferred to his wife Mary Ann.
With the passing of Charles Beesley, the reputation of the Coffee Pot Inn sank even further. The former licensee had landed himself in trouble with his drinking but it would appear that his widow also had a problem with the bottle. Matters came to light in June 1881 when she was hauled before the magistrates on a charge of being drunk in her own house. In the court William Coleman told the Bench that he was lodging at the Coffee Pot Inn and saw the landlady in the bar of the property and she was drunk a little after 10 o'clock. Half an hour later, he told the court, he saw her staggering on the stairs and using obscene language. She was seen walking around the landing in her night-dress before falling through a door after which her brother locked her in the room. Arthur Coleman, a hosiery hawker, residing at Gill Morton, near Lutterworth, was also staying at the tavern and corroborated the evidence given by William Coleman. Daniel Allsopp, a labourer in the employ of the Ordnance Survey Department, was also lodging at the Coffee Pot Inn. He told the magistrates that Mary Ann Beesley was in a very drunken state. The magistrates, who took an extremely dim view of licensees being drunk on their own premises, found her guilty of the charge.
The licence of the Coffee Pot Inn was transferred from Mary Ann Beesley to George Rose in April 1882. Widow Mary Ann would later run a grocery and outdoor in Camden Street at Walsall. She did not re-marry but was assisted by her children until her death in April 1909. Her son William operated a fish and chip shop in Caldmore for many years.
The handover to George Rose was to be a real turning point and the start of a new and exciting chapter for the Old Coffee Pot Inn. Together with his wife Agnes, he set about getting rid of the riff-raff and restoring the reputation of the establishment. Innovations in transport brought opportunities and was one method of bringing in respectable clientele. In the early days of cycling, the wheelers, as they were known, tended to be middle class or white collar workers. In many towns, hostelries competed for the cycling trade and hosted events for local residents on wheels, along with catering for visitors rolling into town. If a publican could encourage a cycling club to base their headquarters at their establishment then it would guarantee regular patronage and a boost in trade when meetings were held. In the case of George and Agnes Rose it was the Victoria Bicycle Club to which the offer of hospitality was made. The above notice dates from 1885 but the couple were hosting events from at least 1883 when the Tamworth Herald reported on an annual dinner when "about thirty people sat down to an excellent dinner provided by the hosts, after which a good programme of vocal and instrumental music was gone through, and the company broke up at eleven o'clock after spending a most enjoyable evening."
Born in 1853 in the Black Country town of Darlaston. Agnes however was a local woman. She was born in Tamworth and, growing up in Kettlebrook, met the Black Country bloke who was living near the Bull's Head at Two Gates. George's father had moved to Watling Street in search of work as a clay miner. The Rose family lived in the old Co-operative store. An early endeavour to establish a co-operative society on the corner of Tamworth Road was attempted in 1872 but the venture failed. George trained as carpenter and was engaged in pit-sinking work. He married Agnes Ashwood in October 1881, not long before taking over at the Old Coffee Pot Inn. They financed the venture by selling some property George had acquired in Wilnecote.
It was Agnes Rose who is credited with starting some "free and easy" entertainment at the Old Coffee Pot Inn. These evenings were an instant hit with the people of Tamworth and George and Agnes were to lay the foundations for one of the town's great venues. In August 1886 the couple submitted plans for alterations and extensions to the premises in order to accommodate a music hall. These plans were approved by the town council and work went ahead. However, at the annual licensing day held in August the magistrates were annoyed that the plans had not been shown to them in advance of building work. The new venture attracted a large audience and the police had received complaints about the crowds that gathered outside the premises, particularly the younger generation. The music hall was a key attraction to those stationed at Whittington Barracks and, inevitably, this led to some violence when liquor got the better of some men. At the licensing day the Mayor asked Inspector Dodd if the police objected to a renewal of the licence. The officer did not object but wanted George Rose, as publican, to know that they would be closely monitoring the premises in the future. The Mayor in granted the licence told George Rose that "every effort should be made to conduct the house respectably."
It is interesting to note that, on the same licensing day, Alfred Ashwood, brother of Agnes Rose, made an application for the licence of the Horse and Jockey in Church Street which was also being extended by major alterations. There was, however, a hiccup in that Alfred Ashwood had not found a tenant for the pub in George Street for which he held the licence.
Given a green light by the magistrates, George and Agnes forged ahead with their music hall. Entertainment had long been a staple of the saloon bar, a room of the pub that first appeared in the late 1820s or early 1830s. It was a part of the pub where customers could be entertained by singers, dancers, magicians and, well, just about any type of variety act. The creation of a separate room for such amusements, allowed the publican to charge an entrance fee or, alternatively, a premium price on the drinks. So successful were some of the so-called "Music Hall Pubs," it was necessary to extend or enlarge the premises to get more bums on seats and, of course, expand the range of entertainment on offer. However, demarcation had evolved when an Act of Parliament, passed in 1843, prohibited the consumption of alcoholic drinks in the auditorium. Customers could only drink before and after performances - this is why drinks break still prevails at modern theatres.
The policy of George and Agnes Rose was to charge an entrance fee to the music hall. Sounds reasonable to me, but not to William Betteridge, a miner of George Street, who was charged with assaulting George Rose when asked to pay his entrance fee in 1886. When the matter came to court George Rose told the magistrates that William Betteridge came into his house about 10 minutes past 10 o'clock when he had entertainment going on in the music hall. When he asked the miner for the admission price of three pence, the usual price he charged, Betteridge refused to pay. In fact, he insisted on gaining free entry and started to insult the publican. George Rose told him he would summons him, whereupon the miner said, "Then I may as well give you something to be summoned for; I may as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb." Betteridge then struck the publican a violent blow on the face. The police were called in and the officers ejected Betteridge who was later fined 10s. and 9s. costs which, to me at least, sounds like light punishment.
Mindful that they were under scrutiny from the police, George and Agnes Rose did their utmost to run the house in a respectable fashion. However, this did not stop trouble from occurring outside their premises. In April 1886 Benjamin Bailey, a private in the 80th Regiment, stationed at Whittington, was charged by Inspector Dodd with being drunk and disorderly in George Street. At the magistrates court Inspector Dodd stated that on Wednesday evening, the 17th April at about 9.20 p.m., he saw Benjamin Bailey, with several other soldiers standing on the footpath, near the Post Office, in George Street. Bailey was drunk and making use of objectionable language. He told the defendant to go out of the street, or else he would be locked up. Bailey, however, refused to leave, and he then pushed him off the path. Bailey thereupon said, "You had better fucking well mind who you are pushing for I'm a soldier of the regular army." and added that he was not going to be pushed about by a policeman. The Inspector also stated that the soldiers were quarrelling, and, having their coats off, prepared to fight. There was a great disturbance. Police-Constable MacDonald stated that during the evening he was in the Coffee Pot Inn, and whilst there Bailey came in and asked for some drink. George Rose refused to serve him as he thought he had had enough to drink. The enraged solider started to use disgraceful language but left the Coffee Pot Inn. During the same evening P.C. Macdonald was called to the White Lion Inn, where Bailey was creating a disturbance. He, along with several of his comrades, went towards Bolebridge Street, where there was a row amongst soldiers and civilians at the bottom of George Street. I imagine this was a regular event in the town. At the court Benjamin Bailey was fined heavily for his part in the disturbance and also for stealing a dog."
At the end of the decade George and Agnes Rose decided to sell up to William Tait, a man who would have a major influence over the role of the building during the late Victorian and early Edwardian period. George and Annie Rose moved to Packington for a short spell before relocating to Oldswinford where George Rose was still recorded as a publican. The couple probably missed family and the friends they had made in Tamworth for they returned to the town and kept the Albert Hotel for over 20 years before retiring.
William Tait was proprietor but he installed one of Tamworth's more colourful characters to manage the Old Coffee Pot in the early 1890s. His name was remembered in the property two doors away which, in the 20th century, was called Oliver's Hotel. Born in 1869, Oliver Boonham grew up in pubs as William Beard employed his mother when they were running the George Inn when trading as the Railway Tavern. As previously mentioned she had also worked at the Coffee Pot Inn as a domestic servant.
As a teenager, Oliver Boonham worked as an agricultural labourer whilst living in Church Street. He entered the licensed trade by working at the Castle Hotel for the Griffin family. When managing the Old Coffee Pot he was assisted by two local women, Sarah Kinson and Mary Moore. By the end of the century Oliver Boonham succeeded William Logan at a Wine and Spirit Vaults on Silver Street before moving back to George Street to make the former Bunch of Grapes his own. The name of Oliver Boonham remained until the building was demolished for the aforementioned Woolworth's store.
The fact that William Tait did not occupy the premises and hold the licence created an issue with the police and, ultimately, the magistrates. Consequently, the licence was transferred to the landlord but was transferred back to the manager Oliver Boonham in September 1895. He remained as manager for two more years, running the Coffee Pot Inn for seven years in total. He would go on to enjoy success working for himself rather than a landlord.
William Tait seemingly enjoyed tremendous success with the Palace of Varieties as, later in the decade, he had a financial stake in the Municipal Hotel. Indeed, this extraordinary man, better known by his middle name of George, was a success in many fields. He was born in 1832 at Doveridge. For many years he was a post-boy as the George Hotel at Lichfield, and subsequently at the Castle Hotel here in Tamworth. It was reported that "no smart wedding was considered complete without George as postilion in his knee breeches, top boots, scarlet jacket, and velvet cap." Upon becoming too old for the saddle he adopted the occupation of a cab driver, and possessing an original turn of mind, and one of the "characters" of the district, his services were eagerly sought. For many years he lived in the house over the Castle Hotel stables. In what was described as "speculation on the turf" he was phenomenally successful and enjoyed a winning streak like no other. He invested his winnings by building houses and naming them after the horses which romped home with him clutching the winning slip. He also invested in licensed property. He eventually became the landlord of the Jolly Sailor Hotel where, it was stated, "as a licensed victualler he was alike successful, and he was well respected by others associated with the trade. He evinced an active interest in the local Licensed Victuallers' Association. Throughout the county and more especially in the Black Country, he had won a name for himself as a caterer for picnic parties, hundreds of visitors journeying to his hostelry, the Jolly Sailor Hotel, during the summer months." William 'George' Tate died at the Jolly Sailor in September 1902.
The licence of the Coffee Pot Inn - or vaults of Tait's Palace of Varieties - was transferred from Oliver Boonham to Patrick MacNally in December 1897. Well, that is how he was named in the records which also stated he was formerly an innkeeper at Walsall. I see from the above notice that his initials are J.P. - he was indeed John Patrick MacNally who, in the 1896 trade directory for Walsall, was the licensee of the Mandamus Inn on Stafford Street. The Irish-born publican and his wife Florence would later run The Swan at Aldridge. However, the most significant element of the notice is that the premises were listed with the 'Empire' prefix - in January 1898 the building was advertised as the New Empire. The bill below also shows that J. P. MacNally was once one half of the "Two Macs," an act that worked on the theatrical circuit in the 1880s and 1890s. Florence meanwhile was a star attraction in her own right as a vocalist and a creator of characters such as Mickey Magee and The Exile.
The MacNally's operated the New Empire for the City Brewery of Lichfield who had acquired the premises. This company was registered in 1874 and production was based on a site between Birmingham Road and Chesterfield Road. The couple were credited for being an energetic and creative management couple who managed to attract good acts to appear at the New Empire. When they moved on to run The Swan at Aldridge the brewery had to find somebody with experience to sustain the success of the music hall. Consequently, they offered a tenancy and lured James Gregory away from Birmingham to run the place for them.
If you think that some of the previous occupants of the Coffee Pot or New Empire were remarkable then brace yourself for the story of James Gregory. Actually, I will have to overflow into the page dedicated to the Municipal Hotel for he and his wife moved from the New Empire to run that establishment and it is there that the fireworks were truly lit, though matters were already smouldering here at the New Empire.
The son of a jeweller based in Caroline Street, James Gregory was born in Birmingham in 1836. He followed in his father's footsteps and established himself as a jeweller in Vyse Street in the heart of the Jewellery Quarter. He may have had a steady career working in his workshop but his life was to change when he married Mary Ann Yates at St. Barnabas' Church in Erdington during October 1861.
Mary Ann was the daughter of Mark and Frances Yates, a couple who, for many years, had run the Shakespeare Tavern on Lower Temple Street, a public-house popular with theatre-goers. Mark Yates, a brewer and publican, on giving up the pub when widowed, moved into the Vyse Street home of James and Mary Ann Gregory. By this time he was acting manager of the Theatre Royal. On sitting down to the dinner table after a day in his workshop, James Gregory would hear tales of the theatrical world witnessed by his father-in-law. It no doubt sounded glamourous compared to his life as a jeweller.
James Gregory took a leap of faith and joined his wife's father at the Theatre Royal. The workshop was sold and the family moved out to leafy Moseley and occupied a house in Trafalgar Road. Mark Yates died at this house in 1885. James Gregory eventually became the general manager of Day's Crystal Palace of Varieties, one of Birmingham's most prestigious theatres located at the top of Hurst Street on the corner of a Smallbrook Street. By the time he arrived at the New Empire in 1899 he had more than 30 years of experience in theatre management. The City Brewery must have felt that they had found the perfect candidate to run the venue for them.
There is some coincidence between the Birmingham and Tamworth businesses. Both were once known as Palace of Varieties and the Crystal Palace would be rebuilt as the Empire, with the bar trading as the Empire Vaults.
James Gregory settled into his new role at Tamworth and made a good impression with the town's dignitaries by helping to organise musical entertainment at the Castle Fête. However, everything started to unravel when he entered a whirlwind romance with his housekeeper Janet "Nettie" Buckland. He was in his mid-60s and she was more than half his age. Janet Buckland was vivacious, a fireball, and loose cannon all rolled into one and she possessed a fiery temper. James Gregory took time out from being joined at the hip and married her in November 1900.
The new wife of James Gregory was a widow of Henry Buckland, late of the Crown and Anchor on Sneinton Road at Nottingham. She had been a circus rider in her younger days. Indeed, it is reported that each day she would be seen riding her large horse through the gateway of the pub when taking the animal for exercise. Born in Castle Sowerby, Cumberland, she had gained experience of the licensed trade when working at the Caledonian Hotel in Carlisle during the late Victorian period. She took on the role of manageress with gusto.
Disaster struck the New Empire when the magistrates refused a renewal of the music, singing and dancing licence for the establishment in September 1902. In a protracted and emotional hearing the solicitors put foward a strong case for the New Empire but there was a political mood amid the Bench who were determined to clean up the town. They had already terminated the licences for music in most of the public-houses. Inspector Marson, by instructions, opposed the application of a licence renewal.
The legal team represetng James Gregory told the magistrates that "he had been manager of the music hall for three years and nine months. Previous to coming to Tamworth he was connected with the Theatre Royal, Birmingham, and Day's Concert Hall, Birmingham, for forty years." At this stage of the hearing a testimonial from the late Mr. Farndale, chief constable of Birmingham, was read out and copies of other testimonials were handed to the Bench.
James Gregory said "the hall would accommodate 400 people. It was well attended, especially on Saturday nights. The audience consisted of the middle classes, miners, shop assistants, soldiers, and tradesmen. There were separate entrances to the stage, and there were separate dressing rooms. The room was well lighted and ventilated. He had never had any complaint from the Inspector and his men." He added "when the performances were going on the place was well looked after, four or five people being constantly in and out." James Gregory went on to remark that "he had heard of no complaints about the nature of the performances, which were exactly the same as any other music hall. Some of his artistes had been deemed worthy to perform at the Castle. The rule not to admit anyone under 16 years of age was strictly carried out."
James Gregory than produced a memorial from residents in George street who did not object to his having the licence on the grounds that it was a nuisance. He stated that "if he had gone through the town and district to get people to sign the memorial he could have got three parts of the people in the town and district to have signed, but he thought the residents in George Street would be sufficient. Overall, there was a strong case for a renewal of the licence.
Inspector Marson then stood up in the court and stated that "he knew the customers who went to the New Empire. He did not know of females of questionable character going to the house." Most of those who attended were, according to the Inspector, not females. The females, he reported, "were from the mills and factories in Tamworth and district. Soldiers were naturally at the hall at the same time as the females, but it was not a meeting place for them." He added that "the performers were about equal, male and female. Singing contests took place on artistes' benefit nights occasionally and that females did not take part in them."
Janet "Nettie" Gregory corroborated the statements made by her husband. She told the magistrates that "she officiated at the bar in the hall during the performance, and could get a good view of the concert room." She remarked that "no drink was supplied to the audience except from the bar." She also stated that "the police visited the house very frequently, sometimes two or three times a night, and there had been no complaints. There was a waiter on the floor, and one in the balcony who helped on the floor to see that order was kept."
The hearing was seemingly going well until Police Constable gave evidence in answer to Inspector Marson. He said that "he visited the music hall on January 11th last, and found it packed with people, and two or three women of questionable character were with soldiers. The room was so full on Saturdays as to be beyond all supervision. Females and males stood together at the back." The policeman added that "he had at different times found a good deal of rowdyism. He had been sent for to quell disturbances there many times." When he was cross-examined he said that he would often go three or four times on Saturday nights to quell a disturbance. However, he had never found it necessary to take proceedings against the proprietor.
Mr. Joy, acting on behalf of the applicant, addressed the Bench, and pointed out that "for no less than twenty years the place had been used as a music hall, and it had been conducted without complaint. The structure of the building came up in every point, for a small music hall, to the best that any person would wish to see." He added that "if there was anything in regard to the structure which called for improvement in the minds of the Bench, the owners would be too glad to fall in with any view they might express, and endeavour to bring up the place to their wishes." He further commented that "the performances and artistes were very much the same as were to be seen in other places." The solicitor emphasised that James Gregory "was eminently fitted to manage the place." He was keen to point out that the New Empire "offered the sort of entertainment which attracted the bulk of the working classes in the evening, and if the Bench did not renew the license it really took away the only place of amusement there was for those people, with the result that they would go to the public-house." The solicitor attempted to persuade the magistrates by stating that "many people had said many hard things about Tamworth," and he asked the Bench "not to let them add to the list that their loyal Borough had not a harmless place of amusement in it."
The Bench retired for eight minutes. On returning into the court, the Mayor said the Bench was constituted of four of the justices who considered the application in the previous year, when the subject was fully and fairly threshed out on its merits. Although the Bench believed that both James and Nettie Gregory had "made every effort to conduct their premises prudently, and with as much propriety as it was possible for anyone to do under the circumstances attaching to such licences," they stated that they had to arbitrate between the public interest and the licence. It was stated "therefore they quite saw that however earnest a proprietor might be to do something to the contrary, they recognised that it was difficult, if not impossible, to prevent certain evils arising, which they thought in the public interest." And that was it - despite them saying it was no reflection on the licensee, they gave him one week's notice to close the music hall. The Mayor closed the hearing by saying sorry to James Gregory.
With the licence going up in a puff of smoke, the City Brewery were forced to come up with a new business model for their extensive premises. This was a place that would struggle to make money on wet sales alone. James Gregory, who had given up a good position in Birmingham to forge a new life in Tamworth, also had to make a decision. He and his wife Nettie would decide to jump ship and took on a tenancy for the Municipal Hotel, a building that was to be constructed and opened towards the end of 1903.
The licence of the New Empire was transferred from James Gregory to Alfred Sayce in December 1903. Known by all as Fred, he had previously worked in the paper mill at Broad Meadow. At 32 years of age, he died within six months of taking over as manager. The licence was subsequently transferred to his wife Rosanna who hailed from Church Gresley in Derbyshire. She re-married in March 1906 to Ater Fred Bircher, another man to be known as Fred. The view below shows George Street in the years immediately following their marriage.
The frontage of the New Empire can be seen half-down on the left. Sadly, not one single building in the foreground of this image has survived into the 21st century. Indeed, much of this scene disappeared in the 1960s as the planners thought it would be great to modernise the town and remove all the historic buildings and replace them with bland retail units. Occupied by Lloyd's Bank, the building on the right is not the original banking hall that occupied this site. Fred Bircher would have witnessed the construction of the new building which was completed in October 1931.
Designed by the Nottingham-based firm of Bromley, Cartwright & Waumsley, the bank was intentionally in the Georgian style in order to blend in with the surrounding character of George Street. Little did they know that the town planners would remove all of that character during the 1960s.
The general contractors that erected the bank were Messrs. Gilbert & Hall Ltd., of Castle Boulevard in Nottingham. However, the terracotta was sourced locally from Messrs. Gibbs & Canning and was deployed in dressing the windows and doors, along with the cornice and ballustrade.
A part of old Tamworth was lost when the adjoining building was erected five years later as a branch of Montague Burton's tailoring outlets. At the time the pearl polished granite fascia did little to complement the existing Georgian and Victorian architecture but, over the years, has possibly developed its own niche within those appreciative of inter-war modernist building design. Behind the terracotta windows of the first floor was a snooker hall, a feature of many Burton Buildings from the mid-1920s onwards.
The Burton Building was constructed by Messrs. William Jackson Limited of Langley Green in the Black Country, with the structural steelwork coming from Dormon Long and Co. Ltd. of London. Like the adjacent bank, the terracotta was supplied and fixed by Messrs. Gibbs & Canning.
The Burton's store was erected on the site of the old Palace Theatre which itself formed part of the premises owned by the boot warehouse of John Thornburn - his boot emporium can be seen next to the earlier bank in the above photograph that dates from around 1908. The entrepeneur converted part of his premises to open the original Palace Theatre which had a programme of theatrical performances and silent films. John Thornburn was quite a mover-and-shaker of the town and I will look back over his career in the page devoted to Oliver's Hotel.
Looking closer at the New Empire Vaults in the mid-Edwardian period, one can see that the old entrance to the yard was partly infilled but there was still a passage to a billiard hall, a new use for the old music hall. I imagine that the snooker hall installed on the first floor of the Burton Building was a dent to the revenue earned from billiards at the New Empire.
By the time of this photograph the premises immediately adjoing had been occupied and was being used as the district offices of Frederick Smith's. The Aston-based brewery also owned the neighbouring Oliver's Hotel with Oliver Boonham being a tenant.
On the other side of the New Empire, and seen here in the foreground, was the butcher's shop of Eastman's Ltd. which traded here from the early 1890s. With their origins in Glasgow, the firm developed a chain of several hundred retail outlets. Indeed, by the end of the Victorian period, this shop was one of 400 operated by the company. In 1923 the business was acquired by the Liverpool-based Union Cold Storage Company Ltd., though the Eastman name was retained on the shop frontages until 1960 when they were rebranded to Dewhurst's.
I have not seen any deeds for the New Empire but it would seem that Fred and Rosanna Bircher bought the freehold as they advertised the property in the autumn of 1922. The City Brewery of Lichfield, who had operated the pub, was closed following a serious fire in 1916. In the following year the company, along with 200 tied houses, was acquired by Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries Ltd. but clearly the New Empire Inn escaped being mopped up by the Black Country brewers.
Selling the pub and remaining as tenants may seem an odd decision but I have seen cases of this in other locations. The reasons for such a business decision are manifold. However, although conjecture on my part, I suspect that Fred and Rosanna Bircher wanted to release some capital to finance a new direction in bottled beer wholesale and retail. Certainly, advertisements for their range of bottled ales appeared in the press after the sale of the New Empire Vaults. The couple moved into The Elms on Upper Gungate so perhaps they raised the money for this property.
A sale catalogue provided a glimpse of how things looked inside the New Empire in 1922. The particulars stated that "the house is brick and tile built and now in the occupation of the owner, and contains Front Public Bar, Smoke Room, Outside Refreshment Lobby, Excellent Cellarage with thrawls, Dining Room with range and wash-up, Pantry, Large Billiard Room containing Four Full-sized Tables, Lounge Bar and supply store. Upstairs are large Sitting Room, Landings with Cupboards, Three Bedrooms, Large Room suitable for Club Room, W.C. with Lavatory Basin. Outside are Scullery with Copper, Two-stall Stable with loft over, Urinal, W.C., and large open yard."
Rosanna and Fred Bircher somehow managed to remain free-of-tie as tenants and, as a result, they were able to sell beers from other breweries. Indeed, they often advertised in the local newspapers that the Empire Vaults was "the only free house in the district." They also made a big deal about selling draught ales from Mitchell's and Butler's which, despite having some novelty for Tamworth at this time, could hardly have matched the products being produced at Burton-on-Trent. Fred and Rosanna also pulled pints of Ansell's Beer at the Empire Vaults.
Rosanna Bircher died aged 52 in May 1927 at The Elms on Upper Gungate. The licence of the Empire Vaults was transferred to Fred on February 8th 1928.
Ind Coope decided to refurbish the Empire Vaults in the autumn of 1931. It would seem that Fred Bircher, rather than endure the mess and dust, decided to take a break and booked himself on the MS Johan Van Oldenbarnevelt, a steamship on the Nederland Royal Mail Line, which sailed from Southampton bound for Batavia in the Dutch East Indies, though the publican was stepping off at a scheduled stop at the port of Genoa.
The refurbishment of the Empire Vaults included a new central heating system installed by C.J. Cooper of Market Street. Upholstering, oak panelling and general furnishing was supplied and fitted by J. & F. Bennett of Birmingham's. The rest of the furniture and a linoleum floor was supplied and laid by W. M. Facey, a firm that traded a few doors away on the corner of College Lane. The Billiard Hall was also completely renovated. The tables were specially converted into standard match tables by Thurstons, of London. The work renovating the tables was carried out under the personal supervision of Mr. W. A. Camkin, the promoter of the International Tournament of 1930-31, which featured Walter Lindrum, Clark McConachy, Joe Davis and Tom Newman, and the tables were identical in every respect to the standard table at Thurston Hall, London.
This Christmas Price List of 1937 illustrates the extent of the trade conducted from the Empire Vaults. Fred Bircher had quite an operation here. It is not clear how much of the day-to-day tasks were being fulfilled by him. He may have taken more of a back seat, the price list shows that he had appointed Archibald Biddle as manager. He and his wife Winifred were running the pub and Archibald was also working as a mineral water manufacturer. Born in Cheslyn Hay in 1898, Archibald Biddle had grown up in Cannock where his father was an assistant manager at one of the coal mines. He married Fred Bircher's step-daughter at St Editha's Church just after the First World War. The couple had kept the Market Vaults in the mid-1930s.
In December 1941, when managing the Empire Inn, Archibald Biddle took on Francis Williams as a delivery driver for the wines and spirits side of the business. There was a shortage of labour and he employed him without proper checks on his background. This was in itself a difficult task as Williams was a volunteer evacuee from Birmingham's. In fact, he and his family had been forced to leave their previous home in London due to the air raids. His job was to deliver goods and, with a receipt book, take the cash from customers, the money to be deposited with Archibald Biddle at the end of the working day. On December 11th he left the yard with a loaded lorry but did not return. The lorry was found two days later abandoned on a car park in Sutton Coldfield. The disappearing driver made off with the cash he had received from customers. He also helped himself to several bottles from the lorry before dumping the truck. It transpired that Williams, despite his wife being pregnant and living in lodgings, took a train to London and aimlessly drifted around spending the money. When all the cash was gone he returned to see his wife but was promptly arrested. The magistrates, learning of his air raid experiences, ordered a very lenient fine.
Fred Bircher relinquished the licence of the Empire Inn during the Second World War, with George Hall Leslie taking over as licensee in April 1944. I am not sure if Fred Bircher retired at this point in his life. A relatively wealthy man from his successful career, he lived at The Elms on Upper Gungate before he died in July 1961 at the General Hospital. The transfer sessions stated that Fred Bircher relinquished the property to Ansell's Brewery Ltd. which makes me wonder what happed to Ind Coope? The licensing record book does list the company as previous owners. As can be seen below, the livery of the Aston-based company featured on the building during the 1950s, long before they merged with Ind Coope in 1961. More investigation needed here!
Prior to taking over at the Empire, George Hall Leslie had been a licensee in Birmingham for six years and, according to Inspector J.C. Jones, a man of some experience in the licensed trade. Born in November 1899, he married Clara Eakins at Nantwich in April 1931. By the end of the decade they were running The Dolphin on Hospital Street on the edge of Aston New Town. The move to the Empire Vaults was possibly an in-house move as The Dolphin was also operated by Ansell's Brewery Ltd. The couple would later run the Old White Lion on Bolebridge Street before George Leslie died in October 1957.
Despite being listed as a building of special architectural or historic interest, the Empire Inn fell victim to the local council's redevelopment plans of the 1960s. The Empire closed on August 17th 1968. Licensee Mrs. Alice Fegan organised a farewell party and the place was jam-packed as Tammies drank a final toast to one of their favourite watering holes. Basil Sigley banged out some popular tunes on the piano and when it was time to lock up many of the locals had tears in their eyes.
Related Newspaper Articles
"The natural quietude of Harlaston was somewhat disturbed on Sunday last by a report that a married woman named Pegg, about 50 years of age,
was missing. Being a confirmed laudanum drinker the case assumed a grave aspect, and P.C. Small was consulted by the bereaved husband and finally charged with the painful
task of unravelling the mysteries of the case, and restoring the lost one to her friends, dead or alive. The instructions to the constable on Monday were, that she left
home on business for Elford on Saturday last, and had never returned. It was at first arranged to drag the various rivers in the neighbourhood, and make a thorough search
of all the old barns and outhouses that thickly stud this rustic elysium; but the timid shrunk back from the task imbued with a fear of confronting weird ghosts and
goblins. Left to his own resources the officer, with an instinct peculiar to the Force, followed the traces of the truant one, but with no great success; and he
could find no clue of her whereabouts beyond the Coffee Pot Inn, at Tamworth, where she was last seen quietly enjoying a pint of ale and a short pipe. It was
also ascertained by him that she had purchased fifteen penny-worth of laudanum at a druggist's in the town. Nothing more could be gleaned and with sorrowful
forebodings of coming evil the search was given up. It may therefore be imagined that great was the joy in Harlaston two or three days after, when Mrs. Pegg, as
suddenly as she had disappeared, returned to her friends and home, looking none the worse for her escapade. With becoming modesty she recounted her travels and
hearty congratulations were poured in on all sides by friendly neighbours, on her return once more to domestic joy and felicity."
Tamworth Herald : November 30th 1872 Page 4
Note: I suspect that this was Elizabeth Pegg who is recorded in the 1871 census living at Harlaston with her husband Joseph, an agricultural labourer. Their twelve-year-old son John was recorded as a plough boy. Their daughter Emma was still at school. Elizabeth's father John Tilly also lived at the cottage.
"John Wright, collier, of Bolebridge Street, was charged with assaulting John Faulkner, collier, in the Coffee Pot Inn, on Saturday night
last. It appears a dispute ensued between the parties, and complainant "reckoning he was the best man" defendant struck him. Dismissed on defendant's
paying 6s. 6d."
Tamworth Herald : March 8th 1873 Page 4
"A young man of good address and respectable appearance, obtained lodgings at the Coffee Pot Inn, George Street, on Monday last. A
recruiting Depot is established at the Inn and the lodger, a well-built strapping young fellow, yielded to the blandishments of the Recruiting Sergeant;
and enlisted into the 26th Foot. On Wednesday morning last the eventful time arrived when the aspirant to military renown was to go through the preliminaries of
surgical examination, prior to commencing "active service" in the British Army. After rising, nervous and anxious, he loitered over his "toilette"
until the other inmates of the hostelry had gone downstairs, when, in a very un-military manner, he went to the landlord's apartments and with the aid of
skeleton keys obtained access to the cash drawer, which he emptied of its contents - a £5. note and about. £20. in gold and silver. On coming down
he declined taking breakfast on the plea of being unwell, and after exchanging a cordial farewell he took his departure "en route" for the Pension Office,
Derby, but it is almost needless to say he has failed to report himself there. The landlord Mr. Charles Beesley, had occasion to go to his cash drawer soon after
he had gone and, as may be imagined, his consternation was very great on finding it open and minus its contents. The "young recruit" was at once suspected
and telegrams were sent in all directions after him, but up to the present he has escaped detection. Inspector Woollaston has taken the case in hand, and hopes
are entertained of the culprit's early apprehension for which a reward of £5. as been offered. The runaway who gave the name "Henry Cook" and
hails from Mansfield, in Nottinghamshire, is 20 years of age and about 5 feet 7 inches high, and has the figure of a fish, anchor and Shamrock tattooed on his
"Daring Robbery by a Recruit"
Tamworth Herald : March 8th 1873 Page 4
"Thomas Strong alias "The Pinner," labourer, of Wigginton, was charged with drunkenness, and immoral conduct in the streets.
P.C. Gilbride said he received information that the defendant was lying drunk in the Coffee Pot yard, on Sunday evening last. He went after him and met him
opposite the Town Hall. He was drunk and a man was taking him home. Witness followed him and arrested him at Lady Bridge. He had received complaints from respectable
persons about his disgraceful conduct to children. He afterwards confronted him with some little girls, and they complained that he had given them money to go with
him into a privy. The Mayor, after severely commenting on the defendant's conduct, fined him 5s. 10d. and costs, or 7 days."
"The Pinner Pinned"
Tamworth Herald : June 21st 1873 Page 4
"George Cooke, of Amington, was charged with allowing his horse and cart to stand opposite the Coffee Pot Inn, George Street, on
Christmas Eve unguarded. P.C. Harrison found Cooke in the public-house drinking. Defendant did not appear, and against whom were recorded three or four convictions
during the last 12 months, was fined 10s and 10s. costs, or 14 days."
"Caution to Waggoners"
Tamworth Herald : January 10th 1875 Page 4
"Samuel Cockram, a collier residing in Bolebridge Street, was summoned for being drunk at the Coffee Pot Inn, George Street, on
Sunday evening, the 31st ult. He did not answer to his summons, and the case was proved in his absence by P.C. Gilbride, who said that from information he received
he went into the public-house and saw defendant who was drunk and very noisy. He went to fetch a witness from the police-station and when he returned he
was gone. Defendant, who has been several times before the Bench for like offences, was fined 5s. and costs."
Tamworth Herald : February 13th 1875 Page 4
"Charles Beesley, landlord of the Coffee Pot Inn, George Street, was charged by Inspector Woollaston with being drunk whilst in charge of
a horse and trap, on the 26th ult., on the highway between Bonehill and Fazeley. Fined 5s. and costs."
"County Petty Sessions"
Tamworth Herald : September 10th 1870 Page 4
"At the Borough Police Court, on Saturday, before the Mayor and Mr I. Bradbury, Thomas Mayfield , rag-and-bone gatherer,
who said he came from Newport, Shropshire, was charged with stealing two pounds of horse-hair, value 3s., belonging to Mr. Beesley, Coffee Pot Inn, George Street,
on the previous day. The horse-hair was kept in the prosecutor's back kitchen. About one o'clock the previous afternoon, prosecutor's wife saw the
prisoner come down the yard, from the direction of the back kitchen, carrying a bag on his back, but took no further notice. Between two and three o'clock the
prisoner went to Mr. Charles Whitehouse's shop in Gungate, and offered some horse-hair for sale, which Mrs. Whitehouse purchased for 1s. 7½d. [and
which was now identified by the prosecutor as part of that he placed in his back kitchen]. The prisoner then seems to have made a return to they the Coffee Pot
Inn, for he was shortly afterwards met by the prosecutor walking coolly out of the back kitchen with a hare-skin of prosecutor's in his hand and a bag on
his back. Having his suspicions aroused, prosecutor with asked what he had in the bag, when prisoner replied "hair." Opening the bag, prosecutor found the hair
to be the remaining portion of what had been left in the kitchen. Prisoner then offered "all the money in his pocket" if prosecutor would "let him free of
the police." Prisoner was sent to gaol for one month, with hard labour."
"Stealing Horse Hair"
Tamworth Herald : December 25th 1875 Page 4
"Charles Beesley, landlord of the Coffee Pot Inn, George Street, was charged by Inspector McCrea with permitting drunkenness on his
licensed premises on the 16th inst. Mr. Atkins, instructed by the Tamworth Licensed Victuallers Association, defended. P.C. Murphy said on the 16th inst., at 8.25 p.m.,
he visited the defendant's house. On entering the tap room he saw 9 or 10 men there. Two of them named Snowden and Kelly were very drunk. There were two empty glasses
on the table before them and a jug of water near. The landlady was in the tap room at the time, and he asked her where the landlord was. She said he was at the back.
Witness drew her attention to the drunken state of the two men, and she replied, "They have not been very long here, and I did not think they were drunk." He
told her they had been there 15 minutes to his knowledge; but she did not request them to leave. Witness then went away. He had seen Snowden and Kelly about 15
minutes earlier in the evening very drunk in George Street, and noticed them entering the Coffee Pot Inn. He visited the house again at 8.50 p.m. in company with
P.C. Mayer, and saw the landlord. On naming the matter to him, he said "I hope you will take no notice of it; I was in the parlour at the time and did not know
what was going on." Witness told him he should do his duty, and that he would hear of it on another day. P.C. Mayer corroborated. In answer to the charge Charles
Beesley, the defendant, was examined. He said he was out of the house at 8 o'clock, but came into the front room whilst the policemen were there. and heard P.C. Murphy
say to his wife. "Are you aware they are drunk." He then walked into the tap room, and heard his wife say, "No, I don't think they are drunk." The
police then walked out. He said nothing to Murphy, and was not aware of the latter having spoken to him. He did not supply the two men with drink. Mrs. Mary Ann Beesley
said she was in the kitchen on the night in question drawing water, when P.C.Murphy came in and said to her, "Are you aware that you have three men drunk in the
house£" She said she did not know it. He then asked her a second time, and she said "Who are they?," and he pointed out Snowden and two others
whom she did not know. She told him she was not award they were drunk. The constable then asked for her husband, and he came in just after. The men entered unnoticed to
her, and she did not supply them with anything to drink. She did hear Snowden say that he had had a pint of ale and two glasses of "twopenny" in the house. The
magistrates said that as the police were unable to prove that the men had been supplied with drinks in the house, they had no alternative but to dismiss the summons.
They considered it a very proper case for investigation and cautioned the defendant as to the way in which he conducted his house in the future."
Tamworth Herald : July 28th 1877 Page 3
"James Wedd, Glascote, was charged by P.C. Biddulph with being drunk in George Street, on Monday evening. Defendant pleaded not guilty.
The officer said at about 7.15 on the previous evening he found the defendant drunk and refusing to quit the Coffee Pot Inn, George Street. He had been turned out
of the same house twice previously during the evening. Fined 5s. and costs or 14 days."
Tamworth Herald : May 26th 1877 Page 2
"William Smith, of Gungate Street, Tamworth, and Frederick Atkins, of Glascote, were charged by Inspector Dodd with a breach of the peace
in George Street, Tamworth, on the 12th ult. Each defendant pleaded not guilty. P.C. Keegan stated that on Saturday, December 12th, about 11 p.m., he went to quell a
disturbance in George Street. He saw a large crowd of people near the Coffee Pot Inn Smith was very noisy and quarrelling with a man then unknown, and he
requested them to go away. Both the men went along the street as far as the Bricklayers' Arms Inn, where they fought each other. Smith was knocked down on the
ground, and on his getting up witness asked him who he had been fighting with? He replied, "With Fred Atkins." Witness did not see Atkins in the row, as
several of the men bolted when he arrived upon the scene. On serving the summons upon Atkins, however, he acknowledged having struck the other defendant, but he also
said that Smith fought with him. Mary Ann Hunter, wife of Frank Hunter, bricklayer, of The Leys, stated that on Saturday night, the 10th ult., she saw a "bit of
a bother" between Smith and a young man from Polesworth [but not Atkins] in George Street. Atkins, however, was trying to take this young man away from
Smith, and so prevent a disturbance. This was near the Coffee Pot Inn. On going down the street, opposite the Bricklayers' Arms, Smith and Atkins had some words
together, and Atkins struck Smith, knocking him down. Atkins also fell down during the scuffle. Ann Partington, married woman, of the Leys, corroborated, stating that
on Smith being knocked down by Atkins she picked him up and advised him to go home, and he did so. She was quite sure Smith never struck the other defendant. The Bench
bound each of the defendants over in the sum of £5 to keep the peace for a term of 6 months, and ordered them to pay the costs, 9s. 9d. each."
"Breach of the peace in George Street"
Tamworth Herald : January 9th 1886 Page 8
"Thomas Wilson was summoned for leaving his horse and cart in George Street, on the 6th inst., without its being under the control of any
person. Defendant pleaded not guilty, and said he left his son in charge of the horse and cart. P.C. Finney proved the offence, and said he watched the horse and cart
standing alone in the road, near the Coffee Pot, for some considerable time. He went into the public-house to see if the defendant was there, but he was not,
and he therefore waited until defendant returned twenty-five minutes afterwards, in company with his wife and son. When asked for his name he said it was on the
cart. Defendant repeated his statement that his son was in charge of the horse and cart, and he was only fetching a parcel when the policeman came up. Defendant was
ordered to pay the costs of the case."
"Leaving his Horse & Cart"
Tamworth Herald : January 22nd 1887 Page 8
"John Robinson, hawker, of Moor Street, Tamworth, was charged with assaulting Agnes Rose, wife of the proprietor of the Coffee Pot
Inn, George Street, on the 27th April. Complainant said she did not wish to press the charge, as she did not think the defendant assaulted her wilfully. He had
endeavoured to enter the house after eleven in the evening, and she told him he could not come in, as it was late. Defendant then created a disturbance, and in
aiming a blow at someone in the passage he struck her. Defendant was not the worse for drink, and she hoped the Bench would deal lightly with the case. Robinson
appeared to have left something in the house, which he desired to fetch, but of this she was unaware at the time. The Bench held that an assault had been committed,
and told the defendant he might think himself very fortunate that the complainant had not pressed the charge against him. He would be fined 2s. 6d. and costs. Time
was granted for the payment of the fine."
Tamworth Herald : May 14th 1887 Page 8
"Eliza Seal, married, Gungate, was summoned for assaulting Mary Farmer, married. Seal also summoned John Farmer, miner, Lichfield Street,
for assault. Mr. Dewes appeared for the Farmers. Seal admitted assaulting Mrs. Farmer. Mrs. Farmer stated that at 10.45 on the night of June 4th she and her husband
were near the Coffee Pot, when Mrs. Seal said to her "I've been looking for you for some time." She did not reply, and Mrs. Seal struck her three
severe blows on the face, pulled her hair, and knocked her against the Star Tea Company's window, breaking it. She was seriously hurt, and was still suffering
from the effects of the blow. She tried to hit defendant but could not do so, as Mrs. Seal sent her into the gutter. Cross-examined: Mrs. Farmer said she
had not been drinking with Mrs. Seal's husband, and had not walked with him in Coton Lane. Mrs. Seal stated that when she saw Mrs. Farmer she asked her if she
was ready to go with her husband again. Mrs. Farmer replied "Yes," and she [Mrs. Seal] hit her with her open hand. Farmer then said to his wife
"If you don't give her a good hiding I will." Mrs. Farmer then took off her hat, ran at witness and tore her dress. Farmer struck her a severe blow on
the side of the head. By Mr. Dewes: She did not "give" Mrs. Farmer as much as she would have liked to have given her. If she had had a little more time
she would have given her more, as she had caused her [Mrs. Seal's] husband to ill-use her. Joseph Seal, son of Mrs. Seal, said he saw Farmer strike her.
Farmer gave evidence and said he did not strike Mrs. Seal. The spectators cried "shame" on him for not interfering to save his wife. He knew of nothing wrong
between his wife and Mrs. Seal's husband. Alfred Smith, Kettlebrook, stated that Mrs. Seal struck Mrs. Farmer and pulled her hair. Farmer then told his wife to
"have a go" at Mrs. Seal, and she did, but Mrs. Seal had the best of it. George Gadsby, miner, Aldergate, stated that Mrs. Seal struck Mrs. Farmer and knocked
her into the gutter. As she got up Mrs. Seal pulled her hair, and then knocked her against the window. Farmer did not interfere. After a lengthy consultation the
Bench fined Mrs. Seal 2/6 and costs. They dismissed the cases against the Farmers, and remitted the costs."
"A Whit-Monday Disturbance"
Tamworth Herald : June 23rd 1900 Page 5
"One Of the houses which had changed hands since the last licensing day, was the Coffee Pot Inn, George Street, with Concert Hall
attached, but Mr. W. G. Tait, who had taken the premises over from Mr. G. Rose, did not appear, and it was stated that he had driven a commercial gentleman some
distance from the town. The Bench said he ought to have been present, and Inspector Dodd said he had sent to Mr. Tait that morning to inform him of the necessity of
appearing at the Court with his licence. The Bench said the consideration of the matter must be adjourned, and the premises must be closed meanwhile. They mentioned
that the regular Petty Sessions would be held on the following Wednesday. Oliver Boonham, who attended on behalf of Tait, said he was managing the business for the
latter, and in reply to questions, he said he did not sleep on the premises, but went there in the morning and left at night. The barmaid and a servant slept in the
house. He urged that serious loss would result from the closing of the house. The professionals engaged that week entailed a cost of £10, and if the premises
were closed, they would have to be paid their salaries just the same. The Bench said Mr. Tait should have taken precautions against this by attending the Court.
Mr. E. Argyle said the Bench considered there was a particular reason why Mr. Tait should attend. Eventually the case was ordered to be adjourned until the following
Friday morning, the premises to be closed in the meantime. Later on in the day, however, the transfer was granted privately."
"The Licence of the Concert Hall"
Tamworth Herald : June 14th 1890 Page 5
"Enoch Hobbs was summoned for assaulting Hannah Dan, married woman on the 24th ult. Defendant pleaded not guilty. Complainant stated that
on the evening named she was going along George Street with her husband and a friend and met the defendant and his wife, with whom they went and had a drink. Some words
arose while in the Coffee Pot Inn, and when they left the defendant wanted to fight her husband. As the latter was drunk she did not want him to fight, and got
between them and pushed the defendant, who thereupon knocked her down, marking her face. But for interference he would have still further ill-used her. Replying to
Hobbs complainant admitted striking his wife inside and outside the public-house. It was not true that she was drunk, and no-one in Tamworth had ever seen her
drunk. A witness named Joseph Charnell deposed to witnessing the assault, and said defendant would have struck him but that he thought he was "a better man.-
[laughter]. Defendant denied the assault, and said he only interfered between complainant and his wife, but the Bench considered the case proved, and fined
defendant 5s. and costs, allowing a week for payment."
"Keeping Up Christmas"
Tamworth Herald : January 2nd 1892 Page 5
"William Congrave, bricklayer, Glascote, was charged with having assaulted Oliver Boonham, on the 1st May. Complainant stated that he was
manager of Mr. Tait's music hall, at the Coffee Pot Inn. About eight o'clock in the evening the defendant came into the hall in company with another man
and was supplied with a pint of ale. He created a noise shortly afterwards and witness called for "order." He was quiet for a time and was about to go to sleep.
Witness went to arouse him, and he used abusive language, and told witness to mind his own business. The man who was with him promised to take care of him, and to see
him outside. Witness followed them out of the hall, and the defendant turned round and made a running kick at his shin. He then bolted down George Street. In reply to
the Bench witness said he had had to have the wound attended to by Dr. Harrison. Inspector Dodd said defendant had been at work for Mr. Musson at Glascote. He was
really a stranger. Fined 10/- and costs; in default of payment 14 days' imprisonment with hard labour."
"Assault on a Music Hall Manager"
Tamworth Herald : June 17th 1893 Page 8
"George Gimson , groom, the Leys, Tamworth, was charged with having committed wilful damage to the windows at the Coffee
Pot Inn, the property of Oliver Boonham the landlord, on Feb. 25th. Defendant admitted the offence. Prosecutor stated that the man entered inn about one o'clock
and quarrelled with a man named Tomlinson. The parties left, and after an absence of six minutes defendant, who was very excited, made a violent made a violent effort
to get into the vaults, breaking the plate glass doors. Defendant was not drunk but overcome with passion. The damage done amounted to 15/-. Inspector Dodd
said defendant was so violent that he threw a brick through the window of a private house. Defendant said owing to an accident which he received some years ago by
which his head was injured, a little drink upset his mind. He had undertaken to pay for the damage done at the private house. He threw a brick at a man who struck
him, but it missed him and went through the window. Inspector Dodd said defendant had created much trouble in the town, and the damage was caused out of pure
viciousness. P.C. Wheway deposed to taking defendant into custody, stating that he had to chase him for a considerable distance through the town. The Bench fined
defendant 1/-. and 8/-. costs, and ordered him to pay the amount of the damage."
Tamworth Herald : February 29th 1896 Page 5
"George Lindsey, drayman, in the employ of the Lichfield City Brewery Company, was summoned for causing an obstruction in George Street on
July 17th. Mr. Matthews defended. P.C. Lewis stated that defendant's dray stood in front of the New Empire, George Street, from 5 o'clock to 5-25, when
defendant came out of the public-house and said he had just finished work. Only one vehicle could pass the dray. By Mr. Matthews : The dray was there at an
unreasonable time, and prevented vehicles passing each other at that spot. Mr. Matthews said a similar case was heard a few weeks ago against an employee of the same
company. Defendant had to deliver 20 cases of bottles, two casks, and a jar of whiskey. He had to stack the cases and barrels and that took him some time, but as soon
as he had finished he simply waited to get his book signed and have a drink, which took about five minutes. Facilities must be afforded traders, and it was unfortunate
that the servants of that company should be singled out for prosecution. Defendant gave evidence bearing out Mr. Matthews' statement, and said he first got to the
pubic-house about four o'clock. The Bench said they believed the vehicle remained an unnecessary time after being loaded, and they fined defendant 2/6 and
Tamworth Herald : August 4th 1900 Page 5
"Arthur Chetwynd, on bail, miner, Gungate, was summoned for being found drunk on the licensed premises of the Empire inn, on January 18th.
Defendant denied the offence. Mr. J. Matthews defended. P.C. Cope deposed to visiting the inn about 5-20 p.m. Defendant was in the vaults sitting on a seat in the
middle of the room, "lolling" about. Defendant was drunk. Mrs. Sayce, wife of the landlord, was behind the bar and he called her attention to the man's
condition. In reply, the landlady said "He has not been here long," and she asked him to leave. She asked witness not to say anything about it, and have
"something," but he declined. Defendant refused to give his name and address and used indecent language. After threatening to hit him, defendant staggered
across the room to the bar. There was a glass, on the counter with beer in it. Defendant drank and asked witness to drink. Defendant afterwards went out and again
refused to give the constable his name and address, threatening to strike him. Defendant was locked up. He used indecent language on the way to the police station,
where he became violent. Cross-examined: Defendant objected to be locked up. He did not say to the landlady "He is not drunk, he has had enough." A
man had previously complained at the Police Station that, some men at the Empire had put his hat on the fire and drank his beer, and that caused him to go to the inn.
The defendant staggered two yards to the counter. The man could stand alone. He only knew the man who complained by sight. P.C Hadley said the defendant was drunk
when brought to the police station. Inspector Marson corroborated and added that the accused smelt very strongly of drink. When defendant was in the cell he kicked
the door and made such a row that they had to take his boots off. He was bailed out after being locked up some six hours. Mr. Matthews said he was surprised that the
police had not charged the defendant with using filthy and indecent language. That he was drunk was most emphatically denied. The defendant was an old soldier and
such men seemed to have the habit of getting excited; there was a sort of racial hatred between them and the police. The man who complained to the police rejoiced
in the name of "Tin-bob," and the police had not called him. The reason was perfectly obvious, the man, would not have corroborated the constable in regard
to the charge of drunkenness. Having emphasised the fact that P.C. Cope's evidence as to what took place in the inn was uncorroborated, he remarked that the proper
charge against the defendant was for using bad language and not drunkenness. He thought the object of bringing the charge was with a view to further proceedings against
the landlord, who was ill at the time. He had many times testified to the truthful and impartial manner in which the police gave their evidence, but he was sorry to say
in this case P.C. Cope had grossly exaggerated and misrepresented the true facts. Defendant said he returned from the South African War twelve months last August. He
denied that he was lolling about as stated, and asserted that he was sober. He refused to give his name to the constable because he would not tell him what he wanted
it for. P.C. Cope did not charge him with being drunk, but in reply to the landlady he said, he [defendant] was not drunk but had had enough. He sat close to
the counter and it was untrue that he staggered. He did not get up to take his drink. Cross-examined: Defendant admitted five previous convictions. He left
home at eleven o'clock in the morning. Five of them partook of a quart of ale at the Municipal Hotel. At the Corn Exchange, where they stayed about an hour, they
had another quart. It might be three or four o'clock when he went to the Empire. Rosanna Sayce, wife of the licensee of the Empire, deposed that in consequence of
the illness of her husband she was in charge of the business. Chetwynd came in with two other men, and seemed perfectly sober. She supplied Chetwynd with a pint of
beer in a jug. The other men drank with him. After Chetwynd had refused to give P.C. Cope his name, the constable asked her the man's name. She told him Arthur,
and that she did not know his other name. The constable then said : "This man has had enough to drink." She said: "Is he drunk?" and the
constable answered: "No, but he has had enough." Chetwynd then left at her request. Cross-examined: She only supplied Chetwynd and the other two
men with one pint of ale. At this stage Mr. Matthews raised a technical objection, which he submitted was sufficient to dispose of the case. Inspector Marson put
certain questions to defendant in cross-examination which he ought not to have done, but having put them he must take the consequences. It was provided in the
Criminal Evidence Act 1895, that a person charged, called as a witness or who tendered himself as a witness, should not be asked, and if asked, should not be required
to answer any question tending to show that he had committed, or been convicted, or charged with any offence other than that wherewith he was charged, or was of bad
character; unless the proof that he had committed, or been convicted of such other offences was admissible evidence to show that he was guilty of the offence
wherewith he was charged; or unless personally, or by his advocate, he had asked questions of witnesses for the prosecution with a view of establishing his own
good character. The provisions of the statute were clear, and convictions were occasionally upset, and one was quite recently upset, on the ground that the counsel
for the prosecution had asked a prisoner, called in his own defence, a question in regard to a previous conviction. The Inspector asked questions which were illegal
and which might tend to influence the Bench in coming to a decision in the case. Whether the questions and the answers so asked and put did or did not prejudice the
minds of the Bench was quite immaterial. The fact of the provisions of the statute having been broken was sufficient to entitle the defendant to his acquittal.
Inspector Marson: "I asked the defendant the questions on purpose to show his character." Mr. Matthews: "And that is exactly what the Act of
Parliament says you shall not do." Inspector Marson: And to assist in proving the case against him." The Mayor said before giving a decision on the
technical point raised they would hear an independent witness. Mr. Matthews said he should be willing to call all the evidence; he would rather take the verdict
of the Bench on the merits of the case. The Mayor said the defendant was perfectly safe in the hands of the Bench. He appreciated the provision made by the law.
There was no right to be an importation of any evidence calculated to punish a man twice over [applause]. Fred Atkins, miner, Kettlebrook, said on a recent
occasion he gave evidence in favour of a similar prosecution. Chetwynd was perfectly sober when in the inn. He was present when P.C. Cope came in and he told him he
should appear as a witness against him if he brought forward a charge of drunkenness against Chetwynd. The man was quiet and orderly before the policeman arrived.
Mr. Matthews said he had four other witnesses whom he could call and who would depose to the same effect. The Mayor said he thought probably Mr. Matthews would be
satisfied and agree not to press the technical point raised, though he agreed that it was an important one, and in his opinion the matters ought not to have been
introduced. The Bench preferred to decide the case on its merits. Whilst they recognised the great difficulty the police had in dealing with the cases arising under
the Licensing Act, they must nevertheless have due regard for the many difficulties with which licensed victuallers had to deal. Notwithstanding the evidence of the
police, who all testified that in their judgment the defendant was drunk, they had to take into account that he was an old soldier, and perhaps, what was not very
complimentary, he was an old fool as well; that was his [the Mayor's] opinion, although he was a young man [laughter]. There was no charge,
however, brought against the man for acting the fool. There was no doubt he was a very foolish man and he would be very much better without taking drink, because on
account of his very excitable temperament he was apt to bring trouble upon himself. The majority of the Bench considered the evidence was insufficient to sustain a
conviction. There was a doubt about it, and they would give Chetwynd the benefit of it; the case would be dismissed."
"Unsustained Charge of Drunkenness"
Tamworth Herald : January 30th 1904 Page 8