Some history of the King's Arms
This building has traded under a number of names over the years but the King's Arms is the sign that the pub displayed for a hundred years from the early 19th century until the inter-war years. The hostelry's name then changed to the Cat in the Window, allegedly because the publican's cat was forever sat on the window ledge looking at the world going by. In more recent times the building was called The Heron's Nest. However, the sign of the King's Arms returned to the building in 2014.
A history panel on the building claims that a pub opened here in 1816 and it was called the Blue Bear. This panel was erected when the pub was refurbished for the Mitchell's and Butler's pub group so perhaps the firm responsible had access to historical documents held by the company. However, I have not seen any evidence to support the claim that this building was once called the Blue Bear.
According to licensing records for Warwickshire, there was a publican named James Bradley running a Blue Boar at Knowle in 1814. Prior to this, licensing records show James Bradley as early as 1807 at Hampton-in-Arden. Until Knowle was constituted an ecclesiastical parish in January 1850, the village formed part of Hampton-in-Arden, therefore the earlier records of James Bradley are possibly a reference to this location. Accordingly, the pub could have traded for almost a decade before the date suggested on the history panel.
The Blue Boar was a prevalent inn sign during former times and was a heraldic reference to the Earl of Oxford. The number of signs increased after the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, a campaign in which John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford, was a principal commander of the victorious King Henry VII's army. The White Boar was a symbol of the vanquished King Richard III and, according to legend, most inn signs bearing a white boar were painted blue, a badge associated with John de Vere, Earl of Oxford. The above inn sign is a photograph I took outside the Blue Boar at Aldbourne some years ago. Notice that the Blue Boar is trampling over a standard of the deceased king, the monarch who would turn up under a Leicester car park centuries later. Warwickshire once had a good number of Blue Boar taverns, notably in Birmingham, Southam, Mancetter and Temple Grafton.
It was in 1816 that Hernfield is first recorded against the name of the licensed victualler James Bradley. The evidence of him trading under the sign of the Blue Boar since 1807 could be in this location but it could also refer to another building in Knowle. It was the case that some publicans removed the name of their business to another location, a strategy that ensured continued trade from established patrons. I guess I will not know for sure unless I see the deeds for this property. James Bradley was married to a woman called Elizabeth. I established this through a baptism record for John Bradley at Knowle in July 1811. He died in August 1929 and a notice in Aris's Birmingham Gazette showed that he was "the third son of James and Elizabeth Bradley, late of Hernfield, Knowle."
My search through the licence register unearthed the King's Arms name here in Knowle during 1817 when William Wheeler was the licensee. The Wheeler family was closedly associated with the King's Arms for many years. The pub's history panel states that the name changed by 1841 but it would appear that the sign was altered many years before this. Besides, the accuracy of the panel is further undermined by its mention of a publican called Henry Croak. The actual name of this licensee was Charles Henry Crook so spell-checking is not the strength of the researcher of this history panel! Indeed, the panel suggests that Henry Croak was here in the late 1930s when in fact he and his wife had left Knowle by 1920 and were living at No.69 Blythswood Road, a short distance from Tyseley railway station. By 1927 the couple had moved to a house on the Warwick Road, a matter of yards from the Britannia Inn. Consequently, my faith in this erroneous history panel is somewhat diminished.
So, now that I have completely trashed the pub's history panel, I will endeavour to furnish you with some facts about this historic tavern. The Wheeler family kept the King's Arms for many years. The earliest reference I have found for Joseph Wheeler, son of William, is dated 1832. An electoral register for 1837 records him at Navigation Bridge, Hernfield. The bridge has since been named after the pub, the structure having to be rebuilt in 1924 to bear heavier traffic, along with the widening of the canal during the inter-war years. Hernfield or Hearnfield were the names applied to this locale in earlier times, though it is now known as Heronfield. I assume that herons favoured the waters of Cuttle Brook and the local pools as a good source of fish! The birds would not have complained about the construction of the canal and its feeder channels for they provided another source of hunting.
The Warwick & Birmingham Canal was a key reason that a public house should open here on the Warwick Road. However, it was not the only factor - the waterway passed under the old turnpike road so it was perhaps inevitable that a wharf would be created to facilitate the transfer of goods and raw materials. The Wheeler family were very much involved in this field and Joseph Wheeler's son, also named Joseph, started up in business as a coal dealer. He and his employees would have unloaded the coal in bulk from barges before transferring the black stuff into sacks for onward distribution and sale to local households and businesses.
The core business here at the King's Arms, however, was agriculture. The Wheeler family operated an 80-acre farm and employed several local men to help with the seasonal tasks. There was little incentive for the Wheeler family, already busy with the farm and activities on the wharf, to brew the ales sold at the King's Arms. These could be purchased from a common brewer and transported along the canal to the pub. The Warwick & Birmingham Canal really did create economic opportunities for some people. Not that the original canal was a great success overall. It was constructed at the fag end of the 18th century as a narrow waterway but soon suffered from the competition of the railways. It was not until 1929 that the navigation became part of the Grand Union Canal which saw improvements to the channel, locks and bridges during the 1930s.
Joseph Wheeler was born around 1786. He married Henrietta Burrell in 1815 at Wootton Wawen, the village of her birth. Indeed, when he died in 1844 he was carted off to be buried at Wootton Wawen. He was not the only licensee of a public house at Hernfield. Below is an advertisement for a beer house known as the Half-Way House, located on the turnpike road at Hernfield.
Although only holding a beer house licence, the Halfway House was clearly geared up for the lucrative coaching trade - though commercial traffic was already waning with the canal and was soon to be completely diminished with the advent of the railways. The property was evidently substantial and it was stated within the advertisement that it was possible to convert the stables into five cottages. Perhaps the location of this house was on the site of Heronfield Cottages on the road to Chadwick End?
The advertisement shows that the Half-way House was in the occupation of William Horton. He is recorded at Hernfield in the census conducted four years prior to this advert. Born around 1764, he lived with his wife Elizabeth and their children and grandchildren. Now it is time to throw a spanner in the works - the census shows that whilst William Wheeler was working a farm here at Hernfield, the publican recorded by the census enumerator was William Hawkins. This could however have been an earlier beer retailer at the Half-way House along the turnpike road. If only the enumerator had put a little more detail in the book!
Following Joseph Wheeler's death in 1844, his wife Henrietta succeeded as licensee of the King's Arms. She was helped by her daughter Elizabeth Crombie and also employed agricultural workers to work the land. Son Joseph forged on with his coal business, along with trading in lime. He had competition as a similar business operation was based at Knowle Hall wharf.
Following Henrietta Wheeler's death at the age of 70 in November 1866, the licence of the King's Arms was taken over by William Taylor. Born in Solihull in 1821, the former cattle dealer had formerly lived to the south-west of the pub at Norton Green, along with his wife Mary and their children. Note however, he later claimed he was born in Rowington. After taking over the King's Arms he also carried on the farming enterprise, though the working acreage had been reduced. He was also recorded as a coal dealer.
The King's Arms was the subject of a convoluted court case in April 1891 when the brewer Michael Fanning applied for the transfer of the license from William Taylor to Joseph Bennett. The applicant, on oath, explained that he had purchased the house, and had given Taylor. who was a yearly tenant, notice to quit at Lady-day. Taylor asked for a little extension of time, and Michael Fanning allowed him to remain until April 14th. However, although William Taylor gave up possession of the King's Arms, he refused to give up the licence. Mary Taylor appeared in court and told the Bench that the tenancy did not expire until Michaelmas, and, as Fanning had refused to compensate them for the fittings, which she stated belonged to them, they would not give up the licence. Mr. Garnett, supervisor of the Inland Revenue, appeared before the magistrates and said that this was a most unusual case and that he could not give Bennett a licence until William Taylor surrendered his. Under the circumstances, it was stated that it would be illegal for Joseph Bennett, the incoming tenant, to sell drinks. Accordingly, the Bench granted a temporary authority, but told Michael Fanning that he had better either let the Taylor's continue as licence holders until September, or cease selling until he got possession of the licence.
As a widow, Mary Taylor continued to live in part of the property whilst the Plant family were running the King's Arms at the turn of the 20th century.
By the end of the Edwardian period Charles Crook was the licensee of the King's Arms. Hailing from the Worcestershire village of Shelsley Walsh, he had previously worked as a butler to the Everitt family at Knowle Hall. He married the widow Mary Ann Harker at Knowle Parish Church in 1906. Their son Arthur was born in the following year. The family's stay was however brief and they moved to run a shop on the Warwick Road at Tyseley. Arthur grew up in Tyseley but later returned to the area to work as a gardener for the council. He and his wife Gladys, together with his parents and former mine hosts of the King's Arms, lived at No.70 Lodge Road in Knowle.
Albert Bunn was running the pub during the 1930s by which time the sign had changed to the Cat in the Window. I am not sure of the date the pub's name was changed - it could have been in the 1920s but possibly during the early 1930s. Early in his career Albert Bunn followed the same path as his father and worked as a hairdresser. He married May Amelia Grindley in August 1903 at St. George's Church in Hockley. The daughter of a gun engraver living in Great Hampton Row, she worked in the electroplate industry at the time of their marriage. They moved to the Crown Inn on Villa Street during the mid-1920s but it would appear that the licensed trade was not to her liking. In 1938 soon after a change in legislation, Albert Bunn, successfully petitioned for divorce and was granted a decree nisi, with costs, against his wife who was then living in Wheeler Street. The grounds of the petition were that she had deserted her him fifteen years previously. At the time of the case Albert Bunn was running the Cat In The Window here at Heronfield.
I assume that Albert Bunn married again shortly after his divorce - given the notice that appeared in the press following his death in 1939. With his passing the licence was seemingly removed from the Cat in the Window [see image below].
Once again, I must stress that I have not seen a deeds bundle for this building. Consequently, I am unsure when Ansell's acquired an interest in this house. However, in 1935 an application was made for the removal of this pub's licence to a site in Lincoln Road at Olton. The application was subsequently withdrawn but it would appear that the licence was considered of more value in another part of the region. At the Solihull Licensing Sessions held in March 1937 an application was again made for the removal of the licence to premises to be erected on the site of Olton Hall, scheduled to be demolished, and this was granted. The Cat in the Window continued to trade for a period, perhaps up until the death of Albert Bunn which may have brought the transfer to a natural conclusion.
A trade directory for published in 1940 records Mrs. E. Merideth as manageress of the Bridge Transport Café at Heronfield and I suppose this was the first use of the delicensed house. The advertisement below shows that the Cat In The Window name was still attached to the property during the late 1960s.
The building would later become an Italian restaurant [I wonder if this was when a licence was obtained for the property again?] In the 1990s the building traded as the Bridgewater Hotel. Just after the new millennium, the pub was rebranded as the Heron's Nest which lasted until an overhaul and refurbishment in 2014.
Licensees of this pub
1817 - William Wheeler
1832 - Joseph Wheeler
1845 - 1866 Henrietta Wheeler
1867 - 1891 William Taylor
1901 - Thomas Plant
1912 - Charles Henry Crook
1938 - Albert J. Bunn
Note : this is not a complete list of licensees for this pub.
This map shows the location of the King's Arms at Knowle in the late 19th century.
Have Your Say
If you would like to share any further information on this pub - perhaps you drank here in the past? Or maybe knew a previous publican? Whatever the reason it would be great to hear of your stories or gossip. Simply send a message and I'll post it here.
Lynne Truss, the journalist and author of "Eats, Shoots & Leaves" would not be happy with this inn sign. The illustration depicts a version of the Royal Coat of Arms. Notice however that the quartered shield does not feature the rampant lion of Scotland or harp of Ireland, but a design more like that favoured by King Henry IV. Dieu et mon droit, meaning 'God and my right,' is the motto of the Monarch of the United Kingdom outside Scotland. Note also the use of a Talbot dog.
Related Newspaper Articles
"Mr. T. Christophers held an inquiry at King's Arms Hotel, Knowle, into the circumstances attending the death of Ellen Maud Cooper
, who had been employed at Mr. C. Hall's, Knowle, as a domestic servant. The girl had been reprimanded by her master in connection with some pilfering
that had been going on in the house. Mr. Hall went to girl's mother's home to ask her to fetch the deceased away, but when he returned the deceased had gone.
Nothing more was heard of her till her body was found in the canal on Wednesday. A verdict of "Suicide whilst temporarily insane" was returned."
"Girls's Suicide at Fifteen"
Coventry Evening Telegraph : June 22nd 1901 Page 3
"Among many other important schemes carried out by the County Council in recent years has been the widening and general improvement of the
Warwick-Birmingham road. But a comparatively few years ago, this was one of the most dangerous main roads in the county, having regard to the volume and nature of
the traffic it carried. Today it has been completely transformed. The dangerous corners which were a nightmare to all motorists, are no more, and wherever possible, the
carriageway - which was always good in certain parts - has been appreciably widened and given a good surface. At the Malvern Park entrance to Solihull, a vast
improvement was made, and those deathtrap corners at Chadwick End and Heronfield have been taken away. This scheme also included the reconstruction and the widening of
the canal bridge at Heronfield, the widening of Sandal's Bridge. More recently, extensive widening has taken place between Knowle and Solihull, and from Solihull to
Olton. The very dangerous corner just past Hatton Mental Hospital has been cut away and further improvements through Olton have been sanctioned, and it is hoped that
the work will be in progress before long. The approximate cost of the work already carried out on the Warwick-Birmingham road is £35,000."
"Road Dangers Eliminated"
Coventry Evening Telegraph : August 21st 1928 Page 4
"Philip B. Waldron, of "Mirron," New Road, Solihull, was summoned for driving a motor car carelessly round the Heronfield bend, Knowle,
on July 9th. P.C. Devitt said defendant cut out from behind a line of traffic, crossed the white line, and drove abreast of some other cars. Had a car been coming the other
way it would have been impossible for defendant to get back into the line of traffic. A fine of £2 with 6d. special costs was imposed. Horace Bethell, of Grove Avenue,
Solihull, was also summoned for careless driving round Heronfield bend on June 28th. It was stated that defendant cut out from behind another car and passed it on the bend.
A fine of £2 was imposed in this case also."
"Careless Motorists at Knowle"
Coventry Herald : July 31st 1931 Page 4
"Charged with being under the influence of drink while in charge of a motor car, Cyril Telford Latch, of "Learn House," Warwick Old
Road, Leamington Spa, was fined £10 with 11s. 6d. costs, and his driving licence was suspended for twelve months by the Solihull magistrates, on Tuesday. Latch was
also summoned for driving dangerously or carelessly, but this was withdrawn by the police when he pleaded guilty to being under the influence of drink. Mr. A. B. Evans
[of Birmingham] appeared for the defendant. Police Sergeant Smith told the magistrates that at 5.40 p.m. on March 12th he went to the King's Arms bridge,
Warwick Road, Heronfield, Knowle, where he found the defendant sitting in his car. Witness came to the conclusion that Latch was under the influence of drink, and asked
him to switch off the engine, put the car out of gear, and put on the brake. The defendant did these things with difficulty. Witness then asked him to get out of the car,
and when he did so he nearly fell to the ground. He was taken to Solihull Police Station, where he was examined by Dr. Page. Dr. E. Page, of Solihull, said he examined
Latch, and came to the conclusion that he was not capable of driving a motor car, Answering Mr. Evans, Dr. Page agreed that two small whiskeys and a bottle of beer might
affect a man who had had little to eat to such an extent that he would not be in a fit condition to be in charge of a car. Mr. Evans, addressing the magistrates, said he
had advised the defendant to plead guilty. On March 12th, Latch, who during the war was a flight-commander of an air squadron, met a man who had been the
flight-commander of a sister squadron. Latch asked him to go into his private office, and while he was there [defendant] drank a bottle of beer and two small
whiskeys. Afterwards, he drove towards Leamington, and passed safely through Acock's Green, Solihull and Knowle, and negotiated all the traffic successfully. But just
after he had driven through Knowle, he was conscious of a rather peculiar feeling, and that was the first time he realised the drink was affecting him. He decided to drive
no further until he felt better, and pulled up on the near side of the road, and he was there when the police arrived. Latch had been driving since 1910, continued Mr.
Evans, and during the whole twenty-four years he had had a clean record and had never been involved in an accident of any description. He had driven almost every day
between Leamington and Birmingham for the last 16 years without any complaint. Mr. Evans asked the magistrates not to suspend Latch's driving licence, and reminded the
Bench that as soon as defendant realised that the drink had affected him he pulled up. "He has a wonderful record, and you may find special reasons for not
disqualifying him from driving," he concluded. In announcing the Magistrates' decision, the Chairman [Sir James Curtis] pointed out that Latch could apply
to them for the removal of the suspension in six months' time."
"Leamington Motorist Fined at Solihull"
Coventry Herald : March 23rd 1934 Page 9