Some history of the Blue Ball Inn
The Blue Ball Inn was one of the legendary pubs of the area and when it was closed in January 1964 it was a terrible loss, though this was not truly recognised until it was too late. There is a lovely article on the Cradley Links website, a reproduction of a piece written by Peter Barnsley a few years before the pub closed its doors for the final time. With Peter's description you can almost taste and smell the old boozer. However, it is was not just the fabric of the old tavern that was being mourned but the fact that it represented a part of old Cradley that was disappearing before the eyes of the local people. Moreover, the patrons of the Blue Ball Inn were a tangible link to the old days, some of them being born in Victorian and Edwardian times. For those who yearned for echoes of the past they simply had to venture into the bar of the Blue Ball Inn, order a beer, sit in the corner and soak it all up.
Glen and Alison Billingham sent me this image some years ago and I am very grateful to them for supplying perhaps the only known photograph of the Blue Ball Inn. A fuzzy picture it may be, but it is priceless. By the way, the building seen in the distance, on the corner of Butcher's Lane, was a chippy run by the Greenfield family.
Peter Barnsley stated that the Blue Ball was mentioned in a 1782 House Survey. I am not sure when the building was first licensed but the pub was certainly up-and-running in the early part of the 19th century. The building can be seen here on this map extract dated 1922, by which time the thoroughfare was named Blue Ball Lane. However, the narrow road was once called The Innage. Note the narrow pathway around the Baptist Church and up to Saint Peter's Church, as mentioned in Peter Barnsley's article. Almost every building plotted on this map has disappeared from the landscape. Oh, how Cradley has changed!
Run by John Beasley, the sign of the Blue Ball appears in Pigot's trade directory published in 1835. However, whilst houses like the Bull's Head, Rising Sun and Gate appear in an 1829 directory, the sign of the Blue Ball does not. When Josiah Beasley appeared in front of the magistrates in June 1864 for having the Blue Ball open on a Sunday morning, he told The Bench that "he and his father had kept the house 34 years." This does suggest that the building was first licensed in 1830. However, the inclusion of the Board run by Phoebe Darby in the 1829 directory is something of a mystery tavern. Nobody seems to know where it was located. Is it possible, I wonder, that it was the earlier name of one of the recognised houses? Much more digging needs to be undertaken here!
The Blue Ball name is also a curiosity. At one time this sign was used by various tradesmen and, in particular, fortune-tellers as an easy way of identifying an establishment. Generally, it was the sign of Three Blue Balls that indicated the trade of a pawnbroker.
The Beasley clan had their fingers in many pies in the locality. One branch of the family were involved with the mill at Hayseech. Another Beasley kept the Sun Inn at Overend in addition to working as a gun-barrel manufacturer. Here at the Blue Ball Inn John Beasley was recorded as a victualler and sword-blade forger, though the census enumerator for 1841 listed his sons, John and Josiah, as the people engaged in this trade. However, when his sons were married John Beasley entered sword-blade forger as his profession on the certificates.
Josiah Beasley succeeded his father as licensee of the family-owned Blue Ball Inn. This was a period in which the population of Cradley increased with "incomers" from rural parts seeking employment in the developing industrial region.
The living conditions of the working-classes in early Victorian Cradley ranged from fairly harsh to unimaginable squalor and filth. The most notorious hell-hole adjoined the yard of the Blue Ball Inn. A cluster of seventeen cottages and the near-ruins of a 17th century house formed what became known as Purser's Square or Anvil Yard. It is thought to have been owned by Joseph Purser of Reddal Hill, a local magistrate and proprietor of mines, notably the colliery at Lydefield or Lyde Green. Whilst he lived in some refinement at Reddal Hill and, later, at Hanley Castle, he invested little or nothing on sanitation and improving the conditions for those who paid their rents to his clerk.
Of course, we will never know the real Joseph Purser but, on the evidence that can be gleaned from his time in the Black Country, he will not be remembered as a great social reformer. An outbreak of typhoid was traced back to Anvil Yard and a subsequent Government Board of Trade Report published in 1888 described the place as "a region of squalor and dirt far surpassing anything I had yet seen. Rents are high here and range from 3s. to 4s. In one case, a covered drain running past the end of a dwelling house, struck damp through the house wall from floor to ceiling; open drains everywhere carrying off household refuse, and ruinous privies with overflowing ash pits, loading the atmosphere with the most pungent odours. Here, also, are the little domestic workshops, built on to the houses, so that the occupants can step at once from kitchen to anvil."
At one time more than 90 people were crammed into the 17 households of Anvil Yard. Most of the men walked to the larger chain shops to endure 10-hour shifts whilst the women toiled at an anvil manufacturing small-link chain for wealthy iron-masters who exploited and abused them horribly. They had little time to run a mop around the blue-brick floors of their home for they spent most of their day achieving a given chain length in order to avoid a financial penalty from exploitative chain merchants. Childcare in those days consisted of sticking them in a corner of the chain shop, the women keeping half an eye on them whilst they formed chain links with their hammers. One can see a child in the corner of the chain shop shown above.
With members of the Beasley family working as sword-blade forgers, the conditions in the yard of the Blue Ball Inn would have been fairly grimy, not an ideal environment in which to brew beer. And yet the Blue Ball Inn did sell homebrewed ales. The risk of contamination must have been high and the quality of ale was no doubt inconsistent. Still, the local residents could identify with a publican who, like them, spent a good deal of time bashing metal.
The Blue Ball Inn was involved in a sporting distraction from the weekly grind in the form of pedestrianism. This grew in popularity during the 19th century and good money could be made by those who could heel-to-toe at a fast rate. Public-houses were often at the centre of such events and the publican would either stump up a prize or at least hold the prize money until the race was completed. Of course, plenty of silver and coppers changed hands in side-bets and the spectators brought in extra trade. The above notice dates from July 1859 and advertised forthcoming events where the prize was held by the Blue Ball Inn. Having been born on Lye Waste, I am naturally on the side of Jones! In the same edition, the Blue Ball advertised a race between a local man named Raybould who was going up against E. Grant, a pedestrian dubbed "The Welshman."
Born in 1819 at Cradley, Josiah Beasley was baptised at the Presbyterian Chapel in Park Lane. He married Ann Harris at Dudley in March 1845. Taking the expertise he learned from his father, the couple moved to Birmingham, and had two children before Ann died four years later. He subsequently married her sister Priscilla with whom he fathered four more children.
During March 1861 the Blue Ball Inn was the venue for a meeting of horse-nail makers who were in a long dispute with the iron-masters. A report stated that between 300 and 400 turned up for the meeting chaired by Edward Hackett. There was no resolution at the meeting but the chairman did speak of a possible positive outcome for those who, for several months, had been engaged in a struggle for an increase in the rate from the iron-masters.
In February 1863 Eliza Simpson was brought before the magistrates on a charge of stealing from the Blue Ball Inn. Josiah and Priscilla Beasley told the court that the 18 year-old labourer, who lived nearby, had concealed herself about the premises before the family went to bed. She then broke out of the building, taking 14 inches of crochet, a shawl, and a crochet-needle. The value of the stolen goods was very low but the magistrates meted out a very harsh sentence of six months' hard labour.
Josiah and Priscilla decided to give up the Blue Ball Inn during the autumn of 1864. This resulted in the sale of "the whole of the brewing utensils, fixtures, and part of the household furniture, comprising four half-hogsheads, a 16-bushel mashing tub, three iron furnaces, 4-pull beer machine, tables, screens, two beaufets, forms, two sets of bedsteads, part of a pocket of hops, and numerous other effects ...." Josiah died in 1870, after which Priscilla lived in New Street with her sons. They later moved north to Kimberworth near Rotherham.
Lye-born William Adams took over the licence of the Blue Ball Inn on October 14th, 1870. He kept the pub with his wife Matilda who hailed from Amblecote. A tailor by trade, William and his wife had previously kept the Cross Guns at Kate's Hill in Dudley. However, William's licence was endorsed in April 1873 following his conviction of allowing drunkenness on the premises. In fact, when P.C. Roe entered the building at half-past one in the morning, he found the publican out of his face and lying on the floor. Three men, named William Whitehouse, Edward Weaver and Edward Morton, were also charged with being drunk on the premises. This incident created an issue for William Adams at the annual sessions and was the reason for him and his wife leaving the trade. They moved to Stourbridge where William found employment as a coal agent.
The Cox family kept the Blue Ball Inn during much of the 1880s. A former miner, John Cox hailed from Bilston, and moved from Quarry Bank to run the Blue Ball. Following his death and that of his wife Henrietta the freehold of the Blue Ball Inn was advertised in September 1889 with the sale to be held on October 2nd. This date marked the beginning of the Tandy/Woodall ownership of the house.
The son of a butcher, Joseph Tandy was born in Cradley in 1852 and spent his formative years in Butcher's Lane. His mother, a member of the Mason clan, died when he was very young. In the 1870s he was helping his father in the family butchery business. Joseph Tandy married Phoebe Cox in October 1879. She was the daughter of John and Henrietta Cox of the Blue Ball Inn. The young couple forged their own way and operated a butcher's shop next to the Cross Guns near Five Ways at Cradley Heath. I have a photograph featuring that shop which I must dig out at some point. By the time they moved into the Blue Ball Inn Joseph and Phoebe had four children. They were able to employ a servant, the role being filled by Christie Grove.
Joseph Tandy died at a relatively young age in June 1893 and left everything to Phoebe. She re-married in 1895 to John Woodall at Holy Trinity Church at Amblecote. Following Phoebe's death, John Woodall continued to run the Blue Ball Inn with his step-children. He passed away in 1914, the licence passing to John Tandy who was recorded as a brewer so the Blue Ball Inn was serving homebrewed ales at a time when most other pubs in the locality were operated by large brewery concerns. A party was thrown as the Blue Ball Inn when John Tandy married Mary Hatton in 1916 with over 60 customers toasting their health.
John Tandy died at the end of January in 1937 when the licence of the Blue Ball Inn passed to his sister Kate. However, the Blue Ball Inn was sold to the Corbyns Hall Brewery owned by Tommy Booth, a brewer and publican who had been around the block. He had once operated a brewery behind the Red Lion at Gornal and, along with Solomon Cooksey, re-opened the dormant brewery at the Blue Pig in Netherton. It was just before the Second World War that he started the Corbyns Hall Brewery.
The Blue Ball was acquired by Hanson's for the last period in the pub's life. The gaffer in the mid-1950s was Charlie Willetts who later managed the Old Crown a little up the hill. The Blue Ball closed on the 18th of January 1964 and the building was subsequently demolished for a road-widening scheme.
Licensees of this pub
1835 - John Beasley
1860 - Josiah Beasley
1870 - William Bennett
1870 - William Adams
1874 - Mary Ann Beach
1880 - Joseph Cox
1881 - John Cox
1884 - Henrietta Cox
1891 - Joseph Tandy
1893 - Phoebe Tandy
1901 - John William Woodall
1916 - John Tandy
1937 - Kate Lilian Tandy
1938 - Gilbert Willetts
1956 - Charles Willetts
1959 - John Ellis Hughes
1960 - Margaret Elizabeth Clarke
Note : this is not a complete list of licensees for this pub.
Have Your Say
If you would like to share any further information on the Blue Ball Inn - perhaps your ancestors drank here in the past? Or had some link with a previous publican? Whatever the reason it would be great to hear of your stories or gossip. Simply send a message and I will post it here.
Related Newspaper Articles
"Joseph Beesley [I suspect this should read Beasley] and James Cooper were charged with assaulting Mr. J. Bloomer, the newly
appointed Constable of Cradley. From Mr. Bloomer's statement, it appeared he went to the Blue Ball, Cradley, in discharge of his duty, and as he left
the house Beesley struck him, and Cooper [whose real name, it seems, is Carpenter] kicked him as he was going down the steps, and knocked him into the
gutter. Beesley denied striking him, but said that another person of the same name did; he also called a witness who spoke to the same fact. The Court,
considering there was some doubt about his identity, discharged Beesley and fined Carpenter 5s., which, with the costs, amounted to 15s. 6d., a pretty considerable
sum, and which will probably operate to prevent him applying his toe to a Constable for the future."
Worcestershire Chronicle : November 30th 1842 Page 3
"Yesterday, at the Police Court, William Adams, landlord of the Blue Ball Inn, Cradley, was charged with permitting drunkenness in his
house on the 30th ult. Police-Constable Roe proved the case. The defendant was fined £5 and costs, and his licence was endorsed. Three persons found on Adam's
premises were fined 5s. and costs."
County Advertiser : April 5th 1873 Page 8
"Thomas Wood, High Street, Wollaston, was charged with obstructing Blue Ball Lane, Cradley. Mr. Waldron defended. Defendant was delivering
400 gallons of oil from a tank to Mr. Paul Homer, and Mr. Waldron contended that half an hour [the time the tank stood on the road] was not an unreasonable time.
There was, therefore, no case. Mr. Paul Homer said that forty minutes was a reasonable time to get the oil in. The case was dismissed."
County Advertiser : December 24th 1898 Page 5
"In a case at Stourbridge Police Court, on Friday, Arthur Raybould, Blue Ball Lane, Cradley, having been convicted of shooting a valuable
homing pigeon [the owner of which was unknown], bearing the silver ring of one of the homing societies, the Bench said they were determined to put a stop to
the shooting of homing pigeons, which was nothing short of theft. They therefore inflicted a fine of £5 and costs, including solicitor's fee, or one
month's imprisonment, with hard labour."
Worcestershire Chronicle : July 28th 1900 Page 2
"Joseph Raybould , an ironworker, of 1, Blue Ball Lane, Cradley, was fatally injured whilst picking coal at Cradley Heath at
4.40 on Wednesday morning. He was working in a hole 12 feet deep at the mound of the disused Napple Chain Colliery, when a quantity of slack fell on him and completely
buried him. Fifteen minutes elapsed before he was extricated. Artificial respiration proved unsuccessful on account of the serious nature of the injuries. Dr. Petrie
was sent for, and discovered the neck was broken. The body was removed to the mortuary at Old Hill."
Dudley Chronicle : July 9th 1921 Page 7