Some history of the Why Not Inn at Cradley in the county of Worcestershire.
Tucked away in a cul-de-sac off Two Gates, the Why Not Inn has proved to be a resilient survivor in an area where public-houses have closed left, right and centre. The pub's close competitor for trade towards the end of the 20th century was the Vine Inn, a stone's throw away on Two Gates, a boozer that has since been replaced by housing. The Broadstone was another neighbouring pub, a building that was converted into a convenience store in the new millennium. And heading in the direction of Lutley Mill, the Smiths' Arms at Fatherless Barn was once a rival for custom. The latter's post-war pub site is now also occupied by housing. And so, apart from the Round of Beef in the same neighbourhood, one of the shortest distances to another pub is across Oldnall Fields to the Hare and Hounds at Wollescote. If, in the reign of King George VI, you had said to locals that this little pub would see off all the competition, they may have laughed at you. However, the more enlightened drinker, one that appreciated the charms of this cosy tavern, would have guessed that the place would live to tell its unique story.
The Why Not Inn started as a simple beer house in the early part of Queen Victoria's reign, a period when there was a pub for every 121 people living in Cradley. A glance at the map suggests that the pub opened to serve local miners. However, coal was not extracted from this locale until the 1870s. Although a shaft was sunk at the nearby Beech Tree Colliery in 1873, proper production did not commence until many years later. The Oldnall Colliery was also a short distance away from the pub. Production on the other side of the old road to Wollescote started in the 1870s, again some years after the beer house had opened to serve the local community. In the early-mid 19th century most of the people living in the locale known as Parkside were engaged in the production of chain or nails. The census of 1841 does, however, reveal that some colliers lived in close proximity to the beer house, though these men were commuting by foot to another pit. Being on the edge of the Black Country, where industry gave way to rural life, others worked as agricultural labourers.
The pub was close to the boundary with Wollescote. There was once a gate at Oldnall through which one had to pass to enter the other parish. In Foxcote Lane the boundary was marked by a so-called Broadstone, though in earlier times four ash trees were used as a demarcation point. I often cycle past the Why Not Inn and use Foxcote Lane as a gateway to the open territory of Worcestershire. The lane's name is thought to derive from Faulk's Cot which itself stems from the Old English term 'Dic Bofan Foxcotum' used in a Saxon charter dated 958AD. This translates to 'Dyke over the Foxe's Hole.' Foxcote Lane was once used by drovers who were paid by Cradley's butchers to deliver livestock bought at Hagley Cattle Market. Two Gates is said to be named after the two gates placed to stop sheep and livestock straying onto the open farmland of Cradley Fields. Marked on early maps of the area, the 'bottom' gate was located close to the Old Two Gates Inn at the junction of Tanhouse Lane and the 'top' gate was close to Why Not Street.
This view of Why Not Street was taken around 1960 when many of the historic cottages surrounding the public house had been demolished to make way for new development. Along with the first photograph of this short thoroughfare once known as Stocking Lane, these images were taken by Geoffrey C. Grove. He was a local man who documented Cradley through his camera lens during a period when much of the locality changed considerably. Note that the pub at this time was an Ansell's house - but more of brewery ownership later. For now, take a look at the yard next to the pub. When this photograph was taken the yard was occupied by Major Fellows who operated a fruit and vegetable business from here.
A tithe map and schedule for the area shows the parcel of land on which the property would be built was owned by the trustees of Francis Hill and leased to William Roper who also rented the adjacent plot to the south. William Roper is listed in Bentley's Directory for 1841 as a beer seller and farmer at Colley Gate. He was the publican of the White Lion Inn on Windmill Hill and he farmed land around the Fatherless Barn area.
There were a few beer house's in the locale but their names are not well defined. The names of licence holders appear in trade directories, census returns and newspaper articles. However, in the mid-19th century, almost every listing fails to include the name of this house. I have marked the land and farmhouse of Joseph Parish which would become the New Two Gates Inn Almost opposite was another beer house's called the Vine Inn.
The research of John Richards, used on the official website for the Why Not Inn, states that "the pub's name was shortened from "Why Not Call and See" to the Why Not when a racehorse of that name won the Grand National in 1889 and 1894." In fact, Why Not did not win the Grand National in 1889 as a horse called "Frigate" won the race - but only by a length from Why Not. It was amazing that Frigate won the race as, in the paddock before the start, another horse reared up and struck the old mare. In fright, she bolted and scattered the crowd, knocking down one woman. It took a while for the jockey to pull up the horse who, before the race, was completely spooked by the incident.
Owned by Captain C. H. Fenwick, Why Not did go on to win the Grand National in 1894 and this was celebrated over a century later when the end wall of the pub was painted with a mural of the horse. The painted sign also features jockey Arthur Nightingall in the saddle. Why Not was well backed and, starting joint favourite at 5/1, went off quickly from the flag before settling down. The horse was well placed when the field jumped the Canal Turn, where Lady Ellen II took up the running. However, it was a horse called Aesop that led at the water jump with a circuit to go. Lady Ellen II took up the lead again after the second jump over Beecher's Brook but Why Not was, at this stage of the race, lying in a good position. A late challenge from an outsider called "Wild Man of Borneo" threatened to overturn the form book but Why Not took control of the race at the final fence, finishing 1½ lengths from Lady Ellen II who just pipped Wild Man of Borneo to second place in the final few strides.
The sign of the Why Not is not unique to Cradley for there were a number of taverns in the Black Country that traded under this sign board. Indeed, the inn sign was prevalent around the Midlands, Some locations, such as Essington and Astwood Bank, still have pubs named the Why Not. What is unusual about this Cradley boozer is that it was once known as the "Why Not Call and See." George Partridge applied for another full licence of the house but his application, like that of Samuel Bennett at the New Two Gates Inn, was rejected.
George Partridge was born in Lye around 1831 and kept the Why Not Call and See with his wife Nancy, a local woman. George was a busy man; when not selling beer he was making chains in the aforementioned yard to the side of the pub. In the census of 1871 the couple are listed at Gingerbread Row but this was on the opposite side of the road, on a site now occupied by modern housing but once used as a garden centre after the old cottages had been demolished. The cottages were part of the old settlement here at High Park. Looking back at the 1840s, you can see from the tithe map [above] that there was only a scattering of dwellings at High Park and around the junction of Oldnall Road and Foxcote Lane. The origins of the Gingerbread Row name seem to have been lost in the mists of time. Two notable properties that existed further along Oldnall Lane were High Park Farm and the Old Workhouse, both of which have long since vanished from the landscape, though fragments of the latter have been traced.
George Partridge was the son of Thomas Partridge who had a chain shop at Careless Green. The family moved to Two Gates during the 1840s. They may have been the first occupants of the Why Not Call and See but I am not certain of this. Only a scan of the property deeds would answer this. This could possibly answer another puzzle. In the census of 1861 the enumerator recorded a Park Inn at High Park. Was this the predecessor of the Why Not Call and See? The Park Inn was kept by John and Rachel Tibbetts. This couple later moved to Comberton Farm at Kidderminster.
The 1870s proved to be a difficult decade for George Partridge and it culminated with his business going into liquidation in August 1878. In the notice issued he was listed as an innkeeper and chain manufacturer so it would appear that inn status had been granted to the pub by this time. Alfred Turner is thought to have taken over the pub but he is listed at Two Gates rather than High Park in the census of 1881 so, given that previous suppositions have proved incorrect, I am remaining 'undecided' on this publican. More certain is that Samuel Gill was publican of the Why Not Inn during the late 19th century. Born in Cradley Heath in 1853, he moved 'up the hill' to Cradley after he had married Maria Edmonds of Colley Orchard in 1875. The Gill clan owned a number of businesses in Cradley. George Gill was both a shopkeeper and chain maker at High town, George Gill Jr. operated a grocery business on the High street where Priscilla Gill also traded as a chainmaker. A butcher's shop on Colley Gate was once run by Solomon Gill where another Solomon Gill traded as a boot and shoe maker.
Samuel Gill was another who, initially at least, combined his role as beer house keeper and chainmaker so he spent many an hour toiling away in the yard of the Why Not Inn. By the early 1890s he and his wife Maria lived at the pub with their four children. Samuel Gill eventually became a publican-farmer. Chainmaker William Kendrick is recorded as a neighbour of the pub so perhaps he took over the yard for his business, leaving the innkeeper to enjoy the fresh air of his farm.
By the turn of the 20th century the population of Two Gates had risen significantly with the increase of industrial activity. The inhabitants of Why Not Street included colliers. One such miner was Caleb Newey who may have been employed at the nearby Oldnall Colliery. The Amblecote coal and clay master J. B. Fisher was already operating the Hayes Colliery when he secured the mineral rights beneath the soil of Oldnall fields. Shafts were sunk in 1873 though production ceased in the late 19th century before a new Oldnall Colliery Company was created by Messrs. Mobberley and Perry.
Closer to the Why Not Inn was the Beech Tree Colliery, formerly called the Foxcote Colliery, where a shaft was sunk by the Sir Charles Holcroft in 1873. Initially, this pit was beset with problems and it was not until after the First World War that any significant production was achieved. Under new ownership, coal from the Beech Tree Pit was transported on a narrow gauge tramway, crossing Oldnall Road and down the hill to The Hayes.
The Why Not Inn must have served as a welcome watering hole for thirsty miners seeking refreshment after a shift working the seam. Conditions at the colliery were, by all accounts, fairly grim. The relatively poor quality of the coal meant that it was only sold to factories and there was little investment in machinery. As a result, it was tough work for the men bringing the tubs out of the colliery. Even the cage was wound by a horse that had to walk around in a circle. During the Second World War a number of foreigners were brought in to work the seam. Men from Poland, Latvia and the Czech region brought a new dialect to this pocket of the Black Country.
Following the Second World War, the colliery came under the nationalisation programme which resulted in the construction of an office, canteen, and bath house. Production figures exceeded 80,000 tons per annum before disaster struck in 1958 when water seeped into the mine and caused flooding. Although the water could have been pumped out, the added cost to production was possibly prohibitive. The National Coal Board decided to close the mine, resulting in the loss of 118 jobs. The pithead gear was dismantled in 1959. A large crowd gathered to watch the stack coming down. After much restructuring work, the bath house was converted into a headquarters for the local scouts, the 2nd Cradley St Peter's Group. Amid the trees of Foxcote Coppice the old bath house still stands as a reminder of the last pit to operate in Cradley.
Samuel Gill had been tenant for twelve years when the Why Not Inn was put up for auction in September 1900. The property had been extended as the sale notice described a newly-built built brewhouse, back kitchen and coal house. The pub was sold for £950.0s.0d.
Henry Bailey succeeded Samuel Gill as licensee of the Why Not Inn. He remained until 1906 when Mark Baugh took over behind the counter. Born in Pensnett in 1869, he grew up in Bell Street from where his father Enoch worked as a miner before starting up in business as a shoe and boot dealer. Indeed, young Mark Baugh earned a living as a shoe maker. He married Netherton-born Harriet Townsend in 1890 and the couple moved to Droitwich where Mark Baugh took a position as foreman at the warehouse of shoemaker Fanny Gibbs. By the end of the Victorian period Mark and Harriet [better known as Hatty] Baugh were running the Bell at Dudley Port in Tipton. Before they moved to Cradley the Baugh's spent a year at the Coach and Horses at Prince's End in Tipton. The couple's teenage children, Norah and Reginald, lived with them at Two Gates. The Baugh's were seemingly restless and their stay at the Why Not Inn was all too brief. However, they seemed content in the licensed trade. The couple later kept the Old Bell Inn at Hill Street in Netherton.
William Henry Bangham bought the Why Not Inn from George Hatton in 1910. Born in Quarry Bank around 1871, he had spent much of his working life as a miner, almost certainly at the Hawne Colliery at Halesowen in the late 19th century. He moved to Hawne Lane after he had married Lavinia Woodhall who hailed from Dudley Wood. I cannot help wondering how they got the money to buy the Why Not Inn but he and his wife moved in at the end of the Edwardian period. Their eldest son, William, followed in his father's footsteps and went into mining.
William and Lavinia Bangham sold the Why Not Inn to Plant's Steam Brewery in 1916. This Netherton-based company had been bought by the Hereford and Tredegar Brewery in June 1912 but production at Netherton had restarted one year before the firm acquired the Why Not Inn. The pub would become part of a tied-estate of 63 public-houses in the local region. Working for Plant's, the Bangham's remained at the Why Not Inn. The nearby Vine Inn was the pub's close competitor for trade.
George James was the publican of the Why Not Inn when Plant's was acquired by Ansell's Brewery and the beers sold over the counter at the Two Gates hostelry would have that distinctive Aston flavour for the next half century. The Why Not Inn was granted a full licence in February 1949.
Succeeding John Jeavons, John and Jean Lees took over the Why Not Inn in 1980. The couple can be seen here behind the servery of the Why Not Inn around 1983. The couple kept the pub for the first half of the 1980s. In keeping with traditions of the time, Jean looked after the kitchen whilst John tended to the beer.
The Why Not Inn returned to free house status again in February 1987 when Jean Rawson acquired the property from Allied Breweries. Together with her husband Pete, she had previously run the Shovel Inn at Lye. He had taken on the Waggon and Horses at Oldbury and she was forging her own path in the licensed trade.
I used to call into the Why Not when it was run by Peter Coleman. I used to share a pint or two with a few of my old school friends on Sunday evenings and the pub became one of our meeting places for a while. I remember him as a quiet amiable bloke. Once he'd got used to us he would come over and have a natter. I recall one Sunday when he insisted we shared some bottled beers he had bought at the Dudley Winter Ales Festival. I also remember there was a rabbit running around the pub at this time. You'd be sipping your pint when, suddenly, out of the corner of your eye, you'd catch a glimpse of the rabbit running under a chair. The Why Not was still divided into separate rooms and I seem to recall a glass and frame partition through to the rear room. Of course, I should have documented all this but, in those days, I just enjoyed my beer and didn't take too much notice of such things. It is only in later life that I wished I had made a note of how all the pub interiors used to look.
June Moreton was the licensee between 1992-3. Something is telling me that she later moved to the Talbot Hotel but I'm not too sure if my memory bank is functioning correctly.
In 1993 the Why Not Inn developed into something of a local legend when a couple called Trimble and Spike arrived as tenants in April of that year. I don't think I am being too rude to describe Trimb [as many folks called her] as a bit sassy. Her partner in crime at this point was a rough-looking bloke called Spike who, more often than not, looked like he'd just put in a shift on a building site. He was also built like a stout rugby second-row mauler. Anyway, whatever strangers made of them, by heck, they knew how to run a pub. Oh, they also had a spotty dog called Spot!
If there is one man that I can blame for developing a passion for real ales it was Spike. I already liked my beer and would generally drink Batham's which he and Trimble managed to secure as a regular ale. However, once Spike and I got to know each other he would clock me walking into the pub and start enthusing about some incredible ale he'd just brought on tap. At other times, he would suddenly appear next to me waving a sample glass of some strange-looking brew that I had never heard of. I am not sure if he knew either but he was so full of enthusiasm for that next great cask of ale it was infectious. So, in the words of "he made me do it," I also got all steamed up about what was lurking beneath the floorboards in the cellar.
I guess in reality it was Trimble who had her head screwed on when it came to business. She developed the food operation to the point that it was almost impossible to get into the pub at the weekend. Not that it was quiet during the week. I remember the place being packed out on Monday nights when the pub staged a popular quiz.
Following several successful years as tenant, Juliet Trimble managed to buy the freehold of the Why Not. She and Spike went their separate ways and Trimble continued the pub's success with a team of women to help the place tick over nicely. Following her marriage to Graham Parker and the birth of their baby in March 2001, Juliet adopted more of a back seat role and the day-to-day management of the pub was handed over to Joanne Green. A local woman, she had been working at the Why Not for 13 years, mainly as the cook.
The Why Not was refurbished in 1999. The traditional 'dark tavern,' was 'lightened' somewhat. Some sections of the pub featured attractive quarry-tiles and parquet flooring. Glass cabinets contained old beer bottles and an old overhead clothes rack was used to display hop vines.
The Why Not was sold to a pub company in the new millennium. I am not sure for how long but David Cooper concentrated on this pub after he had the tenancies on a number of houses in the Black Country. At one time he owned the freehold of the New Inn at Quarry Bank. A former engineer, he first got involved in the licensed trade when, together with Helen Payne, he took over the tenancy of the Summer House at Kingswinford around 2001.
This extract from a map drawn up in 1885 shows the locale of Parkside on Two Gates. I have marked the location of the Why Not Inn within this small community. Foxcote Colliery, later known as Beech Tree Colliery, was only a few years old at this point as the shaft was sunk in 1873 by Sir Charles Holcroft. Note the footpath at the top of this extract which runs roughly parallel with Oldnall Road. This footpath, still in use today, led to Oldnall Farm and the colliery also started in 1873.
This inn sign was commissioned by licensee Juliet Trimble who denied the speculation that it was her seated in the armchair in this signboard painting. The sign had quite a few mysterious elements including a genie emerging above the pub. The distorted image did however encapsulate the 'crazy' character of the pub during the 1990s. I have typed up some information on the Grand National-winning Why Not here.
If you would like to share any further information on the Why Not Inn - 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 will post it here.
This shocking newspaper article does not relate to the Why Not but it is related to Two Gates .....
"At the County Petty Sessions, held at Kidderminster yesterday, Richard Albert Jones, a waggoner, lately of Wolverley, and now of Two Gates in
Cradley, was charged at the instance of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, with cruel treatment of his son, Ernest Jones, a boy of nine years;
and his wife, Emma Jones, was charged with a similar offence as regarding her little girl, Emma Jones, aged seven years. Mr. Thursfield said the two children as to whom the
charges against the parents were brought forward were the survivors of five children they had had, and he stated that their lives were insured. He detailed the specific acts
alleged against the defendant, and said that it was owing to the marks noticed on the other child when she went to school that the case came to be investigated. The boy,
Ernest Jones, was called, and said on Saturday, April 15th, his father put a strap [produced] round his throat, and there was a rope attached to it with which his father
hung him up to a drag in the house. When he had the strap round his throat he could hardly breathe. His father then took the strap from round his neck and put a bigger strap
round his waist. His hands were strapped behind him. His father put stones in his boots, and he kept jerking him up and down on his feet. It hurt his feet. His mother and
sister were present; This went on, the boy said, for an hour and a quarter. He was screaming, and Mrs. Goodman, a neighbour, came and asked his father to release him. His
father would not, and said he should keep him there till ten or eleven o'clock. After his father left the house his mother released him. He had been treated very badly by
his father. The defendant warmly chided the boy, and denied ill-treating him. The boy went on to say his father had at times beaten him with a strap and thongs. On one
occasion his father put him in a cave at night, and he remained there all night. When the stones were put in his boots his father took his boots off, put the stones in, and
then put the boots on him again. He was taken away after this to the shelter at Worcester. He was afraid of what his father might do to him. The defendant put it to the boy
whether he was afraid of him, and he reiterated that he was. He was afraid of his father because he thrashed him. Harriet Goodman, wife of John Goodman, said she lived next
door to the house where the defendant lived up to Monday last. The defendant came to her house on April 15th, and called her. She went to Jones's house, and saw the boy tied
up with a strap round his shoulders, and by a rope to a hook in the ceiling. The boy's hands were strapped behind him. His feet were on the floor. The father said he put the
strap round his neck first, but took it off because his breathing was bad, and then he put the strap round his shoulders. Defendant told the boy to bear down on his feet.
There were stones, he said, in his boots. Her husband sent her back to the house to ask Jones to release the boy. The boy was still fastened, but was not suspended. She had
heard the boy scream when his father had beaten him at times. It was not often he did so. The mother of the boy told her in the morning that the boy had taken 6d. The father
said he had had to beat him for naughty tricks, and he would see what that would do for him that he was doing then. Mary Pountney also gave evidence. Henry Jones [Worcester]
inspector to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, said be visited the defendant's house on April 18th. He could not obtain access, but looking
through the window he saw a drag hanging from a nail in the ceiling, and a rope and strap. On April 20th, in pursuance of a justices' order, he went with Superintendent Pugh
to the house. He removed the children to the society's shelter at Worcester. The house was very dirty. The children had improved in health in the shelter. Superintendent
Pugh took possession of the strap and ropes. Defendant went into the box, and denied on oath that he had ill-treated his children. He said he now lived at Two Gates, Cradley,
having left Wolverley, Cross-examined : He had had five children. Three were dead. These two surviving children were formerly insured. He could not tell the office. He
denied fastening a strap round the boy's neck. It was true he put a strap round on his boy's chest and he did put stones in his boots. He did not jerk him up and down. He
wanted to break the boy of some of his tricks. He had thrashed the boy sometimes. He had "given him one or two" with a strap from round his waist He denied that
anyone had ever remonstrated with him about his treatment of the children. The Bench reserved their decision till they had heard the other case. Emma Jones was then charged
with ill-treating her daughter Emma Jones, aged seven. The child was not sworn, but stated to the Court that she was going to school on April 12th, with two other girls,
when her mother beat her on the legs with a stick that she walked with [Defendant had a knotted stick in court, with projecting knobs on, but the child said that was not the
stick her mother struck her with, and defendant volunteered the remark that it was a thinner stick.] The child said her mother struck her on the head and twice on the legs
with the stick. Her mother beat her sometimes with a birch and a stick. Harriet Goodman, a neighbour, was called, but her evidence was of a negative character as regarded
proof of ill-treatment, and Mr. Thursfield proposed to treat her as a hostile witness. She said she had heard defendant say she wished the children were in the churchyard.
Defendant afterwards told the Bench this was when she was provoked, after the children were taken away. Minnie Hardwick said on the way to school on April 12th Mrs. Jones
struck Emma, her daughter, on the legs and once on the forehead with a stick Mrs. Jones had told the child to pull up her stocking, and she would not, and then she hit her.
Defendant was sworn, and said she only hit the child once with her stick across her clothing on the occasion referred to. The Bench dismissed the case against the woman;
but on the first case they fined the father £5. and costs, or a months' hard labour."
"Charge of Cruelty to Children"
Birmingham Daily Post : May 5th 1893.