Some history of the Bird in Hand at Oldswinford in the County of Worcestershire
This tall building stands on the east side of Hagley Road just south of the junction of Glasshouse Hill. Hall Street is almost opposite. That thoroughfare was formerly known as New Street and thought to be named after the Hall family who operated businesses in the locality.
Aesthetically speaking, the Bird in Hand is one of my favourite commercial buildings in Oldswinford. The interior floor plan is simple. Indeed, it is a small pub in relation to the imposing frontage - a bit like the TARDIS in reverse. Apart from a few minor changes such as the windows, the exterior of the building looks much the same in the 21st century as it did 100 years previously. However, it is not the original Bird in Hand, nor is it the original name of the tavern.
Early maps of Oldswinford suggest that a building stood on the site in 1699 when Richard Hickman was marked as the landowner. In his history for Batham's, John Richards stated that "Edward Baker, a baker of Upper Swinford, leased a cottage, shop, stable, garden and land from the Blue Coat Hospital School. The lease covered 200 years at £2. 4s. 0d. per annum." John had a friend in the estates department at Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries Ltd. so I assume he retrieved this information from the deeds.
John Richards went on to say that "the lease changed ownership a number of times over the next 133 years, until the property fronting the Stourbridge to Bromsgrove turnpike road was bought by trace maker Job Coley in 1832. He paid £340." All this sounds reasonable until he stated that "Job Coley opened his beer house in 1832 and originally called it the Lion Inn." It is true that the 1861 census lists Job Coley at the Lion Inn. However, as can be seen above, Job Coley appeared in Pigot's Trade Directory of 1835 at the sign of the Fox. Both Pigot's directory of 1841 and Bentley's directory of 1840 lists Job Coley as a beer seller but do not include the name of his house. His elder brother Joseph was a neighbour and worked as a shoemaker.
Another anomaly in the research by John Richards was that he does not mention that Job Coley left the tavern in the late 1840s but came back at a later date. He and his wife Mary moved to Amblecote where they kept the Swan Inn at the bottom of Brettell Lane from where Hartlebury-born Job Coley also worked as a postman. This was quite a change from his earlier career in which he grafted as a chain-maker. He took up his position at the post office in January 1842 so combined his role as publican here in Oldswinford whilst delivering letters for the post office in Stourbridge.
It would seem that the Coley family retained an interest in the pub. The 1851 census shows that Joseph Coley was still operating a shoe manufactory here with his sons George and William. John Hazledine also engaged in the business and combined this work with running the beer house with his wife Martha. The couple would later move to Stambermill where John Hazledine would work as a butcher. Job Coley was renting the Swan Inn on Brettell Lane and possibly gave up the place when the freehold was sold in June 1857. He and his wife Mary returned to Oldswinford and took over again at the pub listed as the Lion Inn. They lived on the premises with their son Richard who worked in the glass industry at Amblecote. The shoe business next to the pub was now being run by nephews George and William Coley.
The research of John Richards goes on the blink again when he suggests that Job Coley remained as publican until his death in December 1869 when his son Richard became the landlord. In fact, the Coley name disappears from trade directories in the 1860s so it was possibly somebody else who re-named the Lion Inn to the Old House at Home. Furthermore, Richard Coley was lodging at No.8 Chapel Street in June 1869 when he was declared bankrupt. The notice for his meeting with creditors listed him as a beer house-keeper, glasscutter and nail factor. He may have been bailed out by a relative or friend because he returned to the Old House at Home with his wife Mary and their children Sarah and Harry. The couple also hired Phoebe Wood as a domestic servant.
The freehold of the Old House at Home was sold at auction in March 1870 when the Coley's were the occupants. They completely uprooted and made a fresh start by moving to Glasgow where Richard Coley found work as a glass-cutter.
Charles Hill initially took over as a tenant and kept the tavern with his wife Sarah. In the early 1870s they lived across the road in New Street, later known as Hall Street, where Charles worked as a spade-maker. He had started in this trade when living off Heath Lane with his parents John and Prudence. He must have continued the shoe business of the Coley family when taking over the beer house. Trade directories for 1875 and 1880 document him as the proprietor of a boot and shoe warehouse. This is confirmed in the census of 1881 when the enumerator recorded the 38 year-old Oldswinford-born publican as a shoe dealer. He and his wife Sarah had four children and employed niece Ellen Hill as a domestic servant.
In July 1886 Charles Hill bought the freehold of the property for £525. 4s. 10d. As an enthusiastic pigeon flyer, Charles Hill called his new purchase the Bird-in-Hand. He was responsible for the rebuilding of the beer house in the following decade. A building for in-house ales was erected, a bowling green was enhanced and was complemented by a brick-built and tiled pigeon house for the birds owned and flown by the publican.
The new building featured a lovely Bird-in-Hand bas-relief set within the false window arch. This has been re-painted so perhaps looks more like a white dove than a pigeon! As a pub name, the Bird-in-Hand has been popular since the seventeenth century. Traditionally, such signs depicted a mailed fist with a falcon perched upon it. However, there are many variations. The inn sign is drawn from the ancient phrase of 'A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.' As a pub name the Bird-in-Hand has been popular since the seventeenth century. Other pubs around the UK have the name Bird In Bush [Littletown], Bird In The Hand [Quarrelton] and Bird i- th- Hand [Elsdon].
In the census of 1891 22 year-old son Arthur Hill was officially the bootmaker whilst his father was listed as a beer house-keeper. Daughter Louisa worked as a dressmaker whilst son Walter brought in an income as a spade-maker so was following in his father's footsteps.
Charles Hill just about made it to the 20th century but passed away in November 1900. The licence of the Bird-in-Hand passed to his wife Sarah. The 1901 census is interesting because, whilst a brewer was not listed in previous census returns, this survey records 23 year-old son Sidney as a brewer on the premises. His 19 year-old sister Florence also worked in the pub and Sarah Hill employed locally-born Emily Pagett as a domestic servant.
For some reason Charles Hill seemingly made no provision for his wife or his children. His will of some substance was left to the schoolmaster John Haywood and the coach-trimmer Horace Moore. I hope they were charged with caring for them when, as trustees of his estate, they made the decision to sell the Bird-in-Hand in July 1903. The auction divided the buildings into three lots. Harry Timmins Skelding was the purchaser of the Bird-in-Hand. Following the sale of the pub, Sarah Hill moved the short distance to No.12 Furlongs where she lived alone. She had 10 children in total, though only four were still alive at the end of the Edwardian period.
Harry Timmins Skelding was born locally in 1872. He grew up in Field Lane from where, at a young age, he worked as an errand boy. He started his adult career in the printing trade as a compositor. He married Tipton-born Martha Turner in July 1897. In the same year he went into business by taking over at the Vauxhall Inn at Stourbridge. He went into the pub with the loose effects and stock given to him by his father who had previously kept the tavern and sold it to a large brewery.
Harry and Martha Skelding left the Vauxhall Inn after nine months and, with outgoings of £109 14s. 1d., the publican opened a bank account. He and Martha next went to the Harvest Home in Birmingham Street, paying £80 for the ingoing. Remaining for twelve months, the couple received an outgoing of £123 so they made a little money from their time running that house. Harry and Martha had to use most of their savings during a period when they were out of business. In September 1900 they took the Royal Exchange in Enville Street, and in order to pay the ingoing and lease, Harry Timmins borrowed £300 from a relative.
The Skelding's did fairly well at the Royal Exchange, but left in 1903, having bought the Bird-in-Hand for £1,750 via a mortgage. They ran into difficulties at Oldswinford and the mortgage was called in during 1907. The building was purchased by Mr. Perry, a relative, who let the couple stay at the house paying a nominal rent of £1 per week. However, Harry Timmins continued to borrow money from relatives during 1906-7 during which time he dabbled with buying and selling horses. Gradually, Harry Timmins sank further into debt and in 1910 was forced to appear at the bankruptcy court. At the hearing he told the court that in the late Edwardian period he was selling 4½ barrels of homebrewed ale per week, which brought in about £6. 15s. He reported that, of this sum, £1. 17s. 6d. was profit, but against that was £3. 7s. 6d. for household expenses, so there was a weekly loss of 30s. He told the court that, prior to 1907, business was better, and the first year he was there he brewed 518 barrels and made a good profit.
I am not sure what happened to Harry Skelding following this case. Certainly, the licence of the Bird-in-Hand was transferred to his wife Martha. The couple would later manage the Nag's Head on New Street.
Quarry Bank-born John Lamond Pargeter put in a twelve-year shift at the Bird-in-Hand. He kept the beer house with his wife Ada. He was no stranger to the licensed trade and had previously worked as a brewery's commercial traveller.
The Bird-in-Hand changed hands again when Daniel Batham Jr. paid £2000.0s.0d. for the property on April 9th 1926. The sale records a brewery to the rear of the pub but had long been disused. Moving from his home in Blakedown, Daniel Batham Jr. stayed here as publican for four-and-a-half years. However, he left with failing eyesight and went to live at the Vine Inn at The Delph. He died on June 1st 1939 aged 72.
Charles and Lily Goring were brought in to steer the Bird-in-Hand but the couple's stay was brief. They moved to Lye where they kept the Royal Oak for a quarter of a century. Their successors at the Bird-in-Hand also clocked up a lengthy spell behind the counter. Working for two different breweries, the Southall's kept the Bird-in-Hand from 1933 to 1960.
Living in Wollescote, Thomas Southall had previously grafted as an iron-plate worker. Both he and his wife Mary were born in Lye. The licence of the Bird-in-Hand was transferred to Mary Southall following the death of her husband in March 1954. She continued to run the pub until her death six years later. The Southall's were running the house when it was sold to Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries Ltd. in May 1940 for £3,000. A full licence was granted for the house on April 26th 1948. The above photograph was taken around this time. The bowling green was still advertised on the side of the building, along with Banks's Ales and Stout.
Albert and Mary Swadling kept the Bird-in-Hand in the 1960s. The couple had married in July 1926. They were no strangers to the public-house as they had been living on the premises since the Batham's days when Mary's parents, Thomas and Mary Southall, were running the place. Mary worked with them in the pub whilst Albert was engaged at a steel works. Following Albert's death in March 1964, the licence passed to Mary who managed the house until 1970. In fact, it was always Mary who had a handle on things. She had a life-long connection with the licensed trade. Her parents started pub life in 1922 at The Star in Lye before moving to The Star at Stourbridge, and later to the Royal Oak in Lye. The latter was also operated by Batham's during the 1920s so it was something of a swap with Charles and Lily Goring when they came to the Bird-in-Hand in 1933. This resulted in a 37-year stint for Mary Swadling at the Bird-in-Hand. Because of ill-health, she decided to retire in 1970. Her regular customers attended a farewell party at the pub in August of that year during which they presented the licensee with an electric kettle. Mary can be seen in the centre of the photograph above.
Confirming that some things come around again, the Bird-in-Hand was acquired for the second time by Batham's towards the end of 2019. This came as a relief to many as previous owners New River Retail had planned to demolish the building to erect a Co-op store next to Tesco. Due to one reason or another, particularly the Covid-19 lockdown, I did not get to the pub until September 2020 to take some photographs. Steve, the manager, told me that he had previously been working for the brewery at the Lamp Tavern in Dudley. Hailing from Gornal, he had been working in pubs since he was 18. He managed a few pubs for Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries Ltd., including the Cow Shed in Dudley and the Prince of Wales at Woodsetton.
"Walter Chance , brickworks labourer, Oldswinford, waa charged with stealing a ferret, of the value of 3s. 1d., the
property of Charles Duller, head gardener at Mr. Swindell's, The Castle, Oldswinford. The prosecutor kept two ferrets in his master's yard, and on the
night of November 15th he saw them safe. On the following morning it was found that the pen had been broken open and one of the ferrets taken. When arrested by Police
Constable Haines the prisoner said the ferret was raffled by a man named Charles Hill, and he won it, but Hill now swore that he had never raffled a ferret nor
had he ever sold one to the prisoner. Prisoner had been previously convicted, and was now fined 40s. and costs, or one month."
"Stealing A Ferret"
County Express : February 5th 1887 Page 5
"On Saturday, January 4th, the Oldswinford bell-ringers and friende, together with the members of St. Thomas's [Stourbridge],
held their first supper at the house of Mr. Charles Hill, Bird in Hand Inn, Oldswinford, where a substantial supper was provided by the host and hostess. Mr. C. J. Hill
was voted to the chair, and Mr. Joseph Hall, jun., to the vice-chair. After the usual toasts had been drunk, the chairman, as is a general rule, started the harmony,
which was carried on to a late hour. This is one of the first steps to forming a Stourbridge Guild of Change Ringers."
"Bell Ringers' Supper"
County Express : January 18th 1890 Page 7