Some history of the British Oak at Romsley in the county of Worcestershire.
The British Oak, a beer house that is said to have traded for a period as the Royal Oak, was located on the western side of Bromsgrove Road, roughly a third of the way up the hill between the Sun Hotel and the Fighting Cocks.
This view, looking down Bromsgrove Road during the Edwardian period, shows the British Oak on the left. The photograph would have been stood a short distance from another tavern called Malt Shovel, one of six houses that sold beer between Dayhouse Bank and the boundary with Hunnington. In the 21st century only the The Sun and the Swallow's Nest remain.
This close-up view of the previous image shows three cyclists stood by a picket fence outside the British Oak. Featuring a simple bell tower, the whitewashed building behind them was the old National School. This structure was built on land donated by Lord Lyttelton and opened in 1853. With a fee of 3d. per week, there was accommodation for 84 children. The building was superseded by a new school in 1915. In the following year the Rector acquired the old school with the intention of using it as a Mission Room. The building was extended in later years and became known as St. Kenelm's Church Hall.
Romsley has quite a track record of demolishing its old buildings but the row seen in the distance have survived. Located on the northern side of St. Kenelm's Road, the row includes Lavender Cottage and Dalmatian Cottage, the latter having a date stone of 1751.
The inn sign displays the surname of Burton, a family that occupied the British Oak in the late 19th century and throughout the Edwardian period.
It would seem that the life of the beer house was an extension of a huckster's shop run by Henry Risbridger in the 1860s. Born around 1810 in Charlwood, Surrey, he had moved to the area prior to his career in retailing. In 1861 the land drainer was recorded at Gannow Green living with his Kent-born wife Sarah and two daughters. Working as an agricultural labourer Henry, along with his wife, had previously lived at Bolton by Bowland which was then in the West Riding of Yorkshire.
The first hard evidence I have seen of alcohol being stored at the huckster's shop is within a newspaper article on a robbery that took place in the building. The article stated that cider was stored in the dairy but not sold by Henry Risbridger. This would suggest that no beer and wine licence had been granted to Henry Risbridger by 1865. However, the huckster would have paid for his licence prior to legislative changes in 1869.
The 1871 census recorded Henry Risbridger as an innkeeper and farmer of 30 acres. He and his wife Sarah were recorded at the British Oak Inn. The beer house was also recorded as the British Oak in the 1870-1 Electoral Register. So, at this stage there is no reference to an inn sign commemorating King Charles, but rather one of national pride. The census enumerator did write Royal Oak in 1881 but I think this may have erroneous entry as the house continued to be listed as the British Oak in subsequent years.
Henry Risbridger also sold coal from the premises. However, the old rogue was nabbed by an inspector of weights and measures and hauled before the magistrates. The huckster and publican pleaded guilty to having in his possession a pair of unjust coal scales. It was found that the scales had been adjusted with pieces of iron, resulted in customers being charged for an extra 9½ pounds. Accordinly, Henry Risbridger was fined 5s. and costs, though his reputation lay in tatters.
Henry Risbridger handed over the reins of the British Oak to John Burton in 1883. It would seem that it was not an amicable transaction as Henry Risbridger disputed the price paid for two barrels of ale. He took the matter to the Bromsgrove County Court in May 1883 where he won his case and was awarded £2. 19s.
John Burton kept the British Oak with his wife Mary. The wood-cutter was born and bred in Romsley. Mary Burton continued to run the shop established by Henry Risbridger. However, a new element was introduced to the building as the couple's daughter Agnes was appointed post-mistress.
The combined British Oak and Post Office can be seen in the early Edwardian photograph below. By this date John had passed away and both parts of the business were being run by Mary and Agnes Burton. The photograph also shows that the British Oak has the livery of Mitchell's and Butler's. The inn sign of the Malt Shovel can be seen further up the hill.
Mary Burton was made to appear before Halesowen Magistrates in September 1902 charged with allowing drunkenness on her premises on August 8th. The case took over three hours to be heard as it also involved three other men being charged. These were David Bridge, John Mason, and Frederick Blizzard, all of whom were charged with drunk upon the premises. It was stated in court that all three men were drinking at the British Oak for a considerable time. The prosecuting solicitor said that he could prove that Bridge went to the pub at four o'clock and remained there till closing time. He told the Bench that "he had a horse and trap with him which remained outside during the whole of the time he was on the premises." It was stated that Police-Constable Price visited the premises, and, "in the tap rote, found Bridge, Mason and Blizzard sitting there with quart jugs containing ale, and glasses in frost of them." The Constable stated that "All three men were in a very drunken condition." At ten o'clock, which was the closing time of the house, the policeman again visited the premises, and the three men were outside with a man named Grainger creating a disturbance and using obscene language. According to the officer, John Mason was preparing himself to fight. Bridge was so drunk the officer refused to allow him to drive home alone. A man named Jesse Bate was charged with driving him away from the British Oak. Mason and Blizzard, the Constable observed, were so drunk they were "staggering about outside the house." Mary Burton admitted to the police that the men had been in the British Oak for a considerable time. However, she claimed that they had drunk in moderation. The prosecution contended that they were on a bender and guzzling beer during their session. The magistrates dismissed the charge against the licensee. The Bench fined each of the men and in David Bridge's case this was a substantial amount of 20 shillings and costs.
Mary Burton may have got off lightly in the court case but it flagged up the British Oak as a problem house at a time when the police and the licensing justices were looking to reduce the number of public-houses in a period of reform. At the Halesowen Police Court in February 1908 Superintendent Hill objected to three licences on the ground of redundancy. These were the White Lion Inn at Hasbury and two Romsley taverns, the British Oak and the Fox Hunt Inn. Superintendent Hill explained that, in his opinion, "in a very small area there were five licensed houses and a thin population." He stated that "both houses were inferior to the others." Despite protestations by the defending solictor named Cooksey, the Bench decided to refer the three licences to the Compensation Authority.
The British Oak survived in 1908 but the house came up for a similar objection in the following year. Again, Superintendent Hill objected, stating that "there were 97 inhabited houses and six licensed premises, but two licences had been removed." He added that the British Oak was "the only beer house in the district, the other houses being fully licensed." Mr. Whiteman, of Halesowen, represented the owners, E. and H. Thompson, and the tenant, Agnes Matilda Ferraby. She told the Bench that "the licence had been in the family for 30 years, and was the only free house in the parish. There was also a grocer's business and a post-office connected with the house, and it was situated on the main road from Halesowen to Bromsgrove." Mr. Whiteman presented a petition signed by 58 inhabitants and 124 visitors in favour of the British Oak continuing in business. However, the license was refused.
Agnes, daughter of John and Mary Burton, had married Walter Ferraby in 1904. The couple remained at the de-licensed premises, continuing to run the shop and post-office.
"0n Tuesday, at the Police Court, before Messrs. E. Moore and E. Gem, Jesse Trow and Nathaniel Bollard, nailers, from
Romsley, were charged with stealing, on the 22nd inst., one sovereign, seven shillings in silver, and four or five shillings in copper, the moneys of Henry Risbridger,
huckster, Romsley. Mr. Holberton defended Trow. Sarah Ann Risbridger, the daughter of the prosecutor, stated that she knew the prisoners. On Saturday afternoon last
they came to her father's house, about half-past three o'clock. First of all Bollard came in to light his pipe. Soon after he went away she went into the
dairy, and found the prisoner drawing some cider from a barrel, he having obtained entrance by the back door. Witness took the key from the barrel, and told him to
go away. He went out at the back door, and she fastened it after him. A woman named Mrs. Knight came in soon after and bought some articles, which she paid for with
a sovereign, receiving back the change. Witness then went to Bollard, who was at the back of the house, for a jug in which he had taken the cider, and after returning
to the house she closed the front door and went upstairs. She then went to shut the front window, and, looking over, she saw the prisoner Trow close to the front door.
She asked what he wanted, and he said, "A half-pen'orth of percussion caps, quick." While she was speaking to Trow she heard the money in the till
rattling, and someone say, "That'll do, that'll do." She ran downstairs, and as she was going through the kitchen she saw the prisoner Bollard run
out of the shop. She immediately examined the till, and missed the amount stated in the charge. When she went upstairs there were two sovereigns, seven or eight
shillings in silver, and four or five in copper in the till. She at once gave information to a man named Sorrel, in the employ of her father as a waggoner. Her
father did not sell cider; and Bollard had no business in the pantry. Trow was not in the shop at all. It came out in cross-examination that the robbery
took place about seven o'clock in the evening. William Sorrel gave evidence to the effect that he saw the prisoners in the yard adjoining prosecutor's
house shortly before the robbery was committed. In about five minutes after the prisoners went away the last witness went to him, and told him that the till had been
robbed. He went for the police. Police-Constable Knowles proved that he apprehened the prisoners after considerable resistance. Trow resisted having the handcuffs
put upon him, and the persons present sympathised with him. Bollard slipped the handcuffs and ran away, but was shortly afterwards apprehended. When searched only 1s.
was found in the possession of both prisoners. Mr. Holberton contended that his client had had nothing whatever to do with the robbery, and that there was no evidence
to implicate him. The Bench took this view and discharged Trow. Bollard was committed for trial to the Sessions."
"Robbing a Till"
County Advertiser & Herald for Staffordshire & Worcestershire
April 29th 1865 Page 8
"Joseph Hinston was brought up on a warrant, charged with being drunk and refusing to quit the British Oak on the 18th of last November.
The landlord, Henry Risbridger, proved the case, and defendant was fined 5s. and costs, or 14 days."
"Drunk and Refusing to Quit"
County Advertiser & Herald
for Staffordshire and Worcestershire : June 14th 1873 Page 2
"Joseph Bateman was charged with having, on the 18th of November, 1873, been drunk and riotous and refused to quit the British Oak
Inn, Romsley, when requested so to do, and also with having assaulted Daniel Haden."
County Advertiser & Herald
for Staffordshire and Worcestershire : March 21st 1874 Page 6