Black Country Bugle
Recreated, rebuilt and risen from the ashes
STEVE JAMES visits the historic pub that has taken its place at the Black Country Living Museum
ON SEPTEMBER 14, 2022, I was invited to celebrate the opening of the Elephant and Castle public house at the Black Country Living Museum. The pub had originally stood on the corner of Stafford Road and Cannock Road in Wolverhampton. After closing in 2000, it suffered a devastating fire in February 2001, which seriously damaged the building. It was finally demolished on Sunday, March 4, 2001, without notice of planning permission, just as it was being considered for listing as an historic building.
In 2018, the Black Country Living Museum announced that it planned to recreate this once-treasured watering-hole as the focal point of its new 1940s-1960s town centre, as part of its “Forging Ahead” project. Site manager for the brickworks company, Tim Darrall, remembered spending many a weekend in the local and was “honoured to have laid the first bricks during the construction of this much missed landmark”.
The Elephant and Castle originally dated back to 1833, when maltster and retail brewer, Samuel Davis was the landlord. He brewed his own beer here and kept the pub for just three years. It was then taken over by John Cotterill, who kept it until 1865 and employed Thomas Lawrence to brew his beer. At that time, the pub was a popular coaching inn sited along a main road into town. It also had a brewhouse and an adjoining slaughterhouse, along with piggeries, stabling, coach house and a workshop.
In 1871, the pub was acquired by Joseph Newton, who was 66 years old at the time. He had a wife, Hannah, a daughter, Harriet, and a son, Joseph, who was a merchant’s clerk. In 1881, the pub was taken over by Agnes Bradhurst, a spirit merchant, who employed John Lacy and John Sinforth as bar managers. Later landlords included Patrick O’kane, followed by John Steward and James Richards.
In 1892, the Elephant and Castle was acquired by the Manchester Brewery Co. This company was then under the chairmanship of John Henry Davies, who also owned the newly-formed Manchester United Football Club. In 1905, they decided to demolish and rebuild the pub as a magnificent landmark for those coming into Wolverhampton. Incidentally, its name possibly reflects the crest of the Cutlers’ Company or derives from Infanta de Castile, recalling Queen Eleanor of Castile, the wife of Edward I. The pub sign represents a howdah on the back of an elephant, a seat traditionally used by hunters in India.
The building was designed by local Walsall architects, J.F. Hickman and H.E. Farmer, who were best known for their theatre and cinema designs. It was constructed by another local company, Speake and Sons, of Wolverhampton. Its frontage, with green and white ceramic faience brickwork was made by Gibbs and Canning of Tamworth, and was instantly recognisable, including gold lettering and a statuette of an elephant with a castle on its back. They had provided similar terracotta brickwork for other wellknown Black Country buildings like Horseley Heath Post Office and the
Midland Counties Dairy in Wolverhampton. The landlord at that time was George Davey.
In 1907, Manchester Brewery was taken over by North Worcestershire Breweries of Stourbridge. But three years later, they were taken over by Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries and the pub became part of the Banks’s estate. By this time, Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries were rapidly becoming one of the largest breweries in the region, competing with Mitchell’s and Butler’s at Cape Hill, Smethwick and William Butler’s Springfield Brewery in Wolverhampton, along with the multitude of smaller breweries in the Black Country.
During this period, the Elephant and Castle was kept by several landlords, including Harry Banks, John Langley and Thomas Lee. It was a typical Edwardian pub, with a public bar for the workers, and a separate Smoking Room with slightly higher prices for those who could afford them and wished to keep away from the “working class” drinkers. The pub’s clientele was diverse, reflecting the fact that Wolverhampton was home to many thousands of Irish immigrants who had arrived there during the 19th century. Many of them lived in the Stafford Street area, and this was reflected by the pub’s landlord between 1883-1892. He was 31-year old Patrick O’kane, originally born in Ovill, County Derry, who kept the pub with his wife, Agnes, and
employed Irish-born Daniel Mcnicholl and John King as barmen.
During the 1940s, the pub was kept by Sydney Jones. After the Second World War, local firms struggled to find the labour they needed, and the Irish once again formed the largest group of incomers. But they were also joined by colonial and Commonwealth citizens from India, Pakistan and the Caribbean. In the 1960s, drinkers from all these nations could be found in the Elephant and Castle.
Little is known about the licensees in the post-war period, but in the 1960s, Doris May Davies was the landlady. Later, it was kept by Reginald Mincher and his wife, Gladys, Ian Harding, Paul Bennett, Mandy Smith and Charan Lally. In 1999, the pub was acquired by Avebury Taverns Ltd, who closed it in 2000. It was then sold to Peel Holdings plc, who owned the adjoining retail park. In February 2001, the pub was seriously damaged by fire and was finally demolished on Sunday, March 4, 2001. At the time, fire-fighters had to search the derelict smoke-filled pub to check for squatters. The destruction of the Elephant and Castle was said to have caused greater public outrage amongst the people of Wolverhampton than any other recent event involving the redevelopment or development of the city. A sad decline for a much-loved historic building. However, in 2006, it was revealed that the statue of the elephant and castle from the pub had been found and restored by Winston Aplin.
In 2018, the Black Country Living Museum announced that it planned to recreate this once-treasured wateringhole in part of its 1940s-1960s town centre, as part of its “Forging Ahead” project. This “jewel in the crown” of the
museum’s development was completed in September 2022, where it forms the gateway to the new historic area. Visitors can experience life in the post-war era, by trying a pint in the public bar, retiring to the Smoking Room with a bag of scratchings, or taking on the regulars at a game of dominoes.
The external recreation of the Elephant and Castle is truly outstanding, with careful attention to detail, including the glazed tiling, signage and even a replica of the original elephant and castle statuette. Inside, the layout is said to represent the pub in the 1950s period. The ground floor comprises an L-shaped bar and separate smoke room, with a club room and dining room upstairs. At the time of my visit, the bar was serving Banks’s draught Mild and Amber, along with bottles of Guinness and Babycham, complete with replica bottles and labels. I took the opportunity to chat at length with the architect who explained that, since this was actually a “new” building, some aspects of the recreation had to comply with modern health and safety regulations. My only (minor) criticism was the lack of any bench seating around the walls of the pub, which it would have had even in the bar during the 1950s, so that workmen did not damage or soil any of the padded seats.
Nevertheless, the overall impression is of a typical Edwardian pub in the 1950s period, faithfully recreated as the centrepiece of the 1940s-1960s town centre at the Black Country Living Museum. It’s well worth a visit!