The Holly Bush Inn, Norton Canes
Taken from the Norton Canes Historical Society Journal 1978-9 (Pages 17, 18 and 19)
The Holly Bush is situated on the Walsall Road out of Norton Canes village. Close to the road’s crossing of the Watling Street and only a few yards from the line of the Cannock Extension to the Wyrley and Essington Canal (now filled in)
The tithe Award of 1838 (but was actually surveyed in 1827) shows the following information:
Plot Reference No. 183
Landowner BROOKES, William Neville
Occupier MANN, Charles
Land and Premises Garden etc.
Area 1 Rood 7 Poles. In excess of ¼ acre.
First reference to it as an Inn is in 1834, White’s Directory showing the same Charles MANN as Inn-keeper in that year. By 1851 one John CLIFF was landlord and was probably brewing his own ales, but towards the end of the century, it was selling Roberts’ ales, whose brewery was behind the Station Hotel, Brownhills, and who owned about 30 public houses in the area.
The 4th May 1899, saw an Inn acquired by the City Brewery Co., Lichfield from William Harrison Ltd., the local land-owners. They retained the house until 1917 when the Wolverhampton and Dudley Brewery took it over. They are the present owners, selling their range of Banks’ beers.
It is likely that during this period the building was enlarged considerably to its present dimensions. (The earlier L-shaped rear section is discernable by the older brickwork.)
The Bush would appear to have been graced by many of the local miners and sporting types over the years, for we have reports of sparrow-shooting, pigeon-flying, rabbit-coursing, marbles and quoits being played there and, on occasion, cock-fighting.
The Norton United football team were based there during the period 1908-1910 and played on a pitch at the rear of the pub. Their reward after a hard match was to be treated to a plate of “Shackles”, which were the heated-up remains from the suppers that were held on a Friday night.
We know that also during this period the Inn was used for meetings by the No. 5249 Court Pride of Norton Canes, Ancient Order of Free Foresters, who used the upper rooms.
The miners who used the pub worked from 6.00 a.m. until 4.00 p.m., six days a week and on Saturday pay-day many went straight down from work to “unwind”. Friends who had worked together in the same “Stall” all week sometimes let off steam having a good scrap together, but all was forgiven by the following Monday.
During August the Norton Wakes inspired some of the more daring to risk their necks and impress girls, standing on the edge of the big swing-boats that graced the area occupied by the over-spill car park, but which was then a pond.
The period between the wars saw the emergence of another sport which gave some prominence to the Bush. Mr. Tom GIDWELL started a boxing club in the large back room and local fighters made it their headquarters. Many local people will remember the likes of ‘Cobbler’ JENNINGS and Jim SLATER.
The latter was to become a John Bull’s boy, (Horatio BOTTOMLEY, owner of the John Bull paper arranged for A. G. ‘Smiler’ HALES to find a new boxing talent and he took Jim SLATER to train at Herne Bay with several other hopefuls). Unfortunately he lost to Bermondsey Billy WELLS and returned to the Midlands where he trained several local men at the Bush. His widow retains his John Bull trophy.
However, the sport seems to have gradually died out before the second war and weekly dances took over.
Mr. John WATTON who used to deliver posts, pans, buckets, kettles and like hardware from his horse and cart remembers calling at the pub with his parents after the first war and clearly recalls the small cottage that stood on the site of the small ‘paddock’ in front of the present pub and the stables nearby where the horses from the canal boats were stabled while the boats were being loaded.
He recalls that one Nathaniel SMITH, a travelling man, used to provide entertainment for the pub’s patrons. He used to camp in the field opposite with his brother Israel and would challenge this same brother to races for a small wager. His opportunity for the local gamblers was, however, predictable because Nathaniel, running in his bare feet, always won.
The 1960’s saw the house used to accommodate long-distance drivers and the legend ‘Transport’ stood out starkly on the roof. The back room was subsequently opened as a restaurant, but this was later closed down and rarely used until the present licensee, David CAINE, converted it into a comfortable lounge bar.
This boasts a link with the past, the counter being in the form of a canal narrow boat, a clue to visitors as to some of the Holly Bush’s former clientele.
The Holly Bush early 1900's The Holly Bush’s location 1882 The Holly Bush 2010