Fair exchange

Following her comments here, reader and local history enthusiast Ann Cross recently accepted my invitation to write about her family history at the Royal Exchange pub in Walsall Wood.  When I suggested that she might like to write up her work, I could tell that Ann had a great story to tell, and would tell it very well indeed. I wasn’t disappointed, and the first instalment was incredibly popular with readers of the blog.

I now have great  pleasure in presenting the second part of Ann’s story, which, just like the first, is a real gem. I thank Ann for her wonderful work, and will hereby declare that if she would like to write any further material, I’d be most privileged to publish it here.

The best thing about curating this odd little site is the range of great writers who’ve contributed to it; David Evans, Peter Cutler, Andy Dennis, Ann Cross and others make curating this blog a constant pleasure. Long may it continue.

Ann wrote:

The 1901 census shows William Cross at the Royal Exchange as publican assisted by two cousins, Jennie Jackson housekeeper and Florrie Jackson barmaid, and Alice Painter, already mentioned by staffordshirebred.

In the 1911 census he is calling himself a licensed victualler, assisted by Florrie Jackson and a second cousin, Florrie Griffiths.  Alice Painter is not listed, she must have moved on by then.

On May 13th 1915 when he was 37 years old Grandfather Cross married Mary Emily Williams at St Pauls Church in Walsall.  She was almost 25. At the time she was a live-in barmaid at the Freemasons Arms in Park Street Walsall.  The 1911 census shows Thomas Watson as the licensed victualler, his wife Elizabeth, two sons and two workers, Lizzie Kensington a domestic and Emily Williams a barmaid.

Mary Emily Williams outside the Freemasons Arms. Does anyone have any more information about the lost Walsall alehouse? Picture kindly supplied by Ann Cross.

My photo shows Mary Emily on the right outside the Freemasons Arms. I still have the silver and leather belt she is wearing.  It used to fit me… I don’t know who the lady on the left is, maybe Elizabeth or Lizzie?

The following year my father was born on 10 th June 1916.  He was their only child, the third William Cross, known as Bill.  He attended the local school and was a choir boy at St Johns church.

My father left school in 1930 when he became 14 (school leaving age didn’t change to 15 until 1947) and went straight to work at G C Dean the Tailor at 32 Digbeth Walsall.  In December 1931 he went to work for Montague Burton Ltd at the Bridge Walsall where he was paid 10 shillings per week, rising to 15 shillings after a three month period.  In the mid thirties  he was promoted to Manager of the branch in Christchurch Hampshire (now Dorset) and that is where he met my mother.

In 1935 Ind Coope and Allsopp merged, having acquired Lichfield Brewery earlier, and in 1936 became the new owners of the Royal Exchange.   My grandfather of course was still the tenant and license holder.

Sadly  Mary Emily died on 26 th March 1939 age 48 and so was not present at the marriage of her son to Gladys Violet Scott in Christchurch Priory on 24 th February 1940.

The war years intervened and my father was not back in Walsall Wood permanently until 1946 although my mother was, having moved there when she became pregnant with me.  Previously she had been in Paisley where my father was stationed before he was moved to Gosport in readiness for D Day.

My brothers were born in 1947 and 1951.

Royal Exchange floor plan, carefully drawn by Ann’s brother. Wonderful. Click for a larger version.

This picture of the Royal Exchange is how we knew it.  The floor plan shows the ground floor layout at that time.  Many thanks to my brother for drawing this.

Times were hard in the years after the war, and my father took a part time job with his old company Montague Burton in the Lichfield branch.

They tried lots of ideas to generate income in the pub; wedding receptions, hot dogs outside in the garden in the summer and chicken suppers by the coach load!  These were held in the Clubroom, there was a piano at the front and a raised platform which made that door unusable so everyone had to use the main entrance.  At the other end was the bar and a window opening onto the garden.  Customers could be served through this with their drinks and bottles of ‘pop’ for the children, with a straw of course.

The car park was large and often there would be two coaches parked there.  Later on the upstairs room was also made available for functions.

The Exchange hasn’t changed much. Wonderful picture featuring a classic motor, too, generously supplied by Ann Cross.

Grandpa Cross died 26 th September 1955 age 78, he had been ill for a number of years and my father had already become the licensee.

Around 1960 there was another change of ownership as Ansells Brewery merged with Ind Coope & Allsopp and the Ansells sign went up.  They of course together with Tetley Walker in 1961 became the mighty Allied Breweries and my father, in search of a better future for his family, became a Manager.

In May 1961 my parents took on The Werrington Hotel in Bucknall, Stoke -on-Trent, and we moved to the Potteries for two and a half years.

That is another story.

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27 Responses to Fair exchange

  1. D.Evans says:

    HI Bob
    a big thankyou to Ann, please.

  2. Great, evocative detail. The floor plan is a master stroke.

  3. pedro says:

    Freemasons Arms in Park Street Walsall seems to post date 1834

    Checking in White’s Directory, the only Freemason’s in Walsall is listed at Townend Bank, and run by a Henry Smith.

    The only Inn in Park Street listed is the Three Cups.

    Regards Pedro

  4. This is a great read. Thanks. Intrigued by the pub on Park St. Have found another photo, on http://www.aclickintime.co.uk which might help to place it? http://www.aclickintime.co.uk/cgi-bin/aclickintime.pl?_cgifunction=form&_layout=aclickintime&keyval=aclickintime.photoid=35

  5. pedro says:

    Interesting to see both of the pictures of the Freemasons. It also appears that Glen Athol whisky has also been lost! The only reference I can find is the sale of Match Holder seen here…


    The Lichfield Brewery seem to have been sole agents.

  6. pedro says:

    Dad’s Austin 16 looks in pretty good condition. As the sign says Ansells, who took over around 1960, then it would be at least 24 years old.

    Maybe someone knows the difference the 16 and the 16HP?

    Regards Pedro

  7. alvin cox says:

    memories flooding back seeing the layout of the exchange i played darts for the team back in the late 50,s& 60.s it was the most popular pub in the wood best regards to Ann (also an ex
    walsall wood drama group actress.

    • Ann Cross says:

      Amazing what we can remember when we try! Did you do any more with the drama group after See How They Run?

  8. Clive says:

    Nice one Ann and Bob, thank you.
    By the way Park street goes upto Towns end bank, so the pub could be classed as both addresses!

  9. Clive says:

    Sorry i should of said if the pub was located at the top of Park st.

  10. Ann Cross says:

    As far as I can remember, the Freemasons was in the middle of Park Street. If you check out the other picture mentioned by Kate above, you will see it is next door to a Burtons which we used to visit with my father who worked there at one time! Quite amazing that he worked next door to where his mother used to work. We would get off the bus in Walsall bus station, walk through an arcade, and cross Park Street to the shop. I think there was a NatWest bank futher up the street. I first found the photo in Walsall In Old Photographs by Douglas W Gilbert & Marilyn Lewis.

    • Ann Cross says:

      I think at that time the bank was National Provincial, later to become NatWest.

    • Ann, I found a little more about the location of the pub on the 1891 census. It was number 24 Park St, and two doors up at number 30 was the ‘New Station Inn’. Just for interest, at that time is was run by Elizabeth Plant, a widow of 59, who lived there with her son William, a Saddler. She died in August 1894, and I think her son William Plant took over (as William Plant is listed at the Freemason’s Arms in the 1896 Kellys Directory). Without the help of google streetview, I just can’t picture where it is though!!

      • Actually, that doesn’t add up does it. There’s no number 26 on the census. It jumps to number 28, which was a housekeeper (Ann Hill) and 4 young women who were drapers assistants.

        • Ann Cross says:

          There perhaps was some confusion with the numbers, The Freemasons was 24, but the caption under the photo in the book I have says it is the Station Hotel, when it obviously is the same place as my family photo. So I don’t know!!

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  18. Ann Riddell was Marlow. says:

    I remember sneeking into the outdoor at the Royal Exchange to buy hot dogs, hoping my mom would never find out. The hotdogs were made with sausage meat and cost 1/6d. They were delicious. This would be in about 1959 when I was 14 . One night one of my teachers was in there, and I lived in fear that she would tell my mom, but she never did.

    • Ann Cross says:

      They were delicious I agree! All our meat came from R Starbucks on the High Street in Brownhills which has been mentioned before on this blog. There is a great picture showing the shop in about 1961 which is how I remember it.

  19. Isn’t it marvellous that when you are searching for some obscure local history details, you end up with Bob and his blog!?
    My interest is in The Freemasons Arms in Park Street as I have recently discovered that I am related to the Plants that were licensees there for so many years.
    Apparently it was originally an ale house with no sign and then known as The Square and Compasses.
    In the 1871 and 1881 census the address was given as 58 Park Street, 1891 onward 24 Park Street.
    It closed on 2 March 1933.
    May I have permission to use the photograph at the top of the page of the two young women standing outside please? Full credit will be given naturally. Thanks

    • Ann Cross says:

      Hello, sorry for slight delay in replying I have been away for the weekend in not so sunny Lyme Regis!
      Please use the picture, no problem at all, it is all very interesting and I look forward to further news.

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