Sunday 22nd November 2015
The Black Country was the last bastion of small traditional breweries located at the rear of pubs. There were many in the nineteen-thirties, some solely supplying their owner’s pub, others were a bit more commercial and their beers were found in a few other pubs locally. A considerable number didn’t survive the Second World War, others closed shortly afterwards as the big brewing companies sought to expand their estates.
However there were some true survivors. Very small commercial breweries such as Simpkiss, Batham’s and of course, Holden’s, held on in there during the post-war period. Sadly Simpkiss bit the dust in July 1985 when the family sold the brewery and pubs to Greenall Whitley of Warrington. I really enjoyed visiting the Foley Arms (later the New Wellington) on Brettell Lane where you could sit in the pub and hear all the hustle and bustle of the working Simpkiss brewery in the yard behind.
My drinking companion on these trips back in the 1970s / early 1980s was Dave (Willy) Wealdon and we enjoyed visiting these small breweries. With others closing on an almost monthly basis, we thought the small companies in the Black Country were the most threatened and so we went there often.
Well, apart from Simpkiss our fears were unfounded. Indeed, two earlier closures have sprung back to life, Sarah Hughes and Sadler’s.
The beginning of Holden’s was on 15th March 1875 when Edwin Alfred Holden was born. In October 1898 he married the daughter of a pub licensee, Lucy Blanche. Her father encouraged the couple take on the tenancy of the Britannia Inn in Netherton.
In 1904 they moved on to the Struggling Man in Shavers End, near Dudley. By 1907 they were on the move again to the Horse & Jockey, Lower Gornal. By 1909 they were in charge of the Bloomfield Inn at Tipton.
All of the above pubs were owned by Atkinson’s Brewery of Aston Park, Birmingham. They were absorbed, along with their 360 pubs by Mitchell & Butler in 1959. The Aston Park brewery stayed open to 1961 when M&B merged with Bass and its capacity was no longer needed.
In 1910 the couple took over their first free house, the Summerhouse in Woodsetton. They stayed here to 1920.
During their period at the Summerhouse they purchased the freehold of the Park Inn, also in Woodsetton, for £750 in 1915 from Atkinson’s Brewery. Behind the pub was that company’s malt store. The pub’s basement had a brewery and on this a strong mild was produced twice a week with a Christmas ale at the appropriate time.
The malt store became the new Holden’s brewery and that year, 1915, is used as the founding date on their publicity. They were celebrating their 100th birthday when we visited.
In 1920 Edwin died and Lucy took over the pub’s license, including that for brewing. Please see the photograph above of the old sign that was once over the entrance door and now preserved in the pub.
The brewery has continued in the family for three more generations and after a relatively slow start has now built up an estate. In fact as the war finished they still had just three pubs.
By 1970 the number of pubs was still under ten. However after that there was a steady increase in tied houses, although some were later sold. What sustained the company through the years was the bottling plant installed in the 1940s. They maintained contract bottling for the likes of Bass, Worthington and Guinness.
This plant has latterly been greatly modernised and apart from their own beers, they now bottle for many companies from the large down to today’s small micro-breweries.
The capacity of the brewery was increased to between 80 and 90 barrels (bbls) per week during the early 1960s.
In the few years preceding our visit to the pub, they have again enlarged the brewery with a three-story extension with extra fermentation vessels and conditioning tanks acquired from the sadly closed Tetley Brewery in Leeds.
They have also opened a new two-storey administration building.
There are already two articles in BeerVisits on their pubs. Both are quite notable and have railway connections.
The Great Western, located outside the now defunct, yet still standing, Wolverhampton Low Level station was taken on in 1987.
In 1998 the Codsall Station opened its doors. As its name implies it is in the former ticket office, waiting room and Stationmaster’s house at Codsall railway station.
It was a cold but clear day when myself and local drinker Steve approached the pub, with its brewery behind. The signs that are painted directly onto the outside plastering are particularly noticeable. This is a common feature of these small Black Country breweries and their attendant pubs.
The entrance is off George Street and once inside we could tell that this was once a multi-roomed pub.
To the left of the entrance is a small room. We turned left into the main room. We then went to the right and circumnavigated the bar which has three sides. Off this there is another room that contains a pool table.
There is a section of the main room that was obviously once separate and this seems to be dedicated to dining these days.
The decoration comprises of brewery artefacts and photographs along with old cask taps and ceramic jugs. We settled ourselves at a tall table next to a nice fireplace that had a surround that look as if it was varnished cherry wood with a cast iron grate. Above was a wood-framed mirror.
We looked at the beer selection and as befitting a brewery tap there was the full range of their permanent beers. These are: Black Country Mild (3.7%); Black Country Bitter (3.9%); Golden Glow (4.4%) and Black Country Special (5.1%). It was nice to see Mild on sale, it’s not always guaranteed to be on in some pubs. Black Country Special is their premium bitter.
There was also a seasonal special in the form of Tremor (4.7%) part of their Heritage Heroes series. To quote the brewery this is “brewed in recognition of the Dudley Earthquake in 2002 which measured 4.7 on the Richter scale”. I smiled when I saw that the next in the series was Noddy Holden’s (4.2%).
There was also one guest beer, Derby Brewing Company’s Penny Porter (4.6%). It would seem that there is more than one guest beer on offer normally.
Although Holden’s beers are available throughout the Black Country, there is something special about drinking it twenty feet from where it was created. You can easily combine the pub with a visit to the brewery or their new shop.
Park Inn, George Street, Woodsetton, West Midlands. DY1 4LW. Tel: 01902 661279
Hours: Monday-Saturday 12.00-23.00; Sunday 12.00-22.30
Food: Monday-Saturday 12.00-20.00; Sunday 12.00-16.30
The 229 bus from Bilston to Dudley and return stops outside. This bus conveniently stops in Sedgley at Beacon Lane, outside the Sarah Hughes Brewery tap. It runs every 30 minutes, hourly after 19.00 and on Sundays. You need to use the Swan Village Fox Street stop, which I don’t think is in Swan Village, but that’s what it is called. From the stop you need to walk back towards Sedgley. You will soon see George Street and the pub and brewery on the left side of the road. It will take less than five minutes.