Saturday 13th November 2016
This pub has a name that was once very common around the country. The name often referred to man servants who were abducted from Africa and bought to these shores to perform menial tasks in the households of the rich. There has been a movement in more recent years to alter the names of pubs such as this and the Blackamoor’s Head. This must not be done as pub names such as these reflect a period in our history that existed, however grim.
However, the owners of this pub offer two alternative interpretations of the name. The first is that the pub was used by men who worked in iron foundries, of which there were many along the banks of the river Severn. They would enter the pub after work with blackened faces.
The third offering is that it refers to King Charles II who had a dark complexion. This latter explanation is the one the owners prefer and the King’s Head is depicted on the pub’s sign.
Its origins are said to date back to the 17th Century which is a little strange as the first record of it comes in 1790. In that year it was located at 67 Cartway. Later it moved to no 17, finally arriving at its present location at no 58 in 1889.
Bridgnorth is split into sections, the Low Town and the High Town, on top of a hill. The Cartway is very old indeed and connects the High Street area down to the banks of the River Severn and the bridge across it, over which most of the Low Town is to be found.
The pub is a handsome building, constructed of local stone. The front is mostly painted white with the corner stones picked out in black. The wooden fascia and doors are also black. It is Grade II listed.
It was a day of typically changing November weather. I was with Russell and we had arrived on a steam train of the Severn Valley Railway at 11.37. It was a very easy 10 to 15 walk across the footbridge from the station down the curving New Road that encircles the hill that is surmounted by the castle.
We were soon in Underhill Street and passing the Severn Bridge as well as the bottom station of the Cliff Railway, a funicular that takes lazy visitors (us!) up to the High Town. We used this method of transport after we had called in to the pub. Of course, we could have continued up the Cartway, but it is steep!
We were the first through the door when the pub opened at 12.00. Inside, we turned left and almost straight away noticed that this is a proper pub with no over-ostentation or pretence.
The room were in had wooden floorboards and there were fitted leather covered settles either side of the fireplace. There is a cast iron fireplace with a wooden surround and a shelf and mirror over it. There were loose tables and chairs facing the settles. Almost up to the ceiling was a shelf with a collection of old beer bottles on it.
There are two bar counters facing out to two separate rooms on either side of the pub. The right side of the pub is slightly more basic in a public bar kind of way, at least at the back. At the back of the room is a dartboard, a nice brewery mirror and another fireplace.
Whilst Russell was using the facilities the pub cat tried to persuade me to give it beer. I refused; this is the third time this has happened to me in pubs over the last few years. They are always ginger and I always say no!
The part of this room nearest the street contains the most impressive fireplace in the pub. Its surround is of beautiful carved wood and is a remarkable survivor.
Because there are three fireplaces in this pub it indicates to me that there were once three rooms. In fact you can almost imagine what the internal layout was with the main saloon on the left, on the right a select snug bar at the front and a public bar at the rear.
One of the most impressive features of the Black Boy is the outside terracing at the rear of the pub. There are quite a few wooden garden tables there. The view down to the River Severn is very pleasant and in one corner there is an old inn sign depicting a black servant boy on it. It comes from a Bank’s pub of which there were many in the town. However, this creates a historical conundrum, please see below.
What do we know about the Black Boy since it was established on this site in 1889? Well, not a lot. In 1973 it is registered as being owned by Greenall Whitley of Warrington, Cheshire.
This indicates that it was a house of the Shrewsbury & Wem Breweries, established in 1892. Their Shrewsbury brewery closed in 1912. In 1951 they were bought by Greenall’s along with their 200 pubs. They retained their separate identity until the Wem brewery was closed in 1987 and all production moved to Warrington.
Greenall’s brewery closed in 1990 and they became a pub-owning company. I well remember staying one night in Bridgnorth during the 1980s in a Wem pub, the Bear Inn in Northgate.
So where does the Black Boy pub sign of the Bank’s brewery come from? Almost certainly from somewhere else. When the owners retired the Black Boy closed in late 2013. It reopened in April 2014 after refurbishment. Should you believe in that sort of thing, the pub is said to have many ghosts, most of them women.
We thought the beer range was reasonable but there seems to be a connection with Greene King as three of the six beers were from them. They were: Greene King (Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk) Fireside (4.5%) and Gangly Ghoul (4.2%), also there was Greene King (Belhaven, Dunbar, Scotland) Bridge to Nowhere (4.0%).
Other beers Hobson’s (Cleobury Mortimer, Shropshire) Dog of two Head (4.2%) and Gorgeous Beer Co (Telford, Shropshire) Porter (5.5%). Finally there was The Black Boy House Bitter (3.8%).
There is confusion here as I asked the barmaid where it was brewed and she said Bridgnorth. She then said that the Porter was from the same brewery. Well, that comes from Telford. So we have to assume that it also has the same source. Is it of no coincidence that their Gorgeous Golden Bitter (3.8%) is of the same strength? Re-badged?
Although it was Sunday lunchtime there were no meals on offer. Yet there was a fantastic range of crusty cobs of cheese and ham. This is very much the way it was in many pubs in times gone past. So, as a proper pub the Black Boy comes highly recommended by both of us.
Black Boy, 58 Cartway, Bridgnorth, Shropshire WV16 4BG. Tel: 01746 766497
Monday-Saturday: 12.00-23.00; Sunday: 12.00-22.30
The No 9 bus route operates from Wolverhampton Bus Station to Bridgnorth with a stop near the pub.
All journeys go on to High Town and a few continue to Telford Bus Station via Ironbridge.
No service on Sundays.
Yet, probably the best way to get to Bridgnorth is on the Severn Valley Railway.
It runs year round but not every day. Please see www.svr.co.uk for timetables.