Friday 27th July 2012
The Great Western pub was born in the middle of the Industrial Revolution and is typical of working class pubs of that era with the possible exception that this one has survived; many of its contemporaries have fallen by the wayside.
Its history has it origins when in 1843 a Richard Robinson submitted a plan to build some terraced cottages on a plot of his land on Bailey Street.
The houses were built and then came an offer of £1,000 from the Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Stour Valley Railway to purchase a bit of his land to build their line on a viaduct into what later became known as Wolverhampton High Level station. The BW&SV Railway became an integral part of the London and North Western Railway, later the London, Midland & Scottish Railway, and eventually British Railways London Midland Region. The land was sold and Sun Street was created and finally 19 houses were built.
However it was the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway and the Great Western Railway that were the major influence on the formation of the pub.
In 1849 the end house was rented to William Keay who ran it as an Ale House. It was called "The Board" and sold ale and cider only. As mentioned previously, another railway came on to the scene. The OWW Railway (known colloquially as "The Old Worse and Worse") had by then been absorbed into the Great Western Railway, who set about building a new Wolverhampton Low Level station which was of two track gauges. The OWWR was 7 foot broad gauge and the Great Western in that area was standard gauge (4'8½").
The pub was sandwiched between two railways, one on a high brick viaduct cutting out the light at the end of the day, and the other, more or less, on the same level and on the opposite side of Sun Street.
The GWR partially opened its new Low Level station built in the Italianate style in 1854 and Keay renamed his pub "The Great Western". Of course, because of its location directly opposite the main road entrance, it thrived from then on. Keay died in the 1880s and as his wife was declared insane the property went to auction in March 1893. It was bought by William Butler & Co.
Butlers were an important brewer in Wolverhampton and possessed the very large Springfield Brewery just north of the two railway stations, about a third of a mile from the pub. I recollect observing its steaming presence many times whilst passing on the train. It ceased brewing in 1991 and laid in a mothballed state until 2004 when it was more or less destroyed in an arson attack. They became part of the massive Mitchell & Butler empire in the 1950s. I liked their Springfield Bitter and wish it were possible to drink a pint today.
The company enlarged the pub in 1938 but before the Springfield Brewery closed they had sold it to small independent brewery Holden in May 1987. I remember being very surprised, and pleased, to find it had become a Holden's pub on a visit in the late 1980's. Holden's were established as a brewery in 1915 when the previously pub-owning family took over the Park Inn in Woodsetton, about three miles away. It came with a brew house and this was expanded and more pubs were acquired and that is the situation that exists today. In 2012 they owned twenty pubs and were still slowly expanding their estate.
The Low Level station closed in the very early 1970s and the pub's trade declined, so it is no wonder it was sold to Holden's. The majority of the railway track bed towards Birmingham is now occupied by the Midlands Metro tramway.
I remember the old station well and it certainly had an atmosphere, mainly the smoke from steam locomotives that were waiting to depart! Most of it still exists opposite the pub and the north end has been absorbed into a Premier Inn Hotel. The old station is fenced in.
Because of its ownership the Great Western normally has the full range of Holden's beers: Mild (3.7%), Bitter (3.9%), Special Bitter (5.1%) and Golden Glow (4.4%). Batham's (Brierley Hill) Best Bitter (4.3%) is a regular and there are always one or two guest beers.
The food is good pub fare and includes Black Country favourite Grey Peas and Bacon served with crusty bread, also other regional specialities such as Roast Pork Baps. Because of its menu it is extremely popular on weekday lunchtimes.
Sometimes, when looking at the walls you could be forgiven if you thought you were in a railway museum. There are many old photos and paintings of locomotives, trains, stations and much more. There are displays of tickets and luggage labels along with many old signs. All these represent the Great Western Railway, of course. The London Midland doesn't get a look in here, even if it is only a few feet away!
There is a lovely front bar and up a few stairs on the right will lead you to a small, almost private, room. From the left of the bar and up steps is a long room with much memorabilia on the walls. Finally at the back of this room is an atrium for diners and an outside garden area beyond.
So should you have an hour whilst changing trains or are just visiting Wolverhampton, may I commend the Great Western to you? I'm sure you won't be disappointed.
The Great Western, Sun Street, Wolverhampton WV10 0DJ
Open: Monday to Saturday 11.00-23.00; Sunday 12.00-22.30
The Great Western is about five minutes walk from Wolverhampton station (formerly High Level). On leaving the station immediately turn right and then right again by the Transport Police Office down into a subway under the tracks. At the end turn right. You will see the old Low Level station on your left. Keep walking down the slope to ground level and the Great Western will soon come in to view. The Bus station is about 200 metres from the front of the station and the St George's stop of the Metro is to the left of the bus station.