Friday 5th April 2013
This pub has a very interesting history that is considerably different to that of most town centre inns. It was known to exist in 1627, yet it wasn't 1707 until it was first mentioned as a pub. The building was part of the town's Guildhall and it was leased from the Corporation. It was known as the Green Dragon by 1769, although earlier it was just plain Dragon. It had assembly rooms by then which were used for functions.
In 1773 it was rebuilt and a bowling green added. About this time it was the centre of Walsall's social life. Between the years of 1787 and 1803 the assembly rooms were used as a theatre and that the country's most famous actress, Sarah Siddons, played there. The famous image of her is replicated above the bar. However, it seems that the pubs success was not to last. In the early nineteenth century it was variously used as a Methodist Chapel and a Masonic Lodge, although new assembly rooms were built in 1853.
The Guildhall was completely rebuilt between 1865 and 1867, yet the pub remained as before. In the heady drinking years at the end of the century it appeared to be in decline and eventually, in 1905, it was delicensed and became the Office of the Magistrates Clerks. Eventually they moved out and it fell into disrepair.
A dramatic change in its fortunes occurred in 1976 when Bank's brewery of Wolverhampton took it on to be their flagship pub in Walsall and you would have thought that was the end of the story, but no. A series of poor decisions on licensee appointments led to the pub declining in standards and yet again it was closed down. It is now in its latest, and it is hoped, last incarnation. It was purchased by Black Country Ales in November 2008.
I have to say that the history of this pub is about the most bizarre that I have yet to come across. It being non-licensed premises for 71 years after being a pub for the previous 198 years, and then resuming its previous function is truly amazing.
The Black Country Ale company started brewing in 2003 at the Old Bull's Head in Lower Gornal. Like so many Black Country pubs this had a working brewery until just after WWII, when it was mothballed. Initially this was used but now a new plant has been installed although a large amount of the old equipment is still extant.
Family and pub breweries were more common in this part of the West Midlands that anywhere else in the country, a lot of them lasting to the mid twentieth century. This particular example was started in 1834 by Edward Guest, a butcher.
Since their inception Black Country Ales and their associate company, Black Country Traditional Inns Ltd., have gone from strength to strength and now operate 21 pubs, of which 19 are in the West Midlands. One of their pubs is the magnificent Wellington in Birmingham and, I have to say, that the Black Country Arms is right up there with that magnificent establishment.
Inside it is a labyrinth on several levels, as a result of it being formed of two different buildings on a hill. It has proved to be a bit of a winner as well, as it was Walsall CAMRA Pub of the Year 2009, 2010 and 2011. In that last year it also went on to be a Regional Finalist.
As always, there was a fantastic range of beers on offer when Linda and I called in. From the home team there was Black Country (Lower Gornal) Bradley's Fine Gold (BFG) (4.2%), a golden ale; Pig on the Well (4.3%), a brown ale and Fireside (5.0%), an amber ale. These three beers represent the company's core range, although they do brew seasonal and special beers in addition.
The remainder of the offerings were: Glentsdale (Brampton, Cumbria) Tarn (4.0%); Nine Standards (Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria) Gold Standard (4.1%); Cottage (Castle Cary, Somerset) Duchess (4.2%); Keswick (Keswick) Thirst Run (4.2%); Tirril (Long Marton, Cumbria) Old Faithfull (4.0%); Blackbeck (Egremont, Cumbria) Trick Shot (4.2%) and Carnival Kiss (3.8%); Molson-Coors (brewed by Brains, Cardiff) M & B Brew XI; Barnsley Bee by Gum (brewed by Wentworth, Rotherham, South Yorks) (4.3%); Nethergate (Pentlow, Suffolk) Umbel Magna (5.0%) and Cumbrian Legendary Brewery (Hawkshead, Cumbria) Grassmoor Dark (4.3%).
Cider drinkers had Thatcher's (Sandford, Somerset) Cheddar Valley (6.0%) or Gwynt y ddraig (Pontypridd, South Wales) Haymaker (5.5%) to keep them satisfied.
The pub has a full food menu which is available as follows: Monday to Friday 11.00-16.00; Saturday 12.00-18.00; Sunday 13.00-15.30. With the best selection of beers in Walsall, this pub is well worth a visit.
The Black Country Arms, High Street, Walsall, West Midlands WS1 1QW. Tel: 01922 640588
Open: Monday to Thursday 11.00-23.00; Friday 11.00-24.00;
Saturday 12.00-24.00; Sunday 12.00-23.00
The pub is right in the centre of Walsall. It's a couple of minutes from the Bus Station and just over five minutes from Walsall railway station, which has a frequent service to Birmingham New Street, also trains to Wolverhampton and Rugeley.