The Blacksmith's Arms - A Coleorton Beerhouse

The Blacksmith's Arms once stood in that part of Coleorton once known as Rotten Row and which before 1884 was part of Thringstone Parish. More precisely it was sited on what is now Lower Moor Road, Coleorton on the site now occupied by the Bungalow "Greenfields". For many years this establishment was kept by several generations of the Ward family starting with my great great grandparents William and Sarah Ward.

In the 1871 census, William Ward and his family were living in Moor Town, Coleorton, where William is described as a coal miner, an occupation he had followed from childhood since at least 10 years of age. At some time after this, the family moved to the area of Rotten Row when trade directories for 1877, 1880 and 1883-4 record William as a licensed victualler at the Engine Inn, in Elverston's Yard, off Stoney Lane, Coleorton. However, by the time of the 1887-8 Wright's Directory he appears to have moved again and is listed as beer house keeper, Smith's Arms, Rotten Row. This is the first mention of the name I have been able to find, it may have been taken from the nearby Smithy in Bradford’s Lane opposite. As a beerhouse it would have been licensed only to sell beer, not spirits, unlike public houses that were licensed to sell both.

It was not just by chance that William and Sarah came to be resident at the Blacksmit's Arms, since the deeds show the property was actually owned at that time by Francis Smith and Francis was in fact Sarah's brother and William's brother-in-law. William and Sarah’s marriage certificate actually records her maiden name as Springethorpe, but this was not her birth name! Sarah was actually the daughter of Frances Smith senior, but her father died when she was 14 years old from scrofula of the neck and spine, a particularly unpleasant form of tuberculosis thankfully no longer seen. Subsequently her mother remarried and she took her stepfather's name of Springethorpe. William died in 1900 and his widow Sarah Ward is recorded as beerhouse keeper in the 1901 census, but by 1911 the license had passed to William and Sarah’s son Henry, described as a coal hewer and publican. Henry’s tenure at the Blacksmith's Arms was not to last long. In 1915 tragedy struck Henry's family when his daughter Annie May died at the Blacksmith's Arms on 07.11.1915 aged 4 from diphtheria, only eight days later her mother followed her to the grave at age 44. The cause of her mother's death is given as gastric ulceration, an illness possibly brought on by the stress of caring for her dying daughter. Shortly after this Henry seems to have given up the licence to "Harry Ward" (I do not know what relation he is to the family) who held it briefly (1915-1916) before the licence passed to Henry's nephew, John Ward, in 1917.

John Ward, has an interesting history. He was William and Sarah Ward's Grandson and the illegitimate child of their daughter Sarah Ann Ward. He was born in 1882 one year before his mother married his putative father, Joseph Billings. Sarah and Joseph Billings set up home in Rotten Row next to the Blacksmith's Arms, but Sarah Ann's son, John, continued to live with his maternal grandparents and was known as John Billings. However, upon John's marriage to Harriet Underwood in 1909 John was obliged to marry under his birth name of John Ward and was known by that name thereafter. I suspect Joseph Billings was not entirely convinced of "his" son’s paternity since the Parish record for John's marriage leaves the space for his father's name blank!

John Ward continued as licensee until 1928, after which his widow Harriet carried on the licence until at least 1941 when she is still listed in Kelly's Directory. At some point the license passed to its final landlord, her son Johnnie Ward, until it ceased to trade as a public house in 1960.

Miners outside Blacksmiths Arms, Coleorton

Miners enjoying a jug of beer from the Blacksmith's Arms

According to my great aunt, Lilly Ward, the Blacksmith's would open around 6.00 am in order to catch the miners coming of the night shift, some of the men would then go straight to the Blacksmith’s Arms rather than their homes and after eating there would spend the rest of the morning drinking and playing dominoes until the afternoon when they went home to bed to be ready for the next shift. Also, my great uncle Joe Ward said "the best fights he ever saw were outside the Blacksmith's Arms", but that’s another story! The author, Terry Ward (tel. 01530 835701), would welcome any memories readers may have of the Smith's Arms. (Note: we have already had some information from readers about the miners in the picture above - update to come.)

Terry Ward, Coleorton Heritage Group, June 2021

Terry's article and the photograph of the two beer drinkers excited quite a lot of local interest. Read Blacksmiths Arms - A Sequel >>