It was a sad day for Black Country beer-lovers everywhere. The bell was rung, the towels were placed across the pumps, the glasses straightened, the embers in the stove left to die down, all for the very last time. The day was Monday 22nd November 1971, and the last home-brew pub in Coseley, The Druid's Head in Caddick Street, had finally called time. When the last licensees of the pub, Beryl and Dorothy Fellows, called last orders on that day, it ended an unbroken association of their family with this famous little pub that stretched back for more than a century.
The family originally acquired the pub when Joe Adams took over the licence, soon becoming noted for his fine mild, brewed on the premises; no bitter or lager here. When Joe's daughter Minnie married local chap Joseph Flavell, of Clifton Street - better known as Joah - Joe Adams passed on the brewing recipe to his son-in-law. In time, Joe Flavell took over the licence, and the pub was often known as Flavell's by locals.
Joe and Minnie's daughter Beryl, along with elder sister Dorothy, was born and bred in the pub. "I helped out as soon as I could," Beryl recalls. "Although the brewing was Dad's department - no-one helped him!" The recipe for the home-brewed mild remained a closely guarded secret. For a whole day once a week, Joe would brew in the cramped cellar, turning out around 300 gallons a week for the thirsty regulars. Known as "Bull's Blood", nothing else ran through the pumps; any other drinks were served in bottles.
Customers had a choice between the tap room or the plusher smoke room. The passageway was also busy, with streams of locals queuing for some carryout, or to buy yeast to brew their own beer.
The pub's interior was spartan by today's standards, yet its cosiness encouraged a well-lubricated flow of conversation. On cold days, the little cast iron stove in the middle of the room provided a welcome place to warm chilled fingers, before retiring to a stool or back-rest for a game of dominoes or a good chinwag.
The list of colourful regulars reads like a who's who of typical Black Country types. As well as our very own Harry Harrison - whom Beryl recalls coming into the pub on Sunday mornings, "and always starting off the singing" - there was Len Hickman, of nearby King Street, an unusual combination of poet and boxer, comedian and gardener, and his pal Jimmy Merrifield, who could play anything - from a chair to a tray!
Jim Millard, who used to live next door to the pub, used to regale fellow drinkers with the tale of how his bull terrier, Bob, ran into the butchers in Coppice Street and emerged with a joint of meat, only to be followed by the furious butcher, wielding a cleaver. As the butcher ran past, Jim shouted, "Yo needn't currit up, ode pal, e'll ate it as it is!"
Beryl also remembers Tom Tranter ("It was always, 'Half pint, Beryl, please'"), Sam Hodgkiss, who worked for over fifty years at the Cannon, ex-councillor Albert Parkes, and Len Harthill, who always got a clap for his rendition of "I'm only a Bird in a Gilded Cage." Possibly best known was Sammy Turner, affectionately known as the "chucker-out" on account of his diminutive four foot nine frame, weighing in at six stone seven with a pint in each hand!
Renowned local basket maker George Vince, his hands so strong from years of work, was something of an amateur dentist, and in the bar would pull out a rotten tooth with just his fingers! Then there was Ted Lilley, ex-miner Jack Cartwright and his son Albert, all pigeon fliers extraordinaire.
In fact, many of the regulars were keen pigeon fliers, as was Joe Flavell himself, keeping his prized birds on a piece of land just over the way in Coppice Road. He also kept chickens and pigs there, the latter fed on the delicious mash left over from brewing. In 1952, Joe established the Hurst Hill Fliers at the pub, and the pigeon suppers and presentations were an eagerly awaited treat for the Druid's Head's many bird fanciers.
Among the members of the flying club was Jack Fellows, part of a renowned pigeon clan. His great-grandfather, grandfather, and father before him had all kept pigeons at the loft at the family home at Rose Cottage in nearby Cinder Hill. It came as little surprise when Beryl married pigeon-mad Jack in 1948, and Dorothy married his brother, Alfred.
Dorothy left the pub to run the Fern Tree off-licence in nearby Walter Street with her husband, but Beryl and Jack moved into the Druid's Head, which continued to be a magnet for true beer drinkers from all over the Black Country. However, for sixteen years the terrace of which the Druid's Head formed the keystone had a compulsory purchase order hovering over it, and little could be done to avert the modern developer's "Sword of Damocles." In 1970, the fliers' club was closed, and Joe passed away aged 73 in March 1971, having been gaffer at the Druid's Head for over fifty years. He had not brewed since the previous November owing to ill-health, and he took the formula for his famous mild to his grave. Beryl and Dorothy took over what remained of the licence, and bought beer from the Brierley Hill brewers Simpkiss.
Free beer and sandwiches boosted drinkers' spirits on that night the pub closed, and Beryl recalls that there were more than a few blokes with tears in their eyes. The pub was later demolished, leaving the regulars with only memories of this typical Black Country boozer.
To leave was certainly a wrench for Beryl, as she had lived nowhere else in her life. Settling in Catholic Lane in Sedgley, she admits that her first winter there she was almost in tears. Now, however, she lives happily with the relics of her hostel-keeping past - the heavy based tables and stools, a glass with "The Druid's Head" engraved upon it, the shining half-pint, pint and quart measures used to dish out the malty nectar to customers at the "outdoor", the gleaming copper funnel, and even the brass bell that finally rang out the end for this most well-loved of Coseley watering holes. However, as she freely admits, "You didn't need the bell when Beryl called time - I could make myself heard!"