THE RECENTLY introduced ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces has brought about one of the biggest changes in pub culture for decades.
Opinions on the ban are divided between those who welcome the clean, smoke-free air and being able to enjoy a drink without getting their clothes smelling of tobacco, and those who say that the ban has changed the essential character of our pubs, driving away traditional patrons and killing-off conversation, as those who smoke are forced outside when they want to light-up.
No more will we see items such as this ashtray, brought to our offices by Steve Downing of Tipton; they have been swept from bars and tables as no longer needed.
However, for many years this type of pub ephemera has been highly collectable, along with other items such as trays, jugs, soda siphons, and the like. Steve's old ashtray will be of particular interest to Bugle readers as many of them will remember the landmark Stewponey Hotel at Stourton.
The Stewponey and Foley Arms Hotel, to give it its full title, was a popular pub for generations. A major meeting place on the Wolverhampton to Kidderminster road, the pub also served the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal and the Kinver Light Railway.
The pub was entirely rebuilt in the 1930s to accommodate the growing numbers of car drivers on the roads. In pre-motorway days Britain's A-roads were its main arteries and in the '30s many large pubs like the Stewponey were built, with ample parking and guest rooms, to cater for weary travellers. An added attraction at the Stewponey was its lido, an outdoor swimming pool enjoyed by many Black Country folk on days out.
It is this heyday of the Stewponey that is depicted on the ashtray, when the hosts were Mr and Mrs F. A. Phillips. Fred Phillips was a well-known breeder of Staffordshire Bull Terriers.
No one is certain of the origins of the Stewponey's distinctive name. One theory is that the inn was first opened by a soldier returning from the Peninsula War (1808-14), who named the pub after the port of Estepona in Spain. Over time Estepona evolved into Stewponey, or it could be that British soldiers fighting in Spain, against the French, were unable to pronounce the town's name and, showing the Tommy's usual sense of humour, renamed it Stewponey. Later, Foley Arms was added to the pub's name in honour of the family of Stour valley ironmasters.
The ashtray itself has the mark of Sandland Ware, Staffordshire, on the back. Many items of Sandland Ware were made from 1944 until the 1970s by Lancaster and Sandland of Hanley. Their Dresden Works were on the corner of Clough Street and Mount Pleasant in the Tinkersclough area of the town.
The Stewponey was one of the finest examples of a 1930s roadhouse but sadly it could not keep pace with changing tastes. This famous landmark was forced to close and in 2002 it was demolished to make way for new housing. Steve Downing's ashtray is a double reminder of how things have changed for the pubs of this region, and the rest of the nation.