Hinksford is a place in South Staffordshire probably known better by those who use the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, because adjacent to the cut, stands the The Old Bush public house, a popular drinking hole that has quenched the thirst of many a weary canal traveller for well over a century.
Hinksford's location isn't far from the former site of Ashwood House in Kingswinford, the private asylum belonging to James Pietersen that was highlighted in last week's Bugle. A map from circa 1850 identifies it locally as an important crossing, situated on the road between Kingswinford and Swindon, and at the confluence of a small brook and the River Smestow. Its very name suggests the crossing point of a river, and interestingly, even the Romans thought the lie of the land where Hinksford is today was an ideal place through which to build a road, around 1,700 years ago. The route of the old Roman Road runs directly through where The Old Bush stands today.
In the mid 19th century, a mill and a forge in the vicinity suggest that Hinksford wasn't totally reliant on agriculture. However, 70 years earlier a major upheaval took place when the Staffs & Worcs canal was built. It more or less followed the contours of the River Smestow through the area, and Hinksford was suddenly woken from its slumbers as navvies from far and wide arrived to construct the canal. But their residence was short lived, and within a relatively short time they were gone, leaving the local residents to contemplate a future with one of the country's busiest canals cutting through their backyard.
Visit Hinksford today and it you will find this leafy corner of South Staffordshire remains very much a part of its rural surroundings. It would appear the canal didn't bring about the colossal changes our Victorian forbears may have imagined. But during those years, when the canals prised the Black Country open to the wider world like a sardine-can, making the export of manufactured goods easier and more plentiful, and the transportation of fuel and raw materials to the heart of iron works and foundries more efficient, canals became the motorways and trunk roads of their day. Canal-side pubs became the 19th century equivalent of the road-side cafe or motorway service station, and there was money to be made from thirsty boatmen and other travellers who happened to pass slowly along these new inland water ways.
Delving into a story that appeared in an old edition of the Bugle from the early 1980s, we learn that the foundation date of The Old Bush as a Hinksford pub isn't clear. The original article stated that a chap called John Dutton, a resident of Kinver, purchased the pub from William Reynolds in 1874, but how long Reynolds had the pub before then isn't known. During Reynold's reign as landlord the pub was better known to locals as "The Cock o' The Hole". The map from 1850 shows a clear patch where The Old Bush pub is today, but that doesn't necessarily mean it didn't exist before.
In his time John Dutton was acclaimed as England's oldest licensee, living through a period of history that wasn't necessarily noted for the longevity of its individuals. John Dutton's son, William, married a Wordsley girl, Ellen Ward, and they produced six children, all of whom lived at the Hinksford pub. William managed the day-to-day running of the business, while John held his position as licensee and at the same time ran a small-holding next to the pub. But William was to die young aged 37, and when old man Dutton died himself in 1910, in his ninetieth year, Ellen took over the license and remained at the pub until her own death in 1931.
It could well be that after Ellen Dutton passed away the pub was in need of a little renovation and restoration. George Sharp of Holly Hall, Dudley, has loaned us an intriguing drawing of a modernised version of The Old Bush which was designed by Architects Webb and Gray, probably in the 1930's. This prompted us to take a ride out to Hinksford to see what The Old Bush looks like today, the results of which are revealed in the photograph. The basic shape is the same as in the drawing; the main entrance has remained in place; and but for a change in the style of the roofs and window frames, there's little difference.
If Bugle readers could provide us with any pictures we could publish of The Old Bush as its faade changed during the 20th century, we would be very grateful.