The Turf Tavern is a fine old traditional Black Country pub in Wolverhampton Road, Bloxwich, a quiet byway which runs alongside Bloxwich Park between High Street and Sandbank. Set in a row of terraced houses, you might almost miss it from a distance.
The Turf (often known locally as ‘Tinky’s”) hasn’t changed significantly for many years, and is known for its varnished wood, polished brass and unusual period furnishing. The family are descendants of Samuel Wilks (see separate article) the legendary hero of Bloxwich, who lived in a cottage facing the ’Short Heath’ (the old Village Green, now Bloxwich Park).
According to the 1871 Census, the Turf was then owned by William Bickley, a “carpenter and publican”, and just a few years later the present owner’s great grandfather purchased it in 1879.
The Wilks (later Wilkes) family were long known as locksmiths, and in the early 1900′s there was a working lock factory at the back of the pub employing up to thirty people. The Turf has passed down through generations of the Wilkes family.
In 1904, the owner was Mary Wilkes and Frank Wilkes Senior took the license. A Refusal of Renewal of the licenses was made on the grounds that at “the back of the premises is a lock factory belonging to the owners of the premises where 30 work people are engaged, with free accession from one place to the other which we consider objectionable”. Another similar notice was issued in 1907 to Thomas and Matthew Wilkes.
Beer was brewed at the back of the premises until 1922, the brew-house still stands but the 40 gallon copper boiler has long been removed. There are also stables at the rear and horse sales were once held in the yard.
Frank Wilkes Junior took over in 1924. The survey of 1925 described the owners as Frank and Joseph Wilkes, the licensee Frank Wilkes, and the Turf Tavern itself was described as having a Tap room, two Smoke rooms and an Outdoor. Outside was a coach house, coal house and two pigstyes. The whole property was described as being “clean and in good repair”.
Frank Wilkes Junior ran a soup kitchen from the yard at the rear in 1926 during the General Strike.
The Territorial Band, which used to rehearse in the ante-room of the old Music Hall on the corner of Wolverhampton Road and High Street, later changed its affections to the Turf Tavern. Amongst the many musical organisations in Bloxwich, the band was famous for its performances on Mayors’ Sundays, Carnivals, and other occasions, until it disbanded in 1933. Arrayed in navy blue piped with red, the Llewellyns, Birches, Gees and Applebys were the pride of Bloxwich, though ’tis said, behind the hand, that they always played better after their lips had been moistened by the Turf brew!
I may claim a tenuous connection with the Turf Tavern myself, inasmuch as my mother (aged 7) and her family stayed there for a time during World War II. Little Marlene Minnie Taylor had been living at 15 Clarendon Street, just round the corner from the Turf, with her parents Charles Taylor and Dorothy May Taylor (nee Benton), her aunt Jennie Cotton (nee Emery)and her husband Charles Cotton, their two little girls, and Granny Emery, Jennie’s mother.
One night in 1943, a fire started downstairs, apparently from a coal thrown from the fireplace, and sleeping upstairs the Cotton girls were killed, their mother and grandmother being burned but surviving. The house was burnt out and the Wilkes family helped the survivors by letting them stay at the Turf Tavern after the fire (for how long is not recalled). Their kindness and hospitality has never been forgotten by our family.
Frank Wilkes Junior held the license until he sadly passed away in 1985, reputed to be the oldest licensee in the borough.
In January 2001, Rob Bentley, Branch Secretary of the Walsall Branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), presented their prestigious Pub of the Year Award for 2000 to the Turf Tavern. The award followed the granting of Grade II Listing to the Turf in 1996 for its well-preserved and characterful interior. It has also been included in CAMRA’s National UK Inventory, an important register of unspoilt pubs which retain their original layout and fittings. Unique features include slatted wooden benches in the public bar, with a large diameter heating pipe running beneath, and unusual armrests on the benches in the smoke room.
The pub’s current owner is Doris Hiscott-Wilkes who has maintained the Turf Tavern’s fine traditions and excellent beer to the present day. Her daughter Zena is the manager.
Stuart Williams, April 2007
References: Walsall Pubs A History by John Cockayne, 1984
A Guide to Bloxwich Pubs by S. J. Attwood, 1986
The Story of Bloxwich, E.J. Homeshaw, 1955
Walsall CAMRA website