Bonk’s n Beer Ballies


There are a lot of things I miss about Wednesbury, and to name just a few:

1, The 12 o’clock queue.
This was Joining the queue at the village pub, for the 12 o’clock opening time, along with my favourite old gents. (Now sadly, most of them are gone)

2, The banter and dry humour of the Wednesbury people.

3, The camaraderie:
Knowing that if you were in trouble, there would always be someone there for you.

4, The Bonk’s:
That drink that you waited patiently while it settled and once it was ready, it took you 2 minutes to see off.

5. And I dow arf miss the beer Ballies!

Those of us that have never strayed too far from Wednesbury and its ways, never really see the beer bally. … I know I didn’t!
It wasn’t until I actually moved away to live ‘up North’, that I noticed them, or I should say the ‘lack’ of them!

I thought every young bloke (before the age of 30) had a beer bally to look forward to; It’s a way of life aye it, or so I thought.
Now I know it isn’t that way everywhere.

We are drinkers in the black country you see.
Okay, not all of us!
There is that small minority of men who dow spend all weekend on the beer. …… But there are more beer ballies here than not, yo have to agree on that?
But why?
Yove gotta wonder about that aye ya?

Back in the day, the pub was the centre of the social life for the people of Wednesbury, and in many cases, the ‘only’ social life many experienced.
Our folk worked hard they did. Because the work around here: ‘WAS HARD’!
And the only way to escape from the hardship was by gooin to the pub. “And we had enuff of them around here, ar con tell ya”!

The ‘hey-day’ of the public house was during the nineteenth and early twentieth century’s.
After slogging it arrt at work all day, yo wanted to relax, and yow cudn’t just turn on the television or goo to the cinema. So What did ya do?
“Yow went To the pub, where you created your own enjoyment”!

In most cases, Saturday nights was concert night: Songs around the piano, jokes and acting out parts from plays that had been on at the theatres of Wednesbury.
And of course yow had them wages to spend and all day Sunday to sleep it off.

But when the men of Wednesbury had been drinking they became rowdy, and it was not an uncommon thing to see a fight.

F. W. Hackwood mentions in one of his writings, about a pub called the Mazepa in Elwell Street.
He said the men of the Mazepa had their own remedy for drunken brawls.
The rest of the men would pick up whoever was fighting, open the windows and throw them out into the River Tame that ran alongside.
No doubt this would cool them off, but during that time a good fight was not looked upon with disgust as it is now, in fact us Black Country folk revelled in them!
It was a great thing of the day to see two men battling it out. And the men who were fighting enjoyed it as much as those who were watching!

In most of our pubs there woz always something gooin on, something that relaxed you after a long week of hard work.
And yow picked yor favourite local from their idea of entertainment.

Most of the pubs at that time had darts and domino teams, and they still do.
But a big interest some years ago was ‘pigeons’.
The Boat Inn at Leabrook was quite famous for its pigeon shoots.
“On the day of the shoot. the pigeons would be put in a box. And when a string was pulled they would be released and as they flew upwards they would be shot.”
But I cor imagine the ‘real’ pigeon lovers gooin for that! … Con yo?

Much more common were the pigeon races. These were organised by pigeon clubs at the pubs.
So it wor an uncommon sight to see that most folks back yards had a coop built.

Some pubs were known for playing Jacks’ in their yard. And they day arf tek it serious!
But that could have something to do with the prize I think?

The Pack Horse was one such well known pub for Jack’s, and the prize for the winning team would be two or three gallons of beer.
(Probably worth about 1/4d, what with a pint being about 1d)
But as is the way with Wednesbury folk, they day tek it um!
Oh no, they alwiz shared the beer with the loosing team.

They were not only used for entertainment of course. Some were Coach houses:
The Hare & Hounds in Bridge St, The Turks head in Lower High St, The Coach & Horses in Bridge St, (now named the Coach Makers Arms .. Pretty bricks)
And The Red Lion in Bridge St being one of the earliest coaching houses with large stables and probably the only Wednesbury pub to ever have featured in an oil painting of repute.
It is seen in the fore ground of the painting by Marshal Claxton showing John Wesley in the hands of a Wednesbury mob 1743. (The picture is in the arts & treasures picture album)

A few of them were also used as courts, were magistrates met to mete out punishment.
One example: “The court case of Joseph Wilkes also took place in the Red Lion, where Wilkes was charged with murder of Johnny Adams, a farmer that lived at the Delves. He was found guilty and hung at Stafford”

You could also pay the Vat bloke … (If you really wanted to) pub being the Borough Arms, Holyhead Rd.

Some pubs were also a holding place for murder victims, (The Cabin being one) the victims were often kept in the cellar were it was cool …. But sadly the cellar was also home to rats … not a nice thought.

So, with all this entertainment gooin on in our locals, yow con see where the beer bally came from cor ya?

God bless the beer bally I say!

And Jim Croton had this to add:

Jim Croton Working in the forges and steel mills of Wednesbury (or anywhere else for that matter) was very hot and hard work. Workers would become dehydrated through their exertions in the fiery heat of the furnaces. So when lunch break came, they would leave en-masse and go to one of the nearby pubs. Every major works was ringed with pubs (think of Portway Road and the surrounds of the Patent Shaft or all of the pubs in Elwell Street and Newtown) and the beer they sold was mild. Mild ale with a typical strength of 3.2 could be downed rapidly and the high sugar content (maltose) meant it was easily absorbed into the body replacing the fluids lost earlier. Try rapidly drinking a pint of mild and then after a suitable break do the same with a pint of water. You will soon realise why it had to be mild ale. Quart glasses were available and were very popular – they still had them in the Great Western when I first went there in the early 1970s. Landlords would often fill many glasses in readiness for the lunchtime rush as most works only allowed half an hour for lunch. Consumption of such beer was so significant that many of the pubs didn’t get their beer delivered in barrels but by tanker and they had large tanks -usually two – one in use and one being cleaned ready for the next delivery. Once the thirsty hoards had returned to work, the clean up followed and then it all happened again as the workers left in the evening. Home for your dinner and then out to the pub for your entertainment.


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