28 June 2023

The Old Crown in Digbeth
claims it is the oldest
pub in Birmingham

The Old Crown in Digbeth, which claims to be the oldest pub in Birmingham and Birmingham’s oldest secular building (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

After visiting Holy Trinity Church in Bordesley last week, as I walked back into the centre of Birmingham, I dropped into the Old Crown in Digbeth, which claims to be the oldest pub in Birmingham and Birmingham’s oldest secular building.

I visited the Old Crown on the recommendation of the Lichfield local historian and blogger Katie Cardigan of Lichfield Discovered, and was eager to explore the claims that this is the oldest pub in Birmingham.

These claims may not stand up to critical historical scrutiny, but the building at No 188 High Street, Deritend, at the corner with Heath Mill Lane, has existed since 1368, and the Old Crown is one of a few remaining examples of Birmingham’s mediaeval past.

The Old Crown is one of a few remaining examples of Birmingham’s mediaeval past (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Old Crown was probably built between 1450 and 1500, with some evidence dating to 1492, although most of the building dates from the early 16th century. It may have been built originally as the Guildhall and School of Saint John, Deritend, an area of the manor of Birmingham within the parish of Aston.

The mediaeval guild maintained the priest of Saint John’s Chapel, Deritend, as its chaplain, paying his stipend of £5 a year, and it supported a grammar school with its own schoolmaster. The guild owned other buildings in Warwickshire, including the guildhall in Henley in Arden.

The original building had a central hall, 12 metres (40 ft) long and 20 ft (6 metres (20 ft) wide, with a number of arched cellars below. The first floor is jettied and overhangs the front.

The well in the courtyard at the rear was 8 metres (26 ft) deep, surrounded by large stones. The well is thought to have been sunk over 1,000 years ago. It was excavated and deepened to produce a total depth of 12 metres (38 ft), and the new section of the well was lined with square bricks.

The well is thought to have been sunk over 1,000 years ago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The building was described in 1538 as a ‘mansion house of tymber’. The guild survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1545, but it was suppressed along with its chantry under Edward VI in 1547. All the guild’s properties were sold in 1549, apart for the chapel itself.

It is said Queen Elizabeth I stopped by at this building in 1575 on her way back from Kenilworth Castle.

The building was bought in 1589 by John Dyckson, alias Bayleys, who bought a number of properties and lands in Deritend and Bordesley in the 1580s. It was described as a tenement and garden, running alongside Heath Mill Lane, and remained in the Baylis and Dixon family for the next century.

However, the earliest documentary evidence of the building being used as an inn only dates from 1626.

The Old Crown was the last standing building in irmingham to hold out against Prince Rupert and his royalist army in 1643 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

During the English Civil War, the Old Crown was the last standing building in irmingham to hold out against Prince Rupert and his royalist army.

The Battle of Camp Hill, or the Battle of Birmingham, took place on Easter Monday, 3 April 1643, around Camp Hill. In the skirmish, a company of Parliamentarians from the Lichfield garrison with the support of local men, totalling about 300 men, attempted to stop 1,400 Royalists commanded by Prince Rupert passing through Birmingham.

The Parliamentarians put up a stout resistance and the Royalists were shot at from houses as the small Parliamentary force was driven out and back towards Lichfield. The Royalists torched the houses they said the shooting was coming from, and after the battle they spent the remainder of the day pillaging the town. They torched many more houses as they continued their retaliation the next day.

Prince Rupert left Birmingham on Tuesday 4 April and marched to Walsall; he reached Cannock on Wednesday. On Saturday 8 April, he marched on to Lichfield and laid siege to the city.

The Royalists’ conduct in Camp Hill later provided the Parliamentarians with a propaganda weapon. The Old Crown claims it was one of the few buildings in the area left standing after the battle.

Joshua Toulmin Smith saved the Old Crown from demolition (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The building was ‘called by the sign of the Crowne’ from 1666. It was converted into two houses in 1684 and then converted into three houses in 1693. It remained three houses until the 19th century.

Joshua Toulmin Smith (1816-1869), a political theorist, lawyer and local historian of Birmingham, saved the Old Crown from demolition in 1851 when Birmingham City Corporation proposed demolishing the building to ‘improve the street.’

The corporation proposed demolishing the building again in 1856 and 1862, but Smith saved it each time.

Smith cleaned the well in 1863 and added an iron gate to the top of it to preserve it while keeping it accessible.

The Brennan family bought the Old Crown in 1991 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

A local pub company owned by the Brennan family bought the Old Crown in 1991. When Pat Brennan and his son Peter were repairing and clearing out the old sheds behind the property in 1994, they found the old well, which had been closed off for more than 100 years. It is now restored and can be seen at the rear entrance of the pub. The Brennan family invested £2 million in restoring the Old Crown, and it reopened in May 1998.

The Old Crown is a Grade II* listed building and it retains its ‘black and white’ timber frame appearance. The owners point out that it has seen off Civil War soldiers, Victorian town planners, German bombs and ‘a few centuries worth of drunk Brummies.’ Having stood those tests of time, it remains at the heart of Digbeth, Birmingham’s thriving creative quarter. The neighbouring landmarks include the former Bird's Custard Factory.

The Old Crown jokes that ‘every room has a tale to tell and it is said that the Old Crown is haunted by not one but two ghosts. Although, these sightings most often occur late at night after a few drinks!’ I had something to eat and soaked in the atmosphere on a late summer afternoon before heading back to New Street station.

I stayed for a glass of wine and a small meal (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (31) 28 June 2023

Holy Trinity Church, Quemerford, on the eastern fringes of Calne in Wiltshire, long post-dates the presence of the Quemerford and Comerford family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and Sunday was the Third Sunday after Trinity. Today (28 June 2023), the Church Calendar in Common Worship celebrates Irenæus, Bishop of Lyons, Teacher of the Faith, who died ca 200.

Over these weeks after Trinity Sunday, I have been reflecting each morning in these ways:

1, Looking at relevant images or stained glass window in a church, chapel or cathedral I know;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Holy Trinity Church, Quemerford, was designed by the architect CH Gabriel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Holy Trinity Church, Quemerford, Calne, Wiltshire:

My photographs this morning (28 June 2023) are from Holy Trinity Church, Quemerford, on the eastern fringes of Calne in Wiltshire.

For many generations, my family continued to regard Comberford in Staffordshire as our ancestral home, although my research shows convincingly that the name actually comes from the village of Quemerford.

Holy Trinity Church long post-dates the presence of the Quemerford family in this area. The church was built in 1852-1853 as a chapel of ease to Saint Mary’s Parish Church, Calne, to serve Quemerford and the areas east of Calne. The site was donated by Lord Lansdowne, and the building costs were met by Canon John Guthrie (1794-1865), Vicar of Calne (1835-1865), largely at his own expense. The churchyard became the parish graveyard because the one at Saint Mary’s was overfull. The Vicar of Calne appointed an assistant curate to serve Holy Trinity in Quemerford.

A chalice and a paten both hallmarked 1866 were given to the church by the curate assistant, the Revd JRA Chinnery-Haldane (1840-1906), later Bishop of Argyll and the Isles (1883-1906), and are still used today.

The church was designed by CH Gabriel and is tall, of coursed rubble and in the Decorated style. It has a west bell cote and spirelet and consists of a chancel with north vestry and a nave with south porch. The chancel is long, has tall south windows and diapering in relief on the sanctuary’s walls and is separated from the vestry by a traceried screen.

The chancel arch is high and wide, and the nave has an open timber roof with cusped trusses and wind-bracing.

Originally there was stained glass in the east window, but a fire in February 1970 caused major damage to the roof, destroying windows and the organ. The church was rededicated on 25 January 1972. The church was not licensed for marriages until 1990.

Today, Holy Trinity Church, Quemerford, is part of the Benefice of Marden Vale in the Diocese of Salisbury, with Saint Mary’s, Calne, and Saint Peter’s, Blackland. The post of Team Rector is currently vacant; the Team Vicar is the Revd Teresa Michaux, and the Acting Team Rector is the Revd Linda Carter.

The south porch of Holy Trinity Church, Quemerford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 7: 15-20 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 15 ‘Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? 17 In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will know them by their fruits.’

A fire in 1970 caused major damage to the roof of Holy Trinity Church, Quemerford, destroying windows and the organ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Freeing people from the Traps of Human Trafficking.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday.

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (28 June 2023) invites us to pray:

We pray for the Church in North India and all they are doing to prevent Human Trafficking and the support they are providing survivors.


God of peace, who through the ministry of your servant Irenæus
strengthened the true faith
and brought harmony to your Church:
keep us steadfast in your true religion,
and renew us in faith and love,
that we may always walk in the way that leads to eternal life;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

God of truth,
whose Wisdom set her table
and invited us to eat the bread and drink the wine
of the kingdom:
help us to lay aside all foolishness
and to live and walk in the way of insight,
that we may come with Irenæus to the eternal feast of heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Holy Trinity Church, Quemerford, is part of the Benefice of Marden Vale in the Diocese of Salisbury (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Saint Mary’s Church, Calne … Holy Trinity Church, Quemerford, was built in 1852-1853 as a chapel of ease to Saint Mary’s Church, Calne (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)