The Free Trade Inn

The Free Trade Inn as it is being converted into three properties in August 2018

Earlier this month it was bought to my attention that building work was taking place at The Free Trade Inn.  When I visited it was clear that there was soon to be no evidence that The Free Trade Inn had ever existed at all, hence before it changes beyond all recognition I thought it would be the perfect time to remind people about the fascinating history of this ancient public house and to re awaken any fond memories of not so long ago.

The Free Trade Inn, which dates back to 1735, photographed in the early 1800's

Photograph courtesy of Mr A Weller - Pelsall History Centre

The first known landlord of The Free Trade Inn was James Fox (as seen above)

in 1870. Photograph courtesy of Mr A Weller - Pelsall History Centre

 

Dating back to around 1735, The Free Trade Inn was the oldest public house in Pelsall.

Prior to its closure, The Free Trade Inn was probably the most historically preserved public house in the village at that time. 

Historically, its place in the local community had always been a strong one with its close proximity to Pelsall Coal and Iron Company which was on the other side of the canal from 1850 - 1892 .  At this time The Free Trade Inn would have been the favourite watering hole for the employees of Pelsall Coal and Iron Company which employed around 1000 men and boys.

Pelsall Coal and Iron Company 1850 - 1892

 

Les Woolley wrote in The Post, back in May 1995:

I remember the miners' hobnailed boots striking along the road, as they broke the silence of the early morning on their way to the 'Sinking' or 'The Grove' pits at Norton Canes.  It was a long walk there as there were no buses in those days.

In the afternoon, covered in coal-dust from their day down the pit, they faced the same walk home to a bath, a meal and a pint at The Free Trade Inn.

Miners and fishermen could always tell a good tale. The mines, the canal, The Free Trade Inn and pigeon racing was their life.  I remember on pigeon racing days, the clock was put in the window of The Free Trade Inn and an official stood by to insert the ring into the clock, and so record the time taken for each bird to return home.  The ring was taken from the pigeon when it was trapped, and had to be 'run in' to the clock.  There was great excitement as people lined the roadside shouting an clapping the runner on, to be first at the window with the ring of their favourite pigeon.

Employees of Pelsall Coal and Iron Company photographed in 1886

Mr Ray Gallagher, Licensee of The Free Trade Inn in 2001

Photograph copyright A Bates - Pelsall Times

When I interviewed licensee, Mr Ray Gallagher back in 2001, he had many interesting tales to share with me, the first of which related to the discovery of a bricked up, previously unknown room, which contained fancy stained glass windows and a fireplace. 

Ray then went on to tell me that he had been led to believe that two children had been murdered at The Free Trade Inn during the 1800's and that the public house was haunted, not by the children but by two women.

Alice, believed to be the wife of a previous licensee who died in the 1970's was said to haunt the bar and lounge and was often seen standing by the fruit machine.

The other ghost, Sarah was said to date back to the 1860's.  On this Ray reated to me that in the past, one of the barmen, a large man of 6ft 5 went into the cellar to do some routine tasks.  When he got down there, he saw a grey haired old lady sitting with her head in her hands, sobbing.

When it suddenly dawned on him that he had just seen a ghost, terrified, he bolted out of the cellar, cleared the bar and refused ever to set foot in the cellar again.

Although Ray had never seen a ghost at The Free Trade Inn, he was very aware of the presence of Alice and Sarah.

The Free Trade Inn in 2001

Photograph copyright A Bates - Pelsall Times

Above: Barbara Billiard - The Queen's Golden Jubilee Street Party Organiser 2002

Photograph copyright A Bates - Pelsall Times

In 2002, during The Queen's Golden Jubilee street party celebrations, when the rain came, Ray very kindly opened the upstairs rooms to accommodate the whole party including all 130 children of the Woodlands Crescent and all adults alike.

Photograph copyright A Bates - Pelsall Times

Photograph copyright A Bates - Pelsall Times

Photographs above copyright A Bates - Pelsall Times

Photograph copyright A Bates - Pelsall Times

The Free Trade Inn Carnival Float in 2005

Photograph copyright A Bates - Pelsall Times

When it was open for business, pride and community spirit at The Free Trade Inn continued to be as strong as ever as a dedicated carnival float joined the parade through Pelsall village every year.

Photograph copyright A Bates - Pelsall Times

The article above gives readers a glimpse of what The Free Trade Inn once looked like inside

The article above details more information about the historical significance of The Free Trade Inn

Known to be haunted, The Free Trade Inn was often subject to newspaper articles over the years.  

Ray told me that three licensees previously a heavy door to the right of the bar which was usually left ajar started banging for no apparent reason.  Absolutely terrified by this and the sudden drop in temperature, the bar tender at the time jumped across the bar and into the lounge and refused to go back for the rest of the evening.

It was believed that Alice was partial to the odd tipple of brandy and was once blamed for turning a bottle of brandy sour.

After its closure, The Free Trade Inn was boarded up and was never to open its doors to the public again.

Photograph copyright A Bates - Pelsall Times

Photograph copyright A Bates - Pelsall Times

Photograph copyright A Bates - Pelsall Times

As building work gets under way the ancient fabric of the building is revealed.

Photograph copyright A Bates - Pelsall Times

I will endeavour to photograph the finished product, but in the meantime, if you would like to share your memories of The Free Trade Inn, why not drop me a line.