A brief look at the heritage of the Bull's Head
Price Street, Birmingham 4
|During the middle of the seventeenth century, Birmingham
was becoming established as a gun-manufacturing centre and in 1689 a Government contract
was undertaken to produce small military arms. Later in 1693, a larger contract was
awarded whereby Birmingham gunsmiths agreed to deliver 200 weapons per month for a year.
Such contracts resulted in the expansion of the industry, and this caused production to
exceed demand. Manufacturers looked for a counter-balance and soon the production of
sporting weapons became common. Firearms production was a very specialised trade and
initially all the operations were carried out by individual gunsmiths, but as orders
increased and different styles of weapons were introduced, people began to specialise in
manufacture of the various component parts.
||By the end of the eighteenth century, when the
development of the flintlock pistol had been perfected, Birmingham was the foremost arms
producer in the world; by some one million items over its nearest rival, London, and was
employing a few thousand people who in the main worked within a definite area, this became
known as the Gun Quarter.
|The Bulls Head is in the Gun Quarter. The exact date of
its construction is difficult to determine, but Price Street appears to have developed in
two sections, firstly the old street on the corner of which stands number one, the Bulls
Head and then the second section called New Buildings, also starting from number one.
People who know the area well claim that as early as 1729 there was a gun implement maker
residing at number one Price Street. He was also a beer retailer.
||It is interesting to compare the trades of some of the
occupants of both sections. The older certainly went back to the eighteenth century, and
probably the Bulls Head with it. The newer developed as a result of the rapidly expanding
firearms industry. In the old section with its fifty-nine houses and seven courts there
were several shopkeepers, two cow keepers, a kettle and tea urn manufacturer, a coal
dealer, a marine store dealer, an earthenware dealer and two beer retailers to name but a
few. There were also twenty-two tradesmen associated with the gun trade, working in
domestic workshops. In the latter section, gunmakers and allied trades occupied all
|Malcolm Bowater, a gun stock maker is still working in
Price Street. He has worked in the area for nearly forty years, having been apprenticed at
Greeners, which stood at the corner of St.Marys Row and Loveday Street. People such
as Malcolm remember stories that have been passed down over the years. For instance, it is
said that some dealers made considerable fortunes from the gun industry at the time of the
American Civil War, and there are accounts that they would go to extremes to publicise
their wealth. When travelling around the town they would hire two cabs, one for the man,
the other for his top hat and cane.
||In the middle of the last century, it was common for the
gun gaffers to pay their employees wages in the Bulls Head. This
practice inevitably led to much drinking and subsequently much brawling on the saw- dust covered
floor. At this time there was a strong Catholic community in the Gun Quarter and often the
landlord would summon the local priest to sort out the fighters rather than enlist the
services of the Peelers. There was also a resident fiddler, who would continue
playing whilst all around him was in complete fiasco.
|Ben Wilde, who has been associated with the trade for
over fifty years and works in Price Street, has the only Gun showroom now open in the
Midlands, and is well worth a visit. This sadly reflects on the decline of one of
Birminghams one time great industries.
Benjamin Wild & Son Website
||Now, after extensive alteration, the pub enters another
phase of history. Whether the next two hundred years will have the same colour as the last
two hundred only time will tell.
The Bull Website