In the domesday survey 1086, Bewdley was included in the berewick of Wribbenhall. As late as 1313, there seems to have been no passage across the Severn except by the Lax Ford. A ferry was first mentioned in 1336. The first bridge was erected c 1447.
Lax Lane, High Street, Dog Lane and Over Street are all mentioned in 1472; and during the reign if Henry VIII, the ‘High Stream of Severed’ increasingly carried trade. As a consequence, numerous alehouses, inns, and after 1830, beer houses opened in Bewdley.
In High Street alone there were eight alehouses: The Barley Mow, Bell Inn, Acorn, Blue Bell, Kings Head, Ring of Bells, and the only two to survive, the Talbot Inn and the Pack Horse Inn. The latter probably date from the old Lax Ford and the development of High Street in the 15th Century.
The sign of the Pack Horse indicates that the premises were a carrier’s pub and a clearing house for goods in transit. Horses were the only reliable means of carrying goods at a time when the roads in England were little more that rutted tracks. The inn would have provided accommodation for both horses and packmen.
James Lane was the first recorded landlord in 1818. The alehouse license would predate this by a considerable number of years. He was succeeded by Thomas Hutton in 1826.
In 1840, Bewdley held 2 country records, the highest concentration of licences per head of population in the country; and probably linked the highest crime rate in Worcestershire. There were 71 public houses, one for every 79 residents. Industrial Dudley recording 114.
As an inn, the Pack Horse was permitted to remain open as long as a bed was empty; offering basic accommodation, simple victuals, home-brewed ale and stabling to the lawful traveller.
Innkeeper James Tolly was documented in the 1851 census aged 79, a widower, with his brother John, 53, a carpenter who employed 3 men; together with his son John, 42, a Chelsea pensioner. By 1861 he had lost his sight but still held the licence. His son-in-law John Doyle, 54, from Liverpool managed the busy Pack Horse, helped by his wife Elizabeth and their family of three.
Victorian licensing hours were long and demanding; 18 hours a day, 4am to 10pm, seven days a week, closed only during Divine Service, Christmas Day and Good Friday.
Charles A. Payne became landlord in 1880, holding the license for 7 years before moving to the Talbot Inn at the other end of High Street. The Payne family were brewers, maltsters, hop merchants and pub owners. John Payne kept the Malt Shovel – a beer house – in Welshgate, it survived until 8 th January 1916. John Payne also opened the Severnside Brewery and beer house in 1880.
A form of malty mild was the popular Bewdley drink; it was dark, sweet, strong and cheap, usually 2d a quart. Unfortunately, it usually varied considerably from brew. However, the average county gravity was 1060 – the second highest in England. The Pack Horse brewed until 1940, when wartime restrictions closed the brewery.
The Holt Brewery, Birmingham, we were taken over by Ansells in 1934 bought the Pack Horse Inn on 5 th July 1944. They sold to Colm O’Rourkes Little Pub Company in 1982. Ushers bought ‘Mad’ O Rourkes business in May 1998 paying £6.5 million. Little has changed over the years.