Our November 2017 talk - reviewed by Mike Chitty

Alan David Wilson came to talk to us about his latest book. Records of Gateacre's 'Bull Inn' go back to 1753, when the Alehouse Recognizances give the licensee's name as David Edwardson. We saw photographic evidence that the building is much older than that, some of the roof timbers having been identified as 16th century. By superimposing an 1815 drawing of the pub on top of a present-day photograph, David was able to demonstrate that the left-hand gable, with a distinctive small window at the top, is older than the rest of the building, and that the official description in the Listed Buildings record - '19th century' - is wrong.

David talked us through the various licensees. The Edwardsons (David for 35 years, Margaret in 1789), were followed by the Shepherds, and then by Jonathan Tatlock - a saddler by trade - which raised the question of the Black Bull's possible role as a coaching inn. The pub certainly had stables, which would have been available for the use of travellers. Tatlock - there till 1837 - ran a billiards team. A man called Charles Davies took over, but ended up in Lancaster Castle debtors' prison. Is the name of one of the building's resident ghosts - 'Charles' - just a coincidence, David wondered? The Tithe Map of 1848 indicated that the pub had been enlarged by that time. From 1841 the licensee was Ellen Ramsay, who later ran the pub in conjunction with her cabinetmaker husband Thomas May. They had to leave after being found guilty of allowing drunk and disorderly conduct, being fined 5 shillings. When James Ratcliffe took over, it became very much a focal point of the Gateacre community. In 1858 a local newspaper described a march of 500 supporters of the Little Woolton Friendly Society, which ended with their Annual Dinner at the Black Bull.

In parallel with the list of licensees, David has drawn up a list of the owners of the building. Along with the Brown Cow and the Gateacre Brewery, the Fleetwood family owned it for many years. In 1876 Andrew Barclay Walker - of Gateacre Grange, with his own breweries in Warrington and Burton - bought it. In 1887 his favourite architect, Cornelius Sherlock, gave it the Mock Tudor look that we know today. The interior mouldings, fireplaces and stained-glass windows still contain reminders of the Walker years, including the 'cornucopia' symbol which can also be seen at Gateacre Grange. David mentioned the 'alleged arson' by servant Catherine Moss, reported in the local press in 1881, which may have been the reason for the re-modelling of the building. On A.B.Walker's death in 1893, ownership passed to his son William Hall Walker, who renamed it the Black Bull Hotel, added a large billiard room (now a kitchen) and employed a Billiard Marker (who is recorded as such in the 1911 Census).

Finally, David talked us through the 20th century, when the licensees included the Wicks and Formby families. The bowling green became a car park, and a large restaurant extension (now used for beer storage) was built at the back. The more recent changes of ownership have all been the result of company restructuring, mergers and de-mergers, rather than any sale on the open market. David worked at the Black Bull quite recently, and was given privileged access to the roof space and the sandstone basement (which has to be pumped out every two weeks). David showed us some of the photographs he had taken, which made his talk all the more interesting and informative.

Copies of David Wilson's book 'The Black Bull, Gateacre' are on sale at our meetings.

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