I first visited The Barton’s Arms when I was studying to be a schoolteacher back in the mid – seventies. It was 1976 and punk was screaming to be heard from every radio station. I got the bus to Birmingham from Walsall and got off in the suburb of Newtown which is a part of Aston I had never visited before.
My second visit was soon after the riots of 2011 because I had heard the pub had been looted and set on fire by rampaging mobs. I was concerned that damage may have been done to the glorious Victorian interior. I spoke to the manager at the time who confirmed it was a very frightening experience for him and his staff hiding away in an upstairs room from the chaos taking place below them. The pub was looted and windows were smashed and a fire had been started which the manager had bravely managed to put it out very quickly. Eight shots were fired at police who responded to calls for assistance. Fortunately, there was very little damage done and the Barton’s Arms continues to thrive.
The Barton`s Arms is one of the finest examples of Victorian pub architecture in the country and the pubs interior is simply stunning and of another age. It stands like an oasis of calm and order amongst the chaos of the A34 traffic outside its front doors and the bleak urban landscape of recent years which surrounds it.
As historic pubs go this historic Grade II-listed red-brick building stands like a lone survivor of a bygone age. Looking at the building from the outside the Dutch gables, Victorian lanterns and central clock tower gives the building a sense of opulence and grandeur. The foursquare clock tower is an imposing brick and stone structure nestling on a building wrapped in a neo-Jacobean style reputed to have been inspired by the nearby Aston Hall. The interior is the personification of Victorian decorative grandeur covered with walls of opulent tiles, stained and leaded windows, carved wooden panelling, tiled arches and an elaborate staircase.
The pub was built on the site of a former pub 115 years ago by noted pub architect`s James and Lister Lea for Mitchells & Butlers and is on the Campaign for Real Ale’s National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors. I must remember to check out the others on their list! The Barton’s Arms was purchased in 2002 by Oakham Ales who restored the building to its former greatness before reopening it in 2003 after it had been closed for three years.
Despite its age the pub has retained many of its original features including some rich mahogany woodwork, stained and engraved windows and mirrors, a sweeping wrought-iron staircase and the coup-de grace shiny-glazed Minton-Hollins tiles with a range of decorative patterns and other huge painted scenes.
I have always loved the snob-screens best. These bar screens were very popular during the Victorian era. Usually installed in sets they comprise an etched glass pane in a movable wooden frame and were intended to allow middle class drinkers to see working class drinkers in an adjacent bar but not to be seen by them or be disturbed by the bar staff. Managers could keep an eye on the workers without being seen during their social hours. Wonderful stuff.
The bar which was originally divided into three sections is stunning. I spoke to the barman about having a look around and he kindly invited me upstairs to view the function rooms which would originally have been used for club activities, events and billiards.
The Barton`s Arms is famed for its long association with the Aston Hippodrome once the Midland’s premier variety theatre but now demolished and replaced by The Drum Arts Centre and Music hall stars Laurel and Hardy once stayed there having worked the variety show circuit. When not busy making films they would rest at The Barton’s Arms between shows. On one occasion the hilarious duo were photographed serving beer from behind the bar. Their last tour of the UK was in May 1954.
Today you are just as likely to rub shoulders with football stars from the Premier League, classical musicians and rock stars. It is said that Black Sabbath singer Ozzy Osbourne frequently drank in the pub in his younger days and violinist Nigel Kennedy sometimes calls in when watching his favourite Aston Villa Football Club. Marie Lloyd, Sid Field, Enrico Caruso and the immortal Charlie Chaplin also drank and lodged at The Barton’s Arms at other times in its history.
The huge cellars under The Barton’s Arms and barrel areas are testament to the vast quantities of ale consumed by those passing through its busy doors. Taking the steps down into the cellar is a completely different experience from the opulence of the upstairs rooms. The cold grey floors and walls of the cellar run the full length of the building and ensure that the barrels of beer are stored at their optimum condition prior to consumption. Rumour has it that there is a tunnel that used to run from the cellar of the original pub to nearby Aston Hall.
The pub was also featured in the Bob Hoskins 1999 film Felicia`s Journey. Hoskins perfects a very convincing flat brummie accent. Canadian director Atom Egoyan working from a novel by Irishman William Trevor set his film in Birmingham and The Barton`s Arms features prominently. The pub also stars in the 2006 novel by Ron Dawson called The Last Viking: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Heist; as the gang of robbers meet in the pub.
I would seriously recommend a visit to this outstanding Victorian Public House ASAP. Preferably book yourself on to one of the excellent `Taste and Tour ` evenings but book up very early because they are sold out at least six months in advance. See below for details or visit their website.
The Barton’s Arms
144 High Street (A34), Newtown, Aston, Birmingham, B6 4UP
Grid reference SP072890
Telephone: 0121 333 5988
Restaurant Opening Times:
Mon – Sat: 12:00 pm – 2:30 pm 5:30 pm – 10:30 pm
Sun: 12:00 pm – 3:30 pm 5:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Bar Opening Times:
Mon – Sat: 12:00 pm – 11:00 pm Sun: 12:00 pm – 10:30 pm
Tales from the Tiles – A Taste & Tour of The Barton`s Arms
The Barton`s Arms is one of the most beautiful pubs in the country. Now you will have the chance to take a tour of this famous old pub and marvel at its Victorian tiles, its magnificent wrought iron staircase and splendid snob screens. Take a journey down to its unique cellar and discover the ingenuity of the Victorians.
There will also be a light-hearted talk and slide show charting the pub’s amazing history and its links to the Aston Hippodrome and Laurel & Hardy. Find out if Laurel & Hardy really did stay there. And were the Bartons’ tiles really the inspiration behind Aston Villa’s famous claret and blue colours? The talk and tour will be hosted by local author, John Ullah who was born just a mile from The Bartons Arms.
The evening will finish with a delicious 2-course Thai meal served in what is probably the most beautiful restaurant in the UK.
All this for only £19.95 per person. Why not come along and discover the Bartons for yourself?
The Taste and Tour evenings are on Monday and begin at 7:00pm.
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