Pub detective: How skittles were a key part of pubs' history

A sign showing the former Black Horse pub on Wensum Street.

A sign showing the former Black Horse pub on Wensum Street. - Credit: Jonathan Hooton

He is known as the Norwich Pub Detective due to his fascination with all things to do with the city's famous pub legacy. And this week Jonathan Hooton explores how clues still present today shed light on two pubs' pasts.

Pub signs can sometimes be recycled and therefore saved even though the pub itself has long since disappeared.

This has happened to the Black Horse in Wensum Street. The Black Horse pub closed in 1969, but the sign of the Black Horse was kept and used when the pub became the Black Horse Bookshop in 1972.

This closed in 2002 but the sign has continued with the present occupiers of the former pub, DR Grey Opticians. This building has other clues as to its former incarnation.

Look behind and to the right of the pub and you will see another one-storey building with the broken remains of some red lettering on the gable stating 'orse Skittle Saloon'. 

Jonathan Hooton, the Norwich Pub Detective, outside his favourite Norwich pub, the White Lion in Oak Street

Jonathan Hooton, the Norwich Pub Detective, outside his favourite Norwich pub, the White Lion in Oak Street. - Credit: Sonya Duncan

These are the telling remains of one of the activities at one time carried on in the Black Horse. Many of Norwich’s pubs used to have skittle alleys but gradually these disappeared as the economics of pubs demanded more room for customers to drink and eat, rather than play games.

Also the growth of ten-pin bowling would slowly edge these games out of pubs.

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The Black Horse has been serving the inhabitants of Norwich since at least 1710 although it has seen many changes. It used to be at 7 Tombland, sited against the Cathedral Precinct wall just south of the Erpingham gate and only relocated to Wensum Street in the mid-19th century.

Also the property you see now was not the original. It acquired its present frontage with the mock Tudor beams when the street was widened in 1899 to make room for the trams, a process that affected several other pubs as well.

The 'orse Skittle Saloon sign which shows where the former Black Horse pub on Wensum Street was.

The 'orse Skittle Saloon sign which shows where the former Black Horse pub on Wensum Street was. - Credit: Jonathan Hooton

Before the widening to accommodate the trams, Wensum Street was only half as wide as today.

There is another more obvious clue. On the northern gable, but only viewable in winter when the adjacent trees have lost their leaves, are the words ‘Black Horse 1900’ leaving us in no doubt of its former name.

According to John Riddington Young (who wrote The Inns & Taverns of Old Norwich) it took its name from the emblem of the 7th (Princess Royal’s) Dragoon Guards.

A little further down the Wensum Street the building on the corner of Elm Hill, now Olive’s, was once a pub and also not at the end of Elm Hill. There was another building, George Edwards, boot and shoemakers which stood on the corner of Elm Hill.

This was demolished in 1900 for road widening in 1900 and the present Olive’s was then the Turkey Cock which was given a new mock Tudor front as had happened at the Black Horse.

The evidence for this is on the ends of two of the jetty beams, one of which gives the date (1900) of this transformation and the other has the letters S & P which refers to the brewery, Steward and Patteson, which owned both the Turkey Cock and Black Horse.

Other pubs, still open, which were affected by this street widening include the Ribs of Beef and the Louis Marchesi.

The Turkey Cock was one of the four taverns that used to be in Elm Hill, the others being the Masonic Tavern, The Crown and the Britons Arms.

Evidence of the former Turkey Cock pub on Elm Hill.

Evidence of the former Turkey Cock pub on Elm Hill. - Credit: Jonathan Hooton

The Turkey Cock closed in 1962. The Inn sign that used to hang outside had a handsome engraving of the bird incorporated into it.

This sign was preserved and can still be seen inside the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell in the upstairs section which is dedicated to pubs and brewing.

This may not have been the original name either as it was called the Peacock in 1868 and 1872 in the Norwich Licence Registers.

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