Poor old Bird In Hand…

Thanks to this reader  who wrote down her reactions on seeing what has been happening on the site of the old Bird In Hand pub on the Hilderstone Road, and who asked us to publish them.
(If you too would like to write a little piece for us, just email us)


Hi.    Well… what can I say??  …such I shock I had on re-visiting the Bird In Hand!!!
I was going on a trip down memory lane, and was in the area, and dropped in. But the site brought me to tears and is doing as I write this now.

This is because I started my life there in 1966 – my grandparents Mr Robert Ball and Nancy Ball ran the pub.  My mother Sandra Williams, who married David Harkness and became Sandra Harkness, also lived and worked there.
I have many happy memories of the place: the hunt meetings;  the strawberries growing in the back (which me and my sister attacked!);  being found outside after a full search for us …lol !….   Happy times, with so many memories revisited though the years.

When I last visited a bit ago (in my late twenties) I called in with my sister Wendy and our old neighbour from Trent Vale.
I could not believe it when a lady walked over and asked if I was Sandra’s daughter !!!!  As we had left when I was two, going on three, I was amazed that she could recognise me…. how I must look like my mum… lol … and  she then informed me that she had been my mother’s head bridesmaid. We chatted and caught up on life.


I was told by a friend that the pub had closed down – and when I went to see the old place, I was hoping to show my partner where I and my and family had started my life in catering and the hospitality trade.
What a shock!!

Demolition of Bird In Hand pub

The Bird In Hand pub being demolished

I thought maybe it was for sale or boarded-up – but never that it had been demolished – and what for?? Nothing, at the moment.
It looks ruined: so sad, very sad.

Just wish I could have had something to remind me of the place … but memories are always here and I do have some photos.
What a lovely building and home it made – and could have made again !!!!

Well.  Life goes on – and in this case not always for the best.


Editor’s notes
The pub, which is in the furthest south-west corner of the Draycott district, closed in 2005, because the new owners were not able to carry on the business.   Although it is within Draycott, the nearest neighbours are in Hilderstone – where the parish council supported the call for redevelopment of the site.
Demolition at the Bird In Hand started in early 2012, but work stopped when the work was half-finished.

Bird In Hand pub sign

Sign – no longer needed

It’s said that there had been a pub on the corner there, with its own brewery and malthouse, for almost 200 years. The owners for nearly the whole of its existence were the Shelley family (which is still a well-known name  in Hilderstone).

Down the years, each Shelley heir kept up the tradition of brewing their own beer on-site – right up until the 1950s*, when the family finally gave up the business.
I wonder if anyone still remembers what a ‘pint of Shelley’s’ tasted like?

History of Bird In Hand / Old Photo of The Bird In Hand

*There is some dispute about the date when brewing stopped at The Bird In Hand. Another history says it stopped at the pub in the 1920s, not the 1950s. If you know, why not add a comment in the comment-box below?

7 responses to “Poor old Bird In Hand…

  1. Dear Sirs,
    I am currently researching the history of the Bird in Hand at Hilderstone and am grateful for the info provided on your website. I am a freelance journalist and will be focusing on the since-demolished pub in the Staffordshire Newsletter in the near future, using a 1949 picture of the pub and one featuring landlord Mr Shelley and a customer, Mr Dale.
    Your website (and responses) has proved very useful. Every good wish for the future.
    Terry Gilder


    • Bird in Hand residents?

      Hi Terry,
      I’m from Australia and will be travelling overseas in the next couple of weeks to do further research on my Fairbanks side of the tree.
      The Bird in the Hand is mentioned numerous times on several ancestors Birth/Death and census records throughout the 1800’s. I would be very interested to know during your research if you discovered the pub ever being a place of residence. The Fairbanks were mainly from Sharpley Heath which I believe is in the same area – but no evidence so far has ever been proven that the pub was in fact a residential dwelling as well as a pub.
      Just curious as to why it is recorded on certain ancestors records, any information you may find would be very appreciated, thank you.
      Nari Fairbanks


    • Bird in Hand - more?

      Hi Terry, just wondering if you where ever able to locate any further history on the Bird in Hand, interested to learn more during the 1800’s.
      Nari Fairbanks


  2. Painting of Bird In Hand

    I would like to add to the above comments: if anyone is interested, my uncle had a painting commissioned by Michael D Barnfather to be done of the Bird in Hand at Hilderstone in 1958.
    I have had this painting valued, and if anyone is interested in purchasing this painting please contact me on jenny748jen@aol.com


  3. Ancestors at Bird In Hand

    Very sad to see what has happened to ‘The Bird in Hand’ as it was owned by my Great Grandfather Thomas Houldcroft Shelley, farmer, brewer & publican. My Grandmother Martha Dale (nee Shelley) was born and grew up in the pub.
    Kathryn Kennedy


  4. Bird In Hand memory

    My mother’s relative kept this pub in the 1950s. She would have been a Miss Shelley or Shemilt.
    I can remember as a little girl in the early 50s watching her go down into the cellar to fetch beer in a white enamel jug.

    Alice Aherne


  5. I used to work there under June Greatbach.
    An incredible pub, killed largely because of police cracking down on drink-driving as you basically had to drive to get to it.
    I believe the brewing stopped in the 1920s but am not sure.

    Interestingly, it had three bars, the one at the back being called the Squire’s, whilst the front one was the bar. The large function room used to be some kind of barn or cart storage area I think.
    The cellar was extensive but I believe the original brewery was actually in the Squire’s Bar.



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