In 1987 Ralph Anstis wrote an article about the Albion public house, where he lived with his wife, for the Gloucestershire Society for Industrial Archaeology. They moved into Albion House in October 1984. Keen to discover more about his home Ralph spent time at the Gloucestershire Records Office hunting for documents and old maps relating to the Albion Inn in Coalway. One of the first discoveries that Ralph made was that the building was very close to an old coal-pit which had first been worked in 1735.
An updated version of the article from April 2001 is reproduced here:
‘As far as the house itself was concerned we soon found that in the 19th century (and earlier) it had been within the Forest boundaries, the boundary line passing just down the road at the village crossroads. This meant that it was almost impossible for a two-storey house, so well-constructed, to have been built before 1840, because until the passing of the Encroachment Act in 1838 practically everyone living and holding land in the Forest was doing so illegally. In spite of half-hearted attempts by officials to prevent them, poor people encroached into the Forest during the 18th century, slowly at first and then with increased speed and urgency as poverty and population pressures urged them on. They fenced in land and put up houses that were, in the main, little more than hovels, single-storey with no windows, built of loose stones and with turf or stone roofs, the whole not exceeding ten feet in height. In 1803 there were nearly 3,000 men, women and children squatting in the Forest in about 600 dwellings, snatching what meagre living they could.
One such family of encroachers was the Baglin (or Bagland) family who, at least by 1787, were living in a turf-roofed encroacher’s cottage on the site of the present Albion House. The head of the household was Daniel, born in 1744. In this cottage he lived with his wife Sarah and their three children who included three sons, William, Isaac and young Daniel. The cottage stood in two acres of ground, which his predecessors had fenced in many years before, on the side of the rough road (now Parkend Walk) leading from Coalway through the woods to Parkend.
By 1834 old Daniel had died and his son Isaac was living in the cottage with his family, which included his sons John and another Daniel. In about 1840 the government gave Isaac the legal possession of his house and the two acres of ground, and he and his family continued to live there. Within a few years Isaac had knocked down his hovel, built the present house (or part of it, for it seems that an extension was later built onto the first building). In 1842 to pay for its construction he raised a mortgage with Thomas Birt Trotter, a Coleford businessman, but how he persuaded Trotter to lend him money is not known., for Isaac had humble origins and was described in the 1841 census returns of 1841 as a labourer.
Isaac opened the new building as a pub. That the house was not designed as an ordinary dwelling is shown by its construction: three rooms downstairs, one big room upstairs with a fireplace at each end, and a cellar where the beer was no doubt kept. The family lived in a smaller house next door.
A Forester has told us that as a young lad he knew an old man who, when he himself was young, knew Isaac as an old man. He said that he was a tough unpleasant character, who knew him when he was blind, but even so no-one could deceive him over payment for the beer purchased and he was adept at counting the change as any sighted beer house keeper!
The place had several names during its existence, including the Albion Inn and the Old Albion. It was almost certainly not an inn in the usual sense of the word. Apart from having no accommodation for visitors it had no licence for wines and spirits and in fact was a common beer house (annual rateable value in 1891 and 103 was £16.0s.0d.). Beer houses in the 19th century had a lower status than inns, where wines and spirits were also sold. In the beer houses working men could feel free to express their feelings about their employers and political masters without fear of being overheard, for any stranger would be immediately spotted. One will never know but can imagine what conversations must have gone on at times of crisis in the Forest in the sawdust-floored tap room of the Albion (now the dining room). What despair must have been manifested there during the strike in 1874-5, and the slumps in 1883 and 1895 when coal and iron mines in the Forest closed down, leaving the workers unemployed and destitute.
In more prosperous times the atmosphere must have been more relaxed, with laughter and good company and with, perhaps, cock-fighting and skittles upstairs. One can only imagine – for no archives can yield hard facts on the matter – that miners coming through the woods in the evening on their way home from work and knowing that the first house in the clearing would be a welcoming hostelry, lively and bright, where they could slake their thirst with a glass of cider at a penny a quart.
Old Isaac Baglin died in the 1860’s. He was well over 80, and had seen considerable changes in the life of the Foresters in his time. He had begun life as an encroacher, despised, suspected and feared by people outside the Forest, and ended up as a respectable member of his community with his own business. He was succeeded as innkeeper (or beer house keeper or beer retailer, whatever term one prefers) by his son Daniel. When Daniel died in 1872, his wife Maria continued as the beer house keeper. She was followed by their son Oliver who, by all accounts, had inherited his grandfather’s dexterity in handling coins. Until recently he was still remembered in Coalway for his ability to produce the exact change from his pocket without looking.
According to the 1891 census Oliver was unmarried in that year and Benjamin Howell, his wife and six children occupied four rooms at the Albion Inn. It is difficult to image that Albion House itself could accommodate the Howells in four rooms as well as accommodation for Oliver Baglin. But the present occupant of Villa House next door has said that the pub owners lived in her house. It abuts Albion House and there is evidence that there may have been a communication door between the two buildings. So the Howells probably lived in Villa House. In 1891 the Albion Inn had an annual rateable value of £16.0s.0d.
Oliver Baglin carried on with the pub until 1899, when at the age of 57 he retired. He mortgaged the premises to Messrs Lloyd & Yorath Ltd., who were brewers and wine and spirit merchants. They put in a manager, Charles Henry Porter, to run the place. The Old Albion continued to do a good trade after Oliver retired. Indeed in 1906 100 barrels of beer were supplied compared with 77 the previous year, and an average of 96 pints of beer were drawn in a day. This was not a bad performance when one considers that at that time there was one pub to every 196 people in the Coleford district – men, woman and children.
But the days of the Old Albion were numbered. At their annual Licensing Committee meeting in 1906 the Coleford magistrates were unwilling to renew the licence. They gave no reason, apart from saying that they had ‘talked over the matter privately’. After Lloyd & Yorath objected, however, they did renew it. But the following year they arranged for the police to object and when the case came before them a police superintendent said that in his opinion the house was not necessary, and anyway it was badly suited for police supervision. Without retiring the Committee concluded that the licence should not be renewed. There were no objections. And that, somewhat mysteriously, was that. The Old Albion ceased to operate as a beer house on 28th December 1907. It was said that the pub sign outside was seen flapping for years after it closed.
It has been said that the real reason for closing the Albion Inn down as a pub was that it had become a house of ill-repute during Lloyd & Yorath’s reign. If this was so it would explain the magistrates’ disinclination to say in public why they were unwilling to renew the licence; but it is difficult to accept that the structure of the building would allow anything improper to occur. Anyway, we have decided to leave this intriguing possibly to other researchers!
After the Albion Inn lost its licence in 1907 Oliver Baglin resumed ownership of the house. It could now no longer be used for its original purpose and in the following August he sold it by auction at the Angel Inn, Coleford. Since then it has had a string of owners. At one time it was used as a butchers shop.’
Renowned local historian, the late Ray Allen, also researched the history of the Albion Inn at Coalway and concluded that it might have closed after the First World War. His notes are reproduced below:
‘It is now called Albion House. It was opened c.1870, but the earliest date is 1886. It was a beer house. Oliver Baglin rented the pub to Louisa Banks. In 1903 Noah Voyce held it for the purposes of licensing, but it was handed over to Milsom Porter in the same year. The Welsh brewery of Lloyd & Yorath paid £1,000 for it in 1902.
There was an attempt to close it in 1907, which was thwarted by the brewery spending a great deal of money and time defending it. There had been no convictions against it, nor any other action. Trade was good, and there seemed nothing to warrant its closure. Superintendent Griffin, however, seemed to think that it was difficult to police and supervise, because it was a short distance from the main road. He also complained that it had three back doors, which of course made it difficult to catch anybody. One door was nailed up, and another was blocked up on instructions from the magistrates in a court order. The licence was renewed on 11th July 1907. However, it did close either in 1919 or 1920. Details of its closure are not known at present.’
Landlords at the Albion Inn include:
1886,1899 Oliver Baglin (retired in 1899, aged 57)
1896 Louisa Banks
1899,1903 Noah Voyce
1908 Charles Porter
1912 Milsom Porter
1919 George Williams