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California Inn - Northfield

  • Thread starter www.midlandspubs.co.uk
  • Start date


California Inn - Northfield [pic attached]

Seen here around 1937 in the livery of Ansell's, the California Inn was located on Barnes Hill. The building stood close to the Dudley Canal and Stonehouse Brook. The former was also known as the Netherton Canal and emerged from the nearby Lapal Tunnel to meander its way to the Worcester and Birmingham Canal at Bournbrook.

The principal cargo to be transported from this locality was stone, tiles and bricks. However, the negative aspects created by the geological nature of the hill caused the tunnel to be closed for repairs on many occasions, making the waterway uneconomic and its viability was reviewed. The tunnel was eventually closed in 1917.

Legend has it that Isaac Flavell built the California Inn with money he had made from gold in California - hence the name. Being something of a romantic myself, I would love such a tale of adventure to be true. However, the name is not unique - another local example being in Blackheath where, ironically, the same local legend pervades. Secondly, it is thought that Isaac Flavell acquired Stonehouse Farm in 1842 whereas the Californian gold rush only really went into full swing after James Marshall discovered deposits at Sutter's Mill in 1848.

Gornal-born Flavell was a prospector of sorts for, in buying Stonehouse Farm, he secured the rights to exploit the rich clay deposits beneath the top soil. Perhaps Isaac, like many of his generation, was enamoured by the stories emerging from the west coast of America. Or maybe he detected a correlation between his activity and that of the forty-niners. There certainly was competition for land around Stonehouse and Weoley Castle - I guess you could call it a clay rush.

In White's directory for 1845 Isaac Flavell was recorded as a brick and tile maker based in Birmingham's Gas Street. He owned a wharf here and the bricks made at California were transported by canal to Birmingham where no doubt the entrepreneur sold them to builders constructing the rapidly expanding town. One would hope that he also manufactured the bricks used to construct the California Inn.

Isaac had married Ann Chinn in April 1833 at St Philip's, Birmingham. By 1851 Isaac and Ann were living at the California Inn from where Isaac employed fifty labourers, suggesting production was high. Although living at the California Inn, Isaac Flavell left the running of the pub to his brother-in-law Henry Chinn and his niece Rebecca Flavell. Interestingly, Derby-born Henry Chinn was documented as a beer house keeper though the California Inn was a fully licensed house for most of its history.

In his 70's, the indefatigable Isaac Flavell was recorded as a brickmaker, contractor, farmer and victualler at the California Inn. He was assisted by his wife Ann and their daughter Sarah. Three servants were engaged at the busy house.

Following Isaac's death, Ann continued to farm at Stonehouse. The brickmaking enterprise was acquired by William Smart who set about expanding the business by investing in machinery and kiln. The California Inn however was run by son Joseph Smart and his wife Ellen. She died at a relatively young age but Joseph remained at the pub with his four children. The eldest, Thomas, was trading as a grocer in the 1880's but it is unclear if this business was conducted at the California Inn.

The profitability in the brick trade had attracted competition and by the 1870's the Birmingham Patent Brick and Tile Company were producing thousands of bricks per day in six kilns. The Smart family continued production. Their brickworks was active until after the Second World War.

Joseph Smart remained as licensee of the California Inn almost until the end of the 19th century when he and his wife Alice retired to a villa in Harborne. He was succeeded by Walter Bingham but his stay was brief; Frederick Ingley was the publican throughout the Edwardian era.

Kieron www.midlandspubs.co.uk


  • Weoley Castle California.jpg
    Weoley Castle California.jpg
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Very interested in comments about Smarts Brickworks At California. It was a hugh concern. There was also a brickworks near Harborne Lane which I think Smart also owned.

Weoley Castle Library on Castle Square has a large collection of material on Smarts Brickworks and some incredible photographs in the brickyard for anyone interested. Staff are really helpful.

Old cottages on Stonehouse Lane were built for brickyard workers.

Best wishes,

Roy :)

Local History

master brummie
Would be very interested to learn where you obtained the photo of the Cali Inn? We only have a tattered newspaper clipping showing the swans outside!


I have been told the Salvation Army hall in Weoley Castle was near the California - can anyone verify this?


proper brummie kid
The Cali was also my nan and dad's regular years ago. We did a 'drive past' when we had his funeral at his request, it was emotional.
He lived on Alwold road, Ray Haymes, his mom was Margaret (Maggie) and he has a brother, Brian, who still lives just yards from it.

I love reading these threads about old haunts etc, so cool. ;)


paul stacey

master brummie
I remember the california inn but in weoley castle not northfield??. Northfield was a good 8 to 10 mils away when I lived there 58/64, I remember the old brickwork site, and the old farm which was derilict by then, and the cut which came out of a boarded up tunnel was overgrown, and derilict also. I remember the ajoining site which ran alongside stonehouse lane, and barns hill, and alwold road, (by the old weoley Castle site) which I think was a quarry. Once I saw prisoners from winson green were there, working with uniformed guards standing around, but can't remember when.


master brummie
Heres an old photo of California in 1949. I would think Bartley Green Grammar School/Hill Top would be just past the car on the right hand side when it was built in the 50s.


Staff member
hi paul...i think i posted this pic ages back now and if memory serves me right i posted a now pic as well.. again.if memory serves me right it is stonehouse lane....


paul stacey

master brummie
thats ok lyn, I just posted on another thread and called the old chewing gum beechwood, should have been beechnut. age slows us.


gone but not forgotten
Hi guys ;
if you go to that spot now you will find a big garage forecourt there
because thats what has been replaced by it a petrol station and the servive is lousy
especialy of a night he closes down at around 10 30 and will not open untill 11-30 or midnight
people queing up for cigs and sweets and gas and electic tokens
cars queing for petrol and they are filling sheleing and drinking tea - coffee or what the people are standing in the rain and banging on the windows and shouting abuse but the staff take no notice ; uintil they think the are ready
it is notoriuos there late of a night if i am unfortuneately passing i make sure i am aready topped before heading back to worcestshire
best wishes astonian