Old Bewdley bridge was swept away by the flood of 1795, replaced by the new Telford Bridge in the summer of 1798. Development of Severnside and Coals Quay followed along the “King’s high stream of Severn” and numerous taverns and inns opened, one of which was the Mug House.
The term “Mug House” dates back to the seventeenth century meaning alehouse, allowed to retail ale, porter, wine and spirits. The first recorded landlord was John Smith in the 1820’s, though the licence probably dates from the rebuilding of the quay.
An alehouse – or tavern – licence was expensive and was based on the size of the premises however the Duke of Wellington’s Beer House Act in 1830 changed this dramatically. The Act reduced the licence fee to two guineas, permitting the sale of beer and cider only. The object was to reduce the consumption of spirits – it failed.
Licensing hours were long, 18 hours a day, 4am to 10pm, seven days a week. Closed only during Divine Service, Christmas Day and Good Friday.
As an inn the Mug House could, and did, remain open as long as a bed was empty offering basic accommodation, food, homebrewed ale and stabling if required.
Retail brewers in rural Worcestershire specialised in one style of ale. This was mild, sweet, strong and lighter in colour than the heavy traditional Black Country beers. The average Bewdley gravity was 1060 – the second strongest in England.
In 1849 Benjamin Smith, 27, a sawyer, succeeded his brother Robert Smith as licensee. He was married to wife Ann, 20, with three children, Thomas, 4, Jane, 2 and Joseph, 1. The family were also proprietors of the Cock and (Mag) Pie, and Dog and Wheel, 17 Dog Lane.
Reduced to beer house status in 1836 by John Smith to save on licence fees, the Mug House in 1841 was one of 71 public houses recorded in old Bewdley – the highest concentration of licences per head of population in the county.
Lantern maker Henry Southern, 49, from Stone, kept the Mug House Inn from 1860. His wife Emma, 47, was a shopkeeper in Load Street where she made and sold straw bonnets. She helped in the pub and looked after the family of seven.
Henry Southern sold the Mug House to Bucknalls, Kidderminster. He amalgamated with George Elwell’s Delph Brewery, Brierley in 1896 to form Worcestershire Brewing and Malting Company Ltd. Becoming the Kidderminster Brewery in 1906, taken over by Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries in 1913 with Thomas Bentley as landlord.
The Old Mug House Inn has witnessed many changes over the past 192 years, but has remained as originally intended by John Smith, a social centre of the community.