The local history column – Earl Grey update

How did a bottle from Sheffield reach the Western Front?

Thanks to John Stocks and Martine Welsh for responding to my notes in the December edition of ‘Beer Matters’ when a glass bottle which on display in the Hooge Crater Museum in Belgium was mentioned. This bottle has these words:

W J Downes, Earl Grey Hotel, Sheffield

The Earl Grey (97 Ecclesall Road) opened in 1833. The landlord from 1907-1939 was William Jackson Downes .The 1911 edition of ‘White’s Sheffield District Directory’ describes him as a ‘victualler.’ The prestige of the Earl Grey is indicated by the entry in this directory. There are five pages of listed, ‘Hotels, Inns and Taverns.’ Only two entries are listed in bold print: one is the Earl Grey.

William married Florence Ann, the 1911 census including their son, William Sidney, born in 1894 and named after his father. On 18th.October 1915, the Sheffield Evening Telegraph announced the marriage on Thursday 14th.October, ‘by the Rev.F.Okell, of Private W.S.Downes, City Battalion, the only son of Mr. and Mrs.Downes, Earl Grey Hotel to May Crook.’

The Sheffield City Battalion was instigated by Sheffield University and aimed to recruit ‘professional men.’ By the end September 1914, 1,131  had enlisted. Training commenced at Bramall Lane, but quickly transferred to a Redmires. Accommodation was created on Redmires Road, this site becoming a POW camp in WW2. The area is currently forestry with a perimeter wall, a remnant from a 65 acre 1873 racecourse. Racing lasted for only four years, the final meeting taking place on 19th.July 1876.

The City Battalion was in camp for about six months. They left on 13th.May 1915, arriving in France, via Egypt. After taking part in the Battle of the Somme (the ‘big push’ on 1st.July 1916), the Battalion withdrew on the evening of 3rd. July, having lost 513 officers and men killed, wounded or missing; a further 75 were slightly wounded. By the early weeks of 1918, the battalion was disbanded.

It seems that William Sidney, returned to Sheffield and married before the Somme. As for the bottle, perhaps, it returned to France with William as a toast for his wedding? Subsequently, it was probably reused, before finally reaching Belgium.

As for the Earl Grey, the pub was immortalised as part of a 1959 short film, ‘Short Stop’ This film includes scenes which were shot in the ‘back room.’

Martine, whose parents, Pam and Arthur Beardow, were  licensees of the Earl Grey from 1972 to 1979, has confirmed that this is the case. In the late 1950’s, the Earl Grey hosted a Friday night  jazz club where the Imperial Jazz Band played, filming taking place at one of the regular weekly sessions. The room was also used for private functions and included a small bar: by the 1970’s this dispensed Whitbread Trophy and Heineken Lager. The pub was demolished in the late 1980’s as part of the Sheffield Inner Ring Road development.

Dave Pickersgill


About Andy Cullen

Andy has been actively involved in CAMRA since the early 2000s after being recruited to sit on a National Younger Members Task Group. Since then he has held roles on the branch committee including Secretary, Membership Secretary, Magazine Editor, Chair and now Social Secretary. Andy has also been involved with the Steel City Beer & Cider Festival almost every year since becoming active in the branch.


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