The Bartons Arms was built for £12,000 in 1901 on the site of a former pub as the flagship of Mitchell and Butlers’ brewery estate by Mr. Brassington of James and Lister Lea. In 1976 it was listed as a Grade 2* building. This architectural practice designed a number of Birmingham’s most recognisable public houses, some of which are now listed buildings.
The history page on the Bartons Arms website records that Vesta Tilley, Marie Lloyd, Sid Field, Enrico Caruso and Charlie Chaplin ‘drank and lodged’ there after appearing at the adjacent Aston Hippodrome. Laurel and Hardy once stayed there and were photographed serving beer from behind the bar. More recently patrons of the Bartons Arms have been joined by Nigel Kennedy and Ozzy Osbourne. The Birmingham Mail adds that one night, during the 2011 Birmingham riots, the pub was looted, windows were smashed, and fires started, but prompt action by the manager, Wichai Thumjaron, extinguished them.
The neo-Jacobean design of the terracotta, brick and stone exterior, with its foursquare clock tower, is said to have been inspired by Aston Hall. Many original features have been retained: mahogany woodwork, stained and engraved windows and mirrors, snob screens which allowed middle class drinkers to see working class drinkers in an adjacent bar, but not to be seen by them, a sweeping wrought-iron staircase and wall to wall Minton Hollins tiles with glazed decorative patterns and some large tiled murals. The cellar in which barrels of beer are stored runs the length of the building and it is said that a tunnel used to run from the cellar of the original pub to Aston Hall.
In 1974, a film was made in which Bob Warman recorded a tour of the Bartons Arms and interviewed Peter Hartley of Mitchells and Butlers. It may be seen here.
The Bartons Arms lies on the A34 – a road which separated the city’s two main gangs in Lozells and Aston. Drug-dealing in the area was rife and it was reported that between 1999 – when the pub closed – and 2005, gun crime in Birmingham rose by 500%.
After three years disuse, the Bartons Arms was bought in 2002 by Oakham Ales, based in Peterborough. It has the largest ‘brewpub’ in Europe, the Brewery Tap. Paul Hook, who bought Oakham Ales in 1995, first saw the Bartons Arms as a science student at Aston University and restored the building.
It reopened in 2003, serving real ale, traditional ciders and Thai food, a passion of Paul’s partner, Patcharee Shaweewan.