Bulls Head Foolow History
The Bulls Head is one of the oldest inns in The Peak District. The village of Foolow dates back at least to Anglo-Saxon times, and its name shows that it was probably the site of a now lost pre-historic burial mound. Its important in the 14th century is shown by the village cross of that date and it is likely that its population has always been around the current 150 people – big enough with trade from surrounding hamlets to support a public house.
The village was a remote backwater until the late 1790s. The Sheffield to Buxton turnpike, never perhaps a first route of choice between the two towns but providing valuable local connections, was built in 1753, but at first crossed the ridge to the North of Foolow. In 1793, to avoid steep climbs, the turnpike was diverted through Foolow, bringing through traffic for the first time. The turnpike lingered as a toll road until the 1870s, when it closed down as a private enterprise and was taken into the publicly maintained road network. But the turnpike brought Foolow into a wider economic pattern.
The first record of The Bulls Head seems to be in 1753 when it became necessary to obtain a license to sell spirits under The Sale of Spirits (or Gin) Act. This Act required a licensee to have a surety of £10 (at that time about half the annual wage of an unskilled labourer in a rural area), so that it was common for the licensee of a small public house to have a sponsor, often a more wealthy relative, or the property owner.
Over the past 250 years the number of pubs in Foolow has varied between one and, at times of lead mining boom or railway building, five. Two other pubs, The Bird in Hand, later called The Spread Eagle in Hucklow Road and The Three Horse Shoes in Bretton Road are often identifiable, the location of others being unknown. Since the 1930’s only The Bulls head has remained and it seems to be the one inn which was always present – not surprisingly as it occupies the most prominent position.
The Bulls Head was never a major coaching inn, providing for changes of horses on stage and mail coaches and overnight accommodation for 18th and 19th century travellers. But records show that it was for a long time a depot for carriers to, from and between Sheffield, Chesterfield, Buxton and Manchester, carrying parcels and at a cheap price for a slow journey, passengers unable to afford the relative comfort of a stage coach.
For a public house to be called The Bull, or The Bulls Head, was common in The Peak district. The earliest recorded mention by name is in 1821 but it is likely that the name goes back much earlier. For a short period in the early 1980s the inn was called The Lazy Landlord when it was briefly owned as part of a small local chain of pubs all given names from Tolkeins books, but it then reverted to its historic title.
Ownership of The Bulls Head was long between three families, who also seem to have at times controlled other pubs in the village. These are the Furniss, Mortons and Davis families. From 1753 to 1793 The Bulls Head was occupied by the Furniss family, but perhaps given the names of sureties perhaps latterly owned by Mortons. The Mortons seem at one time to have controlled as many as 3 pubs in Foolow. Except for brief periods when others were licensees but Mortons standing surety, Mortons were always landlords between 1793 and 1887. The Davis family took on the inn from the 1890s to the 1920s when it was sold the Sheffield brewers, Tennants. Tennants then sold the inn to another Sheffield brewery, Wards in the early 1950s. Wards sold it into private hands around 1985, but apart from a few quick changes it has had only two owners in the past 20 years, the present owners having occupied for over 10 years.
The building has a complicated history and may well incorporate elements dating back to the 17th century when it was perhaps already the principal public house in the locality. It is likely to have been greatly remodelled in 1793, when the turnpike came through Foolow and the Morton family who appear to have had earlier financial interest, became the licensees. It may appear to be but one building structure, but the thickness of internal walls and differences in level show it to be three, a fact disguised by its rendering shown to be in place by photographs at least 100 years ago. The central part where the main bar is situated must always have been the public part of the premises. To the left is what is now the restaurant, but which was until 90 years ago a separate cottage lived in by a branch of the Davis family. To the right is The Stables used as both a drinking and eating area. It was converted from garaging and stables some 30 years ago but retains the old ladder to the hayloft once above and now guest bedrooms. Internal layout shows that the road level outside was once much further below than at present so that one climbed steps (no longer there) to the front door and main bar, and went down what are now internal steps to the stables.
The Bulls Head continues to be what it has been for at least 250 years. It is the social centre of the village whilst also offering hospitality to visitors from all over the world.