Joseph Showell

Joseph Showell was baptized on 18 Aug 1769 in St Edburgha’s in Yardley to the East of the then small town of Birmingham. His father was Thomas Rhodes Showell, a victualler and his mother Mary Bissell, from nearby Bickenhill. The Showells came from a stock of middling yeoman farmers based around Sheldon, Coventry and Monks Kirby. Joseph’s grandparents – Joseph Showell and Elizabeth Rhodes were married in St Edburghas in 1729. His grandson Walter Showell, the brewer clearly felt a strong affinity to his heritage in Birmingham and its past, when he famously published the Dictionary of Birmingham in 1885.

An interesting document, a “Quitclaim” from 1801 neatly lists Joseph and his siblings. The names tie in directly with the St Edburghas baptismal register entries. Joseph the oldest son is listed as a button maker of Birmingham, but we know that he too was later to become a licensed victualler just as his father.

The Bull's Head Price Street where Joseph Showell was licensee 1806-1828

The Bull’s Head Price Street where Joseph Showell was licensee 1806-1828

This quitclaim lists Joseph’s siblings as Walter Showell (bap 15 Jul 1774), Cabinet maker who had moved to Lambeth in London, Ann James (bap 18 Aug 1766), wife of Samuel James, Factor of Hatton Garden. Elizabeth Showell (bap 1 Jul 1767), spinster, of Birmingham and Thomas Showell (bap 1 Jan 1771) deceased.

This document may have been triggered by the death of Joseph’s brother Thomas in 1801. On the death of his mother in 1776, Joseph’s father had remarried. Thomas Rhodes Showell, himself  is recorded as being buried in St Edburgha’s on 19 Feb 1786, when Joseph would have been only sixteen years of age.

As the eldest son Joseph took the lead as a witness on many of the family marriages. He married Sarah Cade on 22 Feb 1791. Sarah was illiterate unlike all the Showell siblings who sign all their documents. So everything indicates that the young family was well provided for. There is no indication of who became the guardian of the young orphaned children. The witnesses on Joseph’s marriage in St Martin’s Birmingham were his elder sister Elizabeth and Sarah Cade’s illiterate father Joseph Cade.

It looks as if Joseph was apprenticed as a button maker in Birmingham, before his father’s death and it is there that he met and married Sarah Cade. The couple had seven children.

The two sons who lived into adulthood both became “Licensed Victuallers”. Thomas was born in 1792 and married three times. Walter born in 1803 died at the age of 32, when his son, the future brewer, Walter was only two years old. This grandson of Joseph, Walter Showell (b 1832), who went on to build up one of the largest breweries in Birmingham, therefore had his roots very much in Birmingham and the licensed trade.

Joseph is recorded as being the licensee of The Black Swan in Smallbrook Street in 1806 and from 1811 to 1825 at the Bulls Head in Price Street. The latter is one of the few eighteenth century buildings still standing in the centre of Birmingham’s Gun making quarter.

Joseph was buried in St Martin’s Birmingham on 26 Jun 1835 a few months before his son Walter.


  • Warwickshire Licensed Victualler Database 1801-1828
  • St Edburghas Parish Register, Yardley
  • National Archives MS 3375/572462  9 April 1801
  • National Archives MS 3375/42596613 January 1777