Thomas Downing

Thomas Downing was born in Smethwick and baptized in All Saints, West Bromwich on 20 Mar 1825. He was the younger brother of William Downing, the wealthy Smethwick maltster.He married Mary Hodgetts in 1846 and they had a large family of four sons and four daughters. Thomas’s father, George Downing, died in 1848 and his estate shows that the he had accumulated land around Holly Lane in Smethwick, where various members of the Downing family had farmed for the previous fifty years.

Thomas continued to be a farmer and maltster but also owned and ran the Ivy Bush Inn on St Paul’s Road. He should not be confused with his uncle, also Thomas Downing (1778-1856) who had sold his land to Thomas’s father George Downing in 1848 and moved to farm at Great Barr near Walsall. Thomas had another uncle called Samuel Downing (1784-1864) who also combined being a farmer and maltster with running the Plough Inn on the neighbouring Oldbury Road.

After his mother Elizabeth’s death there was an important auction of Downing property in April 1859. It would appear that this consolidation of Downing land ownership increased between 1848 and 1858, probably spurred by money from the Great Western Railway that bought land from the Downings to drive the railway west of Birmingham. Although this wealth was used largely to grow the malting business of his brother William, it is clear Thomas retained a number of properties along St Paul’s Road in Smethwick, including a farm and buildings that he turned into the pub by about 1868. This land was adjacent to the Holly Lodge estate owned by his brother.

The history of the Ivy Bush Inn was the subject of a series of articles in the ‘Smethwick Telephone’ in 1948/9 by W Ellery Jephcott. Here he notes that the pub never opened on a Sunday presumably respecting the Downing’s Presbyterian roots. The pub was also noted as the venue for public meetings sometimes involving the good causes promoted and financed by his wealthy brother.

When Thomas died on 10 May 1886 his widow Mary continued to run the pub although she apparently never served customers. Her unmarried daughter Elizabeth is described as a Barmaid in the 1891 census and her widowed son George was also living at the pub. Two other of her children Emma Field and Frederick Downing lived in neighbouring properties in St Paul’s Road.

Her daughter Elizabeth died in 1895 and it looks as if Mary retired as licensee of the pub in 1897 but did not herself die until 1907.

Last updated on 22 November 2017 by JJ Morgan