Walter Showell

Walter Showell, the Oldbury brewer, was born on 26 September 1832. He was baptized in St Martin’s Birmingham on 25 Oct 1832. He undoubtedly had a difficult childhood. His father, also Walter Showell, died when he was only three in 1835. His mother, Eliza Ann Breakspear, remarried in 1840.

Walter Showell (r) fishing at Parkhill, Dyce, c. 1898

Walter Showell (r) fishing at Parkhill, Dyce, c. 1898

In the 1841 census the eight year old Walter can be found in the household of his Aunt, Mary Ann Hands. It seems he was brought up in the Hands household rather than with his mother, who inherited a family from her new widower husband. Walter trained as a Chemist and Druggist before entering the Brewing trade. His uncle, Thomas Showell, is listed as a licensed Victualler in the 1851 census so there were strong family connections with the trade. His grandfather Joseph Showell had, for many years, run the Bull’s Head in Price Street, Birmingham.

Walter Showell married Sarah Cheshire Hartill on 2 May 1854. She came from a family of farmers and maltsters. They had three sons and ten daughters. His sons Charles and Walter (Uncle Walle) eventually took over the brewing business.

It would appear that he built up Crosswells Brewery in Oldbury pretty much from scratch, first in Simpson Street, Oldbury and then on a site in Langley, starting as a small brewer but growing tenfold over a period of twelve years. By 1871 Walter Showell and Sons was an important town brewer for Oldbury and Birmingham and wealth and some status flowed with the success. The Langley Maltings, first built at this time, bear testimony to the size of the operation – unfortunately these were badly damaged by fire in 2009. In 1885 Walter unsuccessfully stood for the Birmingham parliamentary division of Bordesley as a Conservative candidate. In 1886 he first published a “Dictionary of Birmingham” – which is a directory of the time widely available on the internet as an eBook.

The acquisition of large numbers of pubs, extending into Wales, in the 1890’s, shows that that the ambition for the firm was considerable, but the business eventually proved to be overstretched and was sold by his sons only thirteen years after his death in 1914.

Walter Showell and his wife were, nonetheless, instrumental in supporting their local church – giving generously to the consecration of a new church at St Michael and All Angels, Langley, consecrated in 1891. A chapel of Ease at St James, Rounds Green was also built in 1892 with a further donation of £2500. Sarah Showell presented stained glass in the East Window of the chapel in memory of her father Joseph Hartill. A plaque, mounted in St Michaels, dated November 6, 1895 carries the name of Walter Showell and his wife in recognition of their donations. This is recorded with photos in the history of St Michaels by Terry Daniels.

The residence of the Showell family moved relatively frequently. Addresses move from Edgbaston (1879) to the Dorridge, Knowle (1887) and Bell Hall, Belbroughton (1891) . Some time in the later 1890’s Walter Showell moved to Stourton Hall in Kinver near Stourbridge, where he died on 31 Jul 1901.

His will shows a very large estate of over £150,000.

Family of Walter SHOWELL and Sarah Cheshire HARTILL

Husband:Walter SHOWELL (1832-1901)
Wife:Sarah Cheshire HARTILL (bap.1835, d.1910)
Children:Hannah Pitt SHOWELL (1855-1941)
Sarah Louise (Louie) SHOWELL (1857-1929)
Charles Hands SHOWELL (1858-1915)
Elizabeth Baker (Lizzie) SHOWELL (1860-1930)
Walter (Walle) SHOWELL (1862-1933)
Priscilla Cheshire SHOWELL (1863-1942)
Mary SHOWELL (1864-aft1937)
Ellen SHOWELL (bap.1866, d.1949)
Alice SHOWELL (1867-1939)
John Henry (Harry) SHOWELL (1869-1933)
Kate SHOWELL (bap.1873-1927)
Florence (Dolly) SHOWELL (bap.1874, d.1951)
Daisy Ethel SHOWELL (1876-1953)
Marriage2 May 1854Parish Church, Oldbury


  • Obituary in Smethwick Weekly News, 3 Aug 1901:-

    “It is with deepest regret we record the rather sudden death of Mr. Walter Showell, JP, CA, a gentleman whose life’s work was spent at Oldbury, and who became widely known and highly respected throughout the Midland district. The sad event took place at 2.50 on Wednesday morning at his residence, Stourton Hall, near Stourbridge, at the age of 68 years. Mr. Showell’s illness only dated from the previous Friday, and was due to an affection of the heart. A couple of days before he was at a meeting of the Bazaar Committee in connection with Kinver Church, in which he took the deepest interest. On the Thursday he was in Birmingham, but he was suddenly seized on Friday, when Dr. Holyoake of Kinver, was called in, and when the seriousness of the attack was seen the best medical advice possible was procured. There was always hope of his recovery up till Tuesday last, and then his condition was so critical as to give cause for alarm, and he passed away peacefully on Wednesday morning as stated. As soon as the melancholy news became circulated throughout the district – and especially at Oldbury, where the whole family are held in such very high esteem – the greatest possible sympathy was manifested, and particularly for Mrs. Showell, who had been so near and dear to him throughout their wedded life. The name of Showell is a household word at Oldbury, and it is not too much to say that the whole district will mourn the loss of one who did so much for the people among whom he lived and laboured for so long, and who ever took the liveliest interest in their welfare.

    Few men have enjoyed such a successful business career as the gentleman whose loss we are now mourning. In fact, his success was quite phenomenal. Many will call to mind the very modest lines on which he commenced life in Oldbury, for he was essentially a man of business, while indomitable pluck and perseverance enabled him to overcome every difficulty, and when he became launched with the small brewery in Simpson Street, the very premises where the Weekly News is now printed, his position in life was secured. The great success attending his first efforts emboldened him to make a move of a more enterprising character, and he secured a large area of land in the close vicinity of the Great Western Railway at Langley, where he enclosed the celebrated and historical Crosswells spring, which at one time supplied the bulk of the population of that locality with water. Here he erected an imposing pile of buildings, which was christened Crosswells Brewery. Very soon after there was a marvellous change in the district, its once rural character being transformed into one of active commercial industry. Residence arose on every side, and as the business developed, the brewery soon became a gigantic concern with branches all over the country. In 1886 the concern was turned into a limited company. A few years later Mr. Walter Showell gave up the direct control to his eldest son, Mr. Charles Showell, and the perfection of the present organisation is largely due to the latter’s marked business capabilities. The town of Oldbury and its vicinity has directly benefitted by the introduction of this industry, in which so much of the local labour is employed. Mr. Showell from the first seemed to have the happy faculty to attract around him men imbued with the same high principles as possessed by himself. His own family in a remarkable degree co-operated with him in the establishment of the gigantic concern at Langley, but the deceased was perfectly content to leave everything in the control of his son Charles, who with the present board of directors has made Showells Brewery Company, one of the finest concerns in the whole country.

    For many years Mr. Walter Showell took a very prominent part in the public life of Oldbury. He was elected a member of the old Local Board of Health of Oldbury, but he was essentially a leader of men, and very soon was chosen as chairman of that body. He was one of the Oldbury representatives on the West Bromwich Board of Guardians, and was elected by his colleagues throughout the Union as a manager of the Walsall and West Bromwich District Schools. Here again he took a leading part in the management, and was eventually elected chairman of the Board, a position he held even after he had ceased to be a Guardian, for he took pride in doing what he could for the fatherless and motherless children in that institution, and his colleagues regretted when he gave up that position. The time came when Mr. Showell felt he was entitled to the reward of his many years of labour, but even in his comparative retirement, when rightly enjoying the rest in life’s eventide, he was ever mindful of the spiritual and material wants of his neighbours. Without the slightest hesitation he and his family gave in liberal measure for the mitigation of suffering and the amelioration of distress. He erected at his own expense the beautiful little church at Rounds Green, a district which had long been neglected by the Church to which he belonged. He was also a liberal contributor towards the erection of the new Parish Church at Langley, and freely supported all the other churches in the district. Nor was his generosity confined to the Church of England, for one of his last public acts was to lay a memorial stone in the Evangelical Church at Churchbridge, which is closely allied to the Primitive Methodists. Mr. Showell’s interest in the Church of England was enthusiastic, and while his time and money were cheerfully gven to aid educational and social objects he was especially liberal in both respects to the church. In the district in which he resided, he had recently been taking great interest in a scheme for the restoration of the chancel of Kinver Church as a memorial to the late vicar, the Rev. John Hodges. By a melancholy coincidence, Wednesday was the day fixed for a bazaar in aid of the object, to ensure the success of which Mr. Showell had been exerting himself. In addition to his share of work in the bazaar, he had been mainly instrumental in raising some £300 towards the total sum needed. Mr. Showell was a churchwarden of Kinver, which added to his interest in the restoration scheme, but it may be recalled that he greatly assisted another part of the restoration work two or three years ago.

    In politics the deceased gentleman was a staunch Conservative, but though for many years an active member of that party, Mr. Showell made only one appearance as a Parliamentary candidate. The occasion, however, was a notable one. It was the election following upon the Reform Act of 1885, and was the first in which Birmingham had to return members for seven single member constituencies instead of three members for an undivided borough. The Conservatives attacked all along the line, and Birmingham was then, as recently, the centre of electioneering interest to the whole kingdom. The Central Division, the candidature, for which was allotted by the Liberal Association to Mr. Bright, was selected by the Conservatives as the point of attack by Lord Randolph Churchill. In the Edgbaston Division Mr. George Dixon had to fight Sir Eardley Wilmot, while Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, the other colleague of Mr. Bright, under the old system of representation, had an amazing experience in the opposition of a Conservative working man, Mr. J. Dumphreys. Alderman Kenrick, in the North Division, was opposed by Mr. Henry Matthews (afterwards Unionist member for East Birmingham, and Home Secretary, and now Lord Llandaff). Alderman Cook won against Mr. F. W. Lowe his short lived tenure of the East Division; the Southern Division saw a keen contest between Mr. Powell Williams and the late coroner, Mr. Henry Hawkes. To Mr. Showell fell the task of opposing Mr Broadhurst in Bordesley, and here the fight raged as hotly as in the other divisions. Almost nightly meetings were held, and stormy scenes were enacted at those of both parties. Mr. Showell threw himself into the contest with great energy, but the defeat of the Conservatives here, as in each of the other divisions, was complete. Mr. Broadhurst, though he was to hold the seat for less than a year, was elected by 5302 votes to 4019 polled by the Conservatives, and Mr. Showell’s Parliamentary ambitions were at an end. He continued to take an interest in the work of the party, while the efforts of the Church party to secure control of the School Board found in him a warm supporter.

    Mr. Showell’s recent years were spent very quietly. He was at one time very fond of travelling, and on one occasion, in company with Mr. J. Gill he made the assent of Mont Blanc, at a time when only a few persons had accomplished the task. Mr. Showell was very prominent in connection with the establishment of the Hospital Saturday Movement in Oldbury, and for five or six years acted as treasurer. He also beautified the old burial ground in the centre of the town, at his own expense, and was always a liberal contributor to charitable movements. He enjoyed the friendship of the leading people in several occasions and he was a Justice of the Peace for Worcestershire and also an alderman on the Worcestershire County Council at the time of his death. On every hand he was held in very high esteem, and the greatest possible sympathy is felt for the members of the family in the great [loss] that has overtaken them.

    The funeral will take place today, at 2pm, at Kinver Church.”