William Dargue A History of BIRMINGHAM Places & Placenames from A to Y
B73 - Grid reference SP096945
First record 1821
This placename is not fully explained. Apparently a local legend told of a beggar buried at the junction of the Chester Road and Jockey Road in New Oscott. Certainly there was a hawthorn bush on the Chester Road here before the 1930s which local people called the Beggar's Bush and which was believed to be the bush under which the beggar died. Allegedly, as the bush marked the boundary between the parishes of Aldridge, Perry and Sutton Coldfield, no-one could agree which parish should pay for the burial and so the beggar was buried where he lay. At one time the bush was encircled by iron railings. The bush was destroyed as the result of road work in the mid-1930s.
An early use of the phrase 'beggars bush' is found in Adam Foulweather's almanac of 1591 where he talks of people ‘who shall never tarry with master, but trudge from post to pillar, till they take up beggars' bush for their lodging.' The saying, ‘go to the beggars' bush' was subsequently usually applied to people who had brought about their own ruin.
Economic crises during the reign of Elizabeth I caused a dramatic increase in the number of poor. Parliament enacted successive laws from the early years of the reign to deal with the problem by supporting the ‘impotent' poor but which were increasingly harsh in respect of those who could work but did not. The Act for the Repression of Vagrancy of 1597 required that any ‘rogue, vagabond, or sturdy beggar' found begging should be ‘stripped naked from the middle upwards and openly whipped until his or her body be bloody, and then passed to his or her birthplace or last residence.'
The responsibility for carrying out this law lay with local parishes. Presumably if a beggar retreated beyond the parish boundary, then he was beyond the jurisdiction of the parish officers. It may be that beggars gathered on the parish boundary so that they were always beyond the reach of the law. Beggar's Bush is thus perhaps more accurately Beggars' Bush; note the apostrophe. Certainly this Beggars Bush is on the parish boundary. as well as being on a main road junction where beggars might accost passing traffic for alms.
There was a pub here in 1841 which had been rebuilt by 1861. The present pub was built in the 1930s. The name of the present public house, The Beggar's Bush is shown on the 1890 Ordnance Survey map simply as The Bush. This is a common name for pubs which possibly derives Roman times. It was the custom in Ancient Rome to hang bunches of vine leaves outside wine bars as a trading sign. Vines were not commonly found in Britain and branches of a bush, often an evergreen such a holly, were displayed instead.
The name is fairly common across the country and may just indicate poor soil. Overlying Bunter pebble beds, the soil in this area is reasonably fertile. However, patches of glacial sand and gravel make a significant difference to a small locality. The name refers to this road junction and its immediate area rather than to a district. It is first found documented in 1821.
Thanks to Neil Howlett for additional information on this article.
The Beggar's Bush at the junction of the A452 and the B4149, this is one of Birmingham's busiest junctions. Apart from the eponymous pub, there's the Tesco hypermarket, a Homebase, a Kwiksave, the Princess shopping mall, and various small shops.
© Copyright Adrian Bailey and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence: Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic. Geograph OS reference SP0994.
Beggars Bush, Erdington
C & J Greenwood's 1821 map of Warwickshire also shows a Beggars Bush at the junction of Birmingham Road & Penns Lane; this site is also on the parish boundary, here of Erdington & Sutton Coldfield.
William Dargue 08.09.2008/ 25.10.2012
For 19th-century Ordnance Survey maps of Birmingham go to British History Online.