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Driving through Wetley Rocks from Cellarhead to Leek one of the first buildings on the left-hand side of the road is the large white-painted dwelling that was once the Old Plough. Negotiating the bend and passing the junction with Mill Lane brings the Powys Arms into view. This slim and rectangular hostelry, like the former Old Plough, also sits on the roadside. But how many people remember the much larger public house in the village of which no trace remains? This was the Masons’ Arms and it stood almost opposite the Powys Arms where the petrol station is now situated.
The Trade Directory of 1834 mentions all three of these pubs, although the Powys Arms was listed under its former name of the Arblasters’ Arms. The name derives from the Arblaster family of nearby Rownall Hall who were Lords of the Manor of Cheddleton during the 17th century. They were succeeded by the Powys family which was reflected in the change of name as the hostelry paid homage to the new Lord. Similarly, the Masons’ Arms also took its name from a nearby family. These were the Masons’ of Wetley Abbey, which during the middle of the 19th century was home of Master Potter George Miles Mason.
A detailed description of the Masons Arms was given in the sale catalogue of ‘Valuable Licensed and other Properties’ in Wetley Rocks which took place 1913. The pub was just one of the lots offered for sale by auction. This was held, rather ironically, at the pub itself. The catalogue describes the stone-built ‘well-known, old-established and fully licensed inn and public house’ as consisting of a lobby, bar, parlour, tap-room, smoke-room, snug, kitchen, scullery and brewhouse. There was also a large clubroom measuring 44ft by 20ft. On the first floor were three bedrooms as well as a room over the brewhouse. Adjoining the pub on the right was a stone-built cottage. To the left was a large bowling green, with a garden and orchard at the rear. The property also had stables and a carriage house. At the time of the sale the pub was let to Messrs John Joule and Sons of Stone on a ten-year lease which had commenced on December 25th 1907.
Despite its huge size the business was not without its troubled times. In 1876 the licensee John Mear was declared bankrupt. The trade directories of the late 19th century reveal constant changes in licensees, which also applied to the Powys Arms. Despite being prominently placed on the side of a major route, the pub may simply have been too large to survive and by the 1960s had ceased trading.
The Powys Arms also appeared to have had difficulties during the early 20th century. However, these were structural rather than through fluctuations in trade. In December 1917 it was clear that some repairs were necessary when Parkers Brewery of Burslem held the pub on a lease. Because of this they wrote to the agents of the owner, Heaton and Sons of Endon, reminding them that the owners were responsible for structural repairs, although offering to pay half of the costs. Parker’s surveyor noted that the chimneys needed taking down to roof level and rebuilding, the open cracks in the gable walls required making good, and that the roof, spouts and pointing all required urgent attention. Other necessary work included rebuilding the urinal wall and providing a new galvanised Rochdale pan for the WC. They also commented on the shippon and piggeries being in a very poor state, as were the cowhouses under the adjoining saddlers shop.
Due to the War, both labour as well as materials were in short supply. Frustrated by the repairs still not being undertaken by the end of February 1918, licensee John Cumberbatch wrote ‘I am patiently waiting for your representatives to visit to go into the matter of repairs. I may here state that the water in the well is contaminated by the urinal being so close to it that it is not fit for any use only swilling the yard with. Also the earth pan in the WC collapsed altogether when I was removing it the other day – if you send me one I will put it in myself for my own convenience.’
Two months later Cumberbatch wrote again, claiming ‘Mrs Cumberbatch and daughters are compelled to live in the public tap room and there is only one bedroom fit to sleep in.’ The letter reveals that, as well as being a publican, Cumberbatch was also a small-scale farmer. ‘I have nine head of stock and no shippon fit to put them in. Pigs I cannot buy because I have nowhere to keep them. All gates on every field are down and completely worn out. The fences are so badly out of order that other peoples cattle are getting onto the land. Hedge stakes I asked for I have not yet had and I have just paid £2 for one fence to be laid. How can I farm under such difficulties? If I put the cattle in the fields they have nothing to stop them getting on the highway as that fence is completely down from one end of the property to the other, and people taking cattle to market or otherwise have nothing to stop them trespassing on the land. The well is in such a bad state that we are compelled to carry every drop of water. Surely you will agree with me that it is time something was being done or I shall be compelled to leave the place and look out for another more suitable and convenient for me. I have been patient but it is getting time that meadows were shut off for mowing.’
Cumberbatch had to wait a further three months before the work was finally undertaken. The first four builders that were contacted to supply estimates for the work all refused, offering excuses such as it was too far to travel to, or that they had not got the required labour. Finally in June, Barks and Son of Ipstones, agreed to undertake the work at a cost of £60.
During the 19th and the first half of the 20th century, with two pubs standing opposite each other like sentries guarding the highway, it must have been difficult to pass through Wetley Rocks without stopping for a pint.