Thursday 5 December 1895 should have been a normal day for Henry James Skinner. He was the well-respected manager of the Bodega, a public house in Temple Street. It was the haunt of actors and athletes, enjoying a good reputation at the heart of Birmingham. Henry became the manager in 1888 after a long career as a boxing and fencing instructor. His many former pupils formed the clientele, joined by the actors that worked with his daughter Helen at the Olde Royal Theatre.
The pub itself was a small community; David Andrews was the head bar manager and two brothers; Herbert Edward Allen and Arthur John Allen were the barmen who had both worked there since leaving school; down in the cellars Henry Duller looked after the barrels. Herbert and Arthur also worked as jobbing builders, although Herbert had been injured in a fall from a tree the previous summer, suffering a broken jaw and had shown strange mood swings ever since. The cellar-man, Henry, felt that he had become a different man since the fall. Health care for the working class in 1890 was haphazard and ineffective.
On Tuesday night Henry Skinner had found some bottles left uncorked behind the bar. He pointed this out to Arthur and some sharp words were exchanged. Henry slammed his hand down on the counter for emphasis; unfortunately Arthur's hand was in the way. Hurt, Arthur hit Henry in the face. Henry walked around the bar, but Arthur's brother Herbert, fearing that his brother was about to get a thrashing from one of the city's leading boxing teachers, grabbed hold of Henry's coat to restrain him. Henry managed to grab
half an hour his other brother, Charles, found him drunk in Suffolk Street.
Herbert's wrists and several customers and the head barman held him down. The bar calmed down slightly, but Henry Skinner sacked both brothers on the spot and escorted then off the premises. They were told to come back the next day for their wages.
Tempers had cooled by Wednesday morning. Arthur went to the Bodega to get his wages and to apologise. Henry Skinner paid him and offered to provide references to help him get a new job. Arthur asked for his old job back, but Henry was standing by his decision. But Herbert was becoming increasingly distressed. At 23 years old he was just starting his life; he married his sweetheart the month before and the couple were sharing a house with his brother. The loss of both their jobs seemed catastrophic. He turned up at the Bodega half an hour after Arthur, but seemed so excited that David Andrews refused to let him see Skinner, and turned him out of the bar, telling him to return the next day. Within
HENRY: A somewhat faded photograph is the only direct image of Henry James Skinner. It was taken while he was a young man in the Scots Guards, long before moving to Birmingham half an hour his other brother, Charles, found him drunk in Suffolk Street.
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