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Waterloo sunset.

Byline: PAUL COLE

GEORGE Hardy wasn't a man to suffer fools gladly.

As licensee of The Waterloo Bar in New Street, he'd suffered the whims of tipplers from all walks of life.

But the Anglican minister, no stranger to the Victorian eating house, was getting past a joke.

Each time he sat down to dine, he ordered the chicken leg.

And each time it arrived, he demanded that it be changed for an altogether plumper chicken breast.

Eventually, Hardy decided that he'd had enough.

The minister, he said, should be informed that "God made fowl to walk as well as fly, and if he knows a bird with four wings and no legs, I'll take the lot!" The clergyman, suitably chastened, tucked in to his chicken leg without further complaint.

It was a story typical of the larger than life character who ran the Waterloo.

When Hardy took up the lease on the premises in 1876 from a Miss Robinson, it was a modest eating house.

He saw huge potential, especially as the place was close to the General Post Office and the Council House.

The grand building housing the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists was next door, too, and artists were a thirsty lot.

Board School architects Martin & Chamberlain were brought in to develop the hostelry in 1880, then William Wykes carried out a further substantial renovation in 1887. A bar was fitted out, the grill room furnished, and a cosy smoke room established.

It rapidly became one of the most popular bars in Birmingham, and in 1894 the block of buildings in which the Waterloo stood was put up for sale. The buyer was the Birmingham Hotel & Restaurant Company, who had big ideas, too.

George Hardy decided the time was right to retire, and the mesaure of his popularity was such that many of the regulars upped sticks as well. Before long the bar's clientele was in steep decline.

So it was that in 1900 the new owners persuaded the boss out of retirement to run their investment, and the bar became busy again.

Hardy died in 1921 and his widow continued to run the Waterloo with equal success for another five years.

The Waterloo Bar finally closed its doors for good on March 20, 1926.

On its last day the place was packed, and presentations were made to Mrs Hardy with the great and the good lining up to pay tribute to the couple who were said to be the pride of Birmingham.

Everyone linked arms for the singing of Auld Lang Syne, and then the Waterloo Bar passed into history.

Along with the fine RBSA headquarters next door, the building eventually fell victim to redevelopment bulldozers.

The artists still flourish, however. The society, which had been based in New Street since 1829, moved to a new gallery just off St Paul's Square in the city's Jewellery Quarter in 2000.

The story of the Waterloo Bar and many others is told in Central Birmingham Pubs by Joseph McKenna, published as part of the Images Of England series by Tempus Publishing, priced pounds 12.99.

LANDMARK: The Waterloo Bar and neighbouring Royal Birmingham Society of Artists building.
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Jul 8, 2012
Words:529
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