Henry Mills was born in Meifod, Mongomeryshire in 1822 but relocated to Toxteth Park with his family when he was only a child. After his marriage, in 1845, to Sarah Ingram, he settled in Mill Street where he became a baker and flour dealer. In about 1862, he decided upon a change of occupation and became a licensed victualler, turning his flour shop into a public house – the Great Eastern.
Business was obviously good, as by 1868, Henry Mills had relocated to much larger premises – also called the Great Eastern – in New Ferry. The Great Eastern Hotel in New Ferry, named after the ship designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, was built in 1862 but only really came into its own after Henry Mills became landlord. Because of its location, the hotel became popular with tourists and visitors who had crossed the Mersey on the ferry. It also boasted picnic grounds, a 1000-seater tea room and a ballroom.
On Good Friday in 1876, at 3pm, Sergeant Perry and other police officers visited the Great Eastern where they witnessed a number of people in the grounds clearly under the influence of alcohol and staggering around.
Although it was an offence, it became apparent that Mills and his staff were still serving liquor to these cusomers despite their inebriated state. The police officers brought this to the attention of Henry Mills who promised that he would stop the tap and only serve them ginger beer.
At 5,30pm, Sergeant Perry again visited the Great Eastern only to find that the hotel was in a state of great disorder. There were five or six simultaneous fights occurring and the people in the grounds were still being served with alcohol. This was, again, brought to the attention of Mills.
An hour later, at 6.30pm, the sergeant returned only to find things had got worse as there were now women lying in the grounds of the hotel, vomiting. The alcohol was still being sold. By 8.30pm, most had moved out of the hotel grounds but a group of drunken people were discovered in the vaults, being served by waiters. One man, glass in hand, couldn’t even stand!
As a result, Henry Mills was summoned to court where he faced charges of permitting drunkenness and riotous conduct on his premises. Police officers giving evidence spoke of disorder from 3-9pm with fighting and drunkenness almost continual. The defence argued that Henry Mills had given strict orders that no drunk person should be supplied with alcohol and precautions were taken to ensure that these orders were carried out. Witnesses were called who supported the argument of the defence.
The charge of permitting drunkenness was proved with the magistrate staring that this case was a “disgraceful one.” Henry Mills was given a penalty of £10 and asked to pay costs.
This wasn’t the only time Henry Mills had an encounter with the magistrates’ court although his next appearance had a different outcome.
In January 1877, Mills was again summoned for permitting drunkenness. On December 29th of the previous year, Sergeant O’Donnell and Police Constable Asbury visited the Great Eastern where they found a local man, John Cooney, drunk, leaning on the counter with a pint mug of beer in front of him. Mills denied that there was anything wrong with the man but, after being spoken to by the police, agreed that the man had had enough. Sergeant O’Donnell had suspicions that the landlord was shortsighted.
At court, staff from the Wirral Hotel were called and said that they’d denied Cooney drink at their establishment due to his drunken state. A postman, on the other hand, who had been at the Great Eastern that evening, said that he’d not seen anything to suggest that the man was drunk.
To convict Henry Mills, he had to be seen to be serving a drunk man. Due to the sergeant’s suspicions that he was shortsighted, the case was dismissed!