Thursday, 31 March 2011

Grapes Hotel, Water Street

News of the £1 billion ‘Bolton Regeneration’ last weekend oddly made no mention of the Church Wharf Development which was put forward by Bolton Council as long ago as 2006. This plan, which was to develop the area of Bolton bounded by Manor Street, Folds Road and the River Croal, was put out to a ‘beauty contest’ in 2007 which was won by developers Bluemantle and Ask Developers. They proposed a £210 million “vibrant leisure zone providing restaurant and café bar units creating a destination for diners throughout the day and evening” as well as a “5/6 screen town centre cinema” and “a 126 bedroom hotel.” Outline planning permission was granted in September 2008 but the following month Ask and Bluemantle were asking for a bailout from the taxpayer and by March of last year the two were hoping to receive up to £10 million of public funds from the North West Regional Development Agency; but this was knocked back last summer.

As this photo shows looking down Brown Street the area doesn’t look that great at the moment so it was hardly surprising the council wanted to spruce it up, though it’s a sign of late ‘noughties’ thinking that the leisure industry was being looked at to replace the largely blue-collar industries in the area.

Grapes Hotel Water Street Bolton

Diamond Glass Works occupy the old Well Street Mission building, Bolton Thai Boxing is further up Well Street and there are a few motor mechanics in the area, but have a look at the above photograph from 1937 [copyright Bolton Council]; taken from almost exactly the same spot as the photo above, there seems to be a vibrant community with shops, houses and a pub, the Grapes Hotel.

The area began to develop in the late-eighteenth century but the Grapes’ building has its own place in Bolton’s history, though from the days before its conversion into a public house. In 1818 a series of meetings were held at the premises of Robert Barlow, a wine and spirits merchant on Water Street. As a result, Bolton’s first bank – Hardcastle, Cross & Co - was set up in Mr Barlow’s premises, although by 1822 it was trading from a building in Market Street. [1]

Mr Barlow’s old premises became a beer house in the middle of the eighteenth century. It was situated on the corner of Water Street and Brown Street and in the 2011 photograph above it was roughly where the grass juts out opposite the first lamp post on the right.

Grapes Hotel Bolton

This image, from 1885 and taken from Brown Street’s junction with Manor Street shows the Grapes in the distance with Taylor’s oil and paint store where the dental repair place now is, and the Dog & Partridge next door to that.

The Grapes was a Magee’s pub when it closed in 1952 at the start of a series of clearances that turned this community almost into a forgotten wasteland. In the early seventies the construction of St Peters Way and the Folds Road car park cut off the area from Mill Hill leaving Brown Street as pretty much the only way in or out.

It’s hard to say whether the Church Wharf development is dead now that the tax payer won’t be subsidising the project. It’s all gone quiet now, and maybe that’s to the relief of the businesses that survive in the area. Maybe we shouldn’t hold our breath.

[1] Royal Bank Of Scotland Heritage Archives.


  1. The construction of St Peter's Way started long before the 1970s. I was a Joinery student in 1964/69 at Bolton College and remember having a Tutor lead tour of the culvert (which was to divert the river Croal) so St Peters way was under construction in the 1960s, not the 70. Not sure when the first car sent through?

  2. I think my Great x2 Grandfather William Cole may have been the publican in the early 1900s. He is on the 1901 & 1911 census as Beer Seller at 25 Water Street, Bolton.

  3. The Grapes was number 20. William was actually on the other side of what was a very narrow street at number 25, as you say. That was a beerhouse called the Pineapple, also known as the 'Sweet Home'. The 1905 Bolton directory shows William as a beer seller, though it doesn't number his premises. The 1924 Directory shows a Mrs Tootell as licensee so William must have left some time between 1911 and 1924. I haven't done the Pineapple as yet, though I have a few notes on licensees. It closed in 1934.

  4. The Toothills were William's stepson and wife. They must have taken over when William moved on the the Cheetham Arms.