Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Howcroft Inn

Howcroft Pool Street Bolton

The Howcroft Inn, photographed shortly before its closure in May 2012. Copyright Lost Pubs Of Bolton. More photographs are at the foot of this article.

The Howcroft on Pool Street, just off  Vernon Street, closed its doors for the final time on 20 May 2012 after over 150 years as licensed premises. The pub was one of the few remaining pubs in Bolton to have its own bowling green but it would be more accurate to say that the bowling green was the main reason for the pub’s existence – indeed it pre-dates the pub by over 20 years. Certainly, the green was in existence as long ago as 1842 [1] and it is marked as the ‘Howcroft Bowling Green’ on an 1849 map of the area. At that time it was situated just off Back Lane, which is still the only approach road to the pub. Prior to the construction of St George’s Road around the end of the 18th century Back Lane was a principal route out of Bolton, running from Blackburn Road down to Chorley Street even though it was only about as wide then as it is now – the size of a back street.

Although it has been claimed that the Howcroft bowling green existed at least as early as 1842, it may have been in existence even earlier than that. Just as it does now the bowling season ran from April or May to October each year and in his book Leisure In Bolton, Robert Poole claims that the Howcroft bowling green regular had 60-odd attendees at their end of season dinner. [1] However, he quotes local press reports from the 1820s meaning that the Howcroft bowling green could be almost 190 years old.

In his book on Bolton pubs [2] Gordon Readyhough says the Howcroft was once a beerhouse known as the Prince Of Wales, but a historical record which was written in the 1980s and which was displayed in the pub for many years until its closure (see image below) states that it was licensed as a beer house in 1861.

The 1849 map of the area shows a small building next to the bowling green which may well have been part of the current building. An 1893 map shows the pub in its present form which means that an extension comprising the gents’ toilets and the longer back room was built some time in the late-19th century, probably after it was first licensed. In that case the original pub would have consisted of the bar area, the small lounge and the pool room behind the bar.

In 1870 it was listed as the Duke Of Wellington, Back Lane but it was known as the Prince Of Wales towards the end of the 19th century until changing its name to the Howcroft. One theory is that the pub and the bowling green were both owned by local brewer Sharman’s with the pub taking the name of the longer-established bowling green. By then the Lark Hill area, which surrounded the Howcroft, had taken on a different look. From being on the edge of Bolton with countryside to the north when the bowling green was first built, by the end of the nineteenth century it was surrounded by housing with the construction of Clarence Street, Davenport Street, Kent Street and Church Street. By then the pub was on Pool Street which from the pub ran down the hill and across St George’s Road to the River Croal. It remained part of Pool Street until the construction of Topp Way began in 1980.

The Howcroft became a Sharman’s pub before being transferred to the Warrington firm of Peter Walker and then to Tetley’s following their takeover of Walker’s in 1960.

In 1954 the landlady was a Mrs A Doran but she relinquished the tenancy that year in favour of Frank Hardcastle, an employee of the pub who worked as a glass collector – described as ‘Mrs Doran’s pot boy’ in the pub’s history – who took Howcroft the pub along with his wife Olwyn.

Frank was a legendary figure whose photograph was displayed in the Howcroft until it closed. I first went in the pub in the late-seventies. By then the pub had spent 25 years under the control Frank and Olwyn and had a reputation not only for the high standard of its real ales but also for the cider it sold. Coates’s Triple Vintage wasn’t available on draught, nor were you given a bottle, but instead it was poured straight from litre bottles into a pint pot. The pub was busy – heaving on a Friday and Saturday night – but not necessarily with people who lived locally. The Howcroft’s reputation was such that it drew its custom from all over Bolton.

Olwyn Hardcastle died in 1980 and Frank carried on alone before retiring to Blackpool in 1983. He died there in March 1995. 

During his final couple of years in charge Frank had to oversee a major re-siting of the pub’s bowling green due to the construction of Topp Way. The new by-pass hacked off the pub from the rest of Pool Street, and with the construction of the by-pass, it was now only accessible from St George’s Road by taking a circuitous route via Vernon Street. The old bowling green stood parallel to the pub and was bounded by Back Lane, Church Street and Pool Street. It was moved a few yards and turned diagonally – see Google Maps or Google Earth for an overhead view - effectively cutting off Back Lane. Much of the housing constructed in the late-nineteenth century was demolished at the same time although new housing was built in its place.

The work on the bowling green was completed by July 1982 although it was not ready for matches until the following summer. [3] Later that same year the pub was branded a Walker’s outlet after Tetley’s revived the name of the brewery they took over in the early sixties and introduced a portfolio of Walker’s beers, some of which had been based on the original Walkers recipes.

When Frank left in September 1983 there was the potentially thorny problem of who was to succeed him. The choice of the pub’s regulars were Tony and Carole Bretherton, two popular members of the bar staff who had worked at the Howcroft since the early seventies. [4] A petition was set up at the pub to allow the Brethertons to take over the tenancy but it was not to be. Denis Lund and his wife Marion arrived but the Brethertons moved to another Walker’s pub, the Ainsworth Arms at the top of Halliwell Road where they spent over 25 highly-successful years.

With Frank Hardcastle gone Walker’s decided to give the Howcroft a long-overdue refurbishment. The result was tasteful enough to win the Campaign For Real Ale’s Joe Goodwin Award for the Best Urban Refurbishment of 1985. It is unthinkable today for a brewery or pub company to enlist the licensee to advise on a pub’s refurbishment – they are treated as hired hands at best - and to be honest it was just as unusual in the eighties. But having successfully run the Raven in Wigan before moving to the Howcroft, Denis and Marion Lund played a part in the plans for the Howcroft’s refurbishment and the judges hailed their involvement in the refurbishment as being “as crucial as that of Peter Walker’s architects in ensuring the traditional nature of the pub was retained when the improvements were complete.” [5]

Denis left in late-1992 and was replaced by Clive Nightingale, a former soldier who will be remembered for introducing a beer festival at the pub following the demise of Great North Western Beer Festival which had taken place at Bolton Sports Centre in Silverwell Street from 1987 to 1993. Clive’s plan was to place boards and a huge  marquee over the bowling green and run the event in aid of  Bolton Lads and Girls Club. The event lasted until 2007 and has since been run at Bolton Rugby Club. By then Clive had left the Howcroft to run a boarding house in Austria. Clive also oversaw the construction of a conservatory to the side of the pub fronting onto the bowling green.

It is often said that stability is the key to a successful football team. The same could be said for pubs. By the time Clive Nightingale left the Howcroft the pub had had just three licensees in over 50 years. But licencees have come and gone since he left although the pub was dealt a blow in 2010. Having been taken over in 2009 by Jane McDonald and Frank Smith the Howcroft appeared to be on the up. Sadly, Mr Smith died in September 2010 and in 2011 the owners decided to put the pub up for sale. It was sold in 2012 and has since been converted into student accommodation. Such a shame, this was one of Bolton’s better pubs.

[1] Leisure In Bolton, 1750-1900, Robert Poole, 1982. Poole cites reports from the Bolton Chronicle dated 14 April 1827, 5 May 1827, 6 October 1827, 23 May 1829, 15 August 1829, 27 June 1829 and 8 October 1831).
[2] Bolton Pubs 1800-2000, Gordon Readyhough, published by Neil Richardson (2000).
[3] What’s Doing, the Greater Manchester beer drinkers’ monthly magazine, July 1982 issue.
[4] What’s Doing, the Greater Manchester beer drinkers’ monthly magazine, October 1983 issue.
[5] What’s Doing, February 1985.

The Howcroft pictured c.1974.


  1. A tragedy that this pub is no more

  2. I remember as a 16 year old, having to sneak making snakebites with the triple vintage something the bar staff disapproved of but easy to do as it was always packed