Thursday, 10 April 2014

Derby Arms/Cross Keys, Churchgate

Derby Arms Churchgate Bolton


The Derby Arms Hotel situated next to the Theatre Royal in this image from the Bolton Library and Museum collection (copyright Bolton Council). The library archives state that the image is from 1947. However, the Capitol cinema was showing Robert Montgomery's Live, Love and Learn that week, a film given its US release in October 1937. The image is more likely to date from late-1937 or early-1938. The letters RAOB GLE on the wall of the pub stand for the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes, Grand Lodge of England, a nationwide fraternal and community organisation that had strong associations with the theatre world. An RAOB Club was later situated on Derby Street, first at the former Crown Hotel before later taking over the Ram’s Head. Note, too, the  Bush Hotel, the Boar's Head (now Hogarth's microbrewery) and a glimpse of two pubs still with us, the Man and Scythe and the Golden Lion (now the Brass Cat).


The Derby Arms Hotel dates back to at least the late-eighteenth century and was originally known as the Cross Keys. It appears under that name on licensing records from 1778 when the landlord was Thomas Whittle.

The pub was taken over by James Arrowsmith around 1811. Arrowsmith was still at the Cross Keys in 1821 but a hews year later he left the pub after the death of his father to take over the family’s counterpane and quilt manufacturing business.  He subsequently became a leading business figure in the town and became the Liberal Mayor of Bolton in 1840-41. He was the first member of the Church Of England to hold the post as his two predecessors were both Unitarians.

The Cross Keys became the Derby Arms at some stage in the second half of the nineteenth century. Towards the end of the century it was home to one of Britain’s official executioners, James Billington, who was landlord the Derby from 1898 until his death in 1901. Billington’s son Thomas also lived at the pub and assisted his father on seven executions in 1898 alone. [1]

Billington died of pneumonia in December 1901 just ten days after carrying out his final execution, that of Patrick McKenna, a regular at the Derby who had been found guilty of murdering his wife. Local people organised a petition to spare McKenna on the grounds that he had repented but the sentence was carried out regardless. Thomas Billington also died of pneumonia the following month.

In the latter part of the eighteenth century the Derby was owned by Atkinson’s, [2] whose Commission Street Brewery was situated at the bottom end of Deane Road on land now occupied by Bolton College. Atkinson’s sold out to Boardman United Breweries in 1895 and three years later all the former Atkinson pubs were sold to Cornbrook’s Brewery of Chester Road, Manchester. Cornbrook’s were taken over by Bass Charrington in 1961 but the Derby was still supplied from Cornbrook’s by the time it closed in 1963. The pub, the Theatre Royal and the Bush Hotel were all demolished shortly afterwards and Churchgate House was built on the site.



The site of the Derby Arms in April 2012. The pub was situated further down Churchgate on the right-hand side. Image copyright Google Street View.

This is a view of Churchgate from August 1938 taken from the direction of Deansgate.

[1] The Executioners Bible he Story of Every British Hangman of the Twentieth Century, by Steve Fielding.
[2] Pubs Of Bolton 1800-2000, by Gordon Readyhough. Published by Neil Richardson (2000).



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