Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Robin Hood/Old Robin Hood, 174-178 Lever Street

The former premises of the Old Robin Hood (right) on Lever Street seen here in April 2014. The  Little John, on the left, was just a few yards away and when the two pubs came under the control of the same brewery one of them had to go.

Of all the pubs that have existed in the Great Lever area, the Old Robin Hood was perhaps the oldest. Situated at 174-178 Lever Street in what was later to become a heavily industrialised area the pub dated back to at least the beginning of the nineteenth century and possibly even before that.

The Robin Hood – as it was originally - was run for many years by the Beech family. In 1818 the licensee was William Beech. Isabel Beech was the landlady in 1828 and she was succeeded by Sarah Beech who was the licensee as late as 1853. Elizabeth Beech, a 55-year-old widow, was licensee in 1861 and she was succeeded by John Beech in 1862. William Beech from a different branch of the same family was in control by 1874 until at least the 1890s. This latter William Beech was the son of the town’s chief constable. [1]

Directly behind the pub there stood a bowling green and as we have seen at both the Howcroft and the Gibraltar Rock bowling was a big part at some of Bolton’s pubs. A look at old maps suggests the bowling green may even have outlasted the Robin Hood with ownership possibly transferring to its neighbour the Little John.

Opposite the Robin Hood was Robin Hood Mill which was certainly standing in 1836. The original mill was destroyed by fire in 1862 while a second mill burnt down 20 years later. The current building dates back to 1882 and is still in used today.

When the Beech family owned the Robin Hood in the early part of the nineteenth century it was the only pub on Lever Street. By the early-1930s the Old Robin Hood, as it was now colloquially known, was one of a number of pubs on the same stretch along with numerous beerhouses in the streets between Lever Street, Bridgeman Street and Heywood Park.

The Robin Hood also had a new owner in the early-thirties. After the Beech family left it was bought by the local brewery of Joseph Sharman & Sons. Sharman’s sold out to George Shaw & Son Ltd of Leigh in 1928 and Shaw’s were bought out by the rapidly expanding Walker Cain Ltd of Warrington in 1931. Walker’s undertook a review of their tied estate and it was clear there was some duplication.  The takeover of Shaw’s/Sharman’s and another local firm, William Tong’s, meant that a sizeable number of Bolton pubs were now owned the duopoly of Walker’s and the Daubhill brewery of Magee Marshall. [2]

Two doors down from the Robin Hood the Little John once belonged to William Tong’s. Now the two pubs stood side-by-side selling the same beer. Further down Lever Street, another former competitor, the Nightingale Inn, was also a Walker’s pub. Similar situations existed elsewhere in the town.

Walker’s tied estate was a mixture of beer houses and public houses, the difference being that a public house licence enabled premises to sell wine and spirits as well as beer. A beerhouse could only sell beer.  [3]

License swaps were a regular feature with one public house licence usually worth two beerhouse licenses. [3] Walker’s decided to do a deal with the local licensing magistrates. Either the Robin Hood or the Little John would have to go and it was the Robin Hood’s full licence that ultimately decided its fate. It made no sense to have two outlets within 10 yards of each other so Walker’s decided to transfer the Robin Hood’s public house licence to the Nightingale and shut the Robin Hood.

 In addition, the full licence of the Three Tuns on Chapel Street was transferred to the Vulcan Inn at Deane while that of the Arrowsmiths Arms was transferred to the King William IV on Manchester Road.  To smooth the deal through Walker’s also surrendered the licenses of four other beerhouses: the Masons Arms on Emblem Street, the Greengate Inn on Hammond Street, the Merehall Inn on Lyon Street and the Black Horse in Chew Moor although it is likely that these were poorly-performing outlets that the brewery had no further need of.

In other words, seven pubs closed so four others could serve gin and tonics.

The Old Robin Hood shut its doors for the final time in 1933; the first pub to open on Lever Street was also the first to close. The Nightingale carried on until 1998 when it was sold to the town’s Irish community for use as a social club. It thrives today as the Bolton Irish Centre having been given a new lease of life. The Little John, was reprieved because it didn’t have a full licence but it got a full licence in 1962 and is still open today [4]. The former Robin Hood building was converted into retail premises and was most recently used as a branch of the builders’ merchants, Jewson’s.

[1] St Mark’s website. Retrieved 22 April 2014.
[2] Subsequent takeovers – of Walker’s by Tetley in 1960 and of Magee’s by Greenall Whitley two years earlier – meant that right up to the 1990s most Bolton pubs were owned by either Tetley’s or Greenall’s. 
[3] The last pub in Bolton to have a beer-only licence was the Lodge Bank Tavern which got its full licence in 1980.
[4] Bolton Pubs 1800-2000 by Gordon Readyhough. Published by Neil Richardson (2000).

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