Friday, 25 April 2014

Trotters/Duck and Firkin/Queens Hotel/Brown Cow, Bradshagate

Trotters Bradshawgate Bolton

The Trotters on Bradshawgate, built in 1966, demolished in 1997 but pictured here in the late-eighties (picture from the Lost Pubs project). The bottom storey was a public bar, the middle storey was a function room and the top storey was the licencee's living quarters.

The tale of the Trotters is one of three separate pub buildings, none of which are still standing.

The Queens Hotel and the Brown Cow stood side-by-side on Bradshawgate for many years. Both pubs had been owned by the Bromley Cross brewery of J Hamers (Brewers) Ltd whose brewery stood behind the Volunteer Inn on Darwen Road since the 1890s. Hamer’s – one of 67 breweries whose beers were affected by an outbreak of arsenic poisoning in 1900 [1] – had sold out to the rapidly-expanding Dutton’s brewery of Blackburn in 1951 with the move adding Hamer’s 40 pubs to Dutton’s tied estate.

The Queens was the older of the two pubs having been built in 1800 and it was first licensed in 1856. The Brown Cow was a beerhouse until 1961 when it received a full licence. Why the likes of both Hamer’s and Dutton’s tolerated two pubs standing right next to each other is unknown although the fact that the only the Queen’s had a full licence might go some way to explaining it. Beerhouses often catered for the working men, while pubs with a full licence might be somewhere you would take your wife as they sold wines and spirits as well as beer. There was also a class element to it with beerhouses seen as very much the inferior of the two and catering for a different class of clientele.

In 1964 Duttons sold out to Whitbread. The company had grown from a small local brewery based around the Blackburn area in the late-nineteenth century to a regional brewery with 190 pubs in 1938 to a sizeable operation with 764 pubs by the time it was taken over. [2]

Whitbread was one of the new national brewers and immediately undertook a review of their expanded tied estate in Lancashire. Whereas Hamer’s and Dutton’s were happy to have two of their pubs next door to each other Whitbread took a different view, especially as both now had full licenses. The Queens was one of the buildings Graeme Shankland has suggested ought to be retained in his 1964 plan for Bolton town centre. Whitbread’s idea was far more radical - why not knock down the two old pubs and build a new, modern pub in its place?

The Queens Hotel and the Brown Cow both closed in 1965 and in 1966 the modern-looking Trotters arose in their place. The pub opened in December of that year. The name came from the nickname for Bolton Wanderers and the Trotters was a popular pre-match watering hole. The main bar was upstairs and held rock discos in the late sixties and early seventies. As Alec Martin says in his comment below, it "was a hang-out for students, hippies and the like....coolest pub in town!"
In the autumn of 1981 the Trotters closed for a refurbishment. The result was something Bolton had never seen before – more like a surreal fantasy than a pub. First of all, the name had gone: the Trotters became the Duck & Firkin. But the interior d├ęcor was something else.

Even now, more than 30 years after the event, it is difficult to read back the inventory without thinking that one has made it all up. Old sewing-machine tables replaced the Formica-topped tables. The carpet had been ripped up and hadn’t been replaced – there were just floorboards complete with sawdust. Agricultural implements had been used to decorate walls that were free of any wallpaper, just bare brickwork. Peep-hole beer barrels were placed around the room. These were empty barrels with small holes drilled into then but with the inside been lit up and illuminated with baudy cartoons, the kind of which might be seen on a seaside postcard. To cap it all there was a large vomiting frog placed over the bar – a stuffed toy expelling what looked like a huge bunch of grapes from its mouth.

The local beer drinkers’ magazine noted that at least real ale was on sale in the shape of Castle Eden Ale from a Whitbread brewery in County Durham [3] but the magazine derided refurbishments such as that seen at the Trotters. 

And it was a concept. 

Numerous pubs in the north-west  received the same treatment and critics dubbed them the ‘Whitbread House of Horrors’. The Blue Boar received a similar treatment in 1983 while the Moses Gate got off with a watered-down version the following year.

As ever, these things didn’t last. By 1988 the vomiting frogs and the baudy beer barrels had been thrown in the skip and the Trotters had its old name back. The following year it was one of three Bolton pubs fighting a cut in its opening hours. Pubs and clubs serving food could apply for an increase in its hours but when police visited the Trotters and two other premises – Maxim’s on Bradshawgate (now known as the Flying Flute) and Maxwell’s Plum – and found no food on sale they opposed their extended hours licenses. [4]

It was one of a number of death knells for the Trotters. Trade had already gravitated towards the other end of Bradshawgate and the Clarence Hotel across the road had already fallen victim to developers by the early-nineties. The Trotters closed down around 1995 and was demolished in August 1997 after being sold to Ian Anthony’s BMW dealership. A motor showroom was built on the site and while it was still open when the image below was taken in 2011 it has now closed and is boarded up. 

[2] The Brewing Industry: A Guide To Historical Resources. Samuel Smith’s Dog & Snipe Brewery on Folds Road had been taken over by Duttons in 1935 while WT Settle’s Rose & Crown Brewery just off Turton Street was swallowed up around the same time as Hamer’s.
[3] What’s Doing, the Greater Manchester Beer Drinkers Monthly Magazine, March 1982 issue.

[4] What’s Doing, July 1989 issue.


  1. the upstairs room at The Trotters wasn't a function room' was the main bar...I went in 7 nights a became a function room when Duck n Firkin opened

  2. and the upstairs bar was a hang-out for students, hippies and the like....coolest pub in town!

  3. Thanks for that, Alec. I've corrected the error.

  4. If I remember rightly, the downstairs room had one of the first pool tables in Bolton...