Friday, 2 May 2014

British Oak, 212 Derby Street

The view from the truncated end of Cricket Street towards Derby Street in May 2014 (Copyright Lost Pubs Of Bolton 2014). The British Oak was situated on the corner of Bamber Street which, while it was opposite Cricket Street, wasn’t directly so. The pub was situated in the gap between the two houses on the other side of Derby Street. The area behind the railing on the left – where the ‘Units To Let’ sign can be seen – was once the site of the Crown Hotel.

The Derby Street area of Bolton began to be populated towards the end of the 18th century. However, the rate of population was quite slow so by the middle of the 19th century there were no buildings on the left-hand side of the road going out of town from Rothwell Street to High Street. Noble Street was already in existence along with the Derby Mill and the Salt Houses close to Emmanuel Church.

Fast forward a little more than 40 years to 1891 and the whole of the area was built up. Noble Street and the Derby Mill were still there but from Rothwell Street to High Street there were buildings on either side of the road.

Inevitably, as the working classes headed out of the crowded centre of Bolton, public houses sprang up. The 1853 Bolton Directory shows four pubs and nine beerhouses on Derby Street [1] and it is highly likely that one of those beerhouses was the British Oak.

The pub was situated on the right-hand side of Derby Street at number 212, opposite what is now the local branch of the Natwest Bank. Gordon Readyhough tells us that by the 1870s the British Oak was owned by one Joseph Atkinson, who also had a pub called the Alfred The Great on Noble Street, though the licensee in 1871 was one John  Lowe. Atkinson appears to have sold out to WT Settle of the Rose & Crown Brewery on Cross Street, situated just off Turton Street in a transaction that took place in the late-nineteenth or early-twentieth century. [2]

In the meantime the operation at another beerhouse, directly opposite the British Oak, had grown to something more substantial. David Magee (or McGee as he was born) had taken over the Crown Hotel and, as he had brewed at the Good Samaritan brewhouse a little further down Derby Street, he bought some land behind the pub and built what was eventually a brewery capable of supplying over 300 outlets – the Crown Brewery of Magee, Marshall and Co. The British Oak must have felt like the tank on Magee’s lawn.

Despite being owned by Settle’s until 1951 there is evidence that the British Oak was a brewpub itself. Joseph Atkinson was a brewer by trade and it is highly likely that he brewed for the British Oak as well as the Alfred The Great. Settle’s, on the other hand, was a very small operation and the 1932 Bolton Directory listed the British Oak as one of Bolton’s seven remaining brewpubs.

World War Two would have ended the British Oak’s time as a brewpub – assuming it was still in operation by 1939 – as the brewing industry was hit by a chronic shortage of raw materials.

In 1951 Settle’s sold out to Dutton’s brewery of Blackburn. In 1961 the British Oak received a full licence which enabled it to sell wine and spirits as well as beer, but the pub closed a few years later and was subsequently demolished as part of the general clearance of old housing in the area.

[1] Four Bolton Directories: 1821/2, 1836, 1843, 1853. Reprinted by Neil Richardson (1982).
[2] Pubs Of Bolton 1800-2000, by Gordon Readyhough. Published by Neil Richardson (2000).

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