Monday, 2 June 2014

Wheatsheaf/Serendipity's, Great Moor Street

Wheatsheaf Hotel Newport Street Bolton

Newport Street with Great Moor Street running across pictured in the late-nineteenth century. The 1835 version of the Wheatsheaf can be seen on the left-hand corner.

The story of the Wheatsheaf Hotel is one of three buildings in two locations on opposite sides of the town centre.

While many people will associate the Wheatsheaf with the round building on the corner of Great Moor Street and Newport Street, the original Wheatsheaf stood on Bank Street – ‘Windy Bank’ as it was known to Bolton residents at the end of the 18th century.

In his book Pubs Of Bolton 1800-2000, [1] Gordon Readyhough claims the original Wheatsheaf opened in 1810. However, the list of Bolton pubs from 1778 shows that there was already a Wheatsheaf Hotel with Thomas Haslam as landlord.

The pub stood close to the entrance to the Unitarian chapel on Bank Street and the chapel’s bicentenary book from 1896 makes reference to the Wheatsheaf and its proximity to the chapel’s Sunday School, which was built in 1796:

“It [the Sunday School] stood between the passage to the old chapel and the old Wheatsheaf Inn. On the removal of this inn, with the inn-keeper and the name of the hotel, to the new Wheatsheaf in Newport Street, the school building, along with the inn, was pulled down, and shops built on the site.”

In those days Bank Street was a narrow passage, in fact it was “so very narrow that it was necessary for foot-passengers to step into some shop or doorway to avoid being crushed by a passing cart.” [Sayings and Doings of Parson Folds. Bolton : Geo. Winterburn, 1879, page 34]

In 1818 the landlord of the Wheatsheaf was Samuel Henry and he appears to have run the pub until shortly before it was removed to Newport Street in 1835. In the 1836 Bolton Directory [2], John Platt was the landlord of the Wheatsheaf while Samuel Henry was running a beerhouse on Bridgeman Place. [3] Samuel Henry’s departure may well have been the catalyst for the removal of the Wheatsheaf to its new location.

The Wheatsheaf was sold by auction for £8400 on 3 April 1878 [4] and was run in the 1880s and 1890s by George Walker, the proprietor of the Bolton Brewery Company Ltd. The premises were much larger than the building that still stands today and was run as a hotel, as this old photograph from the late-fifties shows. Here's another shot of the old building, this time from the Bolton Evening News taken in 1961 shortly before it was demolished.

Indeed, there appears to have been a Wheatsheaf Hotel Company that was taken over by the local brewery of Magee, Marshall and Co around 1909. Magee’s ran the pub until they were taken over by Greenall Whitley in 1958.

A few years later, Greenall’s took the decision to knock down the 1835 building and rebuild the Wheatsheaf in a modern style – complete with revolving doors. The new building was set further back than the old Wheatsheaf, but the pub had new neighbours: the western side of Newport Street had been demolished and rebuilt in 1957 and when the new Wheatsheaf was completed in 1962 it was more in keeping with the buildings that had sprung up around it. A new row of shops was later built next to the pub– including a branch of Hanbury’s and Shaw’s outfitters – so that corner of Newport Street and Great Moor Street had architecture which, while perhaps not entirely aesthetically pleasing, at least complemented each other and were much more of their time. Here's a photo from 1963.

The new Wheatsheaf had a much smaller bar area than the old building, though it did have an upstairs function room, used for weddings, engagements and the like, and also heavy rock discos for a few months around 1984.

In 1986, Greenall’s decided to refurbish the Wheatsheaf. The result was £100,000 spent on an “exciting and cosmopolitan” town centre venue known as Serendipity’s. The idea was that instead of being just a pub, Serendipity’s would also serve tea and coffee for passing shoppers.[5]

But for “exciting and cosmopolitan” read ‘one last throw of the dice’. Some of the rougher pubs were at that end of town and with the clientele to match. Serendipity’s did well at first, but towards the end it had become a pub to avoid. It closed around 1994 and after lying empty for a few years it was converted into a branch of cut-price retailer Home Bargains, which opened in 1997.

The former Wheatsheaf, pictured in April 2012. Copyright Google Street View.

[1] Pubs Of Bolton 1800-2000, by Gordon Readyhough. Published by Neil Richardson (2000).
[2] Four Bolton Directories: 1821/2, 1836, 1843, 1853. Reprinted by Neil Richardson (1982).
[3] The beerhouse on Bridgeman Place that Samuel Henry was running may well have become the Bradford, though not the pub of the same name a few hundred yards from Bridgeman Place, on Bradford Street. This one was where the petrol station now stands.
[4] Annals Of Bolton, James Clegg, 1888
[5] Bolton Beer Break, the magazine of the Bolton branch of the Campaign for Real Ale. Summer 1986 issue.

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