Friday, 12 September 2014

Alfred The Great, 44 Noble Street

The remains of Noble Street, now a fraction of its former size, pictured in April 2012 (copyright  Google Street View). At one time there were three beer houses on this street, which linked Derby Street with Noble Road. Now it is a hotbed of religious activity with the Noble Street Independent Methodist Church clearly visible on the right and the Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall at the bottom of the street.

The area around Derby Street became industrialised in the middle of the 19th century and with it came the beer houses.

Noble Street was built in the early part of the nineteenth century and an 1849 map of Bolton shows the street in much the same shape as it would be until the 1960s. Looking down from Derby Street, there was a long row of terraced houses down the left-hand side of the street. The right-hand side was also developed, though some of those buildings were later demolished to facilitate the development of a number of side streets such as Bristol Street and Claughton Street.

The Derby Ironworks backed on to the houses on the west side of Noble Street. It was built in 1854 under the name Brown, Altham and Co. later becoming Hiton and Brown. It later became a more substantial concern after it was bought by a former employee, William Crumblehulme, but even by the 1860s it still only employed 12 men and eight boys.[1] But the iron works was one of a number of bourgeoning small businesses that began in the area as the nineteenth century progressed.

Atkinson was from Bentham, near Doncaster. Born in 1824 he moved to Bolton as a young man and by 1851 he was living in lodgings on Ridgway Gates while working as a moulder in an iron foundry.  

The 1853 Bolton Directory shows no licensed premises on Noble Street, just the long-standing Pilkington Arms on the corner with Derby Street. But the 1861 Census shows Atkinson working as a beerseller at 44 Noble Street and the 1871 Directory shows three beer-houses, one of which was the Alfred The Great, owned by Joseph Atkinson.

Indeed, it is entirely possible that the enterprising Joseph Atkinson simply converted his living premises in Noble Street into a beer-house, as he was perfectly entitled to do under the 1830 Beer House Act.

Later in the 1860s, Joseph Atkinson added four more pubs. The Masons Arms was in Emblem Street, the next street along from Noble Street. The British Oak and the Craven Heifer were both on Derby Street just a few hundred yards away, while the Nelson Arms was a little further away on Nelson Street.

The 1871 Worrall’s Directory also shows that Atkinson was listed as a brewer. So by the early part of that decade he had built a brewery and a small tied estate of five pubs. Not a huge business empire, but not bad going for a man whose illiteracy prevented him from signing his own marriage certificates with anything other than an ‘X’.

Atkinson married a widow, Alice Slater in 1859. Their son James was born in 1860 and later took over the running of the British Oak. Alice died in 1874. In 1881 and at the age of 55, Joseph married another widow, Jane Boardman.

There were two other beerhouses on Noble Street, as well as a whole host of hostelries on nearby Derby Street and Deane Road. But Atkinson would also have had the Methodists to deal with. In 1872, the Noble Street Independent Methodist church was built just yards away from the Alfred The Great. It was a time when there was a war on drinkers. Pub hours were curbed in 1872 – though they were still able to open for 17 hours a day - and teetotal candidates were put up for election in some council wards, though not with much success.

The Independent Methodist Church, an imposing edifice compared to the tiny dwelling houses of Noble Street, made their message clear from the outset. In a move that suggested they may have had some clout within the council’s highways department, they managed to get the name of the newly-built street running alongside the church as Temperance Street. That Atkinson also brewed his own beer right under their noses would have further irked the teetotal Methodists.

Joseph Atkinson sold his business in 1890 after 30 years in the licensed trade. Both the Alfred The Great and the British Oak ended up in the hands of WT Settle, a small brewery based at the Rose and Crown, just off Turton Street. [2] Joseph died on 6 January 1901 at the age of 74. At the time he was living in a modest house in Cannon Street, not far from Noble Street, but he left an estate worth £23,000 - the equivalent of almost £2.5million in today's money.

Settle’s remained in control of the Alfred The Great until 1951 when the brewery and its seven pubs were sold to Dutton’s of Blackburn and it was as a  Dutton’s house that the pub ended its days.

Although the Alfred The Great was one of a number of Bolton pubs to receive full drinks licences in 1961, it was closed in 1964. Its neighbours on Noble Street, the Noble Street Tavern and the Royal Tiger, were both long gone having closed in 1906 and 1911 respectively.

The building was later demolished along with much of the rest of Noble Street. The street, which at one time ran all the way down to Deane Road, was truncated to less than a quarter its size though it is still there, near the bottom end of Derby Street.

But while the pubs and brewery of Noble Street have all bitten the dust, the Independent Methodist still survives today after 140 years in the same building. So, too, does Temperance Street which is the last street on the right as you go down Noble Street.

A recent picture of Noble Street Independent Methodist Church can be seen here.

An image of Noble Street taken in 1963 can be seen here on the Bolton News website though it doesn’t include the Alfred The Great. Some of the houses were already boarded up ready for demolition. 

[1] Bolton Revisited: The Story Of Crumblehulme’s Iron Works. Retrieved 12 September 2014.

[2] Bolton Pubs 1800-2000, by Gordon Readyhough. Published by Neil Richardson (2000).

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