Saturday, 13 September 2014

Crown and Cushion, Empress, Spencer's, Bar Retro, Mealhouse Lane

Crown and Cushion Mealhouse Lane Bolton

The Crown and Cushion pictured around 1996. The original pub was on the ground floor, where the Yorkshire Building Society is situated in this image.

The Crown and Cushion was one of the oldest pubs in Bolton. However, the building that housed the pub on Mealhouse Lane only dates from the early part of the 20th century.

The Crown and Cushion appears on the list of Great Bolton Alehouses for 1779 when the licensee was John Mawdsley [1]. In those days it was just two dwelling houses at 6 and 7 the Acres – as Mealhouse Lane was then known - joined together “now occupied and used as a public house known by the sign of the Crown and Cushion”.

Mawdsley appears to have left the Crown and Cushion when it was sold in 1781. Landlords came and went according to directories of the early nineteenth century: Richard Critchley in 1818, James Crompton in 1821, James Nicholson in 1824, Robert Crompton in 1836, Ellis Howarth in 1843 and John Thompson in 1853. [2].

The original Crown and Cushion building can be seen on the right-hand side of this picture of Bennett's boarding house. The image was taken in September 1900 shortly before the row was pulled down.

Skip a few years to 1888 and the landlord was one Bethel Robinson. Born in Wheelton in 1862 he had something else to occupy himself with – he was a professional footballer. On 8 September 1888 Robinson made a little history of his own when he was part of the Bolton Wanderers team that played Derby County on the opening day of fixtures in the new Football League. As a defender he appears to have had a busy afternoon as the Wanderers were beaten 6-3. He went on to play 18 league games for Bolton that season and was the subject of a curious loan agreement with West Bromwich Albion for whom he spent three seasons playing only in FA Cup games.

Tong's brewery crest

The original Crown and Cushion was demolished in 1900 and was replaced by owners William Tong's by the imposing building that still stands today. This new Crown and Cushion was much bigger than the original pub and overhead was the Empress Hall which hosted balls and dinner dances as well as music concerts until it became a club in the sixties. [1]

Another professional footballer who ran the Crown and Cushion was Albert Shepherd. Born in Great Lever in 1885, Shepherd scored 90 goals in 120 games for Bolton before being transferred to Newcastle United for a fee of £800 in 1908. He was the first player in Newcastle’s history to score more than 30 goals in a season and won the league title and the FA Cup with the team. He later joined Bradford City and became a pub landlord when his career ended. He was landlord of the Crown and Cushion for a number of years and died at the pub on 8 November 1929 at the age of just 44.

The Crown and Cushion was a Tong’s pub until they were taken over by Walker’s in 1923. Indeed, Tong’s had an office in the building for many years and their logo can still be seen. 

The Crown and Cushion closed for the first time in 1971. The ground floor pub was converted into shops. Tracks record shop was there for a number of years in the seventies and eighties.

The Empress Ballroom eventually became the Club Empress but was destroyed by fire in February 1976 amidst of rumours of unpaid protection money by the club’s owners. An image of the charred remains of the club’s interior can be seen here.  

The Bolton News website shows photographs of the Empress in happier times:  in the 1930s , at the Miss Bolton contest in 1966.  plus this undated picture of Hal Bentham and his Scarlet Syncopations preparing for a Tango number. 

In 1978 the Empress reopened as Spencer’s Club and Bar opened by former World Snooker champion John Spencer, a native of Radcliffe. Spencer’s was quite popular, particularly at the weekend. It was trendy and it did well – at least for a while. But Spencer sold out and in 1988 the bar was renamed the Crown and Cushion.

If this final reincarnation of the Crown and Cushion is to be remembered it is for two things. First of all it became a thriving live music venue and a number of bands from the alternative end of the musical spectrum played there, either while their careers were on the way up or when they were on the way back down.

The Charlatans played there in February 1990 as shown by this page from their fanzine at the time. The Verve were there in November 1991, Mike Peters, formerly of The Alarm played in October 1994 and there were also appearances by Primal Scream, Frank Sidebottom, New Fast Automatic Daffodils, UK Subs, The Damned, Planet Gong and Hugh Cornwell, amongst many others.

Unfortunately, the other aspect the Crown and Cushion will be remembered for is just how rough it was at weekends when alternative bands were replaced by more mainstream punters. The pub’s nickname of 'the Crown and Flicknife' wasn’t entirely unwarranted and many a brawl ended with its participants tumbling down the stairs.

Local beer drinkers also noted that real ale had made an appearance for the first time since the old Crown and Cushion closed. [2] However, that didn’t last long. [3]

A name change to Bar Retro failed to drag in the punters. Spencers and the Crown and Cushion were good stopping off points from Deansgate and Bradshawgate to Ritzy or Ikon. But as more and more town centre pubs got late licences the punters stopped making the detour and the pub was finished. It closed around 2002. It was for sale for a number of years and is currently empty.

[1] Pubs Of Bolton Town Centre 1900-1986, by Gordon Readyhough. Published by Neil Richardson (1986).
[2] Crown and Cushion sells Marstons Pedigree. What's Doing, the Greater Manchester beer drinker's monthly magazine. March 1989 issue.
[3] Crown and Cushion dispenses with real ale. What's Doing. November 1990 issue. 

This image shows the Crown and Cushion in 2012. The pub is signed Bar Retro under which it operated in its final days. This image, along with the images of the Tong’s brewery window and the William Tong crest are copyright Alan Murray-Rust and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

1 comment:

  1. Hi LostPubs,

    I've contact you on Twitter too regarding a story we're following up on long closed Empress Nightclub, Mealhouse Lane.

    If you could contact me when you see this message, on my email address or twitter, that would be great thank you.
    @danielcave_ (TWITTER)

    Many thanks,

    Dan Cave