Sunday, 12 October 2014

Bush Hotel - Star Inn - Star Concert Room, Churchgate

Bush Hotel Churchgate Bolton

The Bush Hotel on Churchgate pictured in 1938. The Bush is in front of Theatre Royal’s canopy as we look.

The music hall was the most popular form of mass entertainment for the working-class public of Britain in the nineteenth century. In his book Popular Leisure And The Music Hall in 19th century Bolton, Robert Poole claims the first music hall in Britain was at the Millstone on Crown Street in Bolton where landlord Thomas Sharples opened a singing and supper room in 1832. [1] This is the same Millstone that exists today and given the size of the pub – twice the size now as it was before it was extended in 2000 - such a supper room can only have been held upstairs.

In 1840 Mr Sharples moved to the Star Inn on Churchgate. Some reports claim this was formerly a pub known as the Cock Inn where cock fights were often held. There is some doubt about this if only because the 1824 Bolton Directory shows the Cock Inn being at number 21 Churchgate. Odd numbered properties on Churchgate were on the opposite side of the road to the Star, leading down to the River Croal, and it is known that there were cock fights behind those properties.

Thomas Sharples built a separate music hall to the rear of the Star that included a separate bagatelle room and the Star Concert Room was up and running in 1840.

The Star went through its fair share of trials and tribulations. Like many music halls and concert room there were a variety of acts, some of which involved wild animals. On 11 February 1844, Matthew Ferguson, the keeper of the menagerie, was killed by Barney, one of the Star’s leopards. It seems that Barney didn’t take too kindly to Ferguson’s liberal use of the whip and attacked the hapless keeper. There was no-one else present at the time.  [2] [3]

In July 1852 three people were killed by a wall which collapsed when the Star’s concert room burned down. At that stage the Star had the reputation of being one of the most popular and attractive concert rooms in the country. Entry was two old pence and four old pence (1p or 2p today) and you got a drink thrown it with that. The Star also contained a museum the wonders of which were famed far and wide – 262 items including paintings, wax figures and a piece of pressed iron from Hick’s foundry on Bridgeman Street.

After the fire the theatre was rebuilt and opened in January 1855 as the Victoria Theatre of Varieties although the Star pub retained its former name.  It was sold, along with the nearby Theatre Royal and the Angel Inn as well as a wholesale brewery in August 1877 for a price of £8450.  

The Star was rebuilt again in 1886 but by 1900 it had reverted back to being a public house and was renamed the Bush Hotel.

From its latter days as the Star the pub was supplied by John Atkinson of the Commission Street brewery, just off Deane Road. Atkinson’s sold out to Boardman’s United Breweries of Manchester who were in turn taken over by Cornbrook’s Brewery.

The Bush ended its days as a Bass Charrington pub. Bass took over Cornbrook’s in 1961 and perhaps it is telling that just two years after Bass took over the Bush and the nearby Derby Hotel both pubs and the Theatre Royal were all closed and demolished to make way for the redevelopment of Churchgate.

The site of the Bush and the Theatre Royal was converted into a supermarket, first known as Lennon’s, then Kwik Save and finally Foodsave, but in 1996 the premises were converted into a pub, The Brasshouse. This in turn became Number 15, a live music venue, and then Club Kiss before closing again in 2008.  In September 2014 it reopened as The Venue, described as an over-25s cabaret bar. [4]

[1] Popular Leisure And The Music Hall in 19th century Bolton, Robert Poole. Published by Lancaster University (1982).
[2] Annals Of Bolton, James Clegg, 1888
[3] Arthur Lloyd’s website. Accessed 12 October 2014. The site contains a more detailed history of the Star as well as other theatres in Bolton.
[4] Bolton News. 10 October 2014. Accessed 12 October 2014.

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