Sunday, 16 November 2014

Commercial Hotel, Victoria Square

Commercial Hotel Victoria Square Bolton

A splendidly atmospheric view of the Commercial Hotel on what looks like a bleak autumn day but which was actually taken on 21 June 1954. Image from the Bolton Library and Museums collection. Copyright Bolton Council. 

Of all the pub closures in Bolton few can have been as controversial at that of the Commercial Hotel, which stood on the corner of the Victoria Square. The pub closed in April1972 after a bitter battle which even reached the debating chamber at the Town Hall.

That debate and the pub's subsequent demolition marked the end of a local landmark that began life in 1809 as the Commercial Tavern. In those days, what is now Victoria Square was then the New Market Place and the Commercial was popular with stallholders and customers from the nearby market.

The Gatty family, William and Ann, were in charge during the early years. William Gatty was listed as the innkeeper from 1814 to 1817 but the 1818 Pigot’s Directory shows Ann Gatty as the proprietor.

The Gattys were succeeded by the Padburys with Thomas Padbury listed as the proprietor in 1821 and he was succeeded by Samuel Padbury, presumably his son.

The Padburys made their mark and it could be argued that the Commercial’s elevation to one the position of one of the principle inns in the town was largely due to their efforts. The hotel was attractive enough to host a regular season of balls and assemblies in the 1820s, at its Assembly Rooms.[1]

The Commercial also hosted a subscription library, which could be regarded as one of the predecessors to Bolton Library, with newsrooms for the manufacturers, professional people and gentry of Bolton. While this was by no means the first reading library in the town, in 1824 it became the highly respectable, reforming Exchange Newsroom and was regarded as the natural resort of gentlemen of all political colours. [1]

The Exchange Newsroom outgrew the pub and moved to a building on the other side of what was then the Market Square – now the Town Hall Square. The Exchange Newsroom became Bolton Library in 1853. Its former premises still stand as a betting shop having been a branch of the Nationwide Building Society until 2009.

The 1841 Census shows John Walmsley as the proprietor at the Commercial but he moved on and business began an association with the Brandwood family that lasted for over 30 years.

John Brandwood was the licensee and his standing as the landlord of one of the principal inns in the town meant that he was able to move in high circles.

For many years Brandwood was the president of the Bolton Licensed Victuallers Association. He became a local councillor: a Liberal representing Derby Ward from 1858 to 1867. One election, in 1861, saw two seats up for grabs and was unusual in that all four candidates represented the Liberal Party. Brandwood and Councillor Constantine were elected but it is worth pointing out that in brief note to the election in his book Annals Of Bolton, John Clegg noted that the two defeated candidates represented “the teetotal interest”.

However, Brandwood must have fallen out with the Liberal Party. In the 1867 election he stood as an Independent candidate and was defeated by two Liberals. He later jumped to the Conservatives but was defeated  in 1873 when he came fourth out of four candidates in Exchange ward, two Liberals defeating the two Tories. [2]

Brandwood died in February 1878 in his 66th year. His name lives on in Brandwood Street and its eponymous primary school situated off Willows Lane. The Commercial was taken over by Brandwood’s daughter, Sarah Ann and her husband, John Priestley, who married just a few months after John Brandwood’s death. Priestley also became a councillor spending three years representing the Conservatives from 1879 to 1882 in the same Exchange ward that had rejected his father-in-law just a few years earlier.

Sadly, Priestley died a young man. The former chemist turned licensed victualler died at the Commercial Hotel in June 1885 at the age of 43.

The Commercial was eventually taken over by Magee Marshall and by the early seventies it was in the hands of Greenall Whitley, who had bought out Magee’s in 1958.

Greenall’s put the Commercial up for sale in 1971. Even at that stage pubs in the area close to the Town Hall were finding it difficult to attract custom. The nearby Crown and Cushion was closed around the same time the Commerical was put up for sale. Would the decision in 1969 to close off Newport Street, Oxford Street and Victoria Square mark the end for an already struggling pub? Perhaps it made no difference. 

But the decision to sell the Commercial caused an outcry in the town. It was bought by Mothercare who proposed to demolish the pub and replace it with a retail store. The issue was brought up in the Town Hall where Councillor Hanscomb told those opposing the plans not to be “silly and sentimental”. As is often the case, the Commercial would have thrived had those in opposition to its closure chosen to patronise the pub.

The Commerical closed in April 1972. It was demolished in November of that year and in August 1974, Mothercare opened on the site. The retailer remained there for 36 years until 2010 when it closed the store and sold the site to Barclay’s Bank. [3]

[1] Leisure In Bolton, 1750-1900, Robert Poole, 1982
[2] Annals Of Bolton, John Clegg, 1888
[3] Bolton News, 16 December 2009. Retrieved 16 November 2014.

Due to its proximity to the Town Hall, the Commercial was one of the most-photographed pubs  in the town. Here are a few images from the Bolton Library and Museum Services collection. All images are copyright Bolton Council. 

Commercial Hotel Victoria Square Bolton


Commerical Hotel Victoria Square Bolton
A night-time shot from 1958

Commercial Hotel Victoria Square Bolton

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