The King William IV – the ‘King Bill’ as it was always known – was situated on Manchester Road, opposite Burnden Park. The pub dated back to the 1830s when a man named James Lawton opened a beerhouse that he named after the reigning monarch of the day, King William IV, who was on the throne from 1830 to 1837.
William Lawton was born in 1810. He married Sarah Allen in 1834 and the couple had two daughters: Alice, born in 1844, and Amelia, born in 1850. In 1841, the Lawtons were shopkeepers on Coupe Brow which was the name for the incline towards the top of Lever Street. They moved to the King William IV following the death of William's father James in 1846 and the pub was doing well enough by 1851 for them to employ a live-in servant.
The pub suffered a suspension of its licence in 1869. The government had just passed a new act of Parliament that gave local magistrates the power to take away a beer house’s licence. All the beerhouses in Bolton came in front of the authorities in the late summer of 1869. The police objected to the renewal of the King Bill’s licence saying it had been fined three times and that the pub was “very troublesome”. Fines were usually levied for opening during prohibited hours – most likely on a Sunday morning when people were expected to be in church rather than the pub – but the police also objected to the pub’s music saloon. There was almost a war at the time on what was deemed as low culture with a number of pubs offering live music closed down by the police for what was deemed as unworthy cultural offerings.
The King Bill was closed from the beginning of September to the end of October 1869 when an appeal was heard. But right at the start of the hearing, the representative for the council, Mr Grimshaw, told the court that he had been instructed not to oppose the granting of a licence and the King Bill was back in business. William Lawson even received costs out of the county treasury. No reason was given for the withdrawal of the justices’ objections. A number of other pubs were also handed back their licenses at the same hearing.
The 1871 Census return shows the 60-year-old William still at the pub along with his wife Sarah, his two daughters and a grand-daughter, Blanche, born to Amelia in 1870. Oddly, Amelia had the child baptised twice, on both occasions at the nearby St Mark’s church, once in September 1870 shortly after her birth, and again in 1873.
William Lawton died on 18 September 1882. He was 72. The pub business had been good to him and his estate of just under £2000. His wife Sarah died on 5 March 1886.
Normally, the pub would have been sold, but by then it was a livelihood – as well as a home - for the Lawton sisters. Alice and Amelia took over the running of the King Bill and it turned out to be a fortuitous move. The arrival across the road of Bolton Wanderers, whose Burnden Park ground was completed in 1895 cannot have been bad for business. By that time, the King Bill looked pretty much as it does today but there were no other buildings on that side of Manchester Road from the railway bridge a few yards further up the main road down to Luton Street a hundred yards or so away. It remained like that until the early-twenties.
Amelia Lawton married Walter Downs, a chemist originally from Ipswich, in 1885 and subsequent directories showed the pub as being run by ‘Lawton & Downs, beer retailers’ which presumably refers to the two sisters. But Walter is also described as a publican when Madeline Downs, one of the two daughters he and Amelia had, was married in 1908. However, by the time of the 1911 Census only Alice and Amelia and Amelia’s youngest daughter, Gladys Downs, then aged 24, were living at the pub. There was no sign of Walter.
But the sisters were getting on in years. Alice was 67 and Amelia 61 by 1911. Had either of the sisters a son then they could usually be relied upon to take over the business. The sisters were unmarried when their father died so the succession was relatively simple, but Alice was a spinster and childless while Amelia had three daughters. Two of the girls were married and one was about to be. The pub was sold to local brewers William Tong’s in 1915 and the two sisters retired to 157 Ivy Road where they spent the rest of their days. Gladys Lawton married Aaron Royle, a draper, that same year and the newly-weds lived at first with the two elderly sisters.
Alice died in 1924 at the age of 80. Amelia died the following year aged 76. She left an estate worth £4686, the equivalent of a quarter of a million pounds today.
The King Bill was upgraded from a beerhouse to a fully-licensed public house in 1934 after Walker Cain, who had taken over Tong’s brewery in 1923 and now owned the King Bill, applied to have the licence of the Arrowsmith’s Arms transferred to the pub. William Lawton described himself as a ‘beer and wine seller’ on the 1881 Census return so the transfer of the Arrowsmith’s licence allowed the pub to sell spirits, as well.
Tetley Walker took ownership of the King Bill after the merger of Leeds-based Tetley with Warrington-based Walker in 1961.
Just as the presence of Bolton Wanderers would have been good for trade then the club’s move to Horwich in 1997 must have hit takings. The pub was always busy on home matchdays even when attendances were down to just a few thousand.
The move eventually led to the closure of every single pre-match watering hole close to Burnden Park. The King William IV closed in 1999. It had already been sold to the Mistry family who moved their Minerva Print business to the premises.