Thursday, 9 April 2015

Music Tavern, Gaskell Court, off Churchgate

The Music Tavern was situated on Gaskell’s Court, off Churchgate, and although it was a pub for only 20 years or so in the nineteenth century it became one of the town’s most notorious beerhouses. It grew out of a lodging house on one of the many courts that led down tiny alleyways off the main streets of Bolton. Practically all have disappeared, though the entrance to Gaskell Court can still be seen next to the Churchgate Inn (formerly the Brass Cat) on Churchgate.

There is no mention of any licensed premises on Gaskell Court prior to the 1851 census when 26-year-old John Roberts was named as a beerseller. He lived there with his 21-year-old wife, Ellen, two children, his mother-in-law, a brother-in-law, a servant and no fewer than 14 lodgers.

By the 1860s the pub was known as the Music Tavern and it was being run by one of Bolton’s most notorious characters – Isabella Dewhurst.

Born Isabella Walker in 1828 at Coverdale in the Yorkshire Dales, by 1841 she and her older sister Margaret were living with the family of a Breightmet coal miner, Jonathan Shaw, in Oakenbottom. Exactly what the link was between the Walker sisters and Shaw isn’t known.

In December 1849, Isabella married Thomas Dewhurst, a Little Lever-born stonemason, and by 1851 the couple were living at 36 Back Turton Street. He was 27, she was 22.

Quite how Isabella Dewhurst got involved in the pub business isn’t clear, but while it was a career that lasted little more than a decade it became very profitable for her. By 1861, she was running a beerhouse at 33 Churchgate, just a few doors up from the Boar’s Head. Although she was described as being married, it is obvious that her relationship with Thomas was at an end. Instead, she was living at the pub with a 33-year-old collier named George Smedhurst along with a servant girl and two female lodgers.

We know that by 1865 Isabella Dewhurst was at the Music Tavern because four years later, in 1869, she testified at the London divorce court in the case of James Hardman, whose father was a well-known manufacturer in Bolton. Hardman had already obtained a decree nisi on the grounds of his wife’s adultery, but Mrs Dewhurst was one of a string of witnesses who claimed that he, too, was an adulterer. She claimed he had stayed for two nights at the Music Tavern in 1865 with a young woman.

In April 1869, Isabella was involved in another court case when she was sued by Edward Gordon over the theft of some money from the pub.  Mr Gordon took over the tenancy of the Music Tavern from Mrs Dewhurst in 1868, but the building was actually owned by Nicholas Heyes, the landlord of the Welcome Traveller on Union Buildings just off Bradshawgate. Despite having no further business at Music Tavern, Mrs Dewhurst regularly stayed there and was accused by Mr Gordon of having stolen £22 from a cashbox at the pub– a considerable sum in those days.

“Isabella Dewhurst Back On The Scene”, yelled the Bolton Evening News [1]. But after claim and counter-claim from both parties the judge, J.S.T. Greene found in favour of Mr Gordon but to the tune of just £7. During the course of the case it transpired that Mrs Dewhurst already owned several properties from which was receiving rents. She said she lived in Blackpool for seven or eight weeks at a time and wasn’t without money. The cashbox in question was her own and contained rents from her properties.

It was obvious that here was a wealthy woman with a relatively short business career behind her. In September 1869 the source of her wealth was again the subject of a court appearance. An Act of Parliament passed that summer gave local magistrates the power to strip beerhouses of their licences. The magistrates in Bolton required every beerhouse in the town to re-apply for their licence and closed down some 50 of them. One was the Music Tavern and Edward Gordon was up before the bench on the first day of the hearing.

As was reported at the time:

“This house was the notorious one formerly kept by Isabella Dewhurst. The present tenant entered on the 14th of July last year, and since that time, it was alleged, the character of the house had been entirely changed. The complaint against the house was that it was a notorious haunt of prostitutes and bad characters generally. The Mayor to the applicant: How long have you lived in the house? – Gordon: Two and a half years. - The Mayor: Then you lived with Isabella Dewhurst? Gordon: Yes, sir. – Police constables Greenhalgh and Fletcher both gave the house a very bad name. There were two girls in the house, ostensibly as servants, but they were in reality prostitutes. They knew as many as four loose girls kept there a few days ago”. [2]

Mr Gordon’s application was thrown out and the Music Tavern lost its licence. The pub closed down the following month, but not before he received at least three more visits from the police, who were keeping their eye on the pub despite its imminent demise. They found Edward Gordon selling sherry and wine which, being a beer house, he was not licensed to do and he was hauled before the court again.

Such was Isabella Dewhurst’s reputation that her name was also used by the authorities to close down the New Inn on St George’s Road. That the beerhouse was “the resort and residence of prostitutes and bad characters generally” didn’t help, but the fact that Mrs Dewhurst had been seen playing cards there was also brought up at the hearing. Mrs Dewhurst’s sister, Margaret, was the wife of the licensee, James Mason.

Isabella Dewhurst went to live in a property she owned in Coe Street, a very basic weavers cottage off Bridgeman Street in a poor part of Bolton.  By 1871, she was joined by her niece, Isabella Banks Walker, the daughter of her sister, Margaret. Isabella Banks Walker married a local clerk, Alfred Aldred in 1873 and the couple went to live at another of Mrs Dewhurst’s properties, in Silverwell Street.  It was there that Isabella Dewhurst died on 16 July 1876.

Her estate, as proved by Alfred Aldred and his brother, a local accountant named Bold Aldred, came to £1500 – a huge amount of money in those days. But if Isabella Dewhurst’s gains – ill-gotten or otherwise – were unable to get her beyond a weaver’s cottage on Coe Street, the beneficiary of her will, her niece Isabella Aldred, made wise use of her bequest.

In 1878, the Aldreds bought 66 acres of farmland at Old Clough Farm in Worsley. Within a decade they had sold up and emigrated to New Zealand where they spent the rest of their lives. Alfred Aldred died in 1930, Isabella Aldred died in Auckland in 1937. 

[1] BEN, 10 April 1869.
[2] BEN, 2 September 1869.

Churchgate pictured in September 2014 (copyright Google Street View). The Brass Cat is the white building in the picture and immediately to its left is the entrance to Gaskell House. In the nineteenth century it led to Gaskell Court, home to the Music Tavern. 

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