The area between Deansgate and the River Croal in the centre of Bolton was once a thriving community. The early settlers to the town were attracted by the river as a source of water and as the town developed streets were built leading down to the Croal: Central Street, Velvet Walks, Queen Street, King Street and Grime Street, to name but a few. But this was often the poorest part of Bolton – certainly as the nineteenth century went on.
King Street contained three pubs in 1853 one of which would have been the Masons Arms. It doesn’t appear on the list of named Great Bolton beerhouses nor on the 1848 Directory, the first in Bolton to name beerhouses rather than just their licensees.
By 1861, James Phoeber was the landlord. He was a carder in Joiners Square in 1851 but he moved into the pub trade and was to spend over 15 years at the Masons.
In 1869 the Masons had to re-apply for its licence for the first time. From 1830 onwards a beerhouse opened simply by paying 2 guineas to the council and there were no annual renewals unless the licensed premises sold wines and spirits as well as beer. But from 1869 beerhouses were subject to annual licencing applications and with a growing temperance movement with members in high places there was pressure on beerhouses to be closed down.
Fortunately for James Phoeber he was able call on a local cotton spinner, Robert Walker, who owned the nearby St Helena Mill. Phoeber had formerly worked for Walker who testified to his good character having known both Phoeber and his wife Ann for over 40 years. Walker said that while he did not approve of beerhouses he knew that Phoeber would not allow his employees to drink in the pub. It sounds unlikely, but it got the Masons Arms through the licensing application. 
A few weeks later, James Phoeber put an advertisement in the Bolton Evening News asking for the owner of some lost property to return to the pub to reclaim it. Pub landlords have found a whole manner of items at the end of a boozy night - coats, handbags, wallets and umbrellas – but James Phoeber was faced with a completely different problem.
“Found. A donkey. Owner may have it on paying expenses. Apply, Masons Arms, King Street.”
Bolton Evening News, 1 November 1869
It seems one of his drinkers had left the poor animal behind after a night out and James Phoeber had to feed it while its owner was found.
The Phoebers went back to spinning during the 1870s. By 1881 they were living in lodgings on White Lion Brow in between Deansgate and Chorley Street and James was working once again as a carder, presumably back at Walker’s.
In 1904 Thomas Rice was the licensee, but he faced a situation where the pub was under threat because of the actions of a previous landlord. The licensing magistrates proposed to close the Masons on account of the pub being “badly conducted and the resort of bad characters”. But Rice argued that a conviction against the pub in November 1903 was down to a previous licensee who had only run the pub on a temporary basis and who had allowed these bad characters to go into the house too freely. Remarkably, despite being in one of Bolton’s roughest neighbourhoods, there had been no convictions against the pub since 1867 – James Phoeber’s time. Before and since that recent conviction the pub had been excellently run. 
Thomas Rice was fortunate on that occasion, but the Masons only lasted for a little more than two more years. In late-1906 it was closed down and referred to the Licensing Compensation Authority, a council scheme set up to buy and delicence pubs it regarded as surplus to requirements. The Masons had been owned by the Cornbook Brewery Company of Manchester since 1899 having been in the hands of Boardman United Breweries following their takeover of the Bolton brewing company Atkinson’s in 1895. The Authority awarded Cornbrooks £400 for the Mason’s and the brewery took the cash. 
The premises became a boarding house for a number of years after its closure as a pub. It was demolished in the 1940s and the land has never been built on. It is currently used as Blundell Street car park.
 Bolton Evening News, 16 September 1869. St Helena Mill was the oldest in Bolton, built c1780. It still stands after a recent refurbishment. More on St Helena mill here.
 Manchester Courier, 14 April 1904
 Manchester Courier, 11 January 1907.
Blundell Street car park pictured in August 2015 (copyright Google Street View). King Street can just be seen at the bottom of the picture, Blundell Street can be seen at the right hand side heading down to St Edmunds Street (formerly Grime Street). St Edmunds church and the flats on Marsden Road can be seen in the distance.