Wednesday, 6 January 2016

British Oak, 37 Union Street, Bolton

The British Oak was situated at 37 Union Street, Bolton, a street that ran parallel with Kay Street. The pub was founded in the late-1860s by Sophia Nicholson. The area around Little Bolton was a tough area of slums and beerhouses. Licensees came and went but the fact Sophia survived for over a decade as an unmarried pub landlady in one of the roughest parts of the town points to a formidable woman.

Sophia Nicholson was born in 1829. Her mother died when she was a small child and the 1841 census has her living in Bold Street in the Mill Hill area of town (not to be confused with the Bold Street that still exists just off Newport Street). She lived with her father, John Nicholson,  and six siblings. John, along with three of Sophia’s elder brothers and one of her sisters, worked in the textile trade. The men worked as weavers, the women in the area were spinners. By 1851, Sophia lived with her brother Thomas and sister Nancy in Back Bare Street where all three worked as cotton weavers.

But by 1861 Sophia, now aged 32, was in the pub trade. She ran a beerhouse in Lark Street and by the end of that decade she had an interest in at least two other pubs. The 1869 licensing round renewed the licences of two un-named beerhouses where Sophia was the landlady: a pub in Lark Street along with one in Union Street. Neither were named though this wasn't unusual.The 1869 Directory had her down as the landlady of the Middleton Arms on Charles Street. 

The 1869 round was the first where beerhouses had to re-apply for their licences. The police were looking for any excuse to reduce the number of drinking establishments and it was a testament to Sophia Nicholson’s running of her two pubs that both applications were nodded through without objection.

The un-named beerhouse on Union Street became the British Oak. The 1871 Census has Sophia Nicholson at 37 Union Street – the address of the British Oak – along with her sister Nancy and two of her brothers.

But a few years later Sophia’s life was to change and she was able to give up the licensed trade. In August 1874, at the age of 45, she married John Knowles, a man whose profession was given as a ‘gentleman’. Although his wedding certificate gave the British Oak as his address he sounded as though he was a man of means. It signified the end of life as a landlady of two beerhouses for Sophia. She handed over the running of the two pubs to her sister Nancy. By 1881 Sophia and John Knowles was running a farm at Dry Hill, Breightmet. By 1891 she was a widow living alone at Montserrat Cottage on Chorley Old Road.

Nancy had given way to John Greenhalgh at the British Oak by 1895 and in 1905 the pub’s final landlord was Joseph Sheard. By then it was owned by local brewer Joseph Sharman’s.

The British Oak closed in 1905 and the building was demolished in the 1930s. Nothing remains of Union Street which ran from Folds Road to Turton Street. Some readers may recall the row of houses that ran from the junction of Turton Street down the side of Kay Street. The British Oak was on the opposite side of the road to these houses.They were demolished in 1987 for the St Peters Way extension. The August 2015 view (copyright Google Street View) of that site is below.

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