|Site of the Royal Oak, Kay Street in June 2018. Photo from Google Street View.|
The Royal Oak was situated on Kay Street at the junction with Haigh Street not far from the site of what was later the Britannia Service Station.
The pub opened around the middle of the nineteenth century and in November 1869 the licence was taken on by Isaac Halliwell, a man who was later to gain notoriety for his part in the so-called Dilke Riot.
Born in 1836, Halliwell was the son of Ellen Halliwell and her husband Henry, a labourer in an iron foundry, probably Benjamin Hick's on Crook Street. The family lived nearby in Horrocks Court, roughly behind what is now the Achari restaurant (formerly the Painters Arms). Isaac followed his father into employment as a foundryman and by 1861 he was living on Croasdale Street which linked Kay Street with Waterloo Street. He was most likely employed at the nearby Globe Iron Works. In 1869, Halliwell succeeded James Clough at the Royal Oak, but it was the events of 1871 and 1872 that saw him make his name.
Sir Charles Dilke was a charismatic Liberal politician who was very much on the left of his party. In 1868, at the age of 25, he won the Chelsea seat at the general election but his views were somewhat at odds with his party's leadership. In 1870 he made a speech in Newcastle calling for the abolition of the Monarchy and for Britain to become a republic. There was a public outcry leading to Dilke recanting his remarks and over the next few years his views slowly began to reflect those of the rest of the Liberal Party.
In November 1871, Dilke was due to make a speech at the 900-capacity Bolton Temperance Hall situated on the corner of St George's Street and Higher Bridge Street. Days before the speech a poster appeared on Bolton's streets that announced the intention to de-platform Dilke. It read:
“To the Loyal People of Bolton – Sir Charles Dilke, the Republican, is coming to address you on Thursday night. Let it be seen that you are true born Englishmen and refuse a hearing to any man who preaches sedition and treason.”
The poster went on to accuse Dilke of attacking Queen Victoria “in an unmanly and odious way” and it called for the people of Bolton to put aside their political differences and to rally in support of the throne.
On the night of the meeting, 30 November 1871, a crowd estimated at 1500 people congregated outside the Temperance Hall and before long the mood turned ugly. One agitator, a local chemist named Thomas Teal, was seen picking up stones on Bridge Street. A prominent Liberal from Halliwell, John Atkins, who was also the landlord of the Swiss Hotel, later claimed in court to have taken two large stones from Teal's pocket. The rocks were distributed by Teal among the demonstrators who then proceeded to pelt the Temperance Hall. An estimated 158 windows were broken in the hall, which had only been rebuilt in 1869.
Inside the hall, Dilke – who was there to speak not about the Monarchy but on another of his interests, the reform of the House of Commons – was unable to take to the stage. As stones were thrown from outside, glass shattered all around and when there was no glass left to be broken, stones were flung through the empty window frames. One hit a 56-year-old labourer named William Schofield on the head and he died a week later having suffered a fractured skull.
Although the Liberals called for assistance from the police only half a dozen members of the local constabulary were on hand. Seventeen people were arrested, including Isaac Halliwell who had been seen entering the hall along with the rest of a mob of around 200 demonstrators.
Two months later, on 1 February 1872, the defendants appeared in court accused of rioting, damage to property and the manslaughter of William Schofield. The pro-Liberal Bolton Evening News pulled no punches in its reporting of the case. “Prosecution Of The Tory Rioters” was the headline in its edition of 1 February 1872.
One of the defendants, Major Thomas Hesketh, was a Justice of the Peace. He was excused from sitting in court with the rest of the accused and was given a place on the bench. The prosecution then pointed out that one of magistrates at the hearing, W.H Wright, had also been present at the demonstration and had stormed the building with the protestors. He was alleged to have shouted to those present at the meeting: “You brought it upon yourselves; you deserve all you are getting.” The chairman of the bench, the Mayor Of Bolton, William Cannon – a muslin manufacturer whose firm Cannon Brothers built Stanley Mill on Cannon Street – stated that Mr Wright had denied making the remarks but despite what appeared to be a clear conflict of interest he was allowed to remain on the bench for the hearing.
The magistrates decided that the case would have to be heard at Manchester Assizes which met every few months to deal with offences too serious for the local courts.
By the time the case was heard, in March 1872, charges had been dropped against nine of the 17 defendants but Isaac Halliwell was amongst the eight who stood trial. One of the nine let off was Major Thomas Hesketh. This was despite witnesses telling magistrates that he was one of the 200 people who broke down the east door to the Temperance Hall. He is alleged to have shouted: “Follow me lads, break this door. We have a right to be in and we will get in!” and he was given three cheers by the crowd for his efforts. The Heskeths came from humble stock – his father was a mere grocer when Thomas was born in 1838 – but the family had become textile manufacturers in the town and were now very well connected. The major was the eldest son of Thomas Manley Hesketh, the founder of T.M. Hesketh & Sons Ltd whose mill was a large employer at Astley Bridge. Major Hesketh was later chairman of the Astley Bridge Local Board and one of his brothers, George Hesketh, was Conservative Mayor Of Bolton for 1905-06.
Almost 40 witnesses were called over the two-day trial all of whom stated that there had been a riot. After the evidence had been heard the judge then addressed the jury and told them to put aside any political feelings they had over the issue. He then sent them to consider their verdict. At 3.40pm on 19 March 1872 the jury retired; however, after little over an hour they sent a note to the judge saying they could not agree and asked to be discharged. The judge refused and insisted they continue their deliberations. When they returned again at just after eight o'clock the foreman of the jury said that 11 of the 12 jurors were agreed on a guilty verdict but there was one juror who was flatly refusing to convict any of the defendants. The judge sent the jury out again but at 9.50pm they returned with the foreman saying once again that they could not reach a unanimous verdict. As the judge would not accept a majority verdict he discharged the jury and said the trial would have to be heard again when the assizes next visited Manchester in July.
With that the tide turned very much in favour of Isaac Halliwell and his co-accused. The judge made a remarkable statement in which he said he would have been sorry to have had to pass sentence on the defendants had they been found guilty, although he added that would have been his duty. He went on to say that he hoped the feeling in Bolton would improve in the meantime and that the prosecution would offer no evidence at the re-trial – which is exactly what happened. This was a remarkable statement for the judge to make and it completely failed to take into account the fact that William Schofield had lost his life as a result of the actions of the rioters. But Schofield was a simple labourer and in nineteenth-century England the life of a member of the lower classes wasn't given much value. When a demonstration was held in the town following Schofield's death local Conservatives met at the Gibraltar Rock on Pikes Lane and said that while no one was more sorry about his death than they were they wouldn't be shedding what they described as “crocodile tears.”
After discharging the jury the judge warned against the prisoners returning to Bolton as heroes but his call fell on deaf ears. Isaac Halliwell and the rest of the accused left the court and returned to the town by train. The Evening News reported on their reception:
“The discharged men and their friends returned to Bolton at about twenty minutes past eleven at night. They were met at the station by a large number of people, who cheered and sang most lustily, and were escorted down Newport Street, by Great Moor Street to the Junior Conservative Club in Mawdesly-Street, where the cheering was continued for some time.”
Bolton Evening News, 20 March 1872.
No doubt the trial did wonders for Isaac Halliwell's reputation and the rest of the 1870s were a prosperous period for him. In 1875 it was reported he had bought the Three Crowns on Deansgate for £1200. This wasn't the Old Three Crowns, which still stands today, but another pub on the other side of the road on the corner of Mealhouse Lane.
The following year the Three Crowns was pulled down for improvements to the road junction and Isaac Halliwell applied to have the its full licence transferred to a new pub he had just built on the corner of Great Moor Street and Deansgate to be called the Balmoral Hotel. Halliwell claimed to have spent £5000 on the new building. At the licensing hearing in May 1876 he said the Balmoral was several storeys high and contained an extensive billiard room. Some land had been bought nearby and the intention was to build stables there. He added that this was not a new location for a fully-licenced pub. Two long-established public houses, the Horse and Jockey and the Horse and Groom, had stood on or near the site until their recent demolition. Another old pub, the Shakespeare on the other side of Deansgate near the junction with Bolling's Yard, was also about to close. So the granting of a full licence for the Balmoral would see “a fine hotel put in place of three fourth-rate houses.” The magistrates granted the licence and the Balmoral opened shortly afterwards in the summer of 1876.
Perhaps spending £5000 on the Balmoral stretched Isaac Halliwell financially because within a few months he was on the move again. He moved to Blackpool in early 1880 where he and his wife Janet took over the Prince Of Wales Hotel in York Street. Adverts for the pub and its accommodation were a regular feature in the Bolton press that year.
Halliwell died at the Prince Of Wales in January 1881 at the age of just 44. His estate was valued at less than £400. Janet Halliwell continued running the Prince Of Wales until her death in 1898. The pub was demolished in the late-1960s. The Gauntlet (later the Jaggy Thistle) was built on the site but that closed in 2010 and was demolished the following year. A car park is now on the site.
Back at the Royal Oak, Isaac Halliwell was succeeded by John Farrar; however, the owner of the building decided to sell the pub and it was bought by the Alexandra Brewery of Stewart Street, Brownlow Fold.
During the 1880s James Grundy took over as landlord and the Royal Oak was run by members of his family for around the next 20 years. Grundy died in 1893. He was a keen bowler and on the occasion of his death the Bolton Bowling Association passed a motion of condolence to his family. He was succeeded by his son-in-law, William Shipperbottom. The 1891 census shows that Shipperbottom was living at the pub along with his wife, Elizabeth – James Grundy's daughter – and their four children. By 1910 they were at the Union Arms, Eskrick Street.
Shipperbottom was succeeded by Joshua S Porritt who died at the Royal Oak in 1920. Porritt had previously run the Founders Arms on St George's Street and the Swiss Hotel, Southern Street, Brownlow Fold.
By 1924 the landlady was Emma Bolan. Born Emma Mayoh in 1865 she married an American, Frank Bolan, in 1900 and the couple were at the Nelson's Monument on Blackburn Road from 1902 onwards. She succeeded Joshua Porritt at the Royal Oak and was living at the pub when she died in 1937. By then she had handed over control to her daughter Grace Davies (later Grace Banks).
The Royal Oak was owned by Halliwell's Alexandra Brewery until that firm was bought by Magee, Marshall and Company in 1910. It isn't known whether the Halliwell family were directly related to Isaac Halliwell.
Magee's was taken over by the Warrington firm of Greenall Whitley in 1958 but the Royal Oak continued to be supplied from Magee's brewery on Cricket Street, off Derby Street, until the pub's closure in 1968. It was demolished although the site remained empty for many years. The extension to St Peter's Way, which was begun in 1987, now runs through the pub's former site.