Monday, 24 March 2014

Boar's Head


The Capitol, successor to the Boar's Head, photographed in 2011. The Capitol closed in June 2014.

The Boar’s Head stood on Churchgate on the site of what is now is the Capitol and was formerly the Varsity. The pub was the middle of three properties that were demolished to make way for the re-development, the others being the Sandwich Inn café bar on the right, and a fish-and-chip shop on the other side called the Chip Inn. The Boar’s Head itself was only quite small, probably less than a third the size of the Capitol.

The pub was built in 1721 and at a time when the life of the town revolved around the Churchgate area it was one of the principal inns of the time doubling up as a post office and was even a courthouse as the local magistrates sat there for many years after the 1780s. [1] It became a Magee, Marshall pub and then Greenall’s when Magee’s sold out in 1958.

In the early-twentieth century the landlord was a John Bromilow. There must have been something about pub landlords and the fledgling motor industry as Mr Bromilow – as well as Ross Isherwood, then the landlord of the Prince William on Bradshawgate, and Stanley Parker of the Roebuck on Kay Street – was one of the pioneers of the motoring industry in Bolton [2]. In 1916 Mr Bromilow entered into a design partnership with a brilliant engineer named Maurice Edwards and although the Bromilow and Edwards partnership only lasted for some 13 years, the company they founded still lives on today as Edbro on Lever Street.

In his reminiscences of life in Churchgate [3], Fred Hill recalls that boxing matches used to take place upstairs. Given the small size of the pub – not much bigger than a reasonably-sized house - and the need for living quarters this beggars belief but we must take his word for it.

I well remember the Boar’s Head in the eighties when on a Friday and Saturday night it would be packed out with a variety of customers. The Camra Greater Manchester Good Beer Guide of 1980 [4] described it as being “popular with the young”, which was true, but there was always a great atmosphere and the Boar’s Head welcomed just about everybody at that time and without any trouble. A 1982 refurbishment saw it spruced up a bit and the then landlord made anyone wearing a leather jacket take it off on the way in. As the eighties wore on landlords come and went, with the pub moving from a managed house to a tenancy after Greenall’s accountants worked out it was losing them money. [5] Through all that the mainstay of the pub was the genial barman Gordon, who had worked at the pub since 1966 and who certainly made life easier for successive licensees.


The Boars Head pictured in 1980. Taken from the Greater Manchester Good Beer Guide published by the Greater Manchester branches of the Campaign for Real Ale. (Published 1980).

To be honest it was a cracking little pub that always served real ales – Greenall’s admittedly – from one of those now-outlawed electrically-operated diaphragm pumps where a handle was moved across to pump the beer into the glass. Handpumps were later installed and it was an early outlet for Greenall’s Original Bitter in the mid-eighties when the brewery tackled what was a pretty poor reputation for its cask beers. OB was a decent drop when well-kept and the Boar’s Head ended up in a few editions of the Good Beer Guide.

By the late eighties the pub’s future was in doubt and by 1988 structural problems meant that it was surrounded by scaffolding as Greenall’s worked out what to do with it (though in truth they were also working out what to do with their wider business and eventually got out of pubs and brewing altogether). At the time it was reported that they wanted to extend the pub while the council were warning it might have to be demolished. [6] By then the Boar’s Head was somehow putting on live music, despite its diminutive size. [7]. The whole of the pub was on the ground floor of the premises with the landlord’s living area upstairs and it covered an area no more than a quarter of the current Capitol pub.

The Boar’s Head closed in March 1992. Three years earlier Greenall’s had applied for planning permission to pull it down and replace it with a building consisting of a new pub at the base of a five-storey office building. Bill Brown of Bolton Civic Trust argued that it could only be demolished if the new building “enhances the existing character of the area,” but according to Greenalls, the adjoining café was unsafe while the pub and the chippy were in “poor condition.” [8]

After closure the three properties remained empty and boarded up for some years afterwards until eventually the site was bought by Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries who knocked it down and rebuilt it – though without the offices - as Varsity in 1999. It was later renamed the Capitol after the cinema which stood on the site of the tax offices. A Facebook group exists for the old pub [click here] and although it hasn’t been updated in a while it does show one or two photos of the pub’s interior.

There were rumours at the time of demolition that some local potholers had been given access to the site to look for evidence of tunnels leading under Churchgate towards the Parish Church. Rumours of those tunnels have abounded for centuries – were any found?

These days the Capitol stands on the site though that closed in June 2014. As a replacement for the Boar’s Head it wasn't bad, selling a fair drop of real ale and while it was still “popular with the young” as the Camra guide stated over 30 years ago  it still attracted its share of a more mature clientele just as the old pub did.

The Capitol closed in June 2014 and the premises were bought by Amber Taverns. Rumours it was to become a sports bar proved to be unfounded. It is due to re-open in October 2014 as 'Hogarth's' - a micro-brewery/gin palace. Sounds interesting.

[1] Leisure In Bolton, 1750-1900, Robert Poole, 1982
[2]A History Of The Motor Trade In Bolton – Dennis O’Connor, 2009.
[3] Churchgate 50 Years Ago: A Biography Of Lifestyle In The Early Thirties, Fred Hill, 1981.
[4] Greater Manchester Good Beer Guide, published by the Campaign for Real Ale, 1980.
[5] What’s Doing, the Greater Manchester beer drinkers’ monthly magazine, August 1985.
[6] What’s Doing, November 1988.
[7] Bolton Beer Break, Summer 1988.
[8] What’s Doing, July 1989

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