Two versions of the Lower Nags Head pictured in 1927, shortly after the pub was rebuilt. To the left is the original eighteenth-century building. On the right the grander, rebuilt version which still stands and is used as a bank branch.
Image from the Bolton Library And Museums Service collection. Copyright Bolton Council.
The Lower Nags Head stood Deansgate, close to the junction with Higher Bridge Street and Mealhouse Lane and a few doors along from where Marks and Spencer’s now stands.
The area around the pub once belonged to the Brownlow family who built Hall-I’th-Wood in the sixteenth century. Gardens and orchards extended over what is now Market Street and Victoria Square.
The original Lower Nags Head building dated back to the eighteenth-century. It was originally known simply as the Nag’s Head and appears on the Great Bolton licensing records of 1778. It pre-dated as a pub its similarly-named neighbour the Higher Nags Head by over 40 years.
By the 1840s the pub was being styled ‘the Old Nags Head’ to differentiate it from its upstart neighbour which only became a pub in around 1820. The landlord at that time was James Isherwood and he had a sideline as a coach proprietor. His Prince William stagecoach would head off to Manchester from outside the pub once every day.
The local brewery of Magee, Marshall and Co eventually took over the pub. By the twenties they also owned the Higher Nags Head and decided to close down both pubs and rebuild the Lower Nags Head (as it had been styled since the 1860s).
The Higher Nags Head was demolished in 1929 and converted into shops which can still be seen in between Market Street and Oxford Street. The Lower Nags Head survived – in name only and not without radical change. The tiny, eighteenth-century building was deemed not fit for purpose and Magee’s rebuilt the Lower Nags Head a couple of doors down in 1927.
The photo at the top of the page shows the two buildings side-by-side. The difference is remarkable; the old building looks like a shack compared to the new Lower Nags Head with its impressive Doric columns and its ornate rooftop.
But while the old building had served as a pub for 150 years the new pub, for all its fancy architecture, lasted considerably less as licensed premises.
Magee’s had sold out to Greenall Whitley in fifties and Greenall's obviously considered the Lower Nags to have more potential as a retail outlet than as a pub.
When Magee’s rebuilt the Lower Nag's they put in a huge cellar along with a downstairs lounge. Greenall’s closed the two ground floor bars and extended the downstairs lounge into part of the cellar. The Doric columns were torn down and the street-level entrance was divided into two with stairs leading down to a Nags Head that really was ‘lower’, but with Hepworth’s tailors taking up the rest of the entrance and the whole of the ground floor.
But the Lower Nags Head received a new lease of life. A resident DJ was put in and the pub is fondly remembered on various internet forums. The 70s Bolton group on Facebook has numerous reminiscences from customers, licensees, doormen and DJs at the Lower Nags and it is clear that a great deal affection remains for the pub amongst its former customers.
However, it wasn’t to last. There was a refurbishment in 1982 and a name change to Oliver’s in 1985 but Greenall’s pulled the plug in 1989 and the pub closed.
The Abbey National building society converted the whole of the ground floor into one of their branches. It is now a branch of the Santander following their takeover of the Abbey National.
The Magee Marshall insignia can still be seen on the roof of the former pub premises.
The Lower Nags Head in 1980. Image from the Bolton Library And Museums Service collection. Copyright Bolton Council.