Thursday, 23 October 2014

Split Crow, Pikes Lane

Fern Street runs off to the right on this April 2012 image (copyright Google Street View), Deane Road runs to the left. The boarded-up Jolly Waggoner can be seen in the distance, the Lilian Hamer home is in the foreground. The Split Crow was close to the corner with Fern  Street, roughly where the patch of grass is.

The Split Crow is one of those long-lost pubs that even failed to make it into any of Gordon Readyhough’s books, so brief was its existence. We have the early-twentieth century Methodist historian Hannah Cottrell to remind us that it ever existed.

In the early-twenties Mrs Cottrell set out to write a history of the Methodist church on Fern Street, off Deane Road. As an illustration  she sets out a vision of the area of Deane known as Gate Pike in the early-1840s immediately prior to the arrival of Methodism.

Gate Pike was a hamlet situated roughly halfway between the outskirts of Bolton and Deane church, at the foot of Deane Brow. It consisted of just three streets: Balshaw Street, Markland Street (later Gate Street) and Moss Street (later Fern Street). The area still exists around by the former Jolly Waggoners pub and the Lilian Hamer old people’s home.

Mrs Cottrell describes some of the characters who lived in the area at the time and the nicknames they were given. There was ‘Owd Woof’ who ran the corner shop at the top of Balshaw Street; Joseph Atherton – ‘Cockle Joe’ – who sold cockles and mussels from a wheelbarrow. ‘Cockle Joe’ was succeeded in the business by his son Amos, nicknamed ‘Yam Cockle’. A clogger named Aspinall was known as ‘Old Sootum’, the Heaton family were known as the ‘Yettons,’ ‘Saut Bob’ was the rag-and-bone man and ‘Owd Hardneck’ the army pensioner.

But as a Methodist it was the plethora of drinking establishments that Mrs Cottrell took aim at. Owd Woof sold beer at his shop; a man named Dick Marsh sold beer at his cottage at the top of Balshaw Street; there was the Farmer’s Arms, the Gibraltar Rock, the Cross Guns and the Split Crow, all within a short walk from each other.

For a small community of perhaps a few hundred people that is a lot of places to sell beer. The Methodists’ promotion of the abstinence from alcohol meant that as they expanded from their chapel at Ridgway Gates in the centre of Bolton, a small self-contained community such as Gate Pike where beer was widely available meant it was a target for the establishment of a Methodist presence. Indeed, the place was known to them as ‘Hell’s Mouth’.

“Swearing, drinking and gambling were excessively indulged in by many of the men whose wives and families were miserably neglected. Their running dogs, fighting cocks and pigeons received far more attention and consideration than did their little children.” [1]

The Split Crow was situated on land now occupied by the Lilian Hamer home. It was in the middle of a row of three houses on Pikes Lane, which later became Deane Road. Next door, on the corner of Moss Street (was William Worthington’s butchers shop where calves and sheep were slaughtered in the cellar.

The Methodists arrived in the area in the spring of 1843 when they rented a cottage, 34 Balshaw Street. The Split Crow was already in operation by then having sprung up in the aftermath of the 1830 Beerhouses Act.

The pub closed some time in the 1850s. By then the Methodists had moved from Balshaw Street to Moss Street (renamed Fern Street around 1869) where they built a small chapel in 1843. In a twist of irony they bought the Split Crow. It reverted back to a private residence and became the chapel-keeper’s house of the Wesleyan chapel.

In 1927 the Methodists moved to a new church a few yards away on Deane Road on land now occupied by Bolton Blinds. The old Fern Street Wesleyan church was converted into a cinema, the Plaza, and number 336 became part of the cinema complex. The Plaza became the Windsor in January 1937 and closed in 1962. [2]

The Lilian Hamer old people’s home was built on the site in 1973. That closed in 2009 and remains vacant. An attempt to sell the home for £325,000 failed in 2010.

[1] Gate Pike: The Story Of 80 Years’ Methodism, 1843-1923, by Hannah Cottrell (Mrs Albert Openshaw). Originally published by Tillotsons (Bolton) Ltd (1924). The book is a comprehensive history of the Wesleyan church up to that time and includes a history of the bottom part of Deane from Deane Brow and Gate Pike down to Chamber Hall closer to town.


[2] Cinema Treasures website. Retrieved 23 October 2014. 

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