Saturday, 14 February 2015

Halfway House, 127-129 Derby Street

Halfway House Derby Street Bolton
The Halfway House pictured in the 1960s

The Halfway House was at 127-129 Derby Street in between the junctions with Shaw Street and Rothwell Street. The pub dated back to the late-1840s. It got its name from the fact that it was roughly halfway up the hill from town to Daubhill.

The pub was run by the Ashton family for a number of years. In 1841 Thomas Ashton ran a beerhouse in Back Rothwell Street which ran immediately to the rear of the Halfway House.

The Ashtons were certainly in residence at 38 Derby Street - as number 127 was numbered at that time - by 1843. Thomas and his three sons were joined by Mary Ann Bridge - formerly of Pilkington Street - and her son, Richard.

In 1854, Thomas Ashton was one of 23 beerhouse owners who applied for full public house licences that would have enabled them to sell wines and spirits as well as beer. In those days, beerhouse licences were easy to get hold of. Prospective licensees just had to pay a £2 fee to open up their house to the sale of beer – not wines or spirits. Many pubs began life as a bar in the front room of someone's house. But Ashton and his fellow landlords were up against a licensing bench that included Bolton's teetotal mayor Robert Walsh. He calculated that there was one ale house for every 106 of the town's inhabitants. In his view, one for every thousand should suffice. He couldn't close down beerhouses without good reason but he could prevent the award of a full licence. Thomas Ashton and his fellow applicants were refused and the Halfway House remained a beerhouse for the rest of its existence. [1]

In 1859, Thomas Ashton and his wife Mary Ann were instrumental in the foundation of Bolton's first co-operative society. On 1 August 1859 a meeting took place at the Halfway House and a set of rules were formulated for the Great and Little Bolton Equitable Industrial Co-operative Society Limited. The rules were sent off to the Registrar of Friendly Societies and were returned with the society registered on 18th of that month.

The Ashtons owned at least two other properties, one of which was a shop situated next door to the Halfway House. This shop was offered to the newly-formed society and on 4 November 1859 the first co-op in Bolton opened to the public. At first, only dry goods were sold such as tea, sugar, rice, meal, barley, soap, potatoes, and flour and the shop only opened between the hours of 6pm and 10pm – after the factories had closed. 

There was considerable opposition from other local shop-owners whose prices were being undercut. The shop's first Saturday boy, James Yates, had to leave when his parents got him a job with Bolton Libraries. He was later to become the chief librarian of Leeds.

One early member was John Pearson who worked at Bradshawfield Mill in Little Bolton on the other side of the River Croal. He signed up a number of his work-mates as members, many of whom lived in Prince Street, off Higher Bridge Street. Every Friday night a number of them would hop on a horse and cart to do their weekly shop at the new co-op. Their arrival would be greeted by a volley of abuse by neighbouring shopkeepers  though the men from Prince Street would give as good as they got, especially after a few pints in the Halfway House. But their activity indirectly publicised the shop.

Thomas Ashton was the first treasurer of the new co-operative society, but he died before the Derby Street store store opened. Mary Ann Ashton – known as 'Gladdy' – took his place and she remained treasurer until the society opened offices on Bridge Street in 1866.

All the early meetings of the Great and Little Bolton Equitable Industrial Co-operative Society were held at the Halfway House and a tea party in the pub's club room was attended by around 30 people.

In 1867, the original Derby Street store was proving to be too small. It moved to much larger premises – again owned by Mrs Ashton. [2]

Gladdy Ashton died on 21 April 1875 at the age of 65. She died not at the Halfway House, which she still owned, but at a neighbouring pub, the Lord Nelson which the family had also taken over. She and her husband had been buying up properties in the Derby Street area since the 1850s and she continued her property speculation after his death. Her estate at the time of her death was valued at around £5000 – half a million in today's money.

Gladdy Ashton's son Joseph took over the running of the business, but he died in 1883 aged just 41. The pub was taken over by Ellis Haslam. A former coalminer from Sidney Street he spent about 15 years at the pub before retiring to Swan Lane.

The Halfway House was subsequently taken over by Magee’s. It was owned by Greenall’s when it closed in 1970.

In the end, the Halfway House was put out of business by town planners rather than any lack of custom. Derby Street was redeveloped towards the end of the sixties. From Crown Street down to Shaw Street whole swathes of buildings were destroyed and new homes built in their place.

[1] Manchester Courier, 2 September 1854.

The site of the Halfway House in August 2015 (copyright Google Street View). The pub was situated roughly at what is now the entrance to Faringdon Walk in the centre of the picture.

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