Thursday, 12 February 2015

Railway Hotel - Shamrock's, 2-4 St Helens Road

Railway Hotel St Helens Road Bolton

This old postcard was from 1905 was put on Google Earth by Mel Travers. It shows the Railway on the left in the middle of the picture. Willows Lane runs down by the side of the pub.


The Railway Hotel was situated on the corner of Willows Lane and St Helens Road, but at the time it opened in the 1860s the Railway Tavern, as it was then known, was the first building beyond the Bolton borough boundary which was marked by Willows Lane.

The first landlord was James Hodson.  He was the son of Peter Hodson, who had run the nearby Ram’s Head for a number of years and like his father he initially opened the pub as a dual-purpose establishment. Not only was the Railway a beerhouse, but it was also a butcher’s shop.

The pub’s name came from the Bolton to Leigh railway line which opened in 1828 and which still ran just a couple of hundred yards away along what is now Auburn Street. The route was diverted in 1885 to run under Ellesmere Road and Higher Swan Lane.

But James wasn’t destined to be at the Railway for long. His mother had been running the Ram’s Head following the death of his father and by 1870 and at the age of 62 she wanted to give up the pub trade. James made the decision to quit the Railway and he moved to the Ram’s Head in 1870.

The new landlord of the Railway was perhaps the youngest licensee in Bolton at that tome. Thomas Grundy Orrell was just 21 years old when he moved into the pub. He was joined by his wife, Mary Ellen (nee Gee) – who was only 18. The couple were married in February 1870, at which time Thomas was a patternmaker. A child, Edith, was born in the middle of 1870.

But Thomas had lofty ambitions beyond the pub trade. Daubhill formed part of the old township of Rumworth, part of which was incorporated into the County Borough of Bolton in 1872. The new Rumworth ward was entitled to send two councillors to the town hall, but in November 1880, one of the ward’s councillors, Councillor John Miles was elevated to the post of Alderman. That left a council vacancy for Rumworth. Thomas Grundy Orrell was named as the Conservative party candidate and as the Liberals failed to put up a candidate Orrell was elected unopposed. He was just 29 years old. [1]

Thomas wasn’t a councillor for long. He completed his three-year term and then stepped down from the council and concentrated on running his pub. And it was a fully-licensed public house before long. The premises – now comprising number 2 and number 4 on St Helens Road – had been a beerhouse since its inception, but the closure of the Rose and Crown on Deansgate meant that a full licence was up for grabs. The Railway’s nearby competitor, the Ram’s Head was already fully licensed and had been for many years so to bring himself on a par with one of his competitors Thomas successfully applied for a transfer of the Rose and Crown’s license. That means the Railway could also serve wine and spirits.

Thomas Grundy Orrell died at the Railway on 5 February 1890, just 40 years old and four days short of his 20th wedding anniversary. Twenty years of being in the pub trade had been good to him and he left an estate worth £1785 – the equivalent today of around £200,000 in today’s money. His wife, Mary went to live in Blackpool where she died in 1923 at the age of 73. She never remarried.

The immediate fate of the Railway lay within Mary’s family. The Gees already owned the Royal Hotel on Vernon Street which was being run by Mary’s brother, Robert. Another brother, John Heaton Gee, worked as a maltster and he took over the Railway after Thomas Orrell’s death.

Perhaps John wasn’t cut out for the pub trade. By 1905 Joseph Rowlinson was in charge and according to the 1911 Census the pub was doing well enough for Joseph to employ three bar staff who lived on the premises.

In his reminiscences of the area, local historian Norman Kenyon said that while he often drank at the Waggon and Horses further up St Helens Road he and his father-in-law Bill Morgan occasionally drank at the Railway, which Bill thought was a better class of pub.

Norman tells an amusing story of how his brother-in-law, Cliff Atkinson, who suffered from poor eyesight at the best of times, spent one winter’s Saturday night drinking at the Railway. He had been out earlier on in the day and was somewhat the worst for wear so his pals decided to walk him home to nearby Shepley Avenue. They left him at his garden gate and went back to the pub just as it began to snow. Later, on their way home, they went back to Shepley Avenue. As they approached Cliff’s gate they could see a huge pile of snow. It was Cliff, still draped over his garden gate having passed out and been covered in snow as it fell. [2]

Both the Railway and the Royal were taken over by the Salford brewery Threlfalls and they owned both pubs until 1967 when the brewery was taken over by Whitbread.

The Railway pictured in 1978


Real ale drinkers celebrated the sporadic return of cask beer to the Railway on a number occasions. In 1978, a new real ale called Special Cask Bitter was trialled at a number of local pubs, including the Railway. [3]

In 1981, Dutton’s Cask Bitter was put on sale in the pub. [4]

In the early eighties Whitbread were refurbishing their pubs in a distinct style that wasn’t altogether welcome by the brewery’s critics. But the Railway was given just a lick of paint and escaped the usual peephole barrels and sewing machines used as tables. [5] A couple of years later cask Trophy Bitter (‘the pint that thinks it’s a quart’) was on sale. [6]

In the late eighties, the Blackburn brewer Matthew Brown took over the Railway and in the early nineties they renamed it Shamrock’s, a vaguely Irish-themed pub. But, as with pubs on all main routes in and out of Bolton, Derby Street and St Helens Road have suffered from pub closures and the Shamrock shut in 1997. The building has been subdivided into small retail units on the ground floor and flats on the top floor.

* Anyone with any interest in the history of the area should look at the excellent Daubhill website containing articles and old photos of the area. Click here.


The site of the Railway Hotel in September 2014 (copyright Google Street View). The building on the right was number 2 St Helens Road, the original Railway Tavern. 

[1] Annals Of Bolton, John Clegg, 1888.
[2] Bolton, Daubhill and Deane: A Sentimental Journey, by Norman Kenyon. Published by Neil Richardson (1998).
[3] What’s Doing. The Greater Manchester Beer Drinkers’ Monthly Magazine. October 1978 issue. Extract accessible here
[4] What’s Doing. July 1981. Extract accessible here. 
[5] What’s Doing, June 1983. Extract accessible here

[6] What’s Doing, October 1983. Extract accessible here.

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