Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Antelope (Antelope's Head), Churchgate, Bolton

Antelopes Head ABC Cinema Churchgate Bolton 1976

The ABC Cinema on Churchgate is seen here in the summer of 1976 with 'It Shouldn't Happen To A Vet' as the main feature. The Antelope occupied the right-hand part of the premises. Copyright Bolton Library and Museums Service.


The Antelope Inn – or the Antelope’s Head as it was sometimes known – stood on Churchgate and was used as a pub for almost a hundred years from around the 1790s onwards. It was situated at 27 Churchgate, halfway between the Golden Lion and the Boars Head.

To the rear of the pub was Antelope Court which contained a three-storey silk mill, tenement dwellings and a bakehouse. At the back of Antelope Court, overlooking the River Croal, was a pit where cock fights would take place. [1] Cock fighting was hugely popular in Bolton with wagers taking place on the result of fights. But gambling was illegal as the Antelope’s landlord Mr Gee discovered in 1829. He was fined £5 for allowing gambling on his premises – the equivalent of around £500 today. [2]

Fred Hill’s 1981 book Churchgate: 50 Years Ago, A Biography Of Lifestyles In The Early Thirties shows pictures of the Antelope Court cock-fighting pit taken at the time he wrote his book. It is also an interesting read from a modern-day perspective even when he talks about the area in the early-eighties. An artist’s impression of Antelope’s Court by Robert Hampson (1925-1996) can be seen here

Steve Fielding gives an account of a murder in Antelope’s Court in 1883. An extract from his book Murderous Bolton can be seen here. He notes that the site is reputedly haunted.

A look at local directories show landlords coming and going from the Antelope. It was in a very heavily-pubbed area of the town centre and theatres began to spring up on the other side of Churchgate during the nineteenth century. Indeed, one licensee of the pub, Peter Crook, was declared bankrupt in 1858. He was at the Starkie Arms on Tonge Moor Road in 1849 but moved to the Antelope’s Head in the early-1850s. By 1858 he was living in lodgings on Shipgates, just off Bradshawgate, when he was hauled before the judge and presumably off to the debtor’s prison. [3]

By 1869 the tenancy of the Antelope was being advertised in the Bolton Evening News. It was described as being “a well-known and fully accustomed house”. Previous landlord Josiah Hurst had moved on to another pub. [4]

But by 1880 the Antelope’s time was up. It ceased to be a pub and was converted into retail premises and served as a butcher’s shop run by Edmund Aspinall for many years. Mr Aspinall was educated at Settle’s private school (formerly the Free Reading School, founded 1748) in Antelope Court. He became a Conservative councillor in 1897 for Derby Ward, and was the leader of the  Conservative group on Bolton Council for over 20 years. He was the Mayor of Bolton in 1923-24 [more on Edmund Aspinall here]. Older readers may be familiar with the Aspin Hall in Aspinalls Buildings on Deansgate. Aspinall’s Buildngs was founded by Edmund Aspinall.

The butcher’s shop closed in the mid-1920s and the site was demolished shortly afterwards. The Capitol Cinema was built on its site and opened on 13 February 1929 with the screening of Dolores del Rio in Ramona. The cinema underwent a refurbishment in 1956 and was renamed the ABC in 1962. The initials stood for Associated British Cinemas, the cinema's owners. The ABC closed as a cinema in 1 October 1977 with Barbra Streisand in A Star Is Born. [5]  Like many cinemas it became a bingo hall before opening in 1979 as JJB Sports, a leisure centre with squash courts in the cinema’s former seating area. That building was demolished in 1988 and Stone Cross House was built on the site. The Inland Revenue moved in and HMRC, as it is now, still maintains a presence on the site along with offices for a number of small businesses.

[1] Churchgate Conservation Document, Bolton Council, 2008. Accessed 23 November 2015. 
[2] Manchester Courier, 30 May 1829.
[3] Manchester Courier, 5 June 1858.
[4] Bolton Evening News, 15 May 1859
[5] Cinema Treasures. Accessed 23 November 2015. 


Antelopes Head Bolton site of Aug 2015

The site of the Antelopes Head, Stone Cross House, pictured in August 2015 (copyright Google Street View).

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