After a pleasant start to the day in Wigan, we moved on towards the larger town of Bolton, home of the famous steeplejack, Fred Dibnah…
Status: Bolton District, Greater Manchester (Historically Lancashire), Town, England
Travel: Virgin Trains (Preston – Wigan North Western), Northern Rail (Wigan Wallgate – Bolton)
Eating & Sleeping: Greggs
Attractions: Bolton Town Hall, Bolton Aquarium, Bolton Museum, Fred Dibnah Statue, Bolton Civic Centre, Bolton Elephants, Bolton Clock Tower, Bolton Crescent, War Memorial, Town Hall Square, Town Hall Fountains, Smithills Hall, Hall i’ th’ wood etc
Our journey began outside Bolton Interchange, a combined train and bus station allowing passengers to easily transfer from one to the other to continue their journeys. The train station opened 1st, in 1838, with the bus section following later. A major rebuild in 2005 and 2006 rebuilt the bus station, giving a new modern feel as well as increasing capacity.
As soon as we stepped outside the Interchange, already two impressive Bolton landmarks loomed ahead of us.The 1st was the former Church of the Holy Trinity, completed in 1825 to designs by Philip Hardwick (1792 – 1870, English Architect). The Church took just 2 years to build, and served the community for many years. Sadly in 1993 it was declared redundant, whether a newer Church had taken over, or there was a fall in regular congregational attendance I am not sure, but the building was closed and looks like it remains so to this day. Its possible the building will be converted into flats, this has happened a number of times with old Church buildings that are no longer in use. Either way, I hope that the architecture is retained as its an incredible building, and it would be a shame to lose it. It looks like there is a clock face halfway up the tower, but there don’t appear to be any hands left on it.
In front of the Church is the Clock Tower of the original Bolton Train Station, which as I said before was completed in 1838. The Clock Tower was incorporated as part of the design, and stood proudly above the grand Victorian facade, until the 1980’s when the building was knocked down and rebuilt in it’s present form. Luckily the designers decided to retain the Clock Tower, and moved it outside onto the pavement.
In the distance we spotted the Threlfall Chimney, which belongs to the Richard Threlfall Engineering Company over in Salop Street. The company was founded by Richard Threlfall back in 1834, creating textile machinery to service Lancashires booming Cotton Industry. Like many local towns from Oldham to Wigan, Bolton was a major Cotton producer, and by 1929 it had 216 individual Mills. What makes the Threlfall company interesting is that it is possibly the oldest family owned business in Bolton, and one of the oldest in Britain overall. Queen Victoria only ascended to the throne 3 years after the company was set up. In 2010 the company celebrated its 175th year of operation, and today it has reached a staggering 179 years.
We moved off, having spotted the Clock Tower of Bolton Town Hall, on the far side of the Newport Street Bridge, which carries Newport Street over one of the railway lines, which heads towards Euxton near Chorley. This particular bridge is a new modern version, replacing the previous Iron design from 1905. The new bridge opened in 2006, and is built in a bow-arch design with cables on either side supporting the main structure.
Our arrival into the town centre was heralded by a troop of rather colourful elephants, which replaced a similar set of less animated elephants from the 1990’s. An elephant appears on the Bolton Coat of Arms, granted in 1974, and also features 8 red roses for the 8 towns which make up the Bolton Borough. This explains the appearance of the elephants here, along with the numerous other ones that can be found around the town, including another one in the immediate area, which sits on a nearby canopy.
Moving past the elephants, we arrived in the centre of Victoria Square, directly outside the beautiful ornate facade of the Town Hall, with it’s 6 towering columns above the entrance flanked by stone lions, leading up to the impressive statues above. The building has graced the area with its imposing presence since 1873, when 9 years worth of construction culminated in it’s grand opening, to house the council of the then Bolton County Borough, created in 1838, finally being abolished in 1974 when new districts were created, and Bolton became part of Greater Manchester, so it is now the home of Bolton Borough Council.
Designed by William Hill (1827 – 1889, English Architect from Leeds) the building once faced out onto a main thoroughfare through the town, until the whole area was pedestrianised, along with Newport Street in 1971. This lead to the creation of a large square for locals and visitors alike to relax and enjoy the architecture. Inside the building is the Albert Hall (a large venue), as well as Council Offices, and a Clock in the Tower, 198 ft above the pavement below.
The design itself is very similar to Leeds Town Hall, completed in 1858. Interestingly, that building was designed by Cuthbert Brodrick (1821 – 1905, Architect from Hull) who was the mentor of William Hill.
On either side of the main entrance stand two new fountains, which replace the original octagonal versions which once sat in the centre of the square, but have since been demolished. The jets can be adjusted to shoot water high into the air, and all the while water cascades down the outer steps into the pool below. They are a pleasant addition to the building, but this was but a small part of the decorations around the rest of the square.
Just past the fountains on either side of the Town Hall, stands a statue of a famous local. The left hand statue is of Samuel Taylor Chadwick (1809 – 1876) a Doctor born in nearby Urmston, who moved to Bolton when he was 14. He eventually opened his own practice in Wigan, and provided donations towards new local houses.
The 2nd statue, on the right hand side, is of Sir Benjamin Dobson (1847 – 1898) who was the Mayor of Bolton from 1894 until his death 4 years later. His 2.44 metre statue stands atop a Granite Plinth like Chadwicks, and was sculpted by a man from Manchester called John Cassidy, and installed in 1998.
Directly opposite the front entrance of the Town Hall, on the other side of the square, stands the Bolton War Memorial, unveiled in 1928 by the 17th Earl of Derby, Edward Stanley (1865 – 1948) to commemorate the fallen of Bolton during World War I. In 1933 the bronze figures on either side of the main memorial were added, and depict a woman representing Peace restraining a warrior (on the left), then seeing him die in the 2nd sculpture and raising her hands in horror (on the right). After World War II new names were added to the memorial in memory of their sacrifice.
Behind the Memorial is the Crompton Place Shopping Centre, one of 2 shopping centres in the town. Further up the street out of Victoria Square is the old Market Hall, which was completed in 1855. It has contained the Market Place Shopping Mall since 1988, and stands as one of the largest covered Markets in the country.
Behind the Town Hall is a large Crescent, reminiscent of the type of architecture you would find in the Georgian city of Bath. The Crescent runs from one end of the Town Hall to the other, and was built in the 1930’s as the new Civic Centre, and contains a Library, Museum, Aquarium and various other official areas.
Further around the corner, directly behind the Town Hall, you can just see the three arches that lead out of the Crescent to Cheadle Square behind it. The Crescent is almost unique in Lancashire, I have never seen anything else like it in the area, although there are a few examples dotted around other counties. It’s a beautiful addition to the town, and the whole of this area, with the Crescent, Town Hall, Victoria Square, War Memorial etc is almost a whole city in itself with respect to design and layout.
We decided to explore the Museum, which is in the area of the Crescent close to the left hand side of the Town Hall. On the ground floor is the Library, and above it on the 1st floor is the Art Gallery, which contains a mock Dinosaur Skeleton, and a very impressive Egyptian Exhibit with an actual Mummy! Other exhibits show off local artefacts, as well as a history of the town and the area.
On the bottom floor is the Bolton Aquarium, which consists of a largish room full of tanks, which are themselves full of various exotic fish from all over the world, and 2 examples are shown above. There were plenty of species I haven’t encountered before, and it was quite interesting exploring the different tanks. A chart on the floor shows which countries the various fish hail from, and come from most continents on the planet.
You also get a great view from various points around the crescent, back across to the Town Hall, towards Victoria Square, with the Statues, Fountains and War Memorial in full view. The Town Hall was actually extended in the 1930’s at the same time as the Crescent was built. The addition was designed to fit in with the rest of the building, seamlessly joining the two halves together.
We left the Crescent and the Square, and began to explore the other local streets that radiate away from it. A few streets away, on a road called Deansgate, we found the above scene. In the centre of the street is the Market Cross, completed in 1909 to replace a previous one, presumably erected centuries ago, when Bolton was granted its Market Charter in 1251, giving it the right to hold its own Market.
There are a number of Listed Buildings all over the town, and one in view here is called the “Ye Olde Man & Scythe”, the short black timber building on the right hand side just behind the Cross. It has an incredible history, as it was already here by the time the Charter was granted in 1251, as it was mentioned in the Charter itself. A datestone on the building shows it was rebuilt around 1636, but this still makes it one of the oldest public houses in the entire country. One particular historical event that the Pub is associated with occured in 1651. The 7th Earl of Derby, James Stanley (1607 – 1651) had sided with the Royalists in the English Civil War and this led to the Bolton Massacre in 1644 when he helped them invade the town, killing nearly 2000 people in the process. At the end of the Civil War he was captured, and executed outside the Ye Olde Man & Scythe for his part in the Massacre. There is also a chair inside the pub that he supposedly sat on before he was killed.
At the far end of the street stands Bolton Parish Church, called St Peter’s Church. The Tower stands a majestic 156 ft tall, and dates back to 1871 when the latest in a long line of Churches here was completed, after 4 years of construction. The architect for the project was Edward Graham Paley (1823 – 1895, Lancaster Architect, who also helped redesign Wigan Parish Church) and he helped give the building the distinction of having the tallest Church Tower in historic Lancashire (Cathedrals notwithstanding).
Our last stop was on Oxford Street, which leads out of Victoria Square Northwards towards the Market Hall. In the centre of the street, which is now pedestrianised, stands the statue of famous Bolton son, Fred Dibnah (1938 – 2004). Fred was born in the town in 1938, and became a Steeplejack, even doing work on the Town Hall in 1978. He was also well known for his love of steam, and presented various programmes on the subject. In 2008 the 8 ft, bronze statue of him was unveiled, having been lovingly crafted by Jane Robbins. Behind him is a large steam engine in a Glass Case, a tribute to a man loved the country over.
Bolton is a lovely little town, with some amazing architecture, wildlife and personalities. Due to it’s position, the town has great transport links, as it lies on the M61 Motorway (Preston – Manchester) and is only 14 miles away from the M6 (Gretna – the M1 near London via Carlisle, Preston, Birmingham etc). The nearest major city to Bolton is of course Manchester, and Manchester Airport is only 28 miles from the town centre. Regular trains provide direct services to Blackburn, Clitheroe, Preston, Manchester, Rochdale, Stockport, Chester, Wigan, Southport, Blackpool, Barrow-in-Furness and new services will soon commence to Glasgow and Edinburgh in Scotland. These services used to be regular but the line is being electrified towards Preston which the route runs through so the trains are being diverted through Wigan and not currently calling at Bolton.
It was time to leave Bolton behind as we got the train back to Preston, but we had thoroughly enjoyed our visit to both Wigan and Bolton, both of which have plenty to offer.