What do you do when you need to travel to another town for something you’ve booked? Get there early and go for a wander, that’s what! Well, that is what I do and I recommend you give it a try too. The other month, I booked for us to see Beryl by the Bolton Octagon theatre. Rather than travelling over there simply for the play, we took the time to have a bimble about Bolton.
When we have been around Bolton in the past, we have either been late for a play or we have been over towards Winter Hill and Rivington Pike. This has meant that a lot of Bolton town has been on our discovery list for a while now. Last time we visited for a bimble about Bolton, we discovered the museum. It was the place which whet our appetite to find out more about this industrious city.
A bimble about Bolton
Before I go into our wander, I want to preface it with the fact that it was really a true urban wander. We followed our noses and explored where our feet landed. As such, I don’t have a lot of information and background to share at this point. It does, at least I hope, encourage you to maybe share your own experience and facts to spur me onto my next foray into the area.
Of course the starting point of many an adventure is the setting of a picnic. On the day we were in Bolton, it coincided with Bolton Pride which meant that the usual seating areas were full. An advantage on a wandering visit anyway as it meant that we could use the excuse to bimble about until we found somewhere suitable. Our chosen spot was on a wall in the grounds of Bolton Parish Church. Which also turns out to be the location of Samuel Crompton’s Grave. (OK, so there are some facts…)
Samuel Crompton was at the heart of the industrial growth of Bolton as he was the inventor of the Spinning Mule.
In the 18 years I have lived in Manchester, I have heard all manner of things about Bolton. Many of which where not so complimentary. I do think this might have been one of the reasons we have tended to choose other places to explore. However, as you know, I am not one to judge a place by other opinion and I am glad I live by this rule. As we walked back towards the town centre, we were surprised by the ornate buildings lining the upper part of the streets.
Over the years I have come to realise that the most ‘forgotten’ areas often have the most rich of ancestral history. Many of them having been the richest of places which came to an abrupt end in the era of the Industrial Revolution.
Bolton is one of these places. The ordinary and probably incredibly mundane shops lining the streets are representative of most towns and district centres. newsagent, tea rooms, shops and pubs, there to fulfil the needs of the people living there. Then, hidden in plain sight, just above the plastic signs are glimpses into the ornate and rich past of the area.
Even Yates (Pronounced “Yatesies” if you’re from around these parts) is housed in a stunningly original Grade II listed building from 1906. Another nod to local history is that the Yates Wind Lodges originated in Oldham by Peter and Simon Yates in 1884.
Further along on our walk we discovered even more red brick loveliness. For those of you not in the Greater Manchester/Lancashire sphere, the red brick buildings are somewhat of an icon of our cities. We love a bit of red brick around these parts – especially when we have our characteristic misty rainy weather.
Since getting quite into the Urban Rambles, like the one we did in Liverpool, I have been getting quite into the idea of reading the Pevsner architecture guides. I feel like I’ll be able to fill you in on plenty of detail about these buildings when I start delving deep. For now though, if you do know anything about the buildings in Bolton, please do share with me.
I was honestly surprised at the variety of building styles we spotted in the area. From Tudor style and red brick to more contemporary styling.
Nose to the sky
As we wandered, nose to the sky, looking for the next curious building I was snapping photos here and there. Curious about our interest, a lovely local chimed in to give us some tips.
Unbeknown to use, we were standing by one of England’s ten oldest pubs and the oldest in Bolton, Ye Old Man and Scythe. The first mention of it is from 1251. I believe from the man we spoke to that despite remodelling over the years, some of the original beams from 1636 can still be seen.
With so much history, this one pub could have a post of its own.
Natwest on Deansgate
Our next stop might seem a little on the bizarre side. It is a side effect of following your curiosity when you spot some nice doors and make your way inside the building to explore. This time it took us inside the NatWest bank. I am sure you have been in many ordinary banks in your time, so this one will be as much of a surprise to you as it was to me.
It was not your average bank at all. Above the cash machines and cashier desks were the most illuminating stained glass windows. A far cry from the city centre banks we have all become accustomed to. We were glad to have made our way inside.
This bank is traceable back to 1836 when it was established as The Bank of Bolton. This visit was a bit of a cheat visit for me in terms of research. They had kindly created a mini exhibition of the history, complete with photographs, so I could absorb it all with little extra curricular study.
Our final stop on the bimble
As with any quick visit, the time vanishes! But with some time left, we headed to check out the local market. Usually the heart of any city, and unusually somewhere we had never seen in Bolton before, we made our way inside for another exciting surprise.
Originally the local market hall, the building has been lovingly restored and updated to house modern shops and eateries. I have a new-found love affair with market conversions and building change of use. The more great ones I see, the more I learn how well modern and historical buildings and lifestyle can blend together.
As someone who doesn’t really like shopping, I do love a good shopping centre. I think the curiosity of design and movement of people gets me the most – and the way they create new spaces out of old.
We were lucky, once again, with the shopping centre offering a look into the past with some photographs shared on the doors.
Leaving wanting more
Aware that our adventures were taking us close to the starting time of the play, we decided to meander our way towards the Museum and Art Gallery where we would be seeing the play. That didn’t mean that our bimble about Bolton was over though. In true Urban Wanderer fashion, we managed to spot a few final things before our walk was over.
The Whitakers building is one which you can’t miss. Not only because of the beauty of it, but for the sheer size in comparison to the buildings around it. The building and iconic turret style frontage could certainly rival the London department stores. It opened in 1829 as a drapery shop.
From the brief amount of reading I have done following our visit, it seems that this is another building on my revisit list. I would love to have a look around inside – maybe hunt out the hidden original staircase if I can.
Pulling ourselves away from exploring yet another street and another building, we made our way to the theatre.
Our bimble in Bolton
If there is one thing I have learned since making more time to explore the places I visit, it is that everywhere is beautiful. You might look at the shops on the high street, worn, regular and the same as everywhere else, but once you look up or step around a new corner, you will see that nowhere is the same. People will share tales of the woes of places, the bad things which happen and the newspaper reports. Don’t let these put you off seeing a place. Putting your own opinion to the destination and using your time to find what you love about the area. You never know what you might discover.
For now, I am loving reading about Bolton. I am excited to visit again and if you have any tips, please do share them so I can include them in my walks.