In 1985 the landlord of The General Wolfe public house on Church Street called “time gentleman please” for the last time. His words marked the end of an era for one of Warrington’s most historic pubs. Here, in an extract from his latest book, ‘Buttermarket to Cockhedge’, Warrington History Society member Harry Wells recalls the history of the once thriving Greenall Whitley pub and the unsuccessful fight to save it from demolition.
The General Wolfe was a well known local pub situated next to the Star Kinema. Although the pub itself wasn’t huge, it had a large yard at the back with various ancillary buildings, including an old brewhouse and stables. In 1891 we find the licensee was Alfred Wright Brundil who lived here with his wife, their son who was a medical student, their eldest daughter who was a pupil teacher, two younger daughters and a niece. There were also three general domestic servants as well as an ostler, groom and a male servant.
The present building is a ‘replica’ erected in 1997. The original pub, having been empty for eighteen months was boarded up by Greenall Whitley in 1987 to prevent vandalism. The owners explained that there were then too many pubs in the area for the level of demand. In August 1990 it was reported that Interchase Limited had bought the site and that construction would soon be starting on a 25,000 sq.ft. development.
In October the Motherwell company submitted plans to restore the frontage of the building, while making internal alterations and demolishing the outbuildings for a courtyard office development. By February 1991 the plans seemed to involve a replica copy building instead. Councillors were determined to defend the listed building and the plans were refused, but in the same month a mystery fire broke out destroying much of the interior. An appeal against the refusal of planning consent was heard in September 1993. The developers then commissioned a structural survey which found the building could not be restored.
In April 1994 a listed building application was submitted by restoration experts Sir Frank Mears Associates of Edinburgh involving the demolition of the General Wolfe and the restoration and extension of the cottages to the full length of the site. They commented ‘it is a building of great antiquity and we hope to restore it to how it looked originally’. The plans were refused and the company appealed, leading to a public inquiry. However the inspector dismissed the appeal saying the owners should have been aware of their responsibility to maintain the buildings for the benefit of future generations. The inspector noted that the building had deteriorated badly and that about half the slates at the rear of the building had disappeared and added that he could see no justification for not carrying out the restoration work without delay. With care and skill, he commented, all the buildings on the site were capable of repair and restoration. However, whatever the inspector said, the Grade II listed pub then lay derelict and deteriorating for a number of years, although listed and standing in the middle of a Conservation Area, until it was demolished in 1996.
The pub’s name of course celebrates the legendary exploits of General James Wolfe in the capture of Quebec. It is listed under that name in Baines’s Directory of 1824, but its history goes back much further.
Before rebuilding in the mid-nineteenth century, the sign appears to have been the Spotted Leopard which may be identified by tradition with ‘Cromwell’s Lodgings’, the place where Oliver Cromwell stayed for three days in August 1648 after the rout of the Duke of Hamilton’s Scots. In 1952, a plaque to this effect was mounted, rather confusingly, on the nearby Tudor Cottage. After the events of 1642-3 there was a period of relative quiet in the town until 1648 when the remnants of the Scots army reached Warrington after being engaged by Cromwell’s forces on the road south from Preston. At Warrington the Scots cavalry continued into Cheshire, while the infantry dug in around the bridge and because of the strength of their position Cromwell gave quarter and accepted their surrender. According to modern tradition the defeated forces were addressed by their conqueror on Scotland Bank, thus giving their name to what is today Scotland Road, before returning home.
Harry Wells is a local historian who has produced many books on Warrington’s past. His latest book, ‘Buttermarket to Cockhedge’, from which this article is taken is available now from the Information Office in Warrington Market. Priced at £8.99 the book takes readers on an imaginary historic walk from Market Gate eastwards down Buttermarket Street and Church Street, returning by way of School Brow, Brick Street and Cockhedge Lane.
Warrington History Society
Warrington History Society was formed in 1964 to encourage an interest in all aspects of Warrington’s history and archaeology. The Society’s next lecture “Abandon Hope: Life In The Workhouse” by Peter Watson will take place at 7.30pm on Monday 20th March 2017 at Friars Green Independent Methodist Chapel in Cairo Street. For further details click here