The Olde Boar’s Head is a rare example of an early timber framed building, acknowledged by Historic England as outstanding, it is Grade II* listed and claims the title of the oldest original public house in England.
Part of the timber framing to the right of the front door has recently been tree-ring dated and confirms a building date of 1622. The first tenant was Isaac Walkden, son of Middleton schoolmaster, Robert Walkden. Isaac died during a typhus epidemic in the summer of 1623. His will, preserved at Lancashire Archives, includes an inventory of all his possessions listed on a room by room basis. There were a total of 9 beds and 20 chairs or stools in the 6 rooms. This, together with barrels, brewing vessels, pots, glasses, etc, strongly suggest the building was an inn. The Walkden family went on to run the Boar’s Head until the end of the 17th century. They also farmed nearby land including what is now Jubilee library and park.
The original building was commissioned by Sir Ralph Assheton, lord of the manor, who handed the lease to the rector of Middleton to help provide him an income. It was built on the road to Rochdale, part of the ancient highway between York and Chester. The location is between the rectory and St Leonard’s church on what was known as glebe or church land.
The Inn may have been built to accommodate lay visitors to the church or school; early leases describe the building as the Lower House. The title Boar’s Head does not appear in any 17th century documents but may have an association with the heraldic crest of the Assheton family. The first Sir Ralph Assheton was a friend of Richard III whose coat of arms included a white boar. It became known as the Old Boar’s Head in the 1830’s changing to the Olde Boar’s Head in the 20th Century, occasionally prefixed with “Ye”.
The building was extended to the left (south) in 1654 using identical timber frame construction methods. A brick built assembly or sessions room was added to the right in the 1830’s connecting the pub to existing farm buildings. Later extensions to the rear now contain the kitchen, toilets, Bamford and Fisherman’s room. Cottages to the left of the Inn were demolished by Middleton Corporation in 1892 to make way for Durnford Street. The farm buildings collapsed into the road and were demolished in 1920.
The oak frame, standing on a stone plinth to protect it from the damp ground, consists of 10 wall and 6 cross frames manufactured off site and reassembled during construction. Each joint would be custom fit and carpenter’s assembly marks were added to identify each piece. These marks can still be seen with careful examination. Stone buttresses at ground level support the weight of the main timber post.
The building consists of five bays, three to the right of the front door and two to the left. The oak was felled locally and matches extremely well with the timbers used to build nearby Tonge Hall. The logs would have been split or cut to size very soon after the tree was felled; it was much easier to work with green oak. Once the joints were assembled, the frame was firmly locked together with oak pegs creating a very strong structural shape. The stone roof tiles are graduated with the largest pieces at the base to ensure the frame could take the full weight of the roof. Most of the distortion you see in the frame probably happened within the first few years of use. The timbers are now as hard as steel.
Next, the square panels were each filled with ‘wattle and daub’. You can still see a surviving example of this in the bar area protected by perspex. Vertical oak staves would have been inserted first with a wattle of clefted timber wound between them in a basket fashion. A layer of lime plaster mixed with horse hair was daubed on either side and finished off with lime wash.
Both of the original buildings had a fire hood fitted over an open fireplace. Remnants of these were photographed during the 1980’s renovations. Stone and brick fireplaces were added later when the use of coal was established.
You can see the remains of two bricked up external doors to the left of the front door indicating there was a conversion to three separate houses at one time. The three gablets have a quatrefoil (four leaf) decoration, the one nearest Durnford Street is original and filled with wattle and daub, the middle one is a later addition and the right hand one has been refurbished.
Throughout the 18th and 19th century, the Boar’s Head continued to be a thriving public house. It was used for political, public and church meetings. Entertainment included dialect poetry reading and prize fighting in the barn. Quarterly court sessions were held in the Sessions room where visiting Justices of the Peace from the Salford Hundred helped local magistrates deal with crime.
In 1888, the fledgling Middleton Corporation purchased the building from the church with the intention of demolishing it to build a town hall. Discussions were held in 1914 but, thankfully, the plan was abandoned due to an outcry from the public spearheaded by architect Edgar Wood. The pub was briefly let to the Peoples Refreshment Housing Association in 1902. They had a failed attempt at promoting temperance on the premises.
Middleton Corporation became part of Rochdale Borough Council in 1974 and they leased the pub, firstly to Tudor taverns, then to local brewery J. W. Lees who in 1988 undertook a massive restoration into the fine building we have today.
Written by Cliff Ivers on behalf of Middleton Archaeological Society
Supported by Edgar Wood and Middleton Townscape Heritage Initiative