All Things Warrington

The Hop Pole, Horsemarket St, Warrington

A spot of Ethiopian burlesque anyone?

If variety is the spice of life, you'd have been hard pressed to find a better night out than the Hop Pole when Harry Dale was licensee.

Dale, a modestly-successful music hall entertainer, took over the town centre pub in 1890, quickly renaming it the Hop Pole Concert Hall.

After presiding over a similar but smaller venture at the old Millstone Hotel in Sankey Street, Harry was clearly looking to expand his horizons by bringing an eclectic mix of entertainers to the Horsemarket Street venue.

Treading the boards with Harry, who described himself as a 'comic vocalist, renowned baritone and court jester', was a stellar cast of weird and wonderful support acts that included Rose Verdant, a 'sentimental soprano'; Miss Jessie Lamont, a 'serio-comic'; Madam Gourlay, a 'whistler and ballet vocalist'; Monseiur and Madam Diamond, a 'knife throwing duo'; and, most intriguing of all, Pete Brodie, an 'Ethiopian burlesque comedian'.

If Pete Brodie was a sight to behold, spare a thought for the Hop Pole's clientele nearly ninety years later when a pre-fame Chris Evans, the Warrington-born DJ, rolled up in nothing but a loincloth to deliver one of his first 'Tarzanograms' to an unsuspecting public.

Evans' subsequent career is well documented but what about Harry Dale's?

When Harry began his tenure at the Hop Pole he would have known he was in for a challenge. Not only did the pub have a 'notorious' reputation (enough for the local licensing committee to consider not renewing its licence when Harry applied to extend it in September 1890), but Warrington also had two established theatres vying for the public's patronage including the Royal Court (then known as the Public Hall) in Rylands Street and the Grand Circus in Sankey Street.

In his book, The Last Edwardian Jester, Harry's grandson Colin Dale states there was also competition from the old White Bull public house/music hall at 38 Horsemarket Street.

Despite the pub's reputation and considerable competition, Harry appears to have made a good fist of things. First, the licensing committee agreed to renew Harry's licence saying they had "no fault to find with Mr Dale" as "nothing objectionable now took place on the premises" and secondly, when Harry vacated the pub 18 months later, it was taken over by a Mr and Mrs Coop who renamed it the 'Coops Varieties', suggesting that Harry's attempts to establish a thriving music hall venue at the Hop Pole had been successful.

Sadly, by 1894, two years after Harry's departure, the Hop Pole's application for a music licence was turned down.

Today, the Hop Pole, which dates from 1762, once again has its music licence intact and boasts the same attractive Victorian facade that was present in Harry's day. Although the entertainment these days tends to follow the trusted DJ/Karaoke format as opposed to Ethiopian burlesque or whistling ballet, the pub is well worth a visit. A recent upgrade resulted in a bright new interior which, although more modern, manages to maintain much of the building's older character.

Now rebranded 'Hop Pole 49', the building is included on Warrington Borough Council's 'Schedule of Buildings and Structures of Locally Important Architectural and Historic Interest' which effectively means it is a locally listed building. Unlike the aforementioned Theatre Royal, Grand Circus, White Bull and Millstone, the Hop Pole should be with us for many years yet.


The Hop Pole

The Hop Pole's distinctive Victorian-style facade at 49 Horsemarket Street.

Harry Dale Book Cover

Harry Dale, licensee of the Hop Pole in the early 1890s and the subject of a book by his grandson Colin Dale. Although now out of print, copies of the book can be found in Warrington Library.

Hop Pole licensees
Mrs Peers (?-1818-?)
W. England (?-1823-?)
Richard Peers (?-1825-?)
John Wagstaff (?-1828-?)
Ann Kershaw (?-1871-?)
Harry Dale (1891-1892)
Elizabeth Ann Coop (?-1895-?)
Alfred J Wood (?-1924-?)
Walter Pilkington (?-1965-?)
Florence McGuiness (?-2009-?)
Steve Simpson (2012-?)
Stacks Image 173
Making a stand at the Grand...

Prior to his Hop Pole tenancy, Harry Dale honed his skills for entertaining the Warrington public at a largely forgotten theatre known as the Grand Circus. Situated opposite Bank Park on the corner of Sankey Street and Dixon Street, The Grand could seat over 3,500 people and in keeping with its 'variety' themed entertainment was known by a variety of names including Hampton's New Circus, The Temperance Theatre, The Gaiety, Newsome's Hippodrome, The Empire and The Palace (the final two not to be confused with the later Empire and Palace theatres that opened in Buttermarket Street and Friars Gate).

Originally a wooden structure, the Sankey Street theatre-come-music hall-come circus venue appears to have been established in 1881 but was widely regarded as an eyesore. When the council insisted the building be pulled down in 1884 it was rebuilt using iron, becoming what the Warrington Guardian described as the first permanent gas-lit iron circus in Britain.

Harry performed at the theatre many times between January and August 1889 initially as a clown and later as a lyrical jester. On one memorable occasion Harry had an on-stage spat with the then circus master, Mr Weston Gibbs. The row occurred after Harry stepped onto the stage only to be told it wasn't his turn. Harry, who was clearly an honourable man, refused to leave, accused the circus master of attempting to "queer" him and began his performance regardless.

A stand-off ensued during which Harry played his concertina with gusto whilst the band played a totally different tune at the insistence of Mr Gibbs. Eventually the police were called and Harry was forcibly ejected to a chorus of boos and hisses. It appears no further action was taken - indeed Harry was back performing at the Grand a week or so later.

When reporting the incident a fortnight later, The Era, a popular weekly theatre newspaper stated most of the audience assumed the incident was part of the night's entertainment!


What's in a name?
According to thefreedictionary.com a hop pole is a 'tall pole' designed to 'support the wires on which the hop plant is trained'. In the 16th century, Dutch immigrants introduced a species of hop called 'H. lupulus' into the brewing process. As hop gardens began to appear throughout the UK, public houses began to take their names from the tools of the hop growing trade, the Hop Pole being just one example. Perhaps 'The Original Wire' in Orford Lane was named after hop wire and not the town's rugby league team afterall?

Further reading: The Last Edwardian Jester - Mr Harry Dale and his Musical Family (2010) by Colin Dale. MPG Books Group. Many thanks to Colin for allowing me access to his notes when compiling this page.

For an interactive database of Old Warrington Town Centre pubs click here.
Footnote
It's ironic that article no.1 in this series should focus on the only drinking establishment I've ever been barred from. To be fair my eviction was a little harsh. It followed a midweek night out in the early 1980s. On the way back to the bus station, one of our party decided to nip into the Hop Pole to use its toilet facilities. As it was raining heavily the rest of us gathered just inside the pub's entrance to wait for our friend's return. The then landlord, apparently upset that people were using his facilities without buying a drink, demanded we either buy one or move on. When one of us laughingly ordered four pippets of Labatt's lager we were quickly ushered off site and told not to come back "anytime soon". The landlord probably did us a favour - it was around the time a youthful Chris Evan's was due to appear in his Tarzanogram loincloth.


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