New life for the Woolpack

Picture  courtesy of Colin Manton.
Picture courtesy of Colin Manton.

Two images, taken about 120 years apart, show the changing fortune of this former Bedford pub.

However, The Woolpack’s new ‘landlords’ might have more in common with its 19th century tenant than it seems.

The Woolpack - picture courtesy of Colin Manton.

The Woolpack - picture courtesy of Colin Manton.

On Saturday the site in Commercial Road will be relaunched as a ‘dry house’ by The Salvation Army, with a mini street festival to mark the event.

The refurbished building brings a new space for community use, but especially for young people to study, play sports or just chill out.

The Woolpack Hub will be run on a not-­for­-profit basis, and houses a café and meeting rooms for clubs and businesses to hire.

The picture dated from 1893 features tee­total tenant Henry Manton, who shunned gambling and was among Charles Wells’ most successful landlords. He spent 40 years running pubs in the borough, and at the time he ran the Woolpack it was a thriving town hostelry, near the busy open air markets.

Woolpack, Bedford, standing outside are Majors and Corps Officers Cliff and Joy Allchin.

Woolpack, Bedford, standing outside are Majors and Corps Officers Cliff and Joy Allchin.

He was one of 17 children and married twice. His first wife, of 23 years, Mary Elizabeth Young, died childless in 1890.

A year later he married Kate Lee. They had at least five children, the eldest being Doris Annie Manton, born in 1892 and thought to be the baby in the picture on the left.

Mr Manton’s story came to light when great-great nephew Colin Manton traced his family history.

In 1999 he wrote to the Bedfordshire Times – now the Times and Citizen – and heard back from a Mrs Hartop, who passed on the pictures left to her by her late mother-in-law, Mrs Doris Manton.

Henry Manton’s story also featured in this paper in the 1960s. The article said: “Henry Manton appears to have been a kind, honest, easy ­going man who ought to have made a fortune, but somehow didn’t.

“He farmed most of Queens Park before it was built up, and could have bought up all of the land there at tuppence halfpenny a foot, but said he “could not see it turning into money” and refused the chance.”

It also mentioned his love for trading pigs, visiting markets “to get the best of pedigree porkers”.

Having at one time “owned considerable house property in Bedford” he had a change of fortune which saw him enter the licensed trade, spending three years at The Swan, in Clapham, 28 years at The Woolpack, and 11 more at The Hop Pole, in Cauldwell Street.

The new “tenants” ­are Bedford Salvation Army Corps Officers Major Cliff and Joy Allchin who are running it as a new kind of haven.

The grand opening and celebration day starts at 10am, and runs to 6pm.

Alongside all the usual festival entertainment, there will be mini tournaments for five-a-side football, netball and table tennis, a bouncy castle for all ages and performances by local dance groups.

And, of course, there will also be music from the Salvation Army Band.