From January 2006 to March 2008 The Topic Folk Club was at the Cock & Bottle. Only a short time, but we did a bit of historical research on the pub when we moved in, and it seems a pity to lose it even though we're no longer there. It's a social history of Bradford, or something.
Anyway, with a fatal stabbing on the premises, an exorcism, four years being run by a Christian volunteer group followed by a period of abandonment and the undignified prospect of being turned into a children's nursery, the Cock & Bottle's history is worthy of a folk song in its own right - and that's only including events from the fairly recent past.
There's another 250 years to take into account, but it looked as though the long story had finally come to an end when the Cock & Bottle closed and was boarded up in March 2003. That same year, ironically, the pub was one of only 250 in Britain to be classed by CAMRA as having an interior of outstanding historic interest, which people could no longer see.
There was some concern about what would happen to the Grade II listed building, but in 2005 local small brewer William Greenwood stepped in and bought the pub, did it up and opened it in the summer with landlord Peter Fell in charge. This was no big anonymous brewery, as the Cock & Bottle was the brewer's only pub and the names of their real ales brews - such as Old Jock Strap and Blind Ref - reflected the Rugby League interest of founders John Williams and Rick Greenwood.
The new owners started brewing again on the premises for the first time in 80 years, picking up a long historical thread. An inn of some sort was first licensed on or near the site of the Cock & Bottle in 1747 and ale is said to have been brewed there at the time. Just over the road from Bradford's oldest house, the Old Paper Hall, the location has another historical connection - it's the place Sir Thomas Fairfax's wife is said to have been captured by Royalist forces in 1643, during the Civil War.
The pub was completely rebuilt in 1820, when the Otley Road was constructed, and the name The Cock & Bottle - which has nothing to do with fighting cocks but essentially advertises that both bottled and draught beers were on sale - was in use by 1822, when it was recorded in a trade directory. In the 1860s it was remodelled, doubled in size, and pushed upmarket with large plate glass windows, mirrors, gaslighting, brass, polished wood and pewter fitments designed to create a warm and bright environment that must have been quite exotic by contrast with what were most people's experiences of a dim indoors lit by, presumably, a single candle.
The Cock & Bottle was refurbished again around the turn of the 20th century, and when it was offered for sale in 1902 the notice described the pub as "a valuable fully licenced premises with brewhouse, stabling and outbuildings [and] two shops with dwelling houses." The inn was "a commanding corner property, substantially built, well arranged and doing a very large and lucrative business, being in a thickly populated district, and only a few minutes walk from the centre of the city. Trams with connections to all parts of the city were said to pass the door." (Malcolm Toft, in Bradford CAMRA).
It was probably the last home-brewhouse left in Bradford when brewing stopped in 1927, on the death of the Cock & Bottle's then owner, William F. Howard (though it restarted in Spring 2006, with Drop Kick the first new real ale brewed on the premises). The pub was sold to Leeds & Wakefield Breweries, which traded as Melbourne Brewery - a link there to The Melborn Hotel, which took its name from them (and changed the spelling following a dispute). Joshua Tetley & Son took over in 1960, and in 1984 named it the city's first Tetley's Heritage Inn in recognition of its historic origins and fittings. The pub's venerable decor got it parts in the 1983 film The Dresser (with Tom Courtenay and Albert Finney, and directed by Peter Yates, who also did Bullitt), and episodes of TV's Minder series.
Despite that, the pub had a chequered history in the 1990's. It was closed and boarded up for a while in 1991 when the licensee walked out, and in 1996 the then landlord Peter Tooley was stabbed to death by his wife Marjorie after a row. In 1998 Tetley sold it to the Enterprise Inns group, and in the same year the building was given Grade II listed status by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport at the urging of CAMRA because of its traditional "compartmentalised" interior.
In 1999 the pub was rented by a Christian group who - after exorcising the building - ran it as a non-profit-making operation, staffed entirely by volunteer worshippers from Bradford's Christian community. In 2003 that project came to an end and the doors closed, many thought for the last time. No-one could be found to take over the lease and it was put on the market as part of a larger pubs sell-off, with accountants, architects and a children's nursery owner among the bidders.
Fortunately nothing came of those plans and the tiny tots and bean-counters had to take their miserable businesses elsewhere. In 2005 William Greenwood took over the Cock & Bottle and reopened it as a pub with a live music licence and up to 13 hand pumps serving their own and guest real ales. So when late in 2005 The Melborn Hotel announced it was closing its doors forever and the Topic Folk Club knew it would have to move, the Cock & Bottle was ready - a suitably old new venue for The Oldest Folk Club in the World!
Unfortunately, since the Topic moved out the pub was boarded up again and lay empty for years. It is now (2016) a restaurant;.