Now that the new No.3, complete with its unique name, has been saved to start a new life, perhaps it is time to look at its beginnings. Over the years it has been used as an ale house, an auction room, a coaching house, a hotel, an inn and a pub. In the past it has been called Cronshaws, The Number 3, The Didsbury Hotel, The Didsbury Late No. 3, The No.3 Late Didsbury, The Crown and now magically it has reverted to its original and best name - two hundred years old and still going strong.
A team of archaeologists let loose on its carpark would uncover not only the remains of the 1780 building, a very modest cobbled single storey ale house with stabling, but several other ale houses going back to doomsday. Situated at the crossroad to the old village of Layton, the building would have been the most important part of the village. Travel would have been on horseback and so the stabling essential, not to mention ale for the throat of the brave rider. For until the 1870s the lane would be mostly baked clay and very stony.
The earliest mention of an inn was 1780 when it sported a bowling green and an archery butt - a reminder of the old days when practice was compulsory for every man on a Sunday. The area was considered a splendid place to walk to from the Promenade, especially on a rainy day. This was due to there being a card room with backgammon boards and good ale.
The No.3 had the distinction of having the first theatre/music hall, but theatre was a slight exaggeration. “Do not conjure up even a wooden structure or stage”, a contemporary report states, “for the place dignified with the name of theatre stands for 9 months of the year as a barn”.
The pub has had its share of colourful landlords, from Robert Sutcliffe in the 1840s, a carter from Rochdale, to the local William Parkinson who introduced its strawberry garden and kept a gardener in 1850. John Hodgson took over in 1855 and certainly rejuvenated it, extending the garden and advertising its charms widely. Hodgson shared the public house with another local boy, John Noblett, when he bought land further down the lane and began building what was to become the Belle Vue Hotel and Strawberry Gardens.
John Noblett and his wife Alice remained there until 1873. He survived a bankruptcy order, and in that year bought the Veevers Hotel in King Street, making a great success of it.
By now the No.3 was the property of brewers, Frith and Linnel. They renovated it, adding three bedrooms and a billiard room. The stabling was deemed excellent and included a new lock-up coach house. The pub acquired its first landlady, Sarah Hawks, who was well-known in the area. Barely a month went by without Sarah and John Hodgson falling out or appearing in the local courtroom. Sarah was John’s landlady at the Albert Hotel (later renamed the Belle Vue) until her son was accused of burning his music hall down. As a result, John sacked Sarah and for the next ten years they competed for business along with the Raikes Hall Gardens.
Sarah was an astute lady. She saw the writing on the wall, closed the strawberry gardens and built the Belle Vue terrace of houses in 1878. She put in a music hall and with gay abandon advertised it as the Didsbury Hotel Late No 3, the most comfortable hotel in Blackpool. This was despite having only three bedrooms, all of which were let to gentlemen only. There was, however, a darker side with the coming of the Raikes Hall. The lane became well known as the haunt of prostitutes and good-time girls and many of them used the Belle Vue and the No.3. Police and watchmen patrolled the lane and Sarah was accused of selling ale to them. She very spiritedly asked for details of how she was to recognise them.
Sarah’s music hall opened at 9am and closed at 11pm, and for the princely sum of 4d you could stay all day. We may have had all day drinking in the 1980s, but Sarah was doing it in the 1880s!
By this time there was competition from the growing and splendid Belle Vue, with its strawberry gardens and music hall, and the Raikes Hall was rapidly becoming the top amusement venue in the area. They all strove to outdo each other. Both John Hodgson and Sarah Hawks applied for a spirit licence to match the Raikes and reluctantly the magistrates provided them. Unfortunately, it was not to save them. John Hodgson sold the Belle Vue in 1879 and Sarah ran the No.3 as a pub with music. Even the Raikes failed once the Winter Gardens venue was built. When Layton Hall, just up the road began with shows and exhibitions, Sarah had stalls down the lane supplying food and drinks. Sarah sadly died soon after at the age of 53. Sarah’s son took the tenancy but only lasted a year. The brewery then ran the No.3 as just a public house and so it has remained. The pub has had its ups and downs since its early days, but remains above all a survivor.