The existence of two public houses in Blackpool called the “No.4” and the “No.3” naturally elicits the question “Where were the No.2 and No.1?” And several local historians have given their opinions over the years.
As the numbers increase away from Blackpool, it seems likely that the No.1 was on the Promenade at the bottom of Church Street and, indeed, there was a hotel in this position from the late 18th century – the Lane Ends Hotel. It was rebuilt in 1864 as the County and Lane Ends Hotel, demolished for Lewis’s store at the end of 1961.
It follows that the No.2 would have been somewhere between the Lane Ends and the No.3 Hotel. Allen Clarke, Kathleen Eyre, and even Reginald Sharpe France, the first Lancashire County Archivist, suggested that the No.2 had been the Adelphi Hotel, on Church Street near the Winter Gardens. Some locals thought that the now demolished Grosvenor Hotel at the corner of Cookson Street had been the No.2, and even the Saddle at Marton has been suggested.
To make some headway, we ought to consider what the mysterious numbers might have represented. The No.3 and No.4 inns were both on the old route from Blackpool to Poulton. Travelling east from Blackpool, the route turned left in front of the No.4, passing through the village street of Great Layton (the present Layton Road) before turning right at Hoo Hill windmill and meandering towards Poulton. Until the coming of the railway in the 1840s, Blackpool relied on Poulton for most of its supplies.
It has been suggested that the No. 3 and No. 4 had been coaching inns; from as early as 1781 coaches were bringing visitors to Blackpool. But coaching inns (i.e. resting points for people and horses along journeys) would have made little sense so close to, yet not quite at, the fledgling resort. In any case, most early coaches travelled between Blackpool and Preston via Lytham. A more likely possibility is Norman Cunliffe’s suggestion that the numbers denoted pickup points for carriers to Poulton. Although inns would have been convenient for this purpose, it does not follow that there would have had to be one at each designated stopping point.
Many of those addressing the problem have overlooked a significant fact: the earliest reference to the No.3 is in William Hutton’s description of Blackpool, published following his visit in 1788. It follows that any other candidate for the No.2 has to have been in existence at or before that time. The Adelphi Hotel, however, was built by Esau Carter about 1835 and Grosvenor Hotel dated from the early 1870s. Although just across the road from Lane Ends Hotel, the Albion Hotel was thought by some local experts in the early 20th century to have been the No.2. However, this hotel was only built in 1828.
If only hotels are to be considered, Norman Cunliffe has also postulated that the Lane Ends Hotel itself could have been the No.2, the No.1 lying along the Parade, presumably either to the north at Bailey’s Hotel (Metropole site) or south at Hull’s, or even Elston’s at Lower Blackpool. The earliest known reference to the No. 4, incidentally, is in Baines’ Directory of Lancashire published in 1824. It is also mentioned on page 275 of William Thornber’s 1837 history of Blackpool as follows: “the Eagle-Nest, now Number 4”. The present hotel was built around and in front of the old building c1892.
In the course of some correspondence in the Gazette at the end of 1923, when the usual theories were trotted out, an intriguing and plausible alternative location for the No. 2 was mentioned. In response to a letter citing the Adelphi Hotel, then being rebuilt, the Gazette writer “Zephyrus” was emphatic that Councillor Richard Swarbrick, a director of the brewers C&S, knew that a cottage demolished in 1906 at the junction of Church Street and Elizabeth Street had once been the No.2 Inn, kept by his maternal grandparents, Thomas and Ellen Bagot. (Their daughter Ellen had married Richard Parr, whose daughter Elizabeth was Swarbrick’s mother). In the 18th century a little community known as Layton Rakes had existed along that stretch of Church Street.
Born in 1866, Richard Swarbrick remembered his mother visiting relations there. Moreover, he remembered seeing the old tarred number “2” being exposed after a violent storm which had removed the covering of whitewash. This was corroborated by a letter from Alfred Lomax stating that Thomas Taylor, then 83, recalled that he lived in the same cottage from the age of six (about 1846) and, following his marriage, he lived in an adjacent cottage for 42 years. He was there when the storm referred to occurred. It brought away the rough casting on the wall, and the crash had woken him. There, in the morning, he plainly saw the name in black, “No.2.” The writer said that yet another resident confirmed that this cottage had been the No.2 and had also seen the number on the wall.
Mr. Taylor was reported as saying that the late Thomas Bagot, a former sexton of St. John's and related to Richard Swarbrick, had told him that he had enjoyed many a pot of beer at No. 2, but Taylor himself had no recollection of it having been a beer house. No known records exist that show it to have been licensed. Records do show Bagot living at Layton Rakes, albeit in a cottage a few yards to the east of those demolished there in 1906. Before his death in 1887 aged 88, Thomas Bagot’s reminiscences of Blackpool in the 1840s had been published in the local press, but there had been no mention of the No. 2.
However convincing, the reports are, after all, based on hearsay and the location of the No. 2 will probably never be determined with certainty. The correspondence did inspire a series of Gazette articles by the journalist Ben Bowman providing unprecedented detail of Blackpool’s early history. That he accepted Layton Rakes as its location is shown by his assertion that Thomas Bagot’s daughter Ellen had been born at No.2.