Bollington used to have the record for the highest number of pubs per square mile in the UK. The Cotton Tree is still one of them with Mother and Daughter team, Jane and Christina, who have been running the pub for just over two years.
Jane, what was it about the Cotton Tree that caught your eye?
We just loved the pub, it was originally my local, but when I lost my partner I was spending too much time here, so I decided that I needed to be behind the bar rather than in front of it! When we took on the lease, the pub was very simple, white walls, modern art, there wasn’t a ‘cosy’ feel about it; we wanted to restore that.
What changes did you make?
This is a characterful pub, our customers come from all walks of life; we get lots of tradesmen coming in after work, and then the old retired tradesmen coming in and talking to them about the job; they’re normally the early birds. Then, later on, we get the office workers on their way home – some work as far away as London and swing by here to get a pint on their way home for dinner. The weekend brings walkers, tourists and canal boaters.
Taking all of that into consideration, we wanted the pub to reflect all the local industries in the nearby surrounding areas; so we have five distinct areas within the pub.
Bollington was a cotton mill town, so one corner of the pub reflects that with memorabilia and photos from the local discovery centre.
We then have a small mining section with old hats, picks and torches because the area surrounding Bollington was one of the biggest mining areas in the country – it had 75 pits at one point! In the snug, we have the canal area with maps and pictures of the waterways showing the canal that runs through Bollington.
There’s also a railway section, celebrating Middle Wood Way, the old railway line, now a walking track. And finally, in the corridor, some great pictures of the Woodford Aerodrome and the planes they built there, including the Lancaster Bomber. Locals and tourists alike love to be able to walk round the pub and get a whistle-stop tour of the area’s history.
You both wanted to focus on putting this pub back at the heart of the local community; how else have you done that?
We noticed that a lot of the local, single chaps weren’t getting a proper meal at night, so we started offering food. We do one dish a day, that we describe as an old fashioned “Tea”; on a Wednesday it’s always cheese and onion pie, chips and beans. Throughout the week we do liver and onions, homemade pies; all our produce is from the local butchers and other suppliers; except during shooting season when customers often bring in something to cook up – Canadian Geese was a real challenge last year!
We are just about to embark on a marrow growing competition – customers get the seeds from us and compete against each other. At the end we award a trophy to the best one and then I’ll cook up a marrow and lamb stew for all involved. The customers are embroiled in strategies as we speak; prepping the ground, buying fertiliser and ribbing each other about who will win!
You seem to be incredibly happy being the heart of your community and running The Cotton Tree like an extension of your own home, but what single thing would improve your life as a publican?
Transport is our main issue. The buses stop at 8.30pm in the week, so our older customers can’t spend evenings here. We also lost the Domino team as they couldn’t get here for matches.
But we love how we run this pub, we sometimes have groups of lads that come in here and want to know if we have a TV or Jukebox (we have neither), and then they start chatting to one another or playing board games. Before you know it, they’ve had three pints rather than the one they were planning on having because they’ve enjoyed not having all the other distractions. That makes it all worth it.
Jane and Christina run a traditional, old-fashioned pub that only accepts cash, has no tech capabilities and sees its primary role as that of looking after their tight-knit community.