The Cross Keys pub is closely connected with the story of Abraham Law, a clog maker of Square in Walsden, and it is worth telling his story as he is the one who built the Cross Keys and as such is the main person involved in its history.


Possibly the cottage where Abraham was born

He was born in 1796 at Square in Walsden, one of the youngest of an enormous family. He became a clog and pattern maker, as his father had been. Whilst only about 19 years old, he married Susan Fielden and they settled at Winterbutlee in Walsden where they had a family of four children before Susan died prematurely in 1822, just 6 months after the death of their 4th child. Abraham moved back to his own family home at Square where he continued with his trade.

It was not long before he took a second wife. She was Nancy Crabtree, a neighbour from Square. Nancy looked after her three stepchildren and provided Abraham with a further nine. They lived at the present number 10 Square Road, and following the 1830 Act, they opened a beerhouse calling it the Cloggers Arms.

About 1840, when the railway was being built, the area was full of railway labourers, and the beerhouse did well. However, the Railway Company was building a new road, which by-passed the old highway along a piece of land between it and the canal. The photo shows the old road (Square) and the new.
This old photo shows the old and new roads runing parallel to each other with a pavement separating them, looking towards the Cloggers Arms, which is in the middle of the terrace of cottages on the left of the picture.

Abraham was worried this new road would prove detrimental to his trade. Travellers on the highway would no longer pass his door. He and Nancy decided to build a brand new beerhouse right on the new road between it and the canal. The front door would attract the road travellers and the back door would be a welcome sight to the canal men. The beerhouse was built with four attached cottages, known as Birks Cottages, and Abraham and Nancy moved in.

The rear entrance to the pub from the canal tow path

The extra space that the building gave them would be welcome with the amount of children they had. Another good reason, which may have swayed Abraham into its construction. The story of one of their sons, Tom Law, can be read HERE.

The name of Cloggers Arms was retained initially and the business thrived. In addition to selling wines, ales and porter, the beerhouse was also a family grocers and tea merchants.

Walsden Church was also built during the 1840's. In 1848, it was consecrated and dedicated to St. Peter. The sign associated with St. Peter is, apparently, crossed keys. It seems that for this reason, the beerhouse was re-named the Cross Keys; a name it still carries today.

Abraham died at the relatively early age of 54 in 1850 whilst living at the Cross Keys. Nancy lived on at the beerhouse, keeping the business running successfully at least until 1866 by which time James Crowther was the landlord. She died in 1869 aged 64 and is buried at St. Peter's, Walsden.


James Crowther had been a grocer at Strines before he moved to the Cross Keys. He had a good business and had been running it for many years, so his trade and his good name would no doubt follow him to the Cross Keys. James' sister Jane was the first wife of the noted local historian John Travis.


James married Mary Unsworth, a local girl, in 1843 and they had three daughters and a son, all born before they moved to the Cross Keys. The son, Joseph, later married Elizabeth Hudson, who was the sister of Mary Jane Hudson wife of Oscar Howarth, who was to become the next landlord of the pub after James Crowther.

Trade must have been good as James was able to retire by 1881, and the pub passed to Oscar Howorth, who as mentioned, had a slight connection to the Crowthers by marriage. Oscar was the son of William and Mary Howorth of Pexwood, a family of mill workers. He married Mary Jane Hudson, daughter of John and Mary and they had one son, Albert, born in 1875.

A boarder at the pub in 1881 was a blacksmith, who may have found work in the pub stables, as many horses would have stopped at this convenient location. The carters with their horses and carts at the front and the canal horses at the back would all need some attention at times.


Oscar moved on from the Cross Keys to become a hotel keeper at Station Road, Haslingden, which is where he died. His brother William then took over as landlord of the Cross Keys with his wife Lydia and their three children, Fielden, John William and Arthur. William died in 1895 but his wife and son Fielden carried on running the pub. Lydia Howorth became a well-respected landlady and when she died in 1905, her death was reported in the yearly Almanac, remarking that she had been the landlady for nearly 21 years. This left Fielden, the son, to be the last representative of this family's connection with the Cross Keys. He died in 1929, still at the pub and his death ended nearly 50 years of the Howorth family's connection with this popular local hostelry.

A later landlord in the 1930's was John Williams. He and his wife Janie were the licensees when Janie died in 1935. He left the pub some time after and died 11 years later in 1946. They are buried together at St. Peter's.


It is interesting to note the various different addresses for the pub taken from the census:

1851: Birks Cottage

1871: 5, Birks Terrace

1881: 5, Square

1891: 5 & 7 Birks Cottages

1901: 649 & 651 Rochdale Road


From this, it looks as if the pub was enlarged in the late 19th century by taking over one of the original cottages. This can bee seen by the photo, showing the Cross Keys and three cottages where once there were four.


Almanac shows, which were very popular, were held regularly at the Cross Keys, and one in 1881 had 58 almanacs on show, with one almanac dating back to 1702 that was the star attraction. A year later, 240 were entered, showing how the popularity of these entertainments had grown. They would have generated a lot of trade for the pub and became quite a social event.


A fair share of tragedy also occurred, and one such case happened in the January of 1889, when William Blezzard was found dead in the stables. He was 42, the chance child of Ellen Blezzard and he lived at High Wicken, Moorcock. His work was as a collier and at times, a coal carter. A sad end for a hard working chap.


More lighthearted entertainment was had by bets of various sorts. One of the most popular was taking bets on how far and fast could be walked or run in a stated time. In May 1900, George Pearson, a local chap undertook to walk from the Cross Keys to the Moorcock up Inchfield and back in 30 minutes. He did it with 3minutes to spare, so winning his 10 shillings, which he no doubt spent at the bar. He was obviously a very fit man, or he knew a few short cuts.

The Cross Keys eventually got a full licence in 1960 and it continues to offer food, drink and a warm welcome to travellers, be they local people, walkers, cyclists on the canal towpath, passers by in cars on the busy road, or holiday makers on barges who can moor right outside the back door, which is a very convenient arrangement. What could be more agreeable on a lovely English summer's day and what perfect setting.