A POPULAR coffee spot is closing after less than 18 months in business.

The Smithills Tea Room opened its doors to customers in July last year and has proved a favourite for visitors and locals alike.

But now the cafe will cease operating on December 24.

It is currently being managed by family-run SM Restaurants (North West) Ltd, which operates a number of restaurants around Bolton.

The closure news has come as a shock to supporters of the venture and its home, the historic Smithills Hall.

Smithills resident and chairman of the former Smithills Trust, Ian Greenhalgh said: “It brought a lot of people to the hall and now they say it’s shutting, it just seems terrible.

“The cafe is always packed. No matter what the weather there was someone there.

“It’s a great restaurant and tea room. Even in the freezing cold you would see dog walkers sitting outside. It’s an absolutely brilliant place and you think people would want to keep it going.

“It has always been brilliantly supported. Not having a cafe would definitely take the edge off things at the hall.”

The tea room is situated in the existing shop area of the hall and is able to seat around 40 people.

It was set up as a pop-up shop to operate for a period of six months, and its progress was reviewed by Bolton Library and Museum Services.

A Bolton Council spokesman said it would look at continuing the cafe once the current management leaves.

The spokesman added: “Bolton Library and Museum services are sorry that SM Restaurants will not be operating at Smithills Hall after December 24. However it is our intention to find an alternative provider as soon as possible.”

The cafe operates Monday to Sunday, 10am to 5pm, offering a range of food and drink.

SM Restaurants originally approached the council with the idea of opening a tea room at Smithills Hall and was offered a six-month trial period.

However, it ran an extra 11 months and proved a hit with visitors, gaining five star ratings and recommendations on popular review site Trip Advisor.

SM Restaurants run a number of restaurants in the borough including San Marco and The Willows in Blackrod; Café Italia on Moss Bank Way and La Roma Restaurant in Stoneclough.

The company did not wish to comment.