BANK street is one of the main gateways into Bolton town centre, but it is a tired and sorry sight these days.

Walk up from Folds Road and you’ll first see the boarded up mess of the former Dog and Partridge pub which never recovered after a car crashed into it in 2014.

And it doesn’t get any better as you walk up towards Deansgate. On the left highlights include a scruffy entrance way most recently home to a taxi firm and a long abandoned former club which more often makes headlines these days because people have started fires there, prompting concern for the safety of rough sleepers.

Among the still occupied buildings are a lap dancing club and a shisha bar.

The opposite side at that end of the street (actually Manor Street at this point - technically it becomes Bank Street as it crosses the River Croal) is now a car park, eventually opening up to the back of a pub and the Bank Street Unitarian chapel.

The top of the street is currently home to a hairdressers and takeaway while the sad demise of Preston’s of Bolton on the opposite side has left the street’s best known landmark empty since 2016.

But back to the Unitarian church, because that is a good point to journey back more than 300 years in time. Long before the street became the run-down stretch it is today, it was actually a major player in the shaping of religion in the region.

Before it became Bank Street, the road was known as Windy Bank, for obvious reasons. No doubt the winds whipped up from Tonge Moor making it a chilly channel before more recent building developments offered a bit of protection from the elements.

We know that there was a manor house occupied by preacher Robert Seddon on land near where the chapel now stands in the 1670s. The house may have dated from far earlier.

The original chapel was built on land donated by Seddon in around 1696.

It was a time of religious upheaval with many people unhappy with the recently established Church of England’s doctrines of intolerance.

With its new headquarters in what is now Bank Street, Bolton became a centre for non-conformity.

Only a few years earlier the vicar of Bolton Rev Richard Goodwin had been one of 2,000 non-conformist divines evicted from their church homes because of their beliefs.

One of the most prominent ministers to preach at the chapel was Rev Thomas Holland who came to Bank Street in 1755 and established a boarding school next to the chapel.

The original chapel was replaced in 1856 with the current building, designed by George Woodhouse. The older building became a Sunday school but is now demolished.

The chapel is still open for worship on Sunday mornings.

Journeying back even earlier in time, the street probably dates back to the 13th or 14th century.

In the Middle Ages it served as a drove road leading to the town’s market which used to stand at the top of where Windy Bank, Churchgate, Deansgate and Bradshawgate meet.

The River Croal marked the ancient boundary of Great Bolton and Little Bolton.

It would seem that around the 1600s Windy Bank was also home to Bolton’s dungeon, which stood behind a pub called the Hare and Hounds. The dungeon was downsized in 1778.

At the top end of the street where the former Preston’s of Bolton building stands was the town’s fish market until it moved in 1865. Presumably it formed a part of the main market at the top of the street.

For most of the last century, opposite the Dog and Partridge, was Whitehurst’s Corn Mill, which is now a car park. The mill survived the widening of the road, probably in the 1930s.

Around this time the building later occupied by Manor Carpets and then a series of failed bar ventures was home to a pub called The One Horseshoe.

In the early 19th century the pub was a departure point for stagecoaches. Apparently one landlord once kept six elephants in the pub cellar while the circus was in town!

Of course drinking establishments have played a big part in Bank Street as with most of the town centre. Older readers will no doubt have memories of Maxwell’s Plum, which was known as Beachcomber and Playmate in other incarnations.

Bank Street has changed a lot over the centuries, but it’s next change could be the most dramatic of all.

The street forms one boundary of the council’s Church Wharf ‘intervention site’ along with the River Croal, St Peter’s Way and Folds Road. As part of the council’s masterplan for the future of the town centre, up to £250 million could be spent regenerating the area which could see up to 500 homes being built and the River Croal being brought back into use as a major attraction.

The dilapidated buildings along the eastern side of Bank Street are sure to become a thing of the past.

But who knows - the Unitarian chapel could still be attracting worshippers for centuries to come!