Signs have been placed in the windows of Bolton's oldest pub informing punters that it has closed.

The latest development comes after workers at Ye Old Man and Scythe in Churchgate, which is believed to be one of the four oldest pubs in England, arrived yesterday to discover the doors locked and the pub closed.

Brewery bosses insist the closure is only temporary but refused to indicate how long it would be shut, saying it was “confidential”. It is understood that it not due to a licensing issue.

Joint manager John Madden, aged 33, said: “We received text messages telling us we’d been made redundant.

“I’ve worked here for 13 years. We’re all shocked.

The pub was open over the weekend, including Sunday night, and there was no sign of any closure.”

Co-manager Wes Brown, aged 32, added: “I found about the redundancies via a text message, just like everybody else. I’ve worked here for almost 12 years.

“The pub has been quiet some days through the week but that’s the case with pubs everywhere. It’s still been busy at weekends and trade was holding up well enough.

“It’s never been shut other than when it was hit by fire. Nobody ever expected it not to be open.”

Ye Old Man and Scythe, which had been run by John Jewitt before he tragically drowned on holiday in Lanzarote last year, employed seven staff.

Customer Andy Bailey, aged 29, of Walkden, said: “I’m genuinely shocked about this. I was drinking there on Friday night and it was crammed. It was one of my favourite pubs.

“I started going there about 11 years ago.

“I liked its history and tradition, and the cider was good too. It was also good for music.”

Mr Jewitt was well-known for staging re-enactments of the 1651 beheading of the Earl of Derby outside the pub. The annual events led to a European Market in Churchgate.

His widow, Jaycee, had been running the pub since his death last October.

The first recorded mention of the pub, which is part of the Enterprise Inns chain, was in 1251, making it one of the UK’s oldest public houses and the oldest in Bolton. It was rebuilt in 1636 and is a Grade II listed building.

A spokesman for Enterprise Inns said: “Ye Olde Man and Scythe pub has only closed on a temporary basis.

“We recognise its popularity within the community and our aim is to resume trading as soon as possible.”

Graham Walsh, from the Bolton branch of the Campaign for Real Ale, called for long-term leases for pubs.

He said: “I don’t know the details of this particular pub, but Enterprise Inns has shut other pubs in the area and then reopened them a few months later with new staff.

“CAMRA generally thinks long-term arrangements are better for pubs and licensees, giving them a better chance of getting to know their customers.

“Short-term arrangements tend not to bode so well for a pub’s long-term health.

“We named Ye Old Man and Scythe our Cider Pub of the Year for two years.

“I hope some good news comes out of this, it reopens quickly and carries on selling a good range of drinks.

“These are tough times and pubs are feeling the squeeze.”

Bolton Civic Trust described Ye Old Man and Scythe’s closure as “very sad”.

Brian Tetlow, of Bolton Civic Trust, said: “Lots of pubs have closed in recent years but this one is really unique for its historic interest. I sincerely hope it can be brought back to life.

“It’s a fascinating old pub, part of the Churchgate conservation area and linked to the nearby cross.”

Churchgate and neighbouring Bradshawgate have suffered a number of blows in recent months.

The La Tasca and Prosecco restaurants in Bradshawgate have both closed, while Cardwells estate agents has relocated from Churchgate to Institute Street.