Wednesday, 8 July 2020

From the Archives - March 1985

The Edgeley Escapade

You lucky people, two 'From the Archives' posts in one week.

This time we go back to March 1985 and a Stagger on my doorstep, which I remember taking part in (it actually took place in January).  The author was the pseudonymous 'Jock Stroller' who in fact was, and is, Alastair Walker who lives with his wife Angela in Whaley Bridge. I still see them for a few beers from time to time.  As you'll see, his write-ups tended not to mince their words.

As we'll see later this Stagger caused ructions, in more ways than one. Anyway, here we go...

Beer scores from 0 (undrinkable) to 4 (excellent).

The first Good Beer Guide survey crawl of 1985 kicked off in the Alexandra, Northgate Road, off Castle Street, Edgeley.  This excellent multi-roomed Victorian pub, with a superb ornate listed interior is a perfect example of how excellent many of Robinsons pubs were before their current wave of so-called improvements turn them into boring identikit, one-room bars that are totally devoid of character.  The beer was also in good nick with the Bitter (63p) averaging 2.75 and the mild (60p) 3.75. Handpumped Old Tom is available at the ridiculously low price of 98p. The pub is slightly off the beaten track but is definitely well worth a visit.

Turning right up Northgate Road, and right again brought us onto Bloom Street, where the Hollywood is located. Formerly a private residence, this is now a large, rambling pub with many rooms to suit all tastes. It is owned by Pennine Joke (Hosts) so it will doubtlessly soon be turned into a licensed astrodome or such like. Beware of low-flying drunks and very noisy children lobbing beer mats 'Odd-Job' fashion! Wilsons mild (62p) and bitter (64p) scored 2.9 and 2,2 respectively.

Turning right took us up to Castle Street. The third port of call was Wilsons Royal Oak, a predictable Brewers Tudor type pub. Short measures all round and no sign of a price list. The West wing of the open plan lounge is called the Regency Suite and the East wing the Royal Box. I doubt if the royal family would be inclined to visit this nondescript pub! Bitter (66p0 scored 2.5 and mild (63p) 2.9.

A little further up castle Street is the Prince Albert. This good basic boozer is somewhat spoiled by the cheap and nasty Brewers Tudor interior but sells a reasonable pint of Wilsons mild (62p, 2.9 scored) and bitter (64p, 2.1). Note the interesting directions for the toilets before going back out to Castle Street and the Sir Robert Peel.

This Greenalls pub has recently been modernised and most people agreed that the new decor was an improvement. The comfortable and congenial atmosphere was compensated by good beer on handpump, with mild (64p) scoring 3.1 and bitter (66p) 2.4.

Back to Wilsons in the Pineapple where the bitter (65p) scored 2 and the mild (64p) was unavailable. This boozer is somewhat nondescript but not unpleasant. I am reliably informed that there is a lovely mirror in the ladies loo!

Across the street lay the Windsor Sports (ex Castle), a recently tarted up Pennine Joke pub. The keg decor was complemented by keg mild, in this pseuds pub which looks like an art nouveau McDonalds with pool tables. In fairness there were a lot of sweaty bodies packed in, so it is undoubtedly popular, unlike the handpumped bitter (64p) which only managed 1.8.

A bit further on lay the Jolly Crofter. For some inexplicable reason this uninteresting pub was even more popular than the Windsor Sports. The bitter (66p) received the night's poorest score (1.1). There was a ridiculously loud jukebox playing bloody awful 'music', short measures were dispensed by unfriendly staff. The only point in its favour was that the mild managed a fairly respectable score of 2.4.

A quick diversion to the other side of the roundabout led us to the Armoury, an ex-Bells pub with many excellent small wood-panelled rooms but a disappointing lounge. Robinsons mild (60p) scored 2 and bitter (63p) 2.5.

Back across the roundabout to the Grapes for last orders. This good, basic boozer is on the reserve GBG list and has an excellent chance  of getting into the 1986 Guide. A convivial atmosphere is reinforced by good beer and good prices. Robinsons mild (59p) and bitter (63p) achieved 2.9 and 3 respectively. Since it was the end of the session we were forced to sample the Old Tom (£1.06) which scored 4 (enough said!!)

NB: Since this crawl Robinsons increased their prices by an average of 2p per pint.

What happened next

Well may you ask. There were repercussions.

Firstly, one of the local newspapers decided to aggregate the scores and publish a 'CAMRA league table of Edgeley pubs' or something along those lines.  Needless to say, that wasn't too popular among the lower ranking pubs - cue outraged letters.  This prompted a re-think on how Staggers were written and in future, average scored were dropped in favour of comments like 'the beer was above average'. More long-winded perhaps, but much less controversial (although scores were still recorded for beer quality monitoring - as they still are).

The other minor explosion came from the direction of the Jolly Crofter where the licensees objected to the phrase 'short measures dispensed by unfriendly staff'. This prompted a reconciliatory visit by a few of us which did patch things up. Mind you, our stay was accompanied by so many ostentatious displays of generous topping-up that by the time we left the bar top was awash with surplus beer.

So, what about the pubs themselves? The Alexandra  still trades as a Robinsons tied house and its architectural merits have been recognised by a place on CAMRA's National Inventory of heritage pubs. You can read all about it here. For the record though, it's neither Victorian nor 'off Castle Street'.

It's not entirely certain that the Hollywood started life as a private house. What is certain is it closed in January 2012 and has since been converted into a nursery school. I remember going to a CAMRA committee meeting in one of the upstairs rooms and a local brass band playing in the next one, which made conversation difficult to say the least.

On to Castle Street now and the Royal Oak is still open, albeit 'to let'. It's had a variety of licensees in recent years and could do with some stability I think. It still sells cask beer (well, usually anyway).  The mock-tudor interior has gone, along with the Regency Suits and the Royal Box.

The Prince Albert was a two-roomed, lounge-and-vault, Wilsons pub back in 1985, with a long-serving licensee.  The pub was knocked through after he retired but today it still fills a role as a community pub with, generally speaking, a more mature customer base. It's run by the Craft Union Pub Company. This is a division of Ei (formerly Enterprise Inns) concentrating on community locals - and which seems rather keen on cask beer. The Prince Albert currently has Wadworth 6X and Taylor's Landlord on handpump.

The Sir Robert Peel is a Punch Taverns pub which is currently 'to let' or rather as the sign puts it 'pub lover wanted'.  It can be quite a lively pub at times and does not, as far as I know, sell cask beer (although it has dabbled with it from time to time). Back in the day, this was a tied house belonging to Joseph Worrall's Windsor Castle Brewery, which was sited just off Castle Street.

Next up was the Pineapple, one of the few remaining mid-terraced pubs around, and another Worrall's tied house once upon a time. It's a remarkable survivor and is, I think, independently owned. Very much a locals' pub, no cask beer has been sold for years.

The Pineapple was almost across the road the the Windsor Castle, which had become Windsor Sports back in 1985. This was a classic example of a Host Group refurbishment being left untouched for far longer than its anticipated shelf life and in later years it all just, literally, fell apart.

The old Windsor Castle Brewery was located behind the pub which formed part of a terrace. The brewery sold out to Wilsons in 1896 and in the 1930s the whole site was redeveloped and the new pub always looked somehow out of place among the smaller pubs and shops on Castle Street.  After its Sports phase the pub has various incarnations, one as 'The Joseph Worrall'. It finally closed in June 2006 and after two years blighting the area, it was knocked down and replaced by shops and flats, which you can see here. It is, I think, lucky that the Edgeley Discount Store lost the 'u' from its sign, rather than the 'o'....

The aforementioned Jolly Crofter is also still up and running. It hasn't sold cask beer for years, though.  Unlike the Armoury, which is something of a local flagship for Robinsons. Despite some minor opening out, it's still a multi-roomed community local, which has thriving darts scene and is home to various local groups (the meetings to organise Stockport Beer & Cider Festival are usually held there). The wood-panelled lounge is a particularly fine room, and the Robinsons beers are among the best you'll get in Stockport. Unsurprisingly it's a regular fixture in the Good Beer Guide.

And finally, the Grapes. This was a fine local, run for many years by Dave and Sandra George, with immaculate Robinsons beers. After Dave and Sandra retired it was taken on by Noel and Val Jones, who moved there from the Spread Eagle on Hillgate (which Robinsons closed to turn into brewery offices). They'd settled in nicely but then got the chance to fulfil a lifetime's ambition and departed to Crete. The Grapes closed in February 2012 and is now a café.

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

From the Archives - Opening Times August 1985

Simpkiss Brewery and other matters

Apologies for the temporary absence. When I last posted, we looked at a Stagger of Levenshulme & Longsight back in August 1985, and I also promised a look at the rest of that issue. Here we are.

The main front page story concerned the closure of a brewery a long way from the Opening Times area but there were local connections.

The small Black Country brewery of JP Simpkiss, based at Brierley Hill, had been taken over Greenall Whitley in July. Greenalls had previously been reported as having a bid 'on the table' for some years and when patriarch Dennis Simpkiss died in the early 1980s his son Jonathan sold out in a deal reputedly worth £1.9 million. 

Now, you would think that with a bit of foresight and imagination, Greenalls might have seen this as a possible new boutique operation for them. The Simpkiss estate of 16 pubs could have been expanded, and production of the well regarded bitter increased. But this was Greenalls - the history of their last two decades or so seemed to be a history of poor decisions. Every time they came to a fork in the road, they'd choose the wrong path. What could have been the north west's equivalent of Greene King or Marston's has simply vanished into history.

What they did at Simpkiss seemed particularly reprehensible. The brewery was closed down immediately and the last brew actually poured away. The brewery was quickly demolished - apparently to extend the car par of the former brewery tap, the Foley Arms. The head brewer, John Simmonds, had now seen two breweries close under him - he'd previously been at the old Hole's Brewery in Newark which Courage closed down in 1983.

Funnily enough, Stockport & South Manchester CAMRA had paid a visit to the brewery the previous year, which I'd organised as branch Social Secretary at the time. I remember having a good chat to John as Hole's was one of my two home-town breweries and I remember having pints of the keg Courage (formerly Hole's) AK in local pubs.

You'll note a couple of other things on the front page. Pub of the Month was the Castlewood - we visited this pub here a couple a weeks ago. After several future incarnations it closed in 2003 and has been converted to retail use with flats above.

The former Bridgewater today
There is also an advert for the Bridgewater on Chestergate. In its days as a Wilsons pub it had appeared in the national Good Beer Guide for a few years in the late 1970s and early eighties. The 1979 edition has it selling Wilsons Great Northern Mild and Bitter with the description "Friendly pub, a mecca for darts enthusiasts". It had opened as a free house in June 1985 but closed just five years later. The building is till there being put to other use.

Page 2

This was another instalment of 'Round Britain Drinker' and was written by 'Jock Stroller' (who we shall meet in the next Stagger). Let's have a swift look at some of those pubs.

The Craig Dhu Hotel seems to have vanished but the Onich Hotel is still with us and now sells River Leven Blonde apparently.  The Nevis Bank Hotel in Fort William is now the Nevis Bank Inn and sells two beers from the Cairngorm Brewery, while the Ben Nevis Bar sells beer from the Hanging Tree Brewery (which I'd never heard of but is apparently based in the grounds of the Benleva Hotel in place called Drumnadrochit - here's the Facebook page ).

In Dingwall the National Hotel is still there but sells no cask beer. Up in Thurso, the Central Hotel (also known as Top Joe's apparently) sells three changing guest beers, the Station Bar no longer sells cask while the Marine Bar is now a B&B.

The Caledonian Hotel at Portree may now be the Tongadale Hotel and sells two beers from the local Isle of Skye Brewery. Finally the Inn on the Garry looks like it is now the Invergarry Hotel selling Tetley Bitter.

Page 3

I'm not spending long on this one. Just to record that out of the 11 pubs mentioned, just five remain in operation today.

Pages 4 and 5

Page four is the Stagger we've already covered. On page five, I'll just mention the Travellers Call, the subject of the Pub Grub article.  The Travellers was on Ashton Old Road in Openshaw, not far from the current junction with Alan Turing Way (the construction of which ultimately did for the pub). As you can see it became a free house and flowered for a while (it certainly got itself a local Pub of the Month award).

I think the main point of all this is the location on Ashton Old Road in Openshaw. Back in the day there was a huge number of pubs on or near Ashton Old Road (so much so that when we started planning the Stagger programme, three were needed to cover them all). While these Archive blog posts have covered much of East Manchester,  none have really looked at Openshaw so perhaps a very long post, combining some of the articles and reviewing the fate of all those pubs might be an interesting exercise.

As for the Travellers Call, the October 1990 edition of Opening Times records its closure while the following year the demolition is noted.

Page 6

Again, bits of Pub News. The Houldsworth still trades but sells no cask beer while the Union is also still with us and, as  Robinsons tied house very much does sell cask beer.  The Crown on Heaton Lane has been something of  a cask flagship ever since the Boddington Pub Co turned it into one of their ale houses. At one stage it had a house beer, Green Bullet, produced by Brendan Dobbin at his West Coast Brewery. It's still a free house, now owned by Red Oak Taverns, and is 'to let' but still open and trading.

The only casualty has been Robinsons' Unity which they first 'mothballed' in March 2012 , subsequently selling it off. It's been converted into (what must be very small) flats.

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

From the Archives - August 1985

Longsight & Levenshulme

Last week I planned to follow up the Stagger with a fuller review of the rest of the August 1986 issue of Opening Times. On having another look at it, I decided to pass as there wasn't that much really worthy of comment. This issue, however, does have some more interesting stuff in it so I'll certainly be following it up later this week.

This time we remain in Manchester and the suburbs of Longsight and Levenshulme which are essentially strung out along the A6 as it heads south from the City Centre.  Back in the day there was an interesting collection of pubs, and several of those, notably in Levenshulme, reflected the large Irish community in the area.

This one was written by Carole Brookes who, at the time, was a very active local member, along with her partner Peter. Their cat, Theakston Sebastian Splodge, was also a member of CAMRA.....They all moved away from the area and I know no more about them.

Here we go...

What follows is not intended to be a statement of the quality of the pubs or beer on all occasions, but is our opinion of both on the night of the crawl.

This was definitely a crawl which degenerated throughout its duration. A fine early start was made at 6pm at the Longsight. Much has already been said of this place, its only fault seems to be the fact that it's new! At 6.30 the early starters joined the crawl proper at the Waggon & Horses. The beer was a good average in this large Hosts pub. It would seem to be ripe for 'treatment'. The managers from the Midway have recently moved here and their Pile of Pennies certificate is on the wall, so don't worry you're not in the wrong pub!  A quick check in the Ducie established that Chesters Bitter was to be on by Wednesday or Thursday 5th/6th July. Then on to the Bay Horse, a modern Boddies pub. The beer was good, the pub uninspiring.

The Polygon 
The Crown came next, yet another Host house, this time blessed  with a "Take 2" illuminated sign above the bar which was totally put of keeping with the pub. The beer was good, but nothing to write home about. The Garrett was eagerly looked forward to by all present, its most notable feature being the price of the Drabs (Holts for the uninitiated!). The beer was OK, in fact one of our number waxed lyrical on its excellence, I suppose no-one's perfect! We met with an interesting sight here, a white 'cow' that has to be seen to be believed. Those laziest amongst us cadged a lift to the next stop, the Polygon, a bitter only Boddies pub. A quiet, comfortable pub with reasonable beer.

The return to Wilsons Land was begun by the Horseshoe, where the beer was quite reasonable but far too cold. Jim dropped his beer and had the cheek to blame a slippery glass! Finally the crawl returned to Stockport Road and the home run! First on the straight was the Levenshulme, a run-of-the-mill bitter-only pub, managed by the ubiquitous Host Group. Next came another Host house, the Pack Horse, again Bitter only where the only interesting feature was the glasses. A great pity the bitter wasn't as interesting as the glasses!

Only three to go from here, the first being the Union, a Boddies house where the bitter achieved a spread of opinion ranging from excellent to little better than undrinkable. The prevailing opinion seemed to lean to the former. Our penultimate port of call was the Farmers Arms where handpumped Chesters (I think) was available. Doubt was expressed over the quality of the beer, and Rhys left most of his pint undrunk! The ultimate destination was ultimate in more ways than one! The Midway is a recent 'conversion' by Hosts. The beer was extremely poor, there were unwashed glasses everywhere, and the pub was packed to the door. Perhaps the place is best summed up by a little scenario observed by us:

Bouncer/doorman: "Hope to see you again"
Departing girl: "I doubt it"

This crawl could have been far more compact had more pubs in the area sold real ale; and as an area it is ripe for CAMRA to return to grass roots and start campaigning. Much of the beer was little better than mediocre, much of it was too cold, and one pub served grossly short measure.

I only hope that our branch name change doesn't lead to South Manchester being ignored as the poor relation.

What happened next

Well, that was a whistle-stop tour wasn't it? Lots of exclamation marks as well. It's also leaves some questions unanswered - what was the 'cow' in the Garrett? What was interesting about the glasses in the Pack Horse? More to the point, what beer did some of the pubs actually sell?

Quite a few of these pubs have survived. They have also been joined by a clutch of new bars over the years. We'll also have a quick look at those pubs this Stagger missed out, most which did go on to sell cask beer at some point.

So, let's have a look at the pubs visited first. We've met the Longsight  before. It was a recently built Banks's house, part of their ill-fated foray into Greater Manchester, and had a very short existence. It had closed by November 2006 and was demolished a year later.

The site of the Waggon & Horses
I think we've visited the Waggon & Horses  too. This large Wilsons house occupied a prominent position on the main road and at one time also sold handpumped Bulmers cider. It closed around January 1990 and was knocked down in 1994. Flats have replaced it. You'll note the reference to 'Hosts'. We'll come to them later.

The Ducie closed in early 2004 but, remarkably, is still standing, complete with rather faded pub signage. There have been occasional rumours that it might re-open but it's really well past that stage now. The bulldozer awaits, I suspect. The former Bay Horse (it closed in late 2009) is also still with us, in a much modified form, and now functions as a supermarket.

The Crown became the 'Crown Ale House' although that didn't signify anything in the way of an enhanced range of beers. It didn't save it from oblivion, either. The pub closed in June 2000 and has now been knocked down and replaced by commercial premises.

We talked about the Garratt (to spell it correctly) last week. By the time we visited the pub a year later in the 'Homage to Holts'  the white 'cow' had clearly disappeared. The pub closed in May 2013 and is now a mosque.  The Polygon is also still standing but now functions as a cash and carry, having closed in early 2008.

Now a survivor. The Horseshoe, just off the main road on Chapel Street, is still with us. For many years it was a cask outpost selling handpumped John Smith's Bitter. It doesn't sell cask any more but at least it's a survivor.  The Levenshulme has been open and closed numerous times in recent years but is now open again (well it was before the lockdown started).  It's intermittently dabbled with cask too but had given up on that a couple of years ago.  It's also worth recording that this pub had a five-year run in the Good Beer Guide from 1979-83. How times change.

The Pack Horse has also had a chequered history. It first closed in Autumn 1999 but was open again by October the following year.  It finally closed (allegedly after an intervention by the authorities) in mid-2007. It's now a shop-cum-cafe selling cakes and ice creams.

Despite having been slightly knocked around in the intervening years, the Union is still open and remains a characterful little local but, like many others on the Stagger, no longer sells cask beer. The Farmers Arms fell into the hands of the Magic Pub Company at one stage and suffered the indignity of becoming the 'Farmers Kipper'.  It regained some semblance of normality but nevertheless closed in May 2010. It stood unused for many years but has now been converted to other commercial use. Finally the Midway, which must have been hugely impressive in its day (just look at this vintage photo  You can read a bit more about it on the Pubs of Manchester  blog  here. It closed in May 2008 and has been converted into some sort of college and a discount store.

The pubs they didn't visit

At the time numerous pubs were passed as they didn't sell cask beer. Almost across the road from the Ducie was the New Victoria. This was a Greenalls estate pub selling only keg beers. It later converted to cask and then passed into the ownership of Oakwell Brewery, or rather its mysterious holding company RBNB (the actual ownership of which has never come to light). All of the Oakwell pubs sold a tasty, well-made  and keenly priced cask mild (mild!) and bitter. Many of the older ones were extensively and expensively restored. The it all ground to a halt. The brewery was closed and the pubs were either closed or sold off. The New Victoria closed its doors in March 2013 and is now a nursery.

In Longsight proper there were two further pubs. The imposing Church (vintage image here) hadn't sold a drop of cask in years and never did until it closed in early 1990. It was subsequently sold for other use and it now a furniture shop. It's fair to say that in its last years, the Church had a very dubious reputation.  Not so far away was a Tetley pub, the Springbank Tavern. This had a strong Irish customer base and for a while was renamed O'Connors. It then became the Springbank Inn and sold cask Tetley Bitter for a short while. It closed in 2008 and has been replaced by shops.

Heading further south into Levenshulme was the Little Vic. This was a tidy little pub with a good local atmosphere - and at one point sold cask Lees Bitter (although like many pubs in the area it had originally been a Wilsons house). It was closed in March 2016 and converted to other use.

Moving on to the centre of Levenshulme we'd come to the Church. This was another Greenalls house with no cask beer (they seem to have been the main offenders in this area at the time). Did this place subsequently sell cask? I'm pretty sure it didn't by the time it closed in 2008 for conversion into an Indian restaurant. It has now been demolished.

Heading south, if you take a left turn into Cromwell Grove and keep on going you'll come to the Blue Bell. This Sam Smiths pub was a long-standing cask-free zone. However in recent years it's taken a distinct turn for the better. Benefiting from a sensitive refurbishment and an excellent manager in the form of Mark Dunn, it's gone from strength to strength. It's perhaps the epitome of what a community pub should be and has received numerous CAMRA awards.

Back to the A6 and the hub of Levenshulme is probably where Albert Road joins the A6.  Head a way down Albert Road and, until recently, you'd have come to the Kingsway. Back in1985 this was an enormous keg-only Greenalls pub but happily they sold it on to Holts. I don't think it was the huge success that Holts expected it to be - perhaps it was just too big to work. In any event they closed it at the end of February 2018 and sold it on to a developer. Demolition followed in June last last year.

On the corner of Albert Road and the A6 stands the former Railway, a sizeable old Chesters pub.A later Levenshulme Stagger took place on St Patrick's Day when the Railway, which I think had stared to sell cask by then, has a special offer on Guinness. It was pandemonium. It closed in June 2002 and was converted into an estate agent's office. Then, in early 2016, it reopened as the Dice Lounge, which in turn closed in October 2018.

Finally we come to either the first or last pub in Levenshulme (depending on whether you're travelling north or south). This is, or rather was, the Wheatsheaf on the junction of Stockport Road and Broom Lane. Back in 1985 it was (another) keg-only Greenalls pub (with some rather good old Groves & Whitnall windows). It did sell real ale again but its last incarnation was as the Golden Prague and Club Moravka, a Czech themed outlet run by a lovely Czech couple who'd clearly put their heart and soul into it. Sadly that didn't work out and the pub finally closed in February 2012 and is now selling windows.

New arrivals

The Levenshulme pub scene hasn't just been one of decline and decay. There have been a steady trickle of newcomers over the years, and the pace of that seems to have quickened over the past couple of years.

On the main road, Fidlers Green was one of the first to arrive. It's conversion of a former Midland Bank and while working well as a local, with very much an Irish theme to it, has never sold cask ale. On Broom Lane, the Sidings, is a new-build Holts house selling their cask bitter.

All of the other arrivals are on the main Stockport Road. In Longsight, there was a relatively short-lived Wetherspoons, the Sir Edwin Chadwick. This was a rare blunder by Spoons, and it didn't work at all. It closed in November 2003 and is now an Indian restaurant.

Back to Levenshulme and still trading are Hennigan's Sports Bar and M19. Hennigan's briefly flirted with cask but neither has sold it for years.  These are owned by Lawrence Hennigan, a local businessman who has invested heavily into the area to promote and improve it. His last opening was Fred's Ale House, which is next door to the Union mentioned above (and which he also owns). This bar-cum gallery-cum events space has been a notable success and sells up to six well-kept cask beers.

The past couple of years have seen a flurry of new arrivals with more of a craft focus. They have all been serious and welcome additions to the local bar and beer scene - we have the Station Hop, the Talleyrand, Nordie, and OverDraught MCR. The latter has no fewer than 30 taps!

The Host Group
There are several mentions above of 'Hosts'. So let's have a quick look at the Host Group. 

This seems to have vanished into the mists of time - a very quick Google didn't bring up much. It was the managed house arm of Grand Metropolitan, the leisure company that acquired Watney Mann and its various subsidiaries, which included Manchester-based Wilsons.

They seemed to go bonkers and stories leaked out about how higher management aimed to remove the word 'pub' from the organisation's vocabulary. They certainly had plans to impose unlikely themes on many of their pubs. A piece in the 1985 Good Beer Guide talks about plans for "Big Apple" fashion bars and "Slots of Fun" pubs which would be basically licensed amusement arcades. "Sports" was a favourite theme - the Windsor Castle in Edgeley near me became Windsor Sports.

Perhaps the local nadir was reached when Stockport's Mersey Tavern was transformed into the Indian Raj-themed Far Pavilions. Not only did this boast a 3-metre wide illuminated pith helmet over the bar, but a side room had some sort of raised bandstand-style drinking area surrounded by plastic vegetation, and 'enhanced' by taped jungle noises - which in fact just sounded like a mass outburst of flatulence among the customers.

It was marketing hubris unleashed and it didn't last. Trouble was, as I mentioned in an earlier post, these themes were installed on the cheap, doubtless with a view to ripping them out after a couple of years or so. Unfortunately many of the pubs were then left to their own devices for rather longer than that and quietly began to fall apart.

The reference to the branch name change cane about because the South Manchester Branch decided to change its name to Stockport & South Manchester in June 1985.

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

From the Archives - August 1986

A Homage to Holts

This Stagger appeared in the August 1986 issue of
Opening Times and, as explained in the introduction, was undertaken to mark the death centenary of Joseph Holt. Like the Offerton Stagger covered in the last post, this was also planned as a minibus outing, the difference being that on this occasion it actually turned up. Always a good start.  There are in fact a few other bits and pieces in this issue that really deserve another look so they'll be coming up soon.

This Stagger was actually written by me so re-running it now is perhaps a little bit self-indulgent. But what's the point of having a blog if you can't do that? Anyway, here we go....

Earlier in the year the Centenary of the death of Joseph Holt was reached and to mark this solemn occasion members of the Stockport & South Manchester Branch visited all nine pubs in the branch area. (There's now 10 since the Grafton is now open). What follows is our impression of each on the night and as ever our comments should not be taken as definitive. You'll see that there are no comments on beer quality which, for the record, was pretty good in every pub visited.

We kicked off in the Junction, Cheadle Hulme, where handpumped mild and bitter cost 62p and 64p respectively. A typical large Holts pub which has sadly become pretty run down in recent years, the former billiard room having been partitioned up into a concert room and a corridor to the gents.

Next stop was the Griffin, Heald Green. Holts rebuilt this pub in 1967 and, in common with many pubs of the period the end result has proved pretty characterless. This pub also had the distinction, it that's the word, of being one of the few outlets for Holts short-lived keg bitter. The mild (59p) and Bitter (61p) were dispensed through free-flow electric pumps.

Onto another Griffin, this time in Heaton Mersey, a classic pub by anyone's standards, and now saved from its threatened demolition. Well deserving its Pub of the Year award in 1983, the handpumped mild and bitter were 62p and 64p.

Fourth port of call was the Claremont, Claremont Road, Moss Side. Built in 1929 this is a typical monolithic inter-wars pub. Getting sadly run down now (the smoke room being an exception) this is an excellent basic boozer and, we are told, is Holts top seller for beer. The two ladies in our party reported that the scrubbed wooden seats in the ladies would be a comfort in cold weather! The handpumped mild and bitter were again 62p and 64p.  

Halfway stage was reached at the Garratt on Pink Bank Lane, Longsight. Built in 1960 this is agin a pretty characterless pub consisting basically of a large vault and a lounge-cum-concert room which was hosting a 'talent' (if that's the word) night on our visit. We sat in a small room off, where a group of youths were amusing themselves raising clouds of dust out of the carpet. Again wooden seats in the ladies but the overflowing trough in the gents was less than pleasant. The mild and bitter (handpumped) came in at 59p and 61p.

Next came the Waggon & Horses on Hyde Road. Built in 1913 and knocked about a bit since, this can best be described as an average pub (for Holts!) and would benefit from a coat of paint. Handpumped mild and bitter were again 59p and 61p. Angela and Charlotte again reported wooden seats and mentioned how spotlessly clean the toilets were.

On the home straight now and to the Railway on Manshaw Road, Fairfield. An older pub this time (1894), one of the main features is the superb lamp over the entrance which must be one of the few surviving examples in Manchester.  A previous licensee here is reputed to have stabbed his wife just prior to opening time. cleaned up, opened the pub and served through lunchtime then closed the pub and phoned the police! (A more lurid version has him stringing up the unfortunate lady from the lamp outside). No mild was available but the handpumped bitter, which was probably the least cold of the night, was 64p.

Penultimate pub was the Grove, Ashton New Road. A bright, clean but fairly spartan pub, unsigned like most of the others. An interesting feature is the Roll of Honour on the vault wall recalling those regulars who died in the First World War. Again handpumped, the mild and bitter were 61p and 63p.

Last, but not least, came the Seven Stars on Ashton Old Road. An excellent pub, both inside and out, with a lot of good glasswork and where the tenancy has recently changed hands again. The beer was the dearest of the night - mild and bitter 63p and 65p!

To sum up, a terrific night with an incredible range of pubs. Some were classic examples of tat and grot that only Holts can produce (no names, no writs!) but all had one thing in common - excellent, value for money beers. Here's to the next hundred year!

What Happened Next

Only two of these pubs have disappeared and all of the rest, none can be classed as an example of 'tat and grot'. It's worth saying, I think, that while it's very easy to get nostalgic about the pub scene from years gone by, the overall standard of pubs today is far higher than it was back then.

The Junction was a rum old place with, at time. perhaps not the best reputation. Perhaps it was with this in mind that Holts spent a great deal of money on the pub in 1990(-ish). It was totally made over and largely knocked through while keeping very distinct vault, lounge and dining parts, plus a separate meeting/events room. It was, perhaps a little unimaginatively, renamed the Cheadle Hulme. With a keen and enthusiastic licensee it bedded in well as a successful community local for several year.

Holts then had a rush of blood to the head and splashed the cash again. It was run in some sort of arms-length operation and became the very food-focussed Platform 5 (or P5 as it's now known), which reflects the pub's proximity to the neighbouring Cheadle Hulme station. I don't think this was the runaway success Holts had been hoping for as it was subsequently taken back 'in house' and made a bit more pub-like (albeit still with a major food offer).  It's rather a shame Holts didn't leave well alone and keep it as the Cheadle Hulme - I suspect it would have been no less successful and they'd have saved themselves an awful lot of money.

Now to the Griffin in Heald Green. In 2014 this pub also had a great deal of money thrown at it by Holts. The vault and lounge were combined and a large conservatory was erected at the side. There was also lots of landscaping and an enlarged outdoor drinking area. The emphasis is very much on food (with even an ice cream counter...). It's not all food-focused thought, with a vault-type area to one side if you just want a drink. No mild now but Two Hoots and a Bootleg beer have joined Holts Bitter on the bar.

The other Griffin, in Heaton Mersey soldiers on successfully. It's another pub with a impressive lamp outside and retains a lovely historic core with a mahogany and etched glass bar. Incredibly, in the very early 1980s Holts had plans to knock this down and replace it with a more modern pub. Luckily the plans were shelved and the brewery contented itself with adding a seamless extension a few years later.  Before lockdown they announced plans for a further extension (to the extension!) which would create a significant dining area (happily the core would gain remain untouched). It remains to be seen if and when these plans are revived.

In Moss Side, the Claremont carries on while all around it have given up the ghost. There were numerous pubs in its vicinity back in 1986 and all have bitten the dust. Like all the other pubs visited, it's been spruced up by Holts since 1986, but not unrecognisably so, and continues to serve its community well.

Moving on we come to the first pub loss. While I described the Garratt  as 'pretty characterless' it did have some interesting features- not least the superb etched windows depicting Garratt locomotives made by the nearby (and long-gone) Beyer Peacock works. You can get a hint of them in this archive photo here. Over the years these disappeared, either as a result of vandalism or accidental breakage. The clouds of dust coming out of the carpet are also one of my enduring memories of this night, too. Sadly the Garratt closed in May 2013 and has now become a mosque, I think.

The Waggon & Horses got its coat of paint, and some gentle alterations, but apart from that it still functions today much as it did in 1986. The same goes for the Railway, which remains a fine multi-roomed local, still complete with lamp outside. Many other nearby pubs have closed and none of those that remain offer cask beer.  The Grove is also still carrying on more or less unchanged in a sea of pub devastation. Still a popular lounge-and-vault local, the Roll of Honour remains in the vault, and the pub is especially busy on City home game match days. You'll also note the comment about signage, or rather lack of.  Back then many Holts pubs could be distinguished by both absence of signage and the emerald green paint on the external woodwork.

Finally, the Seven Stars, which has featured here before. When the Stagger called in this was a completely unspoilt 19th century pub. There were two rooms, lounge and vault, off a central corridor, along with an abundance of tiling, etched glass and mahogany. The same issue of Opening Times reported that alterations would be going ahead and the scheme would leave the existing pub 'virtually unaltered'. If only. In fact there was significant knocking through and what turned out to be a wholly unnecessary extension built on the side. I don't think the pub ever really recovered although it didn't finally close until 2010. It's still there - but now operates as a seafood restaurant which got a rave review from Jay Rayner in the Observer. The photo here shows the ill-fated extension (which has also been extended itself).

Despite the two losses, the number of Holts houses in the Stockport & South Manchester branch area has increased over the years. As the Stagger mentions, the re-built Grafton (Grafton Street, Chorlton-on-Medlock) had just opened and the same issue records the granting of planning permission for what is now the Sidings on Broom Lane in Levenshulme. In addition Holts have acquired pubs from Tetley (the Sun & Castle, Hillgate, Stockport), John Smiths (the Railway, Lapwing Lane, West Didsbury), Boddingtons (the Grey Horse, Broadstone Road, Reddish) and Greenalls (Fiveways, Macclesfield Road, Hazel Grove).

Monday, 8 June 2020

From the Archives - June 1986


Following last week's look at the Opening Times Stagger from June 1984, the obvious progression is to 1985. However I re-ran that Stagger a few weeks ago so we move forwards to 1986 and somewhere not yet covered on these archive pieces - the Stockport suburb of Offerton.

Peter Edwardson both wrote the Stagger and drew the map. Peter is still around as an active CAMRA member and he also blogs profusely.  This Stagger actually took place in April 1986 and was the usual mixed bag. Here we go...

The April destination for our regular monthly crawl was the Stockport suburb of Offerton. This is one of the less well-known parts of the Branch area, few of us having visited any of the pubs before. However we found an interesting variety of beer and pubs, and discovered that Offerton drinkers are lucky in that there was not one keg pub among the six we visited.

We assembled at the traditional starting point for these trips, the Manchester Arms in Stockport. This is a pub charitably described as unpretentious and lively, but as usual the handpumped Robinsons Best Mild and Best Bitter were on excellent form.  Old Tom was also available on gravity.

The promised mini-bus was cancelled, so we had to fall back on GMT for transport, catching the 358 at Stockport Bus Station. The driver assured us that the fare was only 23p, but unfortunately he was corrected by an Inspector who got on later and those of us too impecunious to afford Saver tickets were excessed for the princely sum of 7p! All this excitement made us forget to look out for the former Bell's Brewery on Hempshaw Lane, which is still standing. This was taken over by Robinsons in 1949, and was used as bottling stores until the new plant in Bredbury was opened in 1975.

On finally arriving in Offerton, one member of the party was so disorientated by the epic 1½ mile journey that he was heard to wonder "Now where has Stockport gone - is it over there?". To be fair, he had come all the way from Edgeley. The thunderclouds which had been rolling around earlier had now disappeared, leaving a clear and mild Spring evening, perfect weather for a crawl involving some longish walks between pubs.

First call in Offerton was the White House, a Wilsons pub that has recently been refurbished to create a pleasant and comfortable interior. Ronnie & Nancy were out but we did find two handpumped beers, the mild being rated good, while the bitter was average.

Just up the road is the Fingerpost, a large and imposing Robinsons house with fine etched glass windows. Best Mild and Best Bitter were available on electric pumps, and both were well thought of. This pub has a traditional layout - we counted six separate rooms - but a rather tasteless mock-Tudor treatment has been applied to the snug we sat in.The spartan outside gents were out of keeping with the grandeur of the architecture.

The next two pubs provided an interesting contrast between the approaches of two particular national and independent brewers. The Strawberry Gardens is owned by Pennine Hosts, who have done some pretty appalling things to pubs, including Drakes further along Marple Road, which we would have visited had the minibus been available. Here, though, the refurbishment is most acceptable. The pub has an attractive cottage-style frontage, and a darts room and panelled snug have been retained at the front, with a more modern lounge extension to the rear. Some criticism was made of the pastel upholstery and plastic plants, but most of our attention was taken up by an electronic trivia machine. The handpumped Wilsons Mild and Bitter were both of above average quality.

Boddingtons were once renowned among real ale drinkers, but their Gardeners Arms proved very disappointing. It is a good-looking house prominently sited on a road junction, but the interior, although keeping two bars, has fallen victim to a particularly bland modernisation. The most traditional feature was a '1778' plaque behind the bar. Boddingtons Bitter was the only real ale available, which was considered very poor and lacking any kind of taste. Keg OB Mild and Bitter were also on sale, dispensed from identical bar mountings to the real ale. Spotted in the Gents was a Boddingtons water jug containing a toilet brush, the purpose of which puzzled us, although we thought it might have something to do with the poor beer!

On down Offerton Lane to the Emigration, a Robinsons pub serving Best Mild and Best Bitter by electric pump. Both were reckoned below average, although the pub was so packed that it was difficult to taste these properly. The interior has been subjected to the kind of heavy handed one-room conversion unfortunately all too common in Robbies' pubs, but this did not seem to deter the mainly young clientele. A point in favour was that a poster showed that over £2,000 had been raised for Guide Dogs for the Blind.

The Victoria almost opposite was a pleasant change, still busy but enough room to sit down. It's a two-bar Greenalls' pub with mild and bitter on electric meter pumps. Greenalls' beers are sometimes dismissed as bland, but the Victoria showed that, when looked after, both beers can be a good pint. Another plus point was that Worthington White Shield was available.

For the final call of the evening, a ten minute walk back towards the centre of Stockport brought us to the Waterloo on Waterloo Road, a Robinsons house selling electrically dispensed Best Mild and Best Bitter, both in good condition. The pub has been somewhat modernised, but has kept its separate bar, snug and lounge, and represents the acceptable face of Robinsons refurbishments. To round off the night were were treated to a cellar tour by the landlord. The cellar proved to be a delight to the beer drinker's eye - spotlessly clean, temperature controlled, with rows of mild and bitter casks (including some wooden ones), and not a CO2 cylinder in sight. The point can't be made too often that fastidious cellarmanship is the key to serving a consistently good pint of real ale.

As always, the opinions on pubs and beer expressed are those of individual CAMRA members on the night, and are not intended to represent an official CAMRA view.

What happened next

In the immediate aftermath, ructions of a sort. But we'll come to that later. Happily, most of these pubs have survived, too, although there have inevitably been some casualties.  And it's confession time - I was the disorientated member of the party. Despite having lived in Stockport for the best part of 10 years by that time, I'd never really been to Offerton at all.

The Manchester Arms was a famous local pub - the haunt of bikers, postmen and others, the jukebox was famous. Unfortunately, Robinsons decided to spend a lot of money and turn it into Cobdens, a sort of "all day venue" which became a nightclub in the evenings. It had a troubled history - if you Google 'Cobdens' and 'Stockport' some of the first things that come up are reports of stabbings. Finally, in January 2013, Robinsons 'mothballed' it and it remains mothballed to this day. I am told they do see a future for the place but a significant investment to 'decobdenise' it will be required.

The old Bell's Brewery, missed by our party while they were being excessed by the inspector, still brewed until the mid-sixties at which point it was brewing brown ale (as David Robinson once said to me "Yes, John, I am the man who closed Bell's Brewery").  It has now been knocked down to be replaced by a revised road layout and some units. Here's a photo of it meeting it's maker.

The first pub in Offerton, the White House, closed in 2008, It's still standing (complete with former sign) but is now a rather yellow children's nursery school - more perhaps the 'yellow school' than 'white house' these days.

The Fingerpost survives largely unchanged from the Stagger. There has been a slight amount of opening out  but apart from that it's still a very characterful pub - with a good line in food, too. Those excellent etched windows have also survived.

The Strawberry Gardens was perhaps saved from the worst of the Pennine Hosts treatment because it's a listed building. The activities of the Host Group (which was the managed house arm of Grand Metropolitan, owners of Wilsons, Watneys and others) could be deserving of a blog post in their own right. They had various themes ('Sports' was one) which they inflicted on all manner of pubs - this was bad enough but close inspection usually revealed work done with no view to longevity. Presumably the plan was to rip everything out and re-theme the pubs every two or three years. Unfortunately, many of these pubs were then left untouched for rather longer than the expected lifespan of their last refurb, with the result that everything began to quietly fall apart.

Today the Strawberry Gardens, which has had subsequent refurbishments, is owned by Star Pubs & Bars (Heineken to its friends) and no longer serves cask beer.

Since the intention was to visit Drakes, let's just catch up there. The pub was originally the Golden Hind (hence Drake's - geddit?) and has reverted to its old name. Now part of the Greene King stable it's a large, food-focused pub, and, judging by the photos I took the other day, getting a little bit shabby (on the outside at least).  It didn't sell cask beer for many years but now has Abbott Ale on handpump.

The Gardeners Arms is also now part of the Greene King stable. It remains a good local community pub with food every day and a range of cask beers. It's probably one of the better pubs in the area these days.

Now we come to the Emigration. This pub has now been visited by various Staggers over the years and it's not always been a happy experience for the Staggerers. This was the first visit and the mixed, but not entirely negative, review went down very badly with the licensee, a Mr Ball. A letter of complaint appeared in the August issue and he then took the matter to the Stockport Licensed Victuallers Association.  He managed to persuade them to 'ban CAMRA', or, as the the trade paper The Morning Advertiser put it ' Stockport LVA kick out CAMRA'.

I don't think the public reaction was quite what the LVA expected and, following a backlash, there was a certain amount of backtracking. As editor Humphrey Higgins reported in the November issue: " date no pub has refused to take "Opening Times" as a result of this furore - indeed the reverse is true and our outlets are increasing."

The Emigration is still open, and has Robinsons Unicorn on handpump.

Also still open is the Victoria. This has always been a good boozer and that's still the case. Now owned by some anonymous pub company, it's a while since I've been in. The online pub guide, WhatPub, tells me that no real ale is sold, but I'm not sure that's correct. It certainly won't sell Greenalls cask beers as they have long since passed into memory.

I do however know there's no cask beer at the Waterloo as Robinsons closed it in August 2016. It's been sold and remains closed, boarded and looking very forlorn.

Every town of any size had its local LVA, which was basically  a trade association for pub tenants. They were the official 'voice of the trade' in their areas and at one time exercised quite a bit of influence. They seem to have faded away with no-one noticing.