East Didsbury & Heaton Mersey - October 1988You lucky people are getting two Staggers this month as I catch up here at JC's Beer Blog.
This one was written by Ian Saunders and covers a more prosperous part of the Stockport & South Manchester CAMRA branch area - indeed all of the pubs covered here are still open and trading (but wait until you see what the November Stagger has in store).
Here we go...
We met in the Parrswood on School Lane. This 1930s pub has a large lounge and smaller vault with a separate entrance plus another room where, unusually for a pub, snooker can be played (albeit on a 'pool'sized' table). We are told that the pub is due for refurbishment but are hopeful that the character will not suffer. The beers available were Boddington's Mild and Bitter on electric pump. The bitter was above average, the mild rather less so.
The longest walk of the evening followed to the Gateway on the main A34. This is Hydes' largest pub and it has recently been quite radically refurbished and is now brighter, plusher but features rather annoying, rotating "disco" balls sat in central pillars. Disco "rope" lights adorn the step up to the raised drinking area by the front window where there is now a large white piano. Our attention was also caught by a poster on the wall advertising a variety of take-away curries! Is East Didsbury becoming the second curry centre of Manchester after Rusholme, with the Good Curry Guide listed Khandoker restaurant only over the road? Well, perhaps not.
The beers are Hydes Mild and Bitter on electric pumps. The bitter was thought to be good and the mild above average, although one of our party complained that the mild tasted "cabbagey" - not a patch on the bitter, eh?
Next, up, Didsbury Road into Heaton Mersey and the Mersey Vale. This pub has changed quite dramatically since it was called the Dog & Partridge. Formerly dark, dismal and infrequently visited, it has now been spruced up in Typical Boddingtons style and is a pleasant place for a pint. It is a shame, though, that the pub is a clone for other recent Boddingtons conversions. There is a comfy raised seating area at the back of the pub around the corner from the bar and a pool table where the vault used to be. The beer is Boddingtons Mild and Bitter on handpump and both were considered to be well above average on our visit.
Eventually we tore ourselves away and headed up towards the Railway where, in contrast to the Griffin, we spent our shortest stay of the evening. This Chef & Brewer house
features the "trendy" decor that is designed to attract the younger drinker. They even cater for those not old enough to drink - there was a sign advertising "Fun Freebies for Kids" which on closer examination turned out to be a paper jigsaw puzzle. The open-plan layout and the furnishings are fairly typical for this type of place whilst not being too over the top as in the Open House type pubs. The Railway offered the widest choice of real ales of the evening in Wilsons Bitter, Websters Bitter and Choice (although sadly no mild). The Wilsons Bitter was marginally above average and the Choice was considered slightly better than this. Only one brave stalwart tried the Websters and it was not to his liking, he said it tasted like hard tap water.
Finally on to the Crown which is set back from Didsbury Road with the entrance actually on Vale Road. This comfy, two-roomed pub has recently been Robinsonised in the manner we have all come to know and loathe. However, it is not the worst job Robbies have ever done. The pub used to get so packed you could hardly move, and therefore it has been extended to give a little more breathing room. An extra bar has been installed in the side room - the standard Robbies fittings are here too including the "Robbies Bannister" to separate sections of the rooms.
There was obviously a small amount of work still to be done as one of the new areas where we sat had no carpet or light shades. The pub didn't seem to have lost its popularity - it was packed as usual. The beers (Robinsons Best Mild and Best Bitter on electrics) were generally thought to be on good form with the mild scoring slightly higher than the bitter, making it the best mild of the night (just pipping Holts to the post).
As ever the opinions and comments simply reflect the opinions of those present on the night - why not try this crawl yourselves and make up your own minds.
The BeersLet's just consider the beers on offer here. Six pubs with 11 beers between them - and all bar one selling mild. We had mild and bitter from Boddingtons, Hydes, Holts and Robinsons together with Wilsons Bitter, Websters Bitter and Websters Choice (which was a new-ish premium bitter).Six of those beers no longer exist - the two from Boddingtons, Robinsons Best Mild and the Wilsons and Webster brews. Hydes mild and bitter are now 'Original' and 'Old Indie' while Robinsons Best Bitter is now 'Unicorn'. Holts mild and bitter are... still Holts mild and bitter!
What Happened Next?Perhaps uniquely on these Staggers, 30 years on and all of the pubs are still open and trading - although four out of the six have changed hands.
After the self-immolation of Boddingtons (and then the short-lived Boddington Pub Co - which actually had its head office upstairs here) the Parrswood fell into the hands of various pub companies until it was acquired by JW Lees in December 2014. In the summer on 2015 the pub underwent a major refurbishment (at a reported cost of over £1 million) which saw it largely opened out and renamed the Parrs Wood. It now has Lees Bitter, MPA and a seasonal on the pumps.
Hydes struggled to make the Gateway work for them and in 2011 sold it to Wetherspoons. Given that it has always been a pub, it's one of the few Spoons that feels properly pubby, despite its size, and the presence of a long-running and genuinely enthusiastic manager has almost certainly helped too. Oh, and the Khandoker is still open across the road.
The Mersey Vale is now back as the Dog & Partridge and owned by Star Pubs & Bars (Heineken to its friends). It was last refurbished in 2017 (there have been several over the years) and seems to have bedded in well under new licensees. Last time I looked Hobgoblin and Wainwright were the two cask beers.
The Griffin was successfully extended by Holts but retains much of its old character. Some of the managers in recent years have been less than successful but the latest is keen and committed - and also re-introduced cask mild, something of a rarity in Holts pubs these days.
The Railway again fell into pub company hands but, renamed the Frog & Railway, ended up in Greene King's ownership. It struggled to succeed and in December 2016 it, too, was bought by JW Lees. This year it underwent a major refurbishment and became the Heaton and is an altogether better pub. There's an emphasis on dining but if you just want to drink that's not problem - Lees Bitter, MPA and a seasonal await.
The Crown's much criticised refurbishment has bedded in well over the years and it remains an excellent local. The long-serving licensee is retiring so we await developments. Cask beers when last visited were Robinsons Wizard, Dizzy Blonde, Unicorn and a seasonal.
I suppose it's down to location and demogrphics to explain why all of theses pubs have not only survived but all appear to do pretty well. The next Stagger (which dates from November 1984 as I don't have November 1988 in my archive) tells a very different story.