Wednesday, 9 January 2019

From the Archives

The Hillgate Crawl - December 1984 

This Stagger, down Stockport's Hillgate, appeared in the January 1985 issue of Opening Times. Written by me, it records what has today become the longest annual event in any CAMRA branch's calendar (probably...) - the most recent one was run on 21 December last year.

After many years on going uphill and finishing at the Blossoms, the 2018 event reverted back to its original downhill route. The reasons for this will become apparent in the update below. Anyway back in time we go.

The annual Christmas Crawl of Hillgate, Stockport, is a long-established feature of the CAMRA calendar, and for the first time it has been recorded in print. Be warned though that due to the increasing drunkenness of both the writer and the party, the scores in the later stages are not as accurate as they should be...

On the principle that it's easier to roll down than stagger up we kick off at the very top, on the A6 at the excellent Blossoms Hotel, this long-established Good Beer Guide pub can usually be relied on for a decent pint of Robbies and this was no exception, mild getting 2.6, bitter almost 3 (scored being 0 (undrinkable) to 4 (excellent)).

Across the road to the newly painted Wheatsheaf where Wilsons mild (2.5) was even better than the bitter(2). Next Robinsons Royal Mortar, a friendly lively pub with mild at 2.6 and bitter, 2.4, were both appreciated. Over the road and into Robinsons rather grotty Flying Dutchman (named after a race horse,
by the way, not the ship). It was rumoured that this pub was to be demolished and to be honest unless Robinsons are prepared to spend a lot of money here there doesn't seem to be much alternative. The mild, however, managed a respectable 2.5, the bitter, which at first was stuck in the pump, managed only 1.5. This was probably due to a pump malfunction as a later sampling produced a 3.

A word of warning now - the Bowling Green has usually been on the itinerary but it is now all keg.

Robinsons Star & Garter now and again the trend of better mild than bitter was continued with 2.75 and 2.6. Onto the Rams Head and Wilsons mild managed an average 2 but the bitter was by general consensus disgusting, although to be fair it got one score of 3 and another of 2.5. The night wore on and so did we into Wilsons Crown with mild at 2.6 and bitter 2.5. Over the road into the Golden Lion, serving Burtonwood beers, a rare brew for the area. Again mild was better than the bitter with 2.7 against 2.4.

Mild drinkers had so far had a better night of it but this was soon evened out by those who ventured into Whitbread Chesters awful Big Lamp. Three 0s and 0.1 say it all. The bitter wasn't bad (it was about as good a pint as you will get anywhere and got a respectable 2.25. Boddies next in the Black Lion, no mild here. The bitter scored 2.2, less that the two Chesters beers but again as good as you are likely to get. A sad comment on a once great beer.

A detour now to the Waterloo and the best mild score so far, 3.1. The bitter averaged a respectable 2.6. Up on to Hillgate and into the Red Bull, probably one of the more characterful Hillgate pubs with equally characterful beer, the score matching the Waterloo at 3.1 and 2.6. On the home straight and Tetleys in the Gladstone (the Sun & Castle is keg). The mild scored well 2.9, (good to see it back) but the bitter was a bit of a disappointment at only 2.2.

Robbies to finish with. First the Spread Eagle with, to be honest, not the beer you'd expect from the brewery tap, the mild managing only 1.8 and the bitter 2. But to be honest by that time no-one could taste much anyway - definitely worth a visit when sober. One further point - surely if Robinsons had real faith in their rare but excellent ordinary bitter they'd make sure it was sold in the brewery tap which is supposed to be a showpiece for the brewery and its beers.

Speaking of showpieces our final stop was the excellent Royal Oak on High St, the mild - 3.5, probably the best of the night, and bitter 2.9...I seem to remember drinking some Old Tom as well....

What happened next?

Hillgate used to be the main southern thoroughfare out of Stockport until Wellington Road (the main A6) was constructed in the 19th century. It was a hive of industrial activity too, with Christie's hatworks being  a major employer. Behind the shops and pubs lining the street were rows of terraced houses.

Much of the industry has gone. Some of the terraces remain and there are significant new housing developments either under construction or in the pipeline. Rather too late for most of the pubs though - and several closed in the 1950s through to the seventies

The Blossoms is still with us, of course, and has given its name to a popular beat group (who are playing a sold-out concert at Edgeley Park this summer). The pub has been significantly refurbished over the years but still retains many original features and a multi-roomed layout.

The Wheatsheaf is also open and trading. It's had various periods of closure over the years and ask beer has come and gone. Currently it's come in the form of Sharp's Atlantic while the pub seems reasonably settled.

The Royal Mortar was an early closure by Robinsons (apparently after some sort of dispute with the licensees who seemed to be doing well) and shut its doors in 2004. It looked very sorry for itself for several years and has now been converted to other use. 
The former Fairway

Robinsons did indeed demolish and then rebuild the Flying Dutchman. After a chequered existence they eventually sold it off but its days as a pub weren't over.   It was bought by experienced licensees who reopened it as the Fairway after a significant investment in the building. It traded very well for several years until, to general surprise, it closed quite suddenly early last year, having been sold for conversion to offices.

The Bowling Green became a free house and sold cask beers for several years before closing in October 2011. It remained derelict for some time before being converted to other use in 2014. 

The Star & Garter remains open and trading, but is one of the few Robinsons pubs that does not offer cask beer. Rumours of its demise surface from time to time but the pub soldiers on. That's more than can be said for the Ram's Head. The pub, with the old Daniel Clifton Royal Oak
brewery behind it, was an interesting place - it looked to have been refitted in the 1950s and had a very smart interior with much wood panelling. The beer was never very good. It closed in 1987 and has been put to a number of uses since - and is currently an Indian restaurant. The old brewery, which finally closed in 1959 after being leased by Whitbread, has been converted into flats.

The Crown is still open and trading but sells no cask beer.  The Golden Lion closed in 2005 and has been converetd to offices. The Big Lamp, originally the Pack Horse, underwent several incarnations but closed as a pub around the turn of the century. 

The next pub down is the Sun & Castle which gets a passing mention in the original article. It was rebuilt by the old Walker's Brewery in the 1920s and for many years kept a pretty much unspoiled period interior. A Tetley pub, it eventually converted to cask beer. It was then sold on to Holts who carried out a significant refurbishment. This included the installation of an very impressive, but rather out of place, 19th century bar back. Some internal partitions were also removed. Having said that it's bedded in well over the years and is a thriving community local.

The Black Lion, with some rather good Richard Clarke brewery etched glass (and even a Richard Clarke doormat for many years!), closed in late 2005. It's been converted to other use. The wooded ceiling in the vault was a notable feature I recall.

The Waterloo lasted longer than many of the other pubs
The Waterloo
and closed its doors in August 2016.  The building remains disused. The Red Bull is still very much open, having received a significant investment by Robinsons. The refurbishment included knocking through to a next door cottage and the removal of a bottleneck at the bar. While it's still an interesting pub some of the old character has been sacrificed. 

The Gladstone, run for many years by the fearsome Jessie Holehouse, who was born in the pub sometime in the 1920s, had many heritage features and ended up in Burtonwoods's hands.  Renamed the Bishop Blaize, it sold some very decent cask ale. The pub closed in April 2011 and has been converted into offices.

Robinsons closed their brewery tap, the Spread
Spread Eagle today
, in September 2007 and incorporated it into the brewery offices. Across the road, the Royal Oak, a pub of enormous character, was effectively rebuilt by Robinsons (it sort of fell down while they were carrying out a refurbishment)  in a particularly featureless way. A succession of licensees, and some truly terrible beer, didn't help. The pub closed in late 2011 and was sold early 2012. It's now been converted into residential accommodation.

The former Royal Oak

That's not quite the end of the story.  Further down Hillgate, where it becomes Underbank, you will come to the historic Queen's Head (often called Turner's Vaults). Back in 1984 this was still owned by the Turner family and sold keg Younger's Scotch Bitter. It's now owned by Sam Smiths who carried out a major restoration and it sells Old Brewery Bitter.  Just before you get there, on the other side of the road, Holts acquired a former jewellers shop and turned it into Winters. Early promise was not fulfilled and on the Hillagte Stagger it was often full of dancing drunks. Holts sold it to Stockport Council and it closed early 2018. There are plans to reopen it as a restaurant.

As I indicated at the start of this long piece, the Hillgate Stagger went up the hill for many years but such was the dearth of pubs this time, it reverted back to the original down hill format - continuing into Stockport Market Place where, amongst other pubs, we revisited the Angel Inn which has reopened after closing back in 1951.

I think the most interesting thing about all of this is that despite the many
closures, all of these pubs are still standing. Indeed as a bonus, just across the road from the Black Lion is the very long-closed Land O'Cakes (pictured above) which retains some good timing and a rather nice mosaic in the entrance. 

There's some historic information about of few of the pubs mentioned (as well as sveral other defunct Stockport pubs) here


Phil said...

I only really hit Stockport a few times a year, and I've never worked out where the Hillgate Stagger was - I think I vaguely assumed it was the slope down to the bus station. Weirdly enough, after reading that entire post I'm none the wiser - and I can't see how you go downhill from the Blossoms to the market place...

John Clarke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Clarke said...

Hi Phil - after you leave the Blossoms, cross the main road, turn left and the Whaetsheaf is on the right. After leaving the Wheatsheaf, turn right and carry on. Hillgate is almost parallel to the main road for some of the way. It does go downhill too, but really only after you have passed the Sun & Castle. This year aftre leaving the Queens Head we climbed the steps opposite up to the Market Place.

retiredmartin said...

Great read, John. Appreciate the effort put in. Good to see that even 34 years ago you were brutally honest with your assessment. Great pubs then, great pubs now (just different ones in some cases).

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