Up and Down Hyde Road
Continuing the theme of featuring Staggers from the May issues of Opening Times we return to Hyde Road in May 1987. A thoroughfare once thick with pubs, Hyde Road has already featured twice in these archive posts. The Stagger from the November 1984 edition of Opening Times was published on 21 November 2018 and that from the January 1989 issue was reproduced on 30 March this year.
This third Stagger completes the set in a way, covering as it does the western end of Hyde Road and working outwards. There is also a vintage Stagger covering part of this area in the August 1976 issue and you can read that here.
This Stagger was written by me - and obviously I'm still alive and kicking. Here we go....
This month we return to sample the delights of East Manchester and that part of Hyde Road starting at the Manchester end and finishing up near Belle Vue. An area of much demolition and redevelopment in recent years, for much of the way all that remain standing are the pubs - and if long term plans come to fruition virtually all of those will be swept away in a road widening scheme. As usual what follows is simply our opinion of what we found on the night and should not be taken as a once and for all judgement of either the pubs or the beers.
|The Star today|
Next stop was the City Gates, revamped a couple of years ago to celebrate its close links with Manchester City FC whose original ground was nearby. As theme pubs go, this wasn't too bad at the time but sadly is now becoming a bit tatty round the edges and, sad to say the barmaids no longer wear football strip! The only cask beer available is handpumped Chesters Bitter, not an inspiring beer at the best of times, this was considered a poor pint from all present, in fat it turned out to be the worst beer of the night.
A walk now to the Horseshoe and the first Robinsons of the night. Much improved following a change of licensee a couple of years ago, this pleasant two-roomed pub presents a welcoming, subdued Brewers-Tudor interior. One of the pumpclips indicates the rare standard bitter but in fact it's the 'Best' which together with the mild was enjoyed by all present.
Next one up is the Unicorn, a good, old-fashioned multi-roomed boozer which was spoiled somewhat by a slight 'atmosphere' and a performing drunk. Despite this the handpumped Boddingtons Bitter (no mild I'm afraid) was considered to be at least good by all bar one of our party.
A slight detour off Hyde Road to the Imperial on Birch Street. For many years a run-down Wilsons pub, with ironically some of the best beer around. It seemed that it had closed for ever when licensee Wilf Harvey retired. Now in new hands it has been completely revamped and though lacking the character of the 'old' Imperial appears to be doing a thriving trade and boasts handpumped bitters from Tetley, Boddingtons and Banks's. We all chose Banks's and as is usual with this consistent beer, weren't disappointed rating it good to very good.
Back on Hyde Road to the Nags Head, the second Boddingtons pub of the night and again no cask mild. This is still essentially a multi-roomed pub despite some opening out and we certainly found the atmosphere better than the Unicorn but unfortunately couldn't say the same about the beer which was not more than just above average.
Tetleys now in the shape of the Rock and again bitter only although we understand the mild was due to go on at the start of the speedway season! More impromptu music, this time with an Irish flavour which was complemented by the handpumped bitter considered good by everybody.
The Victoria next which Chesters at one time applied for permission to extend into a railway carriage which it intended to site next door. Fortunately this bizarre scheme has not yet materialised and the pub remains a pleasant, traditional local. Both Mild and Bitter are available on handpump and while both unexceptional, the bitter was considered better than the mild.
|A sad Coach & Horses in its later years|
Last stop of the night was the Cheshire Hunt, another ex-Wilsons pub, now a free house. Despite the fact that the sign proclaims 'this is a Free House' there is evidently an exclusive tie with Sam Smiths, so that to all intents and purposes it is a Sams tied house. Surely the time is ripe for legislation to prevent the abuse of the Free House name in this way? The pub itself, however, was thriving with excellent live Rock'n'roll music. The only beer is handpumped Old Brewery Bitter and opinions varied between way below average to good, although judgements at this stage of any crawl must be of doubtful value. All in all a good night, memorable above all else for the excellent live music encountered en route.
FOOTNOTE: On a historical point - visitors to the Imperial will notice next door a collection of buildings signed as the Imperial Trading Estate. They are the remains of Stopfords Imperial Brewery, taken over by Walker & Homfray in 1927 and merged with Wilsons in 1949.
What happened next
Hyde Road has of course now been done to death here at JC's Beer Blog and it will come as no surprise to learn that none (well perhaps one) of the pubs mentioned remains trading. A couple did fall victim to a road scheme but not the Hyde Road widening mentioned in the Stagger (and which in fact has never taken place).
The Star was subsequently bought by Banks's as part of their ill-fated foray into Greater Manchester which was documented here. In August 2006, Opening Times reported that it has been converted into a members' club and a year later recorded a conversion to offices. It's still there and now functions as a nursery. The distinctive Wilsons chequerboard can still be seen on the building.
|Site of the City Gates|
Walking towards the Horseshoe, another keg-only Chesters pub would have been passed. This was the Junction on the corner of Clowes Street (which did in fact sell cask at one time). This finally closed in around May 1995 and was demolished in 2001. It was in fact the Horse Shoe and closed in March 1999 with demolition following in May. Its site is hard to locate such has been the scale of redevelopment in this area but it's probably under some flats.
The Unicorn has similarly vanished. Opening Times reported that demolition was due to begin in March 1990 so it's fate may have been tied up with the Horse Shoe - both pubs fell victim to the Pottery Lane dual carriage way scheme I think. One notable feature of the Unicorn was that it kept its sky boards until almost the end. They can been seen here in this archive photo.
|The Travellers Call in 2018|
In its day the Imperial was a wonderful pub. Wilf Harvey and his wife had moved there from another pub, the Red Fox or Fox in Longsight, I think he told me, which had been a rather bigger pub that the Imperial. His Wilsons beers were some if the best I ever had - which was odd as the pub always seemed to be very quite. That is until I learned that it tended to fill up around official closing time...... The pub closed in September 2014 but hadn't sold cask beer for several years.
Across the road from the Imperial was a former cinema which became the Mayflower Club, a famous music, and particularly, punk venue. There's an interesting Manchester Evening News piece here. I first went to the Imperial around 1981 and remember Wilf telling me how the club's customers had got his dog glue sniffing.
|The closed Nags Head prior to conversion into a shop|
And finally the Cheshire Hunt. I have to admit I can't remember it as a Sam Smith's free house, and I was obviously there on the night. It was closed and boarded by early 1993 but still remains as a fast food takeaway.
Let's also just mention the footnote. There's an excellent 1987 photo of the Imperial Trading Estate on the Brewery History Society website here which shows the old brewery buildings. Stopford's had quite an extensive local estate as you can see from this list. You'll see that one of them was the Mersey Hotel in Stockport. It's still with us as the Chestergate Tavern at right at the top is and intertwined 'SBC' - one of the few tangible remains of this long-gone brewery. Here's a photo.