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Monday, 27 April 2020

From the Archives

Reddish & The Heatons

This Stagger comes from the April 1989 issue of Opening Times and is a marathon route march (I remember this one myself and it was a right old trudge). The evening wasn't helped by the fact that it rained intermittently as well.

It was written by Angela Walker who now lives in Whaley Bridge - I still have a few beers with Angela and her husband Alastair from time to time. So, here we go...

A fast and furious pace was set on this rally around the pubs of Reddish and the Heatons. 

Our first stop was at Chesters' Railway on Gorton Road. This large, rambling pub had typical early 1980s Whitbread decor (plastic plants growing out of the concrete?) and we were told that it is due for refurbishment shortly. The pub obviously tries to cater for many tastes as there were not only two large pool rooms but also a separate children's room, complete with comics. Beers sold were Chesters' Bitter, which was below average and also good condition mild (which had to be asked for as there was no pumpclip advertising it).

Moving down to the Fir Tree (Tetley Mild and Bitter, Ind Coope Burton Ale), we found a comfortable seat on sofas surrounded by a library, standard lamps, reproduction works of art and genteel decor. Although some of us liked this, others felt uncomfortable, saying it was more like a stately home than a pub. What we did agree on was the quality of the beer - both mild and bitter were good. The Burton Ale was not on at the time as it is only a slow seller and landlord John Sullivan is trying to get it supplied in small 9-gallon containers, rather than the 18s currently in use.

Next came the Houldsworth Hotel, a pleasant pub selling Chesters' Mild and Bitter, and which looked to have been recently decorated. It was interesting to note that one of the side rooms was music free, a feature it would be nice to see in more pubs. Although the bitter was no more than average, the mild was very good. Indeed it's worth noting that Chesters' beers have in no way suffered from being brewed in Sheffield, in fact the mild seems to have improved!

Around the corner now to the Thatched Tavern on Stanhope St. Until quite recently, this pub sold only keg beers but now sells Tetley mild and bitter on handpump. This excellent pub is a classic multi-roomed local, cosy with a friendly atmosphere and lively conversation. A photograph in the vault shows that it really was a thatched tavern at one time. The beer matched the pub with both rating good. 

The Union on Broadstone Rd (Robinsons Best Mild and Best Bitter) was a disappointment to those who remembered the 'old style' Union. Those opposed to the refurbishment of the pub several years ago  criticised the design at the time, and now looking at the 'modernisation' those criticisms were justified. The style we have come to refer to as 'Robinsonisation' is evident, there is no real character in the decor of the pub any more, indeed it fits in well with the identikit design of many Robinsons houses. The beers matched the decor, neither being thought better than average.

The Grey Horse next door (Boddingtons Mild and Bitter) has a very imposing exterior dating from 1909. Although at one time it was multi-roomed the pub has been opened out into one huge lounge with a bar in the corner. There is also a large vault at the back. The overall impression was very easy on the eye. The bitter was judged to be good but the mild was no better than average, the bar staff were quite happy to change it for us but explained that the pub in fact sold very little mild.

Further down was the George & Dragon, another Boddies pub with mild and bitter on handpump. This is a large, rambling and obviously very popular pub. It did seem rather dark and gloomy inside but whether this was due to dark decor or bad lighting, we couldn't tell. No doubts about the beer though with both mild and bitter rating from above average to good.

We had visited several old pubs with modern interiors over the evening but the next pub was quite the reverse. The Hinds Head on Manchester  Road is a new pub built by Whitbread and only opened about 18 months ago. The pseudo-Victorian decor is quite effective with dried flowers, old prints, wooden beams and fireplaces. There is also a restaurant area at one end of the pub. As well as Chesters' mild and bitter, Castle Eden Ale is also available which we all chose and found it was in good condition.

Crossing the railway bridge we came to the Ash, a large Wilsons pub which is impressive outside, but inside has been altered over the years and gave a general impression of red plush seating and dim red lights - the best feature, an unusual hexagonal handpump stand, was unfortunately removed a couple of years ago. The Wilsons bitter was considered above average while opinions were divided on the mild. Nobody tried the Websters bitter.

The Three Crowns (Boddingtons mild and bitter) could be described as a 'bland 1960s' pub with a large noisy disco lounge (on Fridays anyway) and a more basic vault. Very much a locals pub with a down to earth atmosphere. Both mild and bitter were above average though.

We finished the night at the Navigation. This pub has been virtually rebuilt but the interior still has a good traditional feel. Again there were no takers for the Websters bitter but the Wilsons mild and bitter were both judged above average. 

As usual the views in the article are simply what we found on the night and are not intended to be once and for all judgement.

What happened next

What a trek!  Eleven pubs with 13 different cask beers between them - and every one selling mild as well. The history of the pubs on this Stagger isn't quite the usual carnage - and there's been a newcomer too.  The choice of beer has probably increased as well, although not everyone will necessarily agree that it a good thing. 

I think the only time I went in the Railway  was when taking part on this Stagger. The pub closed around July 2006 and the December 2008 issue of Opening Times records its demolition. Almost inevitably, flats now occupy the site.

The Fir Tree is a recent loss, only closing in August last year. It's still there closed, boarded and awaiting its fate which, apparently, is demolition and replacement by a Lidl. It sold cask beer until the end (Wells Bombardier, I think) but it had gained an unfortunate reputation, shall we say.

The Houldsworth Arms (not Hotel) is an imposing building in the centre of Reddish but hasn't sold cask beer for several years (it flirted with Greene King IPA in 2012). It's still trading though, although 'for sale' or 'to let' signs appear from time to time.

Somewhere else that's flirted with cask beer more than once in recent years is the Thatched Tavern.  Pre-lockdown it had abandoned it again - the pub was still a good community local, though.

The same can be said for the Union. The years seem to have worn the edge off the 'Robinsonisation' and there has been further work on the pub.  It's still a Robinsons house selling Unicorn (or Best Bitter as it was known back in 1989) and Trooper.

Of course Boddingtons has more or less slipped into history now, and the Grey Horse was bought by Holt's in 2007. The pub has had some money spent on it but it's still basically two huge rooms. Nonetheless it seems to be a popular community pub and while you won't find Holt's mild on cask you will find the bitter plus a 'guest', sometimes from Holt's Bootleg range.

So as you may expect there's no sign of Boddingtons at the George & Dragon either. Having passed through more than one pub company ownership (I admit to having lost track) it's now ended up in the Greene King stable, having undergone several refurbishments in the process. It's still a rambling affair with various areas and still with cask beers - Marston's Lancaster Bomber, Sharp's Doom Bar and a guest when last checked out.

Almost across the road on School Lane is excellent newcomer Heaton Hops. Essentially a 'shop with seats' it has managed to generate a real pub atmosphere with a good crowd of regulars who see it as their local. You can read more about it  here.

The Hinds Head is now part of Ei Group (our old friends Enterprise Inns) but nevertheless is also a popular community local. There's still a significant food operation (largely based in a conservatory that was added after 1989) but the beer side of things isn't neglected. Taylor's Landlord and Marston's Pedigree seem to be the regulars along with two guest beers.

A couple of casualties now. The Ash closed in early 2011 and is now used for various commercial purposes (part of it was a tea room for a while). The Three Crowns had various closings and opening. It finally shut up shop around April 2009. Last year a planning application to demolish it was lodged.

And so we come to the Navigation. It is so named as it was once adjacent to a canal basin which served the (still operational) Nelstrop's flour mill which towers over the pub. In fact Nelstrop's own the pub these days although it's operated by Congleton's Beartown Brewery - which wasn't even a twinkle in anyone's eye back in 1989. The pub usually sells four Beartown beers and a guest. It's been a huge success over the years and at one time was a local CAMRA Pub of the Year. If you want to know more about Nelstrop's then you can do that  here.

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Beer of the Week

De Dochter van de Korenaar L'Ensemble

First a few words about Brouwerij De Dochter van de Korenaar - arguably the best Belgian brewery most people haven't heard of. Certainly in the UK, I get the impression it's firmly below the beer geek radar.

There's quite a bit to talk about here - almost everything connected with the brewery is worth a sentence or two. Let's start with the name. 

It translates literally as 'Daughter of the Ear of Corn' or, perhaps more elegantly, 'Daughter of the Grain' - there is in fact an ear of corn on all the labels.  This apparently derives from the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (who was big in the Low Countries) who, in around 1550, is said to have declared he preferred the 'juice of the daughter of the grain' over the 'blood of the bunch of grapes'. That's to say his preferred tipple was beer rather than wine. 

Brewer Ronald Mengerink and his wife Monique are Dutch but the brewery, which started in 2007, is very much in Belgium - just.  It's in a place called Baarle-Hertog which is a crazy historic anomaly. It has its origins in the Treaty of Maastricht (no, not that one) signed between Belgium and the Netherlands in 1843.  It consists of 24 bits of Belgium (some no larger than a field) entirely surrounded by the Netherlands. To add to the fun, those 24 bits of Belgium also surround seven smaller bits of the Netherlands. I've included a map (with the brewery marked with a dot on H8) but Wikipedia will tell you more here

As the border runs through the middle of houses and shops, the current coronavirus lock-down has has interesting consequences. It's been more stringent in Belgium than the Netherlands so those parts of shops which are in Belgium have been closed while the parts in the Netherlands have remained open. What larks!

Since the brewery was founded in 2007 it's had to move and expand (while carefully remaining in Belgium - perhaps not the easiest thing to do in Baarle-Hertog) and the current premises were in fact newly built from the cellar up. The cellar is crucial because one thing Dochter van de Korenaar seems to specialise in is barrel-ageing - most of the beers have appeared in either oak-aged, spirit  or wine cask-aged versions over the years. Every one I have tried has been exceptional.  A post on the informative Facebook page (here) shows no fewer that 450 oak casks doing their stuff in the brewery cellar.

That's not to say the regular range is to be sniffed at. For me, stand outs include Belle-Fleur IPA (6%) which neatly illustrates the difference between a well-hopped beer and an over-hopped beer. The same can be said the the superb Extase (8.5%) - a decidedly Belgian take on your double IPA.  And while we're talking about IPAs, try and lay your hands on La Renaissance (7%), which is an 'English-style' IPA aged for various lengths of time in white Burgundy barrels. This is world classic stuff.

Turning now to the beer in hand, L'Ensemble is a 13% barley wine, fermented with both beer and wine yeasts. The hops are all European - Pilgrim, East Kent Goldings, Bramling Cross and First Gold. 45 bitterness units counterbalance what could otherwise be perhaps an excessively malt-accented beer. It really is a classic barley wine - there's sweet malt and dark fruit on the nose which all carries through to the taste with notes of caramel, dates and dried fruits. It's all balanced by the underpinning bitterness which leads to a warming finish.  Glorious stuff.

Of course, since this is Dochter van de Korenaar the lily has been duly gilded with various barrel-aged versions. Perhaps the more remarkable is that which has spent 250 days in Italian Montalcino red wine casks, which further blurs the beer-wine boundary. 

I hope this brief post has whetted your appetite for this exceptional brewery. Seek out its beer and try them.

Apart from being owned by a Dutchman and being located in the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium, all of the brewery's beers have French names. This is because the family sold their French holiday home to set up the brewery.


Monday, 20 April 2020

From the Archives

Brinnington & Portwood

I must say the Stagger around Stockport in 1976 seems to have piqued a lot of interest. The author has been in touch and tells me he may have some more ancient issues of Opening Times - watch this space as they say. 

We're back to 1989 this week and a walk round the Stockport suburbs of Brinnington and Portwood. The actual Stagger took place in January 1989 and appeared in the March issue.  The author is Kevin Wright, who now lives in the Blackpool area I believe. He doesn't hold back on his criticism. A couple of these pubs had quite an interesting history in later years - but that's for later on. Here we go.....

On a cold Friday night in January, a hardy group of 12 turned out at the 'Farmers' on Brinnington Road. A rather uninspired exterior circa 1950s hid two very contrasting rooms. The vault was very run down and in need of even basic comforts whereas the lounge was very smart and pleasant. Cask beers were OB Bitter and Boddingtons Bitter both dispensed by handpumps. The OB was thought by most to be rather pleasant and far better than the Boddingtons. All in all, the pub is well worth a visit.

On now to the Jack and Jill. Housed in a building that bore a great resemblance to a branch library with a panoramic view out of its huge windows. Unfortunately, the decor was a reflection of the Robinsons beer - bland. The range included Best Mild and Best Bitter on electric pumps and Old Tom on gravity. The mild and Old Tom were felt to be below average, but to be fair the Old Tom was at the end of the barrel. The bitter fared better in most peoples opinion.

From there another brisk walk downhill brought us to the Rifle Volunteer on Carrington Road, our first Wilsons/Websters pub of the evening. The pub was very clean and recently refurbished. Compliments to the landlord for turning what is now very mediocre beer into something that was felt by most to be at least palatable. Cask beers available were Wilsons Bitter and Websters Bitter. The Wilsons went down far better that the Websters, which just highlights the fact that Websters is being turned into a national bland (oops sorry, brand) while Wilsons is facing being phased out.

Opposite on Newbridge Lane we entered another Grand Met hostelry, the Park. Inside the decor was pleasant and comfortable with a large L-shaped lounge and vault-cum-games room at the side. The cask beer range was Wilsons Bitter, Websters Bitter plus Ruddles County. All our dinkers voted with their feet and chose Wilsons which was thought to be acceptable. Sadly, Ruddles County was not availablr at the time, we all wondered whether this was anything to do with the happy hour and a half which was running at the time - the Wilsons was only 67p. 

Down the road we came to the Midway, a large pub/restaurant which wouldn't look out of place in the country. This very welcoming pub was, until just over a year ago, a freehouse but is now in the John Smiths stable selling their bitter plus a very rare sight in this area, Courage Directors. Happily the beer quality is still of a high standard although many regulars mourn the loss of the widest range of cask ales in the Stockport area.

Around the corner was the Coach & Horses, a large busy two-roomed building with a good atmosphere. The beer, Boddingtons Bitter and Mild, like the pub, was thought to be very acceptable which some attributed to good cellarmanship rather than the product. 

Onto to Great Portwood Street, we entered the Brinnington Inn, a nice traditional Robinsons pub that was friendly and humming with the sound of conversation, usually an indication of a good pub, and in this case no exception. Dispensed on electrics were Best Mild and Best Bitter. As for the pub itself, a little decoration would not go amiss although it does seem that some breweries have forgotten what this word means and would rather rip the heart and soul out of what in most cases are perfectly acceptable pubs.

Just a stone's throw away we came to the Old King, a fairly busy Bass pub. It consists of a main bar area with stained glass panels hanging over the wooden bar, set off from this are smaller, more comfortable rooms. There were two beers sampled, the first being Bass Light which was quite drinkable, the other was Stones Bitter.

From here we shunted down to the Railway, a small street corner boozer from the outside but inside deceptively large. This was out third and final Wilsons/ Websters stop which just reinforced our opinion that good landlords are being let down by a very inferior product, all for the sake of mass markets, or as brewery spokesmen like to call it, rationalising their portfolio, or as I like to call it, utter bullsh*t. If Grand Met have their way, in a couple of years all you will get from this brewery is Websters Yorkshire Bitter, Ruddles County and maybe 3 or 4 versions of Fos*** Kanga Wee.

Next came the Queens Hotel, a Robinsons house which looked slightly unkempt from the outside. Inside, the bar area was very compact, and the decor left much to be desired, including an unusual style of chairs which collapsed when picked up. Needless to say nobody was brave enough to actually sit on one. As one member put it, it was a "monument to bad taste" and we left wondering when the development company would be called in. Having said all this, the beer wasn't at all bad, both mild and bitter being thought better than average.

Just around the corner was our final stop, the Arden Arms which last year saw the retirement of long serving licensee Jack May. Old Tom has now joined the mild and bitter on handpump and we all agreed that all three were the best beers of the  night. New landlord Phil certainly seems to be maintaining the pub's high standards.

So ended an interesting evening's drinking. The views expressed are simply a reflection of what we found on the night, why not try some of the pubs and make up your own mind?

What happened next

Needless to say the pubs featured here have suffered mixed fortunes over the years - and Brinnington is now pub-less.

The OB Bitter tried in the Farmers Arms would have been brewed at Boddingtons as the Oldham Brewry had been closed the previous year.  The Farmers soldiered on, becoming increasingly tatty, until it closed in January 2010.  Demolition followed in June of that year.

The Jack & Jill hung on for quite a while - and I'm kicking myself for never visiting. I get the impression that it had remained essentially unaltered from the day it was built in 1954 and, if so, it may well have made (a regrettably brief) appearance on CAMRA's National Inventory of Heritage Pubs.

As it is, the pub closed in January 2016.  There's a piece from the Manchester Evening News about the closure here and, Manchester's Estate Pubs has some very evocative images here. The pub was demolished in November 2016 and houses now occupy the site.

The Rifle Volunteer closed in late 1999. However that wasn't the end of the story. The former pub (which kept its old signage for many years) had a new life as The Slave Academy, a bondage club employing "the finest dominatrix in Manchester". This was apparently courtesy of 'Mistress Valeska' who is quoted in this entertaining piece from the Manchester Evening News  here.  However, the old pub now has a more prosaic existence as residential accommodation. 

The Park is still with us although I don't think it sells cask beer any more. This is a shame - the infamous Beer Orders were introduced a few months after this Stagger and from lunchtime on Day One, the Park had Holts Bitter on the bar as a guest beer, and continued to sell this for many years.

Similarly, the Midway survives. It still has the appearance of a rural setting, and still majors of food and functions. There are usually four cask beers including Taylor's Golden Best.

Now comes a tale of woe. All three of the next pubs have fallen victim to the expansion of the Peel Centre retail park - which, oddly, is a sort of out-of-town affair which is more or less in the town centre (or at least adjacent to it). 

The Coach & Horses closed around July 1998 and was demolished in January 2000. The Brinnington Inn has settled into a comfortable existence and with a keen licensee but appear to have been made a very good offer. It closed around January 2001 and was subsequently torched. A branch of KFC now occupies the site. The Old King closed around January 2009 and was 'to let' for several years. It was sold in late 2011 with demolition following. The site is now a branch of Nando's.

The Railway has survive but has had some interesting incarnations over the years. It want through a phase as Byrons and then Cheekies at which point the pub sign was pair of bare buttocks - as you can see here . A throwaway comment in Opening Times about this perhaps being the most tasteless pub sign in the country sparked a mini media frenzy. Myself and the pub's landlady were interviewed by numerous radio stations (including for some reason, BBC Radio Belfast). It was all good fun though.

Subsequently the pub was bought by Dave Porter of the Porter Brewing Co (and what is now Outstanding Brewery) and for several years it acted as a Porter Brewing flagship. It's now owned by a firm of developers who occasionally  put in a planning application to knock it down but nothing ever seems to happen. Up to a dozen cask beers are sold and they tend to fly out so quality is never an issue, despite the number of handpumps. It's a great boozer and something of  a local instution.

The Queens  was refurbished by Robinsons and has been run by Sue Igbon for something like 18 years now. Again, it's a proper local with a strong emphasis on darts. It was lined up for a local CAMRA Pub of the Month award before we were locked down - so will be betting a retrospective certificate when the pubs reopen.

And finally the Arden Arms. Apart from one brief spell the Arden has been lucky to have had a succession excellent licensees. It's a superb heritage pub (which you can read all about here ) with top quality beers and superb food. It's one of Stockport's top 10 pubs by any reckoning.


Thursday, 16 April 2020

Beermat of the Week

Robinwood Brewery and its Old Fart

If a brewery launched today with a flagship beer called Old Fart then eyebrows would be raised. What might be called 'Beer Twitter' would be apoplectic with indignation.

But the past, they say, is a foreign country and so we come to the story of Robinwood Brewery, or Robinwood Brewers & Vintners to give it its full name. 

The brewery was started in 1988 in old commercial premises not far from the Staff of Life pub on Burnley Road in Todmorden. I did visit and seem to recall the premises may have been a garage at one time.

It was set up by Freddie Sleap, owner of the Staff of Life, and Tim Fritchley, who was the brewer. Several regular beers were produced including a hoppy Best Bitter (4.1%) and maltier XB (4.7%) alongside the famous Old Fart at 6%. This was described in the 1991 Good Beer Guide as:

"Dark brown in colour, with a fruity and slightly malty aroma. Roasted malt in the vinous, sweet and fruity taste, with some caramel and hoppy bitterness coming through. A malty, dry finish. Also available as Old XXXX on request."

Despite the silly name it wasn't a bad beer. The same Good Beer Guide records that two tied houses were supplied along with a growing free trade. Old Fart had also been produced in bottle-conditioned form.  

You'd think everything was looking rosy but it all came to a halt in 1993 when brewing ceased. Well, not quite everything came to a halt.

After Robinwood bit the dust, Hunslet-based Marpak Group offered the chance to brew again to Tim Fritchley, who had acquired the rights to the Old Fart name. And so, in March 1994 brewing started under the Merrimans Brewery (or Hunslet Breweries) name at Marpak House in Hunslet (which I am sure you all know  is near Leeds). 

The 1996 Good Beer Guide records that Merrimans, whose sole beer was Old Fart (now reduced to 5%), concentrated on bottling - with an eye on the export market - but produced a cask version for 40 local outlets.  The 1999 GBG simply records "brewery closed".

However Old Fart lived one and was subsequently contract-brewed. I certainly recall seeing it on supermarket shelves in the past few years. Whether it's still available in the UK I don't know but it's certainly still being reviewed on Ratebeer  which also tells us that it's now being brewed at Robinsons!  Which is rather close to home.

Monday, 13 April 2020

From the Archives

Ancient History

Well, it may as well be. First a little by way of explanation. I edit a local CAMRA magazine called Opening Times. No, that's not quite right. Let's try again.

I edit an award-winning local CAMRA magazine called Opening Times.  It was launched in June 1984 and has continued with only a couple of minor breaks (including the current one!) even since.  However this isn't its first incarnation. A previous Opening Times appeared from around Feb-March 1976 to June-July 1977 and that's where we are going today.

I have copies of the last few editions and, while they didn't include Staggers, it's clear the early ones did. All I have is a photocopy of page four from issue 7 which, tantalisingly, is Stagger No. 4 featuring Stockport. I wonder where else they covered back then?

This was written by Graham Cundall with photos by Graham Lister, about both of whom I know nothing. As you'll see this 12 pub marathon is in a slightly different format from later Staggers - here we go.....

In the South Manchester branch area there's no other place quite like Stockport. Even though its become surrounded by urban sprawl from Manchester, somehow it's kept its individuality and character as though it's a separate town. In particular this refers to the central part of Stockport which is a curious mixture of the old and new.

It's the old which houses a fine selection of brews in many excellent pubs: Robinsons (on their home ground), Boddingtons, Pollards, Bass, Higsons, Wilsons and Youngers are all represented on this crawl, a total of 14 brews (16 in winter).

Stockport is readily accessible from all points of the compass. Frequent train services run from Manchester Piccadilly to Stockport (every 15 mins) and also from Alderley Edge (every 30 mins), Crewe (hourly), Macclesfield (hourly) as well as the intermediate stations on these lines. Bus services are myriad. Most run at 20 min intervals.

Now we turn to the important matter - the pubs. No.1 is the Crown Inn (Boddingtons). A GBG listed pub and a proper little museum piece it is too. The vault is small and cosy and there's a fine mirror in the back lounge room. The beer is always phenomenally good. It's handpumped bitter (20½p) and mild (18½p). It's also the HQ for the Crown Divers Club for anyone interested in exploring the depths of fermentation vessels?

Turn left out of here towards Mersey Square past the spoilt Pineapple (Robinsons) - vault ripped out, now 'rustic beams and whitewash - to No.2 the George Hotel at the traffic lights on the corner. Another GBG listed pub and another absolute must. It feels like being on the Queen Mary sat in the lounge. The handpumped Higsons bitter (24p), mild (22p) and draught Bass are usually of the highest quality.

If you've had a pint of each brew so far you might be feeling a bit merry, so wipe the grin off your face as you toil up the hill over the river Mersey until you reach the first set of lights. Here on your left is No. 3 the Manchester Arms (Robinsons). It sells Best Bitter (25p) and Best Mild (23p) from handpumps. A rather basic house though the pies are notorious and there's a room that's frequented by juke-box fiends.

From here carry on plodding up the hill past the Unity (Robinsons) as far as Norbury Street. Turn left down here and straight ahead will be seen No. 4 the Grove (Wilsons), this is an average town pub, unspectacular but with well kept vault and quiet too. Handpumped bitter (24p) and mild are available. Retrace your steps back onto Wellington Road and carry on up the hill to the traffic lights. 

On the right will be seen Wilsons revamped Nelson's Ale House (No.5). Outside and in, it's been done up to look like a 1910  Edwardian pub even down to the Yates's style bare floorboards around the bar. Why didn't they go the whole hog and put sawdust and spittoons in? Despite the contrived atmosphere it serves very good bitter (25p) and mild (24p) from electric pillar taps.

Next go straight across and up Edward Street, at the first set of lights here on the right across Hillgate is No.6 the Black Lion (Boddingtons). It sells bitter (20½p) and mild (18½p) from handpumps. A basic house. Turn right out of here and on down Hillgate past the Red Bull (Robinsons) on the left. Hillgate once constituted a very famous crawl route. Many said it was impossible to finish before the demolition men moved in. So you can imagine how many pubs there were! Today it still has lots of character about it and provides three more pubs for our crawl.

Just past Comet warehouse is No.7 the Gladstone (Tetleys) selling bitter (24p) and mild (22p) from handpumps. It's a very quiet pub and it's a shame because the quality of the beer and the nature of the pub itself make it worthy of far more trade than it receives. 

Carry on down Hillgate to the brewery of Frederic Robinson and call in at No.8 the  Spread Eagle, i.e.the brewery tap. Best Bitter (25p) and Best Mild (23p) are dispensed from old wooden handled handpumps. From here keep following Hillgate along until you come to an archway spanning the street and there just on the left will be seen the very old bulging front window of Turner's Wine Vaults (No.9). Tetleys bitter (24p) and mild (22p) are sold from electric pumps. It's Stockport's  answer to Yates' this - so expect the characters. Note also the fine bank of taps on the bar once used to deliver the draught wines.

Anyway have yourselves a beer break now and have a test of your powers of navigation. Turn left out of Turners Vaults and down to the White Lion (don't go in) then turn right here and along the Great Underbank leading left until you meet a major arterial road - turn right along it before peeling off right down Corporation Street and following it round, becoming New Bridge Lane about 400 yards down on the left is No.10, the Midway. This is a recently modernised ex-Wilsons house, now a free house selling six brews, draught Bass (24p), Youngers XXPS (24p), and Wilsons bitter (24p) and mild (23p) are handpumped. Boddingtons and Pollards bitter (both 24p) are delivered by electric pumps. Thus a very fine range of beers can be had in a pub which would be more at home in Buckinghamshire than behind an iron foundry in Stockport! Go easy at this one for there's still two more to come.

Retrace your steps (is this still possible!) until you can cross the river by turning right over a footbridge; then down past a mill before turning left then quick right (Boddingtons Coach & Horses here for those tired of life) into Lancaster Street and down to the end where on the left corner is the Old King (No.11), Bass (26p), XXXX mild (22p) and Worthingtons BB (24p) are all served by free flow electric pumps. Beware of the Toby Light as it's keg. A spartan pub and only its beers merit a note. 

Out of here turn left and head back towards the town centre down Great Portwood Street. As this bends to the right to go round the Merseyway will be seen the terminis, No12, Buck & Dog (Boddingtons). A very basic house selling good bitter (21p) and mild (19p) from handpumps and Boddies Strong Ale in winter direct from the cask. This seems a good enought place to stop, near enough to bus and rail stations for the survivors to find their way home.

Stockport is a town rich in real beer and the route described above not necessarily the best, so there could be many other permutations and this is left to personal likes and dislikes.

What happened next

Phew! I like the reference to survivors finding their way home. With 12 pubs featured and three others mentioned in passing there's quite a bit to go on here.

The Crown has been opened up over the years but still retains much of its former layout - event the impressive mirror in the back room is still there. The Boddington Pub Co turned it into a multi-beer free house and it remains that today. It's won many awards over the intervening years but its star does seem to have dimmed a little in recent years. It's currently 'to let'. 

The Pineapple across the road did bed in eventually and under long-serving
licensee Eileen Lloyd the pub was a regular in the Good Beer Guide for several years. Inevitably Eileen retired and the pub drifted and it's been 'mothballed' by Robinsons. Apparently the intention is to reopen it when work on Stockport's new bus interchange has been finished. We'll see.

The George was indeed spectacular with lots of panelling and mirrored walls featuring George & the Dragon. A corner door gave entrance into a tiny and characterful vault. If it had been
intact today a Grade II listing would have been almost guaranteed. However... firstly Higsons knocked it about a bit and it had a brief spell as the keg-only Manhattan (and let me tell you, as good as cask Higsons beers undoubtedly were, their keg equivalents were equally horrible). Of course Higsons fell to Boddingtons and the real damage came courtesy of the Boddington Pub Co who completely ripped out anything of note. It was then bought as a free house by a man who had no money to spend on the pub and so it began to slowly fall apart around his ears. It also developed a rather 'lively' reputation. A couple of years or so ago it closed suddenly and the increasingly decrepit pub is now, rather optimistically, 'to let'.

The Manchester Arms was a wonderful pub and an early local CAMRA Pub of the Year. This was back in 1984 and a highlight of the presentation night was a 'rocket man' who ignited the large device strapped to his back in the middle of the main road outside the pub. This prompted a visit from the police who had received reports of an explosion in the area. Ian and Dot Brookes were legendary licensees and are still looked back on with great affection.  Ian and Dot moved on and eventually Robinsons turned the pub into Cobdens which shone briefly but is now yet another of their mothballed outlets.

The Unity closed in March 2012 and has now been converted into flats. The Grove was a very early closure in April 1984. It's now being used as offices (shown here). The Nelson has had several refurbishments and hasn't always sold cask beer but has been doing so recently with Theakson's Bitter and a guest beer.

The Black Lion had an excellent vault with a notable wood-paneled ceiling. The entrance also had glasswork and, astonishingly, a doormat, surviving
from its days as a Clarke's of Reddish pub (taken over and closed by Boddingtons in 1962). It closed in late 2005 and is now offices. The nearby Red Bull has been extended by Robinsons but although some disagree I still find it a pleasant and characterful pub. It's had too many licensees though and really needs someone to put down some roots and make their mark on the place.

The Gladstone back then was run by the formidable Jessie Holehouse, who was born there in the 1920s. I must say Jessie's looming presence never really added to the appeal of the pub and this was an rare occasion where the retirement of a long-serving licensee saw an uplift in the pub's fortunes. It eventually became a Burtonwood pub called the Bishop Blaize. Sadly the pub closed in April 2011 and is now offices.

I visited the Spread Eagle around this time and remember the old handpumps, plus a shabby pub with welcoming open fires. Sadly Robinsons decided to knock it around and made a right pig's ear of it. It should have been a showcase but really wasn't. The last people to run it were Noel and Val Jones who really did work hard to make it a proper local. However Robinsons decided they wanted to incorporate the pub into the brewery offices so Noel and Val moved to another pub and the Spread Eagle closed in September 2007. 

Turners Vaults is better known as the Queen's Head and was owned by the Turner family until they sold it to Sam Smiths in the early 1990s. Sam's spent a lot of money restoring the pub and its now recognised as having significant heritage features. You can read all about it here  You still get the characters.

Whitbread's White Lion had several themes over the years and closed around June 2009. The imposing building has recently been converted into flats. The Midway is still going strong. It is now owned by Ei Group and while selling a range of decently kept beers, majors on food.  It's very well run and seems to be doing very well.

The Coach & Horses (which will appear on next week's Stagger) was a decent enough pub. It closed in around July 1998 and was knocked down in January 2000.  The Old King was quite well regarded back in the day being a Good Beer Guide regular for a couple of years and was the first ever recipient of a (Stockport &) South Manchester Pub of the Month award back in April 1980. It was a very old pub that has been knocked around in the very early seventies - one feature was a huge period tiled fireplace that dominated the rear pool room. Oddly this disappeared soon after the Old King closed in February 2009. It's now been knocked down and the site redeveloped as a Nando's.

And finally, the Buck & Dog. The Boddington Pub Co (which crops up quite a bit in this story) planned to carry out a full restoration of this potentially very impressive Victorian edifice. You can see what it looked like here and also here. However Barclays Bank came along and made them an offer they couldn't refuse so the pub closed in August 1986. It was a right old dump in its final days. I called in with some friends - plaster was coming off the walls, one room was closed 'due to drug abuse' and we were shown a very soggy earwig on the bar counter which, we were told, had just come out of one of the handpumps. Truly the golden age of pub going....