Brinnington & PortwoodI 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 nextNeedless 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.