Wilmslow in 1976
Digging around in some of the very old issues of Opening Times I came across this from October 1976. It's slightly off piste in the sense that it covers a town that's not part of the Stockport & South Manchester CAMRA area and it's somewhere I'm not overly familiar with (despite it being almost on my doorstep). If you want to have a look at the entire issue of Opening Times from which this is taken, then you can view it here.
As with some of the others, this Stagger provides a glimpse into a vanished world. Not because of wholesale closures and demolitions, but rather it shows how the pubs in this well-heeled part of Cheshire have fallen victim to increasing gentrification over the years. It was written by Graham Lister and R Longden. Here we go....
Three of the four previous crawls printed in Opening Times have visited pubs either surrounded by demolition (Gorton and Rusholme) or amongst back streets and Gasworks (Stockport). This month's Stagger visits an area inhabited by stockbrokers and bank managers, Wilmslow. Many Mancunians have the impression that Wilmslow is an area where one would drink one's gin and tonic sitting in a velvet covered seat in the cocktail lounge of a five star hotel with a carpet thick enough to lose a dog in. This could not be further from the truth, the majority of Wilmslow's pubs are popular friendly 'locals' with a good drinking atmosphere.
Traditional Draught Beer is available from four breweries in Wilmslow, Boddingtons (who have an abundance of pubs in this area), Robinsons, Hydes and Wilsons.
How to get there
RAIL. Easily the easiest and quickest way to get to Wilmslow, a train leaving Oxford Road and Piccadilly every 15 minutes going alternately via the Styal line or Stockport. The journey time is approximately 25 minutes. The last trains back at night are 22.22, 23.22 via Stockport, 22.41 via Styal.
BUS. I believe it is possible to travel to Wilmslow by bus but I've never bothered.
CAR. An excellent way to undertake this crawl is by car with a Teetotal Driver, remember you may not just lose your license, you may lose your life as well.
BICYCLE. Not a bad idea on a fine Saturday morning.
The crawl starts from the Railway Station as it is the most obvious place to start. Drinkers who do not like a long drunken dash from the last pub to the Station to catch the last train should start the crawl at pub No.7 and work backwards.
|Photo from The Wilmslow Website|
Leaving the Railway turn right out of the door (make sure it's open first) and proceed along Station Road, turn right at the traffic lights, cross the road until you reach the Kings Head (No.2). This former Bells house, now a Robinsons house serves handpumped Best Bitter and Best Mild. This is an excellent two hundred (or is it three hundred) year old local which is, to borrow a phrase, a licensed rabbit warren. CAMRA members can be sure of a warm welcome here especially when the coal fires are lit. This pub has been selected to appear in the 1977 National Good Beer Guide.
Now retrace your steps to the traffic lights, turn right, cross the road and enter pub No.3, the Swan. The second Boddingtons pub serving Mild and Bitter from handpumps, this is a very friendly popular pub with no frills or gimmicks and has only recently lost its full size snooker table, sadly replaced by two pool tables.
Leaving the Swan, return to the traffic lights, turn right, walk down Alderley Road, past the Rex Cinema, past the shops and you will reach pub No.4, the New Inn. A Hydes house with no less than five rooms, this is a must for keen fans of carpets and the Carpenters. The ladies loo is reputedly the best for miles around. The Mild Ale and Bitter Beer are served by electric pumps.
Turn left out of the door and take the second turn on the right into Chapel Lane. Continue down Chapel Lane until you reach pub No.5, the Carters Arms. A Wilsons pub with a very popular vault with keen card and darts schools. The Bitter and Mild are handpumped.
|Photo taken from Whatpub.com|
Most people will find it difficult to leave this pub but if you want to sample another pint of Boddingtons continue further up Moor Lane for a long 500 yards to the Riflemans Arms (No.7). The Mild and Bitter are handpumped and the pub is usually packed, and the bar staff overworked. The beer is always of exceptional quality and you are advised to drink enough to make that very long walk back to the Station seem like a 2 minute stroll.
One point to note about this stagger is that only one pub (the New Inn) served the beer through electric pumps. Another point is that hardly anyone we spoke to had the expected plum in the mouth.
What happened next
With only seven pubs this was quite a light session by the standards of the old Opening Times staggers. As I intimated at the start, while this stagger hasn't been pretty much eliminated by closures and demolitions, unlike those in East Manchester for example, it is still pretty much unrecognisable today both in terms of the pubs themselves and what they actually sell.
Reading between the lines, the Railway Hotel, was perhaps the 'grittiest' pub of the stagger. I have seen a mention of it elsewhere with the suggestion that it was perhaps a little intimidating (although a guide to all their pubs produced by Boddingtons in 1978 does advise that the Railway 'has a banqueting room available'). The Railway is also the only pub mentioned that has disappeared. It closed in the late 1980s (I think) and has subsequently been demolished.
Let's just pause here and also note the mention of Bell's. Bell & Co was an old Stockport brewery taken over by Robinsons in 1949. As far as I know their beers didn't survive very long although the brewery on Hempshaw Lane continued brewing until the 1960s (by which time it was only producing brown ale). The old brewery was demolished around 10 years ago. Now, all this might sound like ancient history but, back in 1976, the takeover was just 27 years in the past so, someone in their fifties reading this stagger might well have been familiar with Bell's beers. Which kind of puts things into a decent historic perspective. There are some photos of the old brewery and pub lists here.
Moving on, the Swan, the popular pub with 'no frills or gimmicks' is no more. Now owned by Greene King it has been transformed into Anthology, a 'pub, restaurant and cocktail bar' with frills and gimmicks aplenty. The website is here should you wish to have a look.
here. It does still serve a range of cask beers - all from handpumps though.
Being a former Wilsons house, the Carters Arms inevitably ended up in PubCo hands and also went through a spell as 'Carters'. I must say I've never set foot in the place but inevitably its online presence does indicate a major food operation too. A couple of years ago it was offering a 40 inch pizza challenge as this article from the Manchester Evening News explains. If you scroll down you'll even see a photo of said pizza.
So, what became of the Farmers Arms, 'one of the best Boddingtons pubs in existence'? Of course Boddingtons has long since passed into history (a concept that would have been unthinkable in 1976) but the Farmers Arms is still going strong - albeit as a JW Lees house. It remains a characterful multi-roomed pub and a few years ago the local CAMRA branch gave it a community pub award. I suspect that it's the one pub featured on the stagger that the authors might still recognise.
You will note also the reference to 'both' Boddingtons milds. Back then, a few local breweries produced two milds, one light and one dark, with one usually called 'best mild'. The 1977 Good Beer Guide tells us that Boddingtons Best Mild (original gravity 1033) was 'light and smooth' while the Mild (1031) was 'dark and sweetish'. Hydes and Lees also had two milds back then - in fact Hydes still do, although the light Best Mild now masquerades as 1863 'session ale'.
Finally to the then very busy Riflemans Arms. CAMRA's online pub guide, WhatPub tells us this is a
"spacious estate pub encompassing tap room, extended lounge comprising tables of varying sizes. Pool, dominoes and darts played in tap room. 3 house and up to 3 guest beers (from SIBA list) always available"
Not any more. WhatPub also tells us that the pub is permanently closed and planning permission has been given to demolish it and build houses on the site.
Funnily enough Bell & Co still exists as a 100% subsidiary of Robinsons - and still owns when remains of its old tied estate.