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Wednesday, 27 May 2020

From the Archives

Wilmslow in 1976

The other Staggers I have for May in the 1980s go back to East Manchester which I think we've perhaps exhausted here for the time being.

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
Heading down the Station approach you are immediately confronted by pub No.1, the Railway Hotel. A Boddingtons pub serving handpumped Bitter (21p) and Mild and Strong Ale direct from the cask in winter. This is a large pub frequented by drinkers from all walks of life. ranging from regular five-thirty Boddies Bittermen who have reached the singing stage by 8pm to occasional businessmen. One room is dominated by the now seemingly compulsory pool table. This pub would not be out of place in the centre of Salford.

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
Chapel Lane now changes its name to Moor Lane so continue up Moor Lane for 200 yards until on the left appears the Farmers Arms (No.6). This must rank as one of the best Boddingtons pubs in existence, and is possibly unique in the fact that it sells both Boddingtons Milds as well as Bitter all from handpumps. Staunch Boddies Bitter addicts are recommended to sample the Milds in here, you will not be disappointed.

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.

Back in 1976 you'd have had to look long and hard for the Kings Head. If you'd gone looking for the King William however you'd have 'reached your destination'. It's still there, but the days of the 'licensed rabbit warren' are long gone as the pub has been substantially knocked around and opened out over the years, although the interior does ramble pleasantly and you might find a real coal fire, too.  It's now big on food and also has letting rooms.  Oh, and despite what it says in the stagger, the King William never seems to have made it into the published version of the 1977 Good Beer Guide. Robinsons beers remain on the bar.

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.

The New Inn is still owned by Hydes but is now the Coach & Four. Inevitably it's been knocked around, opened up (the five rooms are long gone) and extended. Once again it's a pub that's big on food and accommodation. You can get a flavour of it from the website 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.

Monday, 18 May 2020

From the Archives

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
First call was the Star in Ardwick, a Wilsons house run by Pennine Hosts - as so often the case with Hosts no cask mild is available. The handpumped Wilsons Bitter was on fine form however being cited very good to excellent by all bar one. The pub itself has a pleasant 1930s exterior although the inside has been partially knocked through.

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.

On now to the Travellers Call, a small Hydes pub hidden next to a taxi office. This is an excellent old-fashioned pub, with a thriving vault and a quieter back room which on our visit came alive with impromptu folk music which was so good that some stayed to listen and caught up later. The electrically pumped mild and bitter were equally well thought of by all as well, both citing above average to good.

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
We then proceeded to the Coach & Horses, the second Robinsons pub of the night. A fine pub inside with a particularly unspoilt vault. The lounge boasts an electric organ however and on our visit one of the customers was destroying a Frank Sinatra number. The handpumped Best Mild and Best Bitter was rather better than the singing however, both being rated above average.

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
Before arriving at the City Gates, our Staggerers would have passed the keg-only Wellington which you can see here in its days as a Threlfalls house. The Wellington closed around 1992 and for years remained increasingly derelict until it was demolished in Autumn 2002. A similar fate befell the City Gates which started life as the Hyde Road Hotel. In April 1990 Opening Times reported it as closed and boarded and in January 2002 as a 'rubble strewn croft'.

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
The Travellers Call was a terrific little pub and in its unaltered state would have been a shoe-inn for CAMRA's National Inventory. It was knocked around a bit before Hydes sold it off but still remained a very characterful pub. Whether it's still open or not is a moot point. It has a live entry on WhatPub here  but I have to say it's looked firmly closed whenever I've been past. The building is still clearly occupied and maintained so if it really has survived that is something of a minor miracle.

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
The Nags Head closed in May 2011 (after selling Burtonwood beers for a while) and is now a shop. There is no trace of the Rock which didn't long outlive the Stagger, closing in August 1987. It was knocked down in October 1989. The Victoria closed around August 1993, due to poor trade according to Opening Times, and was demolished in May 1994. The Coach & Horses had a real purple patch under licencee Beryl Lavelle, who hailed from Kent I think. The pub won a couple of Pub of the Month awards and appeared in the national Good Beer Guide. Inevitably, Beryl retired, Robinsons sold the pub into the free trade (as Brodies) whereupon it crashed and burned. It was closed and boarded in late 2006 and demolished the following year.

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.

Monday, 11 May 2020

From the Archives

The ABC Crawl - Ardwick, Brunswick & Chorlton-on-Medlock

Staying with Staggers from the month of May, this crawl appeared in the May 1986 Opening Times. The Stockport & South Manchester branch of CAMRA had, and still has, a programme of Staggers that aim to cover almost all of the pubs in the branch area over a two-year period. It has evolved somewhat over the years, mainly due to pub closures making them no longer viable, or, as we  will see in the case of this one, effectively vanishing before our eyes.

This one was written by the late Rhys Jones and involves quite a walk across a varied inner-city area. Here we go....

Our crawl this month deviates from our usual pattern whereby we follow main roads or explore a particular district - instead we take a cross-section through three neighbouring districts just off the City Centre.

As usual, the comments on the pubs and the beer relate simply to what we found on the night and are not to be taken as definitive.

We started at the Seven Stars, Ashton Old Road, a typical large Holts pub selling Mild & Bitter on handpumps with a real coal fire in the lounge. Mild (63p) was very good, the Bitter was not quite so highly thought of (65p) but still well above average. Next came the Old House at Home, a few doors on the Manchester side of the Seven Stars, a Wilsons house with both Newton Heath beers (64p/67p) and also Websters Bitter (69p). We noted an interesting collection of coins above the bar, plus a draught peanut dispenser. There was also an interesting selection of questions on the Trivia Quiz Machine!! Nobody tried Websters Bitter, but Wilsons Bitter was good, and mild clearly above average.

Next call was the King's Head on Chancellor Lane, a Greenalls pub with Bitter (69p) and recently introduced cask mild (67p). Unfortunately the mild was not on when we called, but the Bitter - even in the landlord's absence on holiday - weighed in well above average.

A short stroll across the road now, to Chesters Steam Engine, with handpumped Mild (not on tonight though) and bitter (70p) in what was universally agreed to be the least welcoming pub atmosphere of the night. The bitter was only average as well, but it should be recorded that the toilets were officially opened by Johnny Briggs, and there's a plaque to prove it - I'm assured that this will mean something to some of our readers! Avoiding Temperance Street, we next found the Union, Higher Ardwick, a street-corner Wilsons pub. This came across as an excellent busy and friendly local. Particularly praiseworthy were the real flowers - a rarity nowadays. Sadly, though, both mild (68p) & bitter (70p) were rated below average; both beers were handpumped.

Round the corner now to the Church on Ardwick Green. This is a Pennine Hosts pub, and most of us reckoned it to be amongst their most successful renovations, light years ahead of Mickey Mouse affairs like 'Sports' or 'Conways'. The handpumped beers are Wilsons bitter, (74p), mild (72p) and Websters bitter (76p); best liked was the Wilsons bitter which was very good, while the other two were well above average, the Websters outscoring the mild by the narrowest of margins. Particular praise is due to the entertainment, which came in the shape of an old fashioned pub pianist. Passing the boarded up Cleveland we reached Boddingtons' Plymouth Grove, on the road of that name. The former Ardwick Town Hall, with its imposing clock tower, this place looks tremendous from the outside - once you enter the only interest is in deciding which of the graffiti ridden entrance to the bar or the utter blandness of the lounge is the greater disappointment. Mild (64p) and Bitter (66p) are on electric pump. Both were comfortably above average.

Across waste ground now to Banks's Falcon, an estate pub build by Wilsons on the 70s and sold to Banks's last year. On electric pumps it sells mild (64p), Black Country Bitter(66p) and Bitter (69p) - the mild and bitter were both very good (the mild marginally preferred), and even Black Country Bitter, a slow seller in most Banks's pubs, was above average. As we entered the second pub pianist of the night was belting out 'The Wild Rover'!

Close by on Grafton Street stands the Bowling Green, a Greenalls pub where electric-pumped bitter (70p) and handpumped Original (72p) have recently been joined by handpumped mild (68p) - mind you, that probably wasn't the reason the pub was standing room only, more relevant this close to the University is the fact that this was the last night of term! Mild was above average, bitter was good, Original was very good. From here we were left with the shortest of staggers down the street to the second night of trading at Holts rebuilt Grafton Arms (and yes, some of us had been there on opening night as well). We used the lounge, which was generally agreed to be good by new pub standards, though a dissenting minority (myself included) found the excellent vault more congenial. For just 59p in the lounge (a penny less in the vault), the handpumped mild romped home as the best beer of the night, while the bitter (62p/61p) was only marginally less well thought of - an impressive debut.

So ended another excellent night, which while starting and finishing on Manchester's finest brew had included plenty of quality and variety in between.

What happened next

As I mentioned in the introduction, the pubs on the Stagger have not fared well.

The Seven Stars, which at the time of this Stagger would have been a shoe-in for CAMRA's National Inventory was subjected to a major refurbishment by Holts which saw much of the character lost and a large extension built. This never seemed to fulfil its potential and the pub was never really the same again. Holts then seemed to run it at arms length as some sort of tied free-house (I never did quite get my head round what they were doing there).   In any event the pub closed down in August 2009. However it lives on as Live Seafood - which last year gained a rave review from Jay Rayner of the Guardian. You can read that  here.

Nearby, the Old House at Home was quite an early closure. Opening Times  in July 1993 reported the pub as for sale at £75,000 and its closure was recorded in the December 1996 issue. Last time I was in the area the building was still standing as a car rental offices. The Pubs of Manchester blog has a piece on it here. For completeness I should record that between the Seven Stars and the Old House at Home stood the General Birch, a Whitbread house that closed in March 1992 with demolition following in  September that year. You can see an archive image of the impressive building  here.

Site of the Kings Head
The Kings Head  became a free house eventually closed around June 2008. For a time it was reported that the pub had been 'mothballed' but it never reopened and after many years of increasing dereliction it was demolished a couple of years ago and is now a vacant site as shown above. Across the road, the Steam Engine had a varied life. At one point it was probably the tap for the old Chesters Brewery which stood behind it. Chesters merged with Salford rivals Threlfalls in 1961 and the Ardwick brewery was demolished in 1966. The former offices still remain however. When I first visited the Steam Engine it was more or less in its original form with lively vault and quieter lounge, and no cask beer.   It was then taken on by  Fred Feast whose claim to fame was a longish-running role in Coronation Street.  It was presumably for this reason that the toilets were opened by Corrie regular  Johnny Briggs.  Fred's arrival saw the pub thoroughly gutted and all character removed. In any event it was up for sale by summer 1990 subsequently becoming a cafe which in turn was burnt out and demolished two years later. There's an archive photo here of the pub in its Chesters days.

Back in 1986 if you had told those on the Stagger that 34 years later this area would be home to nine new breweries they'd have stared in disbelief but, just a few minutes' walk away, you'll find Squawk Brewing, Manchester Brewing, Chorlton Brewing, Beer Nouveau, Manchester Union, Alphabet Brewing, Wander Beyond Brewing, Track Brewing and Cloudwater Brew Co (although Chorlton plan to have their beers contract brewed in Belgium, of course).

Swiftly moving on, the Union became a Burtonwood house which closed in April 2008 and it is now the Spicy Grill. En route to the Church,  our Staggerers may have passed the, then keg-only, Park Inn  on Cotter Street. This also became a Burtonwood house and was notably well-run by a long-serving landlady and did a good cask ale trade.  After her retirement the pub closed in March 2008 and is now a martial arts centre. The Church was a smart and well-run pub so I was rather surprised when it closed in April 2011. It was demolished two years later and flats now occupy the site.

The Cleveland, which was boarded up at the time of the Stagger did live to fight another day. However it was up for sale for £45,000 by July 1993 and finally closed four years later, when it was again advertised for sale, this time at £30,000. The building remains converted to other use.  The externally impressive Plymouth Grove closed in 2002 and remained derelict for the next 11 years. In 2013 work started to convert it into a 128-seat Chinese restaurant which opened a couple of year later.  The Falcon was one of the unwise Banks's acquisitions I documented a few weeks ago. Suffice it to say the pub closed in May 2008 and was demolished shortly afterwards to be replaced by housing.

Its enduring popularity with the local student population couldn't save the Bowling Green. I'm not entirely sure why - possibly it's later ownership by Punch and the departure of a long-serving licensee conspired against it. The pub was boarded and increasingly derelict after it closed in April 2011. It was knocked down in 2018.  I often called in during its last years and was always struck by how welcoming the pub was - and it did an interesting range of beers from the Punch guest beer list, too.

And so we come to the Grafton. I'm pleased to say this is still with us and trading well as a Holts house. The sole survivor of the 10 pubs covered on this Stagger.

One more thing

You will see next to the Stagger, a Branch Diary for May 1986. It's worth recording that almost none of this would be possible today. To quickly run through:

Committee meetings are still held at the Plough which has been sensitively refurbished by Robinsons and has a well-earned place on CAMRA's National Inventory - see  here. The Castlewood closed in August 2003 and was converted into a shop.  The Crown on Hillgate is still with us but hasn't sold cask beer for years. Shipstones Brewery was closed by Greenalls in 1990. The Waggon & Horses which was on the main road in Longsight near the junction with Kirkmanshulme Lane, was large Wilsons house also selling handpumped Bulmers cider (the editor's 40th birthday crawl mentioned here was the one and only time I visited the pub). It closed in 1990, was knocked down in 1994 and flats now occupy the site.

The New Inn is also still with us but again sells no cask beer.  The monolithic Duke of Edninburgh on Mill Street was demolished for a road scheme in 1992 while the Forresters was finally closed by Robinsons in 2014.

Monday, 4 May 2020

From the Archives


My grand plan for May was to run the Stagger for that month from the very early issues of Opening Times each week. However that for May 1976 (which you can read here) didn't included a Stagger and nor did that for May 1977.  The 'new' Opening Times was launched in June 1984 and, Sod's Law being what it is, the May 1985 issue is one that I'm missing. So here we are with a Stagger from the June 1985 edition. 

Back then the feature wasn't called 'Stagger' but rather 'Around in the Town'. This one covers Rusholme, home then as now to the famous 'curry mile'. It was written by Andy Cooper who is still around and now lives in Cheadle Hulme.

Here we go...

(What follows is not intended to be a statement of the quality of the pubs or beer on all occasions, but is our opinion of both on the night of the crawl.)

A fine Spring evening in late April saw five hardy stalwarts of CAMRA gather in the Claremont, on Claremont Road, a large run-down Holts pub, trying to relive its days of former glory. The beer was however well up to the standard we've come to expect from Drabs, with the Mild scoring 4 (60p) and bitter coming in at a respectable average of 2.5.

After the fading splendour of the Claremont, it was quite a contrast to move on to the Beehive, a large, modern and eminently forgettable Hyde's pub, where in contrast to the previous pub, the beer was not enjoyed by anyone, with the Mild (61p) scoring a paltry 1.5, and the Bitter (66p) not quite managing to scale even those heights. 

The next stop was certainly the most interesting building of the night; the Robin Hood, a Robinsons house. This was a fascinating hostelry which gave no apparent indication of its former use but it could accurately be described by the phrase 'once visited, never forgotten'. Large signs on the walls announced 'no drugs allowed', but drugs would probably have helped to disguise the awful nature of the beer. Only Best Bitter was available, and the one of our party who was foolish enough to ask for mild was presented with lager...and drank it! The bitter, amongst those who drank it, could not quite muster 1.

We the progressed to the Osborne House, a Hydes pub, where the numbers on the crawl doubled. This former GBG pub produced respectable scores for the Mild (61p) of 3 and Bitter (66p) of 2.5.

Next move was 200 yards up the road to the Gardeners Arms, a recent conversion by Greenalls to draught beer, although only the bitter was available in traditional form at 68p, scoring 2.5.

The next stop was yet another Hydes pub, the Albert, the first of the night selling the Best Mild. This pleasant, moderately large pub had a TV in one room with the sound turned down, and no juke box, and was appreciated by most of the people present. The Best Mild scored an average of 2.75 (66p) and the Bitter (68p) scored a respectable 2.6.

We then headed to the Clarence, which sells Draught Bass, although only apparently in student term time. This is a busy, loud pub, and the Bass (70p) scored 2 overall, with the comments being made that the beer was too cold.

The next call was the Welcome, a very pleasant Greenalls pub, of typical Manchester design, with a number of small rooms, each with a varied clientele spanning the whole age range. The whole of Greenalls traditional beers are available, although no-one was tempted  by the mild. The Bitter (69p) scored 2.5, and the Original (72p) came in at 2.4.

Finally a route march was undertaken by the survivors of this epic to the Friendship, a recently renovated Hydes pub (see last month's Opening Times). Opinions were decidedly mixed about the renovations, with some members regarding the mirrors and pink walls as a strain on the eyes. The pub was packed with students, however, and they seemed to appreciate it, though presumably this is only carping on the part of a few CAMRA members. The beer was very pleasant as well, with the Best Mild (61p) scoring 2.75 overall and the Bitter scoring 2.8.

And so another pub crawl drew to an end, after visiting pubs that many of us had not seen before and were not likely to visit again for some time. We were also looking out for price lists, and Hydes seem to be the most consistent on this front.

(Beers scores as follows: 0 = undrinkable, 1 - poor, 2 - average, 3 - good, 4 - excellent.)

What happened next

The first thing I'll mention if the use of beer scores. Many years before CAMRA adopted its National Beer Scoring System, the South Manchester branch (as it then was) had used a beer scoring system to help it select Good Beer Guide entries. After a while Opening Times stopped publishing these  - this was after a local newspaper took the scores from a crawl, worked out the averages and then produced a 'league table' of pubs. Cue uproar.

While all about it may have fallen by the wayside, Holt's Claremont is still with us. It's had more than one spruce up over the years and remains a well-used community local. In the past I've even attended CAMRA Meeting there - including one where we had a speaker from Holt's brewery and beer writer Michael Jackson in the audience. 

After that it's all downhill really. The Beehive closed its doors in August 2011 and is now the Beehive Nursery. Before we move on the the Robin Hood,  let's pause and mention two other Claremont Road pubs. These were presumably omited from the crawl as no cask beer was sold. 

One is the Sherwood, at the time a Whitbread house. This did latterly serve cask beer and I recall attending a CAMRA social there when something akin to a riot broke out at the other end of the pub. Completely unthreatened, we were able to continue chatting and drinking our beers while all hell was breaking out a few feet away. It closed in late 2007 and was converted to other use.

The other pub was the Lord Lyon, one of the roughest pubs in the area. It was a Bass pub and notoriously 'lively'. My favourite memory is a report  in the Manchester Evening News about someone being shot there and the landlord was quoted as saying that he kept a baseball bat behind the bar for when his customers got out of hand but he definitely drew the line at a shooting....

The pub did go on to sell cask beer from time to time, then closed and reopened with a new name (the Nelson) but that didn't save it.  After a period of other use the Lord Lyon was knocked down in 2011.

The Robin Hood next. What a pub. It had two entrances - one rarely used led to a couple of equally under-used rooms. The other led to a huge cavernous room with tables and chairs set out in rows, working-men's club style. Lasting memories are West Indian bus drivers noisily playing dominoes, a great reggae jukebox, truly bad beer and a friend of mine being given the eye by a female customer who resembled a bag lady.  It closed in late 1991 and was sold for other use. You can see a picture of it here .

The Osborne House (pictured left, after closure) on Victory Street,  a very good pub in its day, closed in late 2008 and has been converted into a mosque. I must say this was one closure that rather surprised me. The closure of the nearby Gardeners Arms in late 2005 wasn't really a surprise at all. It's been converted into flats.

The Albert on Walmer Street is still open as a Hydes House but cask beer was withdrawn early 2017. The pub does seem to have lost something of the buzz it had around 10 years ago unfortunately.

The Clarence closed in late 2006 and has been converted into an Indian restaurant. The Clarence was once owned by Hardy's Crown Brewery in Hulme. As was the next pub to be omitted - the Huntsman, seen  here in 1959. The last cask beer that place ever sold was probably Hardy's Happy Man Bitter as it was keg-only for many years. Gruesome and rough (well it was on my only visit), the pub closed in July 2011 and still looks disused.

Also omitted was another ex-Hardy's house. Than called the Birch Villa and latterly Hardy's Well, this sold nothing but keg beers in its Bass days. Ln its later years it was a terrific pub and a proper community local  with a real mix of customers (and a parrot to boot). Some decent beer was sold, too, including Taylor's Landlord. Despite the best efforts of the locals to save it, the pub closed in July 2016 and had been converetd into flats. The large mural with a poem by Lemn Sissay remains on the gable end.

Moving on to the Welcome, this was close to the studios where very early editions of Top of the Pops were filmed and had many photos from those days on the walls.  I always liked this place and was sorry it closed in 2009 for conversion into a doctor's surgery.

Finally, the Friendship has had subsequent makeovers but still thrives as a Hydes house and is popular with a whole cross section of local residents. The beer is usually pretty good too, and it's been in and out of the Good Beer Guide in recent years