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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.


Grovel said...

Interesting to see that the tradition of holding the May Committee Meeting in the Plough was established way back in 1986.

Or maybe it was only in the extended daylight hours of May that they dare venture into the darkest depths of Gorton.


John Clarke said...

Well you know Gorton can be scary after dark....

Curmudgeon said...

I don't think I went on this particular Stagger, even though I drew the map. I do remember going on a later one that did visit the Cleveland.

I really can't remember the Old House at Home at all.

John Clarke said...

Hi Mudge

Looking at the spindly nature of that map (and the handwriting) I think it was drawn by Rhys himself. I recall you came on board to improve the standard of Stagger maps!

The Cleveland was a funny place - standing quite isolated on Wilson Street. I recall it selling Tetley Bitter at one stage.

I'm pretty sure I was on this one but, like you, can't really recall the Old House at Home.

Curmudgeon said...

Yes, it's a very small image, but looking at it closely I can see that it isn't my handwriting. I think the one I went on started at the King's Head.