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Tuesday, 16 June 2020

From the Archives - August 1986

A Homage to Holts

This Stagger appeared in the August 1986 issue of
Opening Times and, as explained in the introduction, was undertaken to mark the death centenary of Joseph Holt. Like the Offerton Stagger covered in the last post, this was also planned as a minibus outing, the difference being that on this occasion it actually turned up. Always a good start.  There are in fact a few other bits and pieces in this issue that really deserve another look so they'll be coming up soon.

This Stagger was actually written by me so re-running it now is perhaps a little bit self-indulgent. But what's the point of having a blog if you can't do that? Anyway, here we go....

Earlier in the year the Centenary of the death of Joseph Holt was reached and to mark this solemn occasion members of the Stockport & South Manchester Branch visited all nine pubs in the branch area. (There's now 10 since the Grafton is now open). What follows is our impression of each on the night and as ever our comments should not be taken as definitive. You'll see that there are no comments on beer quality which, for the record, was pretty good in every pub visited.

We kicked off in the Junction, Cheadle Hulme, where handpumped mild and bitter cost 62p and 64p respectively. A typical large Holts pub which has sadly become pretty run down in recent years, the former billiard room having been partitioned up into a concert room and a corridor to the gents.

Next stop was the Griffin, Heald Green. Holts rebuilt this pub in 1967 and, in common with many pubs of the period the end result has proved pretty characterless. This pub also had the distinction, it that's the word, of being one of the few outlets for Holts short-lived keg bitter. The mild (59p) and Bitter (61p) were dispensed through free-flow electric pumps.

Onto another Griffin, this time in Heaton Mersey, a classic pub by anyone's standards, and now saved from its threatened demolition. Well deserving its Pub of the Year award in 1983, the handpumped mild and bitter were 62p and 64p.

Fourth port of call was the Claremont, Claremont Road, Moss Side. Built in 1929 this is a typical monolithic inter-wars pub. Getting sadly run down now (the smoke room being an exception) this is an excellent basic boozer and, we are told, is Holts top seller for beer. The two ladies in our party reported that the scrubbed wooden seats in the ladies would be a comfort in cold weather! The handpumped mild and bitter were again 62p and 64p.  

Halfway stage was reached at the Garratt on Pink Bank Lane, Longsight. Built in 1960 this is agin a pretty characterless pub consisting basically of a large vault and a lounge-cum-concert room which was hosting a 'talent' (if that's the word) night on our visit. We sat in a small room off, where a group of youths were amusing themselves raising clouds of dust out of the carpet. Again wooden seats in the ladies but the overflowing trough in the gents was less than pleasant. The mild and bitter (handpumped) came in at 59p and 61p.

Next came the Waggon & Horses on Hyde Road. Built in 1913 and knocked about a bit since, this can best be described as an average pub (for Holts!) and would benefit from a coat of paint. Handpumped mild and bitter were again 59p and 61p. Angela and Charlotte again reported wooden seats and mentioned how spotlessly clean the toilets were.

On the home straight now and to the Railway on Manshaw Road, Fairfield. An older pub this time (1894), one of the main features is the superb lamp over the entrance which must be one of the few surviving examples in Manchester.  A previous licensee here is reputed to have stabbed his wife just prior to opening time. cleaned up, opened the pub and served through lunchtime then closed the pub and phoned the police! (A more lurid version has him stringing up the unfortunate lady from the lamp outside). No mild was available but the handpumped bitter, which was probably the least cold of the night, was 64p.

Penultimate pub was the Grove, Ashton New Road. A bright, clean but fairly spartan pub, unsigned like most of the others. An interesting feature is the Roll of Honour on the vault wall recalling those regulars who died in the First World War. Again handpumped, the mild and bitter were 61p and 63p.

Last, but not least, came the Seven Stars on Ashton Old Road. An excellent pub, both inside and out, with a lot of good glasswork and where the tenancy has recently changed hands again. The beer was the dearest of the night - mild and bitter 63p and 65p!

To sum up, a terrific night with an incredible range of pubs. Some were classic examples of tat and grot that only Holts can produce (no names, no writs!) but all had one thing in common - excellent, value for money beers. Here's to the next hundred year!

What Happened Next

Only two of these pubs have disappeared and all of the rest, none can be classed as an example of 'tat and grot'. It's worth saying, I think, that while it's very easy to get nostalgic about the pub scene from years gone by, the overall standard of pubs today is far higher than it was back then.

The Junction was a rum old place with, at time. perhaps not the best reputation. Perhaps it was with this in mind that Holts spent a great deal of money on the pub in 1990(-ish). It was totally made over and largely knocked through while keeping very distinct vault, lounge and dining parts, plus a separate meeting/events room. It was, perhaps a little unimaginatively, renamed the Cheadle Hulme. With a keen and enthusiastic licensee it bedded in well as a successful community local for several year.

Holts then had a rush of blood to the head and splashed the cash again. It was run in some sort of arms-length operation and became the very food-focussed Platform 5 (or P5 as it's now known), which reflects the pub's proximity to the neighbouring Cheadle Hulme station. I don't think this was the runaway success Holts had been hoping for as it was subsequently taken back 'in house' and made a bit more pub-like (albeit still with a major food offer).  It's rather a shame Holts didn't leave well alone and keep it as the Cheadle Hulme - I suspect it would have been no less successful and they'd have saved themselves an awful lot of money.

Now to the Griffin in Heald Green. In 2014 this pub also had a great deal of money thrown at it by Holts. The vault and lounge were combined and a large conservatory was erected at the side. There was also lots of landscaping and an enlarged outdoor drinking area. The emphasis is very much on food (with even an ice cream counter...). It's not all food-focused thought, with a vault-type area to one side if you just want a drink. No mild now but Two Hoots and a Bootleg beer have joined Holts Bitter on the bar.

The other Griffin, in Heaton Mersey soldiers on successfully. It's another pub with a impressive lamp outside and retains a lovely historic core with a mahogany and etched glass bar. Incredibly, in the very early 1980s Holts had plans to knock this down and replace it with a more modern pub. Luckily the plans were shelved and the brewery contented itself with adding a seamless extension a few years later.  Before lockdown they announced plans for a further extension (to the extension!) which would create a significant dining area (happily the core would gain remain untouched). It remains to be seen if and when these plans are revived.

In Moss Side, the Claremont carries on while all around it have given up the ghost. There were numerous pubs in its vicinity back in 1986 and all have bitten the dust. Like all the other pubs visited, it's been spruced up by Holts since 1986, but not unrecognisably so, and continues to serve its community well.

Moving on we come to the first pub loss. While I described the Garratt  as 'pretty characterless' it did have some interesting features- not least the superb etched windows depicting Garratt locomotives made by the nearby (and long-gone) Beyer Peacock works. You can get a hint of them in this archive photo here. Over the years these disappeared, either as a result of vandalism or accidental breakage. The clouds of dust coming out of the carpet are also one of my enduring memories of this night, too. Sadly the Garratt closed in May 2013 and has now become a mosque, I think.

The Waggon & Horses got its coat of paint, and some gentle alterations, but apart from that it still functions today much as it did in 1986. The same goes for the Railway, which remains a fine multi-roomed local, still complete with lamp outside. Many other nearby pubs have closed and none of those that remain offer cask beer.  The Grove is also still carrying on more or less unchanged in a sea of pub devastation. Still a popular lounge-and-vault local, the Roll of Honour remains in the vault, and the pub is especially busy on City home game match days. You'll also note the comment about signage, or rather lack of.  Back then many Holts pubs could be distinguished by both absence of signage and the emerald green paint on the external woodwork.

Finally, the Seven Stars, which has featured here before. When the Stagger called in this was a completely unspoilt 19th century pub. There were two rooms, lounge and vault, off a central corridor, along with an abundance of tiling, etched glass and mahogany. The same issue of Opening Times reported that alterations would be going ahead and the scheme would leave the existing pub 'virtually unaltered'. If only. In fact there was significant knocking through and what turned out to be a wholly unnecessary extension built on the side. I don't think the pub ever really recovered although it didn't finally close until 2010. It's still there - but now operates as a seafood restaurant which got a rave review from Jay Rayner in the Observer. The photo here shows the ill-fated extension (which has also been extended itself).

Despite the two losses, the number of Holts houses in the Stockport & South Manchester branch area has increased over the years. As the Stagger mentions, the re-built Grafton (Grafton Street, Chorlton-on-Medlock) had just opened and the same issue records the granting of planning permission for what is now the Sidings on Broom Lane in Levenshulme. In addition Holts have acquired pubs from Tetley (the Sun & Castle, Hillgate, Stockport), John Smiths (the Railway, Lapwing Lane, West Didsbury), Boddingtons (the Grey Horse, Broadstone Road, Reddish) and Greenalls (Fiveways, Macclesfield Road, Hazel Grove).


retiredmartin said...

Good read, John.

Someone will do a calculation and tell you how much the drinker has had to pay for those undoubted improvements in the furnishings over 3 decades!

My first experience of Holt was 95p pints in the Old Monkey and Ape & Apple a decade after your visit, both tidy places back then. Salford was a different affair.

I'm reading you recall beer quality was good or better across the board back then. Did any of your group complain about variety or were those simpler times? 😉

John Clarke said...

Hi Martin - pleased you enjoyed it. The beer quality comments were published at the time - they aren't some ancient recollection on my part, unfortunately. In fact the only thing that really sticks in the memory from that night are the clouds of dust coming from the carpet in the Garratt as those lads stamped along in time to the music in the next room.

Obviously back then everyone know what they'd be getting on a Holts tour - just mild and bitter. In fact any real departure from that duo in any pub was something of note. I'll be looking at the rest of this issue in the next blog post but it's worth recording that perhaps the biggest range in the area was at Ye Olde Vic with Tetley Mild & Bitter, Jennings Bitter, Walker Best Bitter and Ind Coope Burton Ale. The pale'n'hoppy tidal wave was still well below the horizon

Curmudgeon said...

The fact you didn't even mention the superb etched windows in the Garratt in the initial write-up really underlines the point that you don't know what you've got until it's gone.

The Griffin at Heald Green, which was of a similar vintage, did receive an earlier makeover in 2006 which gave it much less of an estate pub character, and which I described at the time as making it look like Southfork Ranch, although it did retain the separate vault.

Anonymous said...

I remember that Stagger - good beer, interesting pubs; I'd forgotten the namecheck in the write-up, though. The Griffin in Heald Green is on my Opening Times delivery round: before the refurbishment they took 50+ copies each month; now it's about 10, and there's still some left 2 months later.

Charlotte Bulmer said...

Sorry, the anonymous comment above is me. Charlotte

Anonymous said...

I have good memories of the Claremont from living in the area as a student in the late 80s. Definitely not a student pub, but the beer was good and very cheap, and a haircut from the Irish barber a few doors down cost £1.50. Glad to hear it's still going.

Grovel said...

Another "new" Holts pub gained post the original article is the Old Monkey.
It was with Stockport & South Manchester for several year but is now lost. Thankfully the loss was not to the pub trade, but when the small enclave north of the Mancunian Way was ceded to the newly created Central Manchester Branch a year or two back.

Mark McConachie said...

You forgot to mention among the "new" pubs Holts acquired was the Kingsway in Levenshulme. Closed on 25/02/2018 and ceased trading. Sold by Joseph Holt to a developer with plans to either convert to flats, or to demolish and build flats on the site. Occupied a prominent position at the northern end of Kingsway. Large former Berni Inns / Greenalls pub acquired by Holts in the 1990s.