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Monday, 8 June 2020

From the Archives - June 1986


Following last week's look at the Opening Times Stagger from June 1984, the obvious progression is to 1985. However I re-ran that Stagger a few weeks ago so we move forwards to 1986 and somewhere not yet covered on these archive pieces - the Stockport suburb of Offerton.

Peter Edwardson both wrote the Stagger and drew the map. Peter is still around as an active CAMRA member and he also blogs profusely.  This Stagger actually took place in April 1986 and was the usual mixed bag. Here we go...

The April destination for our regular monthly crawl was the Stockport suburb of Offerton. This is one of the less well-known parts of the Branch area, few of us having visited any of the pubs before. However we found an interesting variety of beer and pubs, and discovered that Offerton drinkers are lucky in that there was not one keg pub among the six we visited.

We assembled at the traditional starting point for these trips, the Manchester Arms in Stockport. This is a pub charitably described as unpretentious and lively, but as usual the handpumped Robinsons Best Mild and Best Bitter were on excellent form.  Old Tom was also available on gravity.

The promised mini-bus was cancelled, so we had to fall back on GMT for transport, catching the 358 at Stockport Bus Station. The driver assured us that the fare was only 23p, but unfortunately he was corrected by an Inspector who got on later and those of us too impecunious to afford Saver tickets were excessed for the princely sum of 7p! All this excitement made us forget to look out for the former Bell's Brewery on Hempshaw Lane, which is still standing. This was taken over by Robinsons in 1949, and was used as bottling stores until the new plant in Bredbury was opened in 1975.

On finally arriving in Offerton, one member of the party was so disorientated by the epic 1½ mile journey that he was heard to wonder "Now where has Stockport gone - is it over there?". To be fair, he had come all the way from Edgeley. The thunderclouds which had been rolling around earlier had now disappeared, leaving a clear and mild Spring evening, perfect weather for a crawl involving some longish walks between pubs.

First call in Offerton was the White House, a Wilsons pub that has recently been refurbished to create a pleasant and comfortable interior. Ronnie & Nancy were out but we did find two handpumped beers, the mild being rated good, while the bitter was average.

Just up the road is the Fingerpost, a large and imposing Robinsons house with fine etched glass windows. Best Mild and Best Bitter were available on electric pumps, and both were well thought of. This pub has a traditional layout - we counted six separate rooms - but a rather tasteless mock-Tudor treatment has been applied to the snug we sat in.The spartan outside gents were out of keeping with the grandeur of the architecture.

The next two pubs provided an interesting contrast between the approaches of two particular national and independent brewers. The Strawberry Gardens is owned by Pennine Hosts, who have done some pretty appalling things to pubs, including Drakes further along Marple Road, which we would have visited had the minibus been available. Here, though, the refurbishment is most acceptable. The pub has an attractive cottage-style frontage, and a darts room and panelled snug have been retained at the front, with a more modern lounge extension to the rear. Some criticism was made of the pastel upholstery and plastic plants, but most of our attention was taken up by an electronic trivia machine. The handpumped Wilsons Mild and Bitter were both of above average quality.

Boddingtons were once renowned among real ale drinkers, but their Gardeners Arms proved very disappointing. It is a good-looking house prominently sited on a road junction, but the interior, although keeping two bars, has fallen victim to a particularly bland modernisation. The most traditional feature was a '1778' plaque behind the bar. Boddingtons Bitter was the only real ale available, which was considered very poor and lacking any kind of taste. Keg OB Mild and Bitter were also on sale, dispensed from identical bar mountings to the real ale. Spotted in the Gents was a Boddingtons water jug containing a toilet brush, the purpose of which puzzled us, although we thought it might have something to do with the poor beer!

On down Offerton Lane to the Emigration, a Robinsons pub serving Best Mild and Best Bitter by electric pump. Both were reckoned below average, although the pub was so packed that it was difficult to taste these properly. The interior has been subjected to the kind of heavy handed one-room conversion unfortunately all too common in Robbies' pubs, but this did not seem to deter the mainly young clientele. A point in favour was that a poster showed that over £2,000 had been raised for Guide Dogs for the Blind.

The Victoria almost opposite was a pleasant change, still busy but enough room to sit down. It's a two-bar Greenalls' pub with mild and bitter on electric meter pumps. Greenalls' beers are sometimes dismissed as bland, but the Victoria showed that, when looked after, both beers can be a good pint. Another plus point was that Worthington White Shield was available.

For the final call of the evening, a ten minute walk back towards the centre of Stockport brought us to the Waterloo on Waterloo Road, a Robinsons house selling electrically dispensed Best Mild and Best Bitter, both in good condition. The pub has been somewhat modernised, but has kept its separate bar, snug and lounge, and represents the acceptable face of Robinsons refurbishments. To round off the night were were treated to a cellar tour by the landlord. The cellar proved to be a delight to the beer drinker's eye - spotlessly clean, temperature controlled, with rows of mild and bitter casks (including some wooden ones), and not a CO2 cylinder in sight. The point can't be made too often that fastidious cellarmanship is the key to serving a consistently good pint of real ale.

As always, the opinions on pubs and beer expressed are those of individual CAMRA members on the night, and are not intended to represent an official CAMRA view.

What happened next

In the immediate aftermath, ructions of a sort. But we'll come to that later. Happily, most of these pubs have survived, too, although there have inevitably been some casualties.  And it's confession time - I was the disorientated member of the party. Despite having lived in Stockport for the best part of 10 years by that time, I'd never really been to Offerton at all.

The Manchester Arms was a famous local pub - the haunt of bikers, postmen and others, the jukebox was famous. Unfortunately, Robinsons decided to spend a lot of money and turn it into Cobdens, a sort of "all day venue" which became a nightclub in the evenings. It had a troubled history - if you Google 'Cobdens' and 'Stockport' some of the first things that come up are reports of stabbings. Finally, in January 2013, Robinsons 'mothballed' it and it remains mothballed to this day. I am told they do see a future for the place but a significant investment to 'decobdenise' it will be required.

The old Bell's Brewery, missed by our party while they were being excessed by the inspector, still brewed until the mid-sixties at which point it was brewing brown ale (as David Robinson once said to me "Yes, John, I am the man who closed Bell's Brewery").  It has now been knocked down to be replaced by a revised road layout and some units. Here's a photo of it meeting it's maker.

The first pub in Offerton, the White House, closed in 2008, It's still standing (complete with former sign) but is now a rather yellow children's nursery school - more perhaps the 'yellow school' than 'white house' these days.

The Fingerpost survives largely unchanged from the Stagger. There has been a slight amount of opening out  but apart from that it's still a very characterful pub - with a good line in food, too. Those excellent etched windows have also survived.

The Strawberry Gardens was perhaps saved from the worst of the Pennine Hosts treatment because it's a listed building. The activities of the Host Group (which was the managed house arm of Grand Metropolitan, owners of Wilsons, Watneys and others) could be deserving of a blog post in their own right. They had various themes ('Sports' was one) which they inflicted on all manner of pubs - this was bad enough but close inspection usually revealed work done with no view to longevity. Presumably the plan was to rip everything out and re-theme the pubs every two or three years. Unfortunately, many of these pubs were then left untouched for rather longer than the expected lifespan of their last refurb, with the result that everything began to quietly fall apart.

Today the Strawberry Gardens, which has had subsequent refurbishments, is owned by Star Pubs & Bars (Heineken to its friends) and no longer serves cask beer.

Since the intention was to visit Drakes, let's just catch up there. The pub was originally the Golden Hind (hence Drake's - geddit?) and has reverted to its old name. Now part of the Greene King stable it's a large, food-focused pub, and, judging by the photos I took the other day, getting a little bit shabby (on the outside at least).  It didn't sell cask beer for many years but now has Abbott Ale on handpump.

The Gardeners Arms is also now part of the Greene King stable. It remains a good local community pub with food every day and a range of cask beers. It's probably one of the better pubs in the area these days.

Now we come to the Emigration. This pub has now been visited by various Staggers over the years and it's not always been a happy experience for the Staggerers. This was the first visit and the mixed, but not entirely negative, review went down very badly with the licensee, a Mr Ball. A letter of complaint appeared in the August issue and he then took the matter to the Stockport Licensed Victuallers Association.  He managed to persuade them to 'ban CAMRA', or, as the the trade paper The Morning Advertiser put it ' Stockport LVA kick out CAMRA'.

I don't think the public reaction was quite what the LVA expected and, following a backlash, there was a certain amount of backtracking. As editor Humphrey Higgins reported in the November issue: "...to date no pub has refused to take "Opening Times" as a result of this furore - indeed the reverse is true and our outlets are increasing."

The Emigration is still open, and has Robinsons Unicorn on handpump.

Also still open is the Victoria. This has always been a good boozer and that's still the case. Now owned by some anonymous pub company, it's a while since I've been in. The online pub guide, WhatPub, tells me that no real ale is sold, but I'm not sure that's correct. It certainly won't sell Greenalls cask beers as they have long since passed into memory.

I do however know there's no cask beer at the Waterloo as Robinsons closed it in August 2016. It's been sold and remains closed, boarded and looking very forlorn.

Every town of any size had its local LVA, which was basically  a trade association for pub tenants. They were the official 'voice of the trade' in their areas and at one time exercised quite a bit of influence. They seem to have faded away with no-one noticing.


Matt said...

Wasn't it also the Emigration where the landlord cut up a bit rough a few years ago when a stagger went in and ordered and paid for halves individually?

retiredmartin said...

Good read, John.

I didn't realise Mr Edwardson Esq had such artistry.

When I joined the Offerton stagger 30 years later the Fingerpost and Victoria were highlights, while the Emigration was "interesting". All busy pubs in 2016 as well.

John Clarke said...

Hi Matthew - yes, that's the one. I don't think it's ever been an entirely happy visit.

Hi Martin - yes, Peter did the Stagger maps for quite a while. It's interesting that the good pubs have been consistent over such a long period of time

Curmudgeon said...

Well, that's a trip down Memory Lane. I think that was the first Stagger I ever wrote up, more than half a lifetime ago.

Mr Ball's letter illustrates the point that it's generally damning pubs with faint praise that provokes a reaction. If they get a right slagging it's usually well deserved and they keep schtumm. I remember that he also said that I had got the names of the landlord and landlady of the White House wrong ;-)

The interior design of the Gardeners Arms has mellowed over the years and when we last did this Stagger it was one of the most congenial pubs.

John Clarke said...

Hi Peter - I certainly remember going on that Stagger.

You make a good point about Mr Ball. Over the years I have found you can be quite, indeed very, rude about a pub and nothing happens. On the other hand if something appears which, if you try very hard, could be viewed as slightly disobliging then all hell breaks loose.

You remember well about the names of the licensees - Mr Ball said in his letter "...I note they thought they knew the landlord and landlady's name in the White House, they got them wrong..."

Interesting how the LVAs have just faded away though. Some one really ought to research that one as I'm sure there's a story to tell there.

Once the pubs reopen I plan to drop into the Gardeners Arms to have a look.