Thursday, 23 July 2020

From the Archives - December 1985

Gatley & Northenden

This Stagger, which appeared in the December 1985 issue of Opening Times, would have taken place in September or October.

It starts off in the relatively well-heeled Stockport suburb of Gatley and finished in the less well-heeled (but now up-and-coming) Manchester district of Northenden, which has, to me, always seemed rather cut off from the rest of the city.As we will see later, the pub scenes in these two areas have had rather different histories.

This was written by me and was one of the earliest Staggers I wrote up. Here we go....

A less well surveyed part of the Stockport & South Manchester Branch area, Gatley & Northenden provide an interesting variety of both pubs and beer, most of the latter being consistently good.

The crawl started at the Red Lion, Gatley, a Chesters house selling handpumped mild and bitter. A typical Whitbread conversion this (it used to have one of their silly names - the Bitter End) but with a too-loud jukebox (presumably the regulars prefer it like that). The mild at 71p was better thought of than the bitter (72p), which was only average.

Next stop was Hydes Prince of Wales. This could really be a country pub as it looks the part both outside and in, although to my mind the semi open plan interior seemed a bit characterless. The beer was well thought of however, both mild and bitter being equally good. Better value than the previous pub too, at 64p and 69p respectively.

On to the Good Beer Guide listed Horse & Farrier (also Hydes) with again a good mild and bitter (65p and 69p). This low-ceilinged multi-roomed pub really does ooze character, a fact which is obviously appreciated by the locals as it was busy at only 8pm.

The 44 bus stops near the Horse & Farrier and this will take you into Northenden where our first stop was the Jolly Carter, a Boddingtons house. This is basically a large open-plan estate type pub which used to be the local of one of our party, who was of the opinion that it was 'dead' compared to her previous visits. Both mild and bitter (mild cheap at 63p) and both were good, the mild being particularly appreciated.

Next was the Church, a monumental and recently modernised Tetley pub. God knows what trouble they were expecting but there were no fewer than eight (that's right, eight!!) bouncers on the door. "Is this a pub or a bouncers convention?" wondered one of our party after we'd got in. Not only must such overkill be costing a bomb in wages it really is off-putting to the passer-by who might have considered popping in for a pint. The modernisation has been done well and despite the usual masses of plastic vegetation, is tasteful and comfortable. The mild wasn't on (although on previous form has been excellent) so we tried the bitter (at 75p the dearest so far) of which opinions varies from good to pretty poor!

The derelict Tatton Arms
The next stop was the Tatton, a monumental manor house type pub managed by the Pennine Host Group selling Wilsons beers. In due course Pennine Hosts will be 'renovating' the pub as is the intention with all pubs under their control and it is to be hoped that something will be done about the beer as well. This was the worst of the night with the bitter not even considered average and the first two pints of mild having been 'in the pipes' for some time and proving undrinkable. To be fair, the mild was OK after this although judging by the young clientele it's difficult to see much being sold.

Re-tracing our steps we called at Boddingtons Crown. A real pub atmosphere here and packed to the doors. The mild was some of the best beer of the night, although opinions varied wildly on the bitter, ranging from very good to poor. It's probably true to say that a wide range like this is more down to personal taste than the quality of the beer.

Finally Greenalls Farmers Arms. Again a good pub atmosphere and agreement  on both the mild and bitter which were generally agreed to be good.

The night had finished as well as it had started.

(Readers should note that the comments in the above are not intended to be a statement on the quality of the pubs or beer on all occasions, but is our opinion of both on the night of the crawl).

What happened next

As I said at the beginning, history has dealt rather differently to the pubs of Gatley and Northenden.

The former Red Lion
Of the Gatley pubs visited on this Stagger only the first has closed (there have been two others but we'll come to them in a minute). The Red Lion closed in 2009 and has been converted to a Tesco Express. The description on WhatPub sums up its latter years well:

Prior to that it was for some years a failing keg pub that seemed to attract an unsavoury element. One large room dominated by a pool table.

Both the Prince of Wales and the Horse & Farrier continue to thrive as Hydes houses, selling a range of their own cask beers and, in the case of the Horse & Farrier, a sprinkling of guest beers too. They've both been refurbished since that Stagger but remain fine, characterful pubs.

The other Gatley closures I should mention are Gothic and the High Grove. Gothic, about halfway between the Prince of Wales and the Horse & Farrier, started life as a Methodist chapel and dated back to 1841. It was skilfully converted into a bar by Liverpool-based Cains, who, it has to be said, did an excellent job of work. I also recall a memorable trip around the Cains estate organised by Gothic. The seasoned CAMRA crowd taking part took it all in their stride but some of the untrained civilians had to be helped off the coach when we returned to Gatley in the evening after what could be called a solid day out.  Sadly Gothic closed in August 2010 and reopened as a wine bar/Italian restaurant a year later.

It's not surprising the Stagger didn't cover the other pub in Gatley as the High Grove was in deepest suburbia. Built by Hydes in 1964 it always seemed to do well and I was surprised to hear it was doomed. In October 2015 the locals got wind of Hydes' plans to sell off the pub for redevelopment and managed to get the pub listed as an Asset of Community Value - not that this did any good. The flaw in the ACV scheme that rapidly became apparent was, while it gave the locals a six-month window to bid for the pub, it did not compel Hydes to sell it to them. And so, the pub closed its doors on 10 May 2016 and was demolished two months later.  Houses now occupy the site.

It's been a rather different story in Northenden.

The Jolly Carter, was an old Victorian Boddingtons house that was demolished in the very early 1970s and replaced with the more modern estate pub visited on the Stagger. It closed in Spring 2004 and has been replaced by the small Cedarwood Close housing development.

En route to the Church we would have passed the Spread Eagle. This was another modern rebuild of a more modest 19th centruy pub (which you can see here).  Being an old Groves & Whitnall house it ended up in Greenalls's hands and hadn't sold cask beer for years. A troubled pub, its license was suspended in 2011 following a shooting (details here). It was demolished in December 2012 to be replaced by flats and houses.

The monolithic Church started life as a Hardy's Crown Brewery house (you can see the crowns on the top of the pub here) and so ended up as a Tetley house*.  Another pub with more than its fair share of problems (including a murder in 2002), it closed in 2006. A subsequent, and suspect, fire sealed the Church's fate and after lying derelict for several years, it was converted into flats in 2016.

Still lying derelict after its closure in 2008 is the equally large Tatton Arms.  Numerous schemes have been put forward for its redevelopment, the latest in December 2019 (which you can read about here).

Happily, the final two pubs on the Stagger are still with us. The Crown and the Farmers Arms continue to thrive and also sell a range of cask ales - cask Boddingtons Bitter was a fixture until it ceased to be. I think they may still sell the keg version.

There have also been one or two openings in Northenden, with perhaps the best being Northenden Untapped, a micropub partially owned by the licensee of the Crown. It sells three cask and eight keg beers along with a range of cans and other drinks. It's been a very welcome addition to the area and you can read a bit more about it  here).

* Hardy's Crown Brewery was jointly taken over by Cornbrrok Brewery, which took two-thirds of the pubs, and Ind Coope, which took the remainder. Hence, once the 1960s take-over and merger frenzy had subsided,  most of the ex-Hardy's pubs ended up as Bass houses with the rest going to Tetley.

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