Tuesday, 7 July 2020

From the Archives - Opening Times August 1985

Simpkiss Brewery and other matters

Apologies for the temporary absence. When I last posted, we looked at a Stagger of Levenshulme & Longsight back in August 1985, and I also promised a look at the rest of that issue. Here we are.

The main front page story concerned the closure of a brewery a long way from the Opening Times area but there were local connections.

The small Black Country brewery of JP Simpkiss, based at Brierley Hill, had been taken over Greenall Whitley in July. Greenalls had previously been reported as having a bid 'on the table' for some years and when patriarch Dennis Simpkiss died in the early 1980s his son Jonathan sold out in a deal reputedly worth £1.9 million. 

Now, you would think that with a bit of foresight and imagination, Greenalls might have seen this as a possible new boutique operation for them. The Simpkiss estate of 16 pubs could have been expanded, and production of the well regarded bitter increased. But this was Greenalls - the history of their last two decades or so seemed to be a history of poor decisions. Every time they came to a fork in the road, they'd choose the wrong path. What could have been the north west's equivalent of Greene King or Marston's has simply vanished into history.

What they did at Simpkiss seemed particularly reprehensible. The brewery was closed down immediately and the last brew actually poured away. The brewery was quickly demolished - apparently to extend the car par of the former brewery tap, the Foley Arms. The head brewer, John Simmonds, had now seen two breweries close under him - he'd previously been at the old Hole's Brewery in Newark which Courage closed down in 1983.

Funnily enough, Stockport & South Manchester CAMRA had paid a visit to the brewery the previous year, which I'd organised as branch Social Secretary at the time. I remember having a good chat to John as Hole's was one of my two home-town breweries and I remember having pints of the keg Courage (formerly Hole's) AK in local pubs.

You'll note a couple of other things on the front page. Pub of the Month was the Castlewood - we visited this pub here a couple a weeks ago. After several future incarnations it closed in 2003 and has been converted to retail use with flats above.

The former Bridgewater today
There is also an advert for the Bridgewater on Chestergate. In its days as a Wilsons pub it had appeared in the national Good Beer Guide for a few years in the late 1970s and early eighties. The 1979 edition has it selling Wilsons Great Northern Mild and Bitter with the description "Friendly pub, a mecca for darts enthusiasts". It had opened as a free house in June 1985 but closed just five years later. The building is till there being put to other use.

Page 2

This was another instalment of 'Round Britain Drinker' and was written by 'Jock Stroller' (who we shall meet in the next Stagger). Let's have a swift look at some of those pubs.

The Craig Dhu Hotel seems to have vanished but the Onich Hotel is still with us and now sells River Leven Blonde apparently.  The Nevis Bank Hotel in Fort William is now the Nevis Bank Inn and sells two beers from the Cairngorm Brewery, while the Ben Nevis Bar sells beer from the Hanging Tree Brewery (which I'd never heard of but is apparently based in the grounds of the Benleva Hotel in place called Drumnadrochit - here's the Facebook page ).

In Dingwall the National Hotel is still there but sells no cask beer. Up in Thurso, the Central Hotel (also known as Top Joe's apparently) sells three changing guest beers, the Station Bar no longer sells cask while the Marine Bar is now a B&B.

The Caledonian Hotel at Portree may now be the Tongadale Hotel and sells two beers from the local Isle of Skye Brewery. Finally the Inn on the Garry looks like it is now the Invergarry Hotel selling Tetley Bitter.

Page 3

I'm not spending long on this one. Just to record that out of the 11 pubs mentioned, just five remain in operation today.

Pages 4 and 5

Page four is the Stagger we've already covered. On page five, I'll just mention the Travellers Call, the subject of the Pub Grub article.  The Travellers was on Ashton Old Road in Openshaw, not far from the current junction with Alan Turing Way (the construction of which ultimately did for the pub). As you can see it became a free house and flowered for a while (it certainly got itself a local Pub of the Month award).

I think the main point of all this is the location on Ashton Old Road in Openshaw. Back in the day there was a huge number of pubs on or near Ashton Old Road (so much so that when we started planning the Stagger programme, three were needed to cover them all). While these Archive blog posts have covered much of East Manchester,  none have really looked at Openshaw so perhaps a very long post, combining some of the articles and reviewing the fate of all those pubs might be an interesting exercise.

As for the Travellers Call, the October 1990 edition of Opening Times records its closure while the following year the demolition is noted.

Page 6

Again, bits of Pub News. The Houldsworth still trades but sells no cask beer while the Union is also still with us and, as  Robinsons tied house very much does sell cask beer.  The Crown on Heaton Lane has been something of  a cask flagship ever since the Boddington Pub Co turned it into one of their ale houses. At one stage it had a house beer, Green Bullet, produced by Brendan Dobbin at his West Coast Brewery. It's still a free house, now owned by Red Oak Taverns, and is 'to let' but still open and trading.

The only casualty has been Robinsons' Unity which they first 'mothballed' in March 2012 , subsequently selling it off. It's been converted into (what must be very small) flats.

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