Thursday, 2 June 2022

Central Manchester Pubs

Disclosure: I don’t want readers to start thinking that I’m doing this for a living, but a few weeks ago I was contacted by Amberley Publishing, the people responsible for “The Story of Bass,” the book I reviewed a couple of months ago. The publishers had a new title coming out and were looking for people to review it. I was reluctant at first, until I discovered the book was titled - Central Manchester Pubs,” and it was the subject matter, as well as the author’s credentials, that prompted me into saying, “Yes.”

Now you might be thinking this is just other pub guide, but it isn’t anything of the sort, because Deborah Woodman, who wrote the book, is Research Development Officer at the University of Salford, the seat of learning where I obtained my degree, back in the mid 1970’s. She has also taught history at the same university, as well as the University of Huddersfield and Manchester Metropolitan University.

The latter establishment was formerly known as Manchester Polytechnic, which was where I did a one-year, post-grad course. This was after spending three years at Salford University, studying for my BSc Honours Degree in Biology. If this shared commonality was not enough, I am familiar with many of the pubs listed in Deborah’s book, having spent four and a half years living in the Greater Manchester area.

So, what of the book itself? Well, its 96 pages describe 59 pubs, and if my memory is correct, I have been in around 20 of them, and can recognise a similar number of the other entries. Each pub is illustrated by at least one photo, and as one would expect from a historian, Ms Woodman has meticulously researched the history of each pubs featured. Many have colourful stories behind them, especially those run by equally colourful licensees – both male and female, and for those of us interested in brewery history there is often information regarding the former owning breweries.

Upon receiving my review copy of the book, my intention was to just dip in and out of the various entries, but after turning I few pages, I realised I had to read it from cover to cover. And for those wondering which parts of the city constitutes Central Manchester, the book encompasses the Northern Quarter, the Cathedral Gates to Albert Square, Piccadilly to St Peters Square, Castlefield to All Saints, with a chapter devoted to each area.

For review purposes, I have concentrated on those pubs I am familiar with, even though it might be over 40 years since I last set foot in most of them, so let’s start with a few examples.  First, the three pubs in Portland Street, two of which qualify as the smallest pubs in the city. The Circus Tavern, a former Tetley’s pub, takes first prize in that contest, whilst the Grey Horse Inn, just a few doors away, takes second place. The latter is a Hyde’s pub and is one of the few pubs in the city centre belonging to the smallest of Manchester’s surviving family brewers. Completing the trio, is the Old Monkey, a relatively recent new-build pub, owned by Holt’s Brewery, on the corner of Portland Street and Princess Street.

Fairly close by, in Kennedy Street, are another trio of pubs, this time all next door to each other. The City Arms and the Vine Inn are survivors from the 19th Century, and both are now free houses. The pub at the end of the row, is a Wetherspoon’s outlet – called the Waterhouse, and is a conversion of three 18th Century townhouses. The main entrance to the Waterhouse is in Princess Street, but the pub extends right through the block to neighbouring Kennedy Street. Being a relatively new business, I haven’t set foot inside this pub, but I have good memories of the other two.

We then move on to a couple of pubs with attractive and rather striking, tiled exteriors. The Peveril of the Peak, in Great Bridgewater Street, has an unusual triangular shape, alongside its green-tiled frontage, which has managed to survive despite the redevelopment work going on all around. It has been run by the same family for the past 50 years and is well worth a visit.

The other pub, with an equally striking tiled exterior, is the Lass O’ Gowrie, situated just off Oxford Road in the middle of Manchester’s university district. When I lived in the city, the BBC had their offices and studios nearby, but these have since moved out to Salford’s Media City.  For a while, the pub had its own micro-brewery in the cellar, but I understand this is no longer there. It may have been removed when the pub was refurbished in 2014, or possibly before, but the Lass is still well worth a visit.

Whilst on the subject of tiled exteriors, when I first went up to Manchester, the city centre was a gigantic building site, with the construction of the Arndale Shopping Centre. Clad in hideous yellow tiles which, as many Mancunians claimed, gave the centre the appearance of a giant public toilet, construction of the Arndale only came to an end towards the end of my residence in the area. The Arndale was substantially rebuilt, following the devastating IRA bomb in 1996, and now has an appearance that is much more pleasing to the eye.

Fortunately, no one was killed by the bomb’s massive blast, but 200 people were injured, many by flying glass. The reconstruction that followed, allowed for two historic pubs that had previously been incorporated into the Arndale development, to be move to a more appropriate location. The Wellington Inn and Sinclair’s Oyster Bar now overlook Shambles Square, in the shadow of Manchester Cathedral, with the Wellington dating back to the late 16th Century and Sinclair’s to the early 1700’s.

I visited the Wellington in its previous location, shortly after the Arndale Centre opened, but from the photos I have seen of Shambles Square, its new home, along with that of the adjacent Sinclair’s, looks much more appropriate. I am looking forward to visiting both establishments, when I make a long overdue visit to Manchester, as I haven’t been back to the city since the early 90’s, and in anticipation of a return visit, I have been logging onto Google Street View to see just how much the city centre has changed in the past 40 plus years.

Despite all the re-development Central Manchester had managed to retain a surprising number of historic pubs, and these have been joined in recent years by the conversion of former retail or office buildings into licensed premises. During the early 19th Century, Manchester was known as "Cottonopolis," due to its position as the epicentre of the UK’s cotton industry. The city was also a noted centre of radicalism, and many pubs acted as venues for trades unions, friendly societies plus some of the emerging building societies.

This zeal for reform, against the intransigence of the government of the time, came to a head with the infamous Peterloo Massacre of 16th August 1819. The Britons Protection pub, in Great Bridgewater Street, was the unfortunate witness to this horrific event, which took place just yards from the pub, in St Peter’s Field. Fifteen people were killed, and hundreds more were injured, some seriously, when cavalry, armed with swords, charged into a crowd of around 60,000 people.

The crowd had gathered for a peaceful demonstration, in support of parliamentary reform, and occurred at a time when less than 2% of the population had the right to vote. The term “Peterloo,” was intended to mock the soldiers who attacked unarmed civilians by echoing the battle of “Waterloo,” where their action had been viewed as heroic. A series of murals, inside the pub, depicts the horrific scenes that occurred that day. It is somewhat ironic then that the Britons Protection should have stated life as a recruiting centre for locals wanting to sign up and fight Napoleon a couple of decades previously.

On a much more cheerful note, Manchester has plenty of other pubs to enjoy, and a few more from the list that I’ve visited, include the Sawyers Arms, on the corner of Deansgate and Bridge Street, the Rising Sun on Queen Street, and the Hare & Hounds, on Shudehill.  When I lived in the area, the Sawyers was a Schooner Inn (remember them?), but under its current owners - Nicholson’s, has been tastefully restored. The Rising Sun remains a charming little back-street pub, with front and rear entrances on two different streets. The Wilson’s beers may have gone, but the Rising Sun continues to serve a fine pint from a number of different breweries.

The Hare & Hounds has an interior that features on CAMRA’s National Heritage List, and now has the Shudehill transport interchange nearby. It was a little more tucked away, when I knew it, and also served a fine pint of Tetley’s. Today, it is thriving free house. Other former favourites listed, include the Castle on Oldham Street, which remains a Robinson’s house, plus the Unicorn, on Church Street, which always served the best pint of Draught Bass in the city!

As mentioned earlier, I have only been back to Manchester a few times, since my departure in the spring of 1978, but Deborah Woodman’s book is sufficient to entice me back. For those who don’t know Manchester that well, “Central Manchester Pubs” is the perfect introduction to the city’s pubs, whilst for a returning former inhabitant, such as me, it will act as the perfect guide.

Background and disclosure:

Central Manchester Pubs, by Deborah Woodman, is available from Amberley Publishing, priced at £15.99. The book consists of 96 pages and contains 100 colour and black & white illustrations. The publishers have kindly allowed me to use a selection of the photos, to illustrate this review.

I received a complimentary copy of the book, in respect of providing a review, and the thoughts and observations contained therein, are my own, and to the best of my knowledge remain unbiased and uninfluenced by my receipt of the review copy.



T'other Paul. said...

Not the City Arms, it's the Circus Tavern in Portland Street that's the smallest.
And I only knew the Hare and Hounds sell Tetleys not Marstons.

Paul Bailey said...

Thanks for pointing out that error, Paul. I'm not sure why I typed the City Arms in there, when I of course meant the Circus Tavern! I put it down to creeping old age!!

I've also corrected the beer at the Hare & Hounds. Dr Woodman's book lists the pub as selling Tetley's, but I do recall drinking Marston's in a pub somewhere in that area - it might have been somewhere off the Rochdale Road. I've carried out a search on What Pub, but can't seem to find any pubs that I recognise.

Perhaps we could have a Proper Day Out in Manchester, later in the year?

T'other Paul. said...

You might have been thinking of the Marstons in the Harp and Shamrock on New Mount street near t'Rochdale Road.
Yes, there's no better place for a Proper Day Out than Manchester.

Paul Bailey said...

Thanks, Paul. Yes, the pub I was thinking of was definitely the Harp Shamrock, and the reason I couldn't find it, was it closed in 2004!

It certainly served a good pint of Marston's - BB, rather than Pedigree.

Curmudgeon said...

Hmm, they never sent me a review copy, despite living close to Manchester and writing a very complimentary review of "The Story of Bass" :-(

Maybe it's because I criticised them for the book's high price...

Paul Bailey said...

A very modest reduction of £1.60, is available if you buy the book via Amberley's website. The same discount seems to apply to most of their other publications - including quite an extensive range of beer, pubs and brewery related volumes.