Apr 12 2020
Like most people I know, I started drinking underage.
Memories of nursing two halves of Guinness, aged 14, at a Joy Division gig (08/04/1980 at Derby Hall, Bury), a sneaky (and squeakily ordered) half of Carlsberg at The Apsley Cottage pre my first ever gig (Damned, October 1979, Machine Gun Etiquette tour)
I have some very clear memories of my Real Ale adolescence too. They involved guys I first met in a god forsaken prefab in Trafford Park. And those work colleagues introduced me to places I’d otherwise never have found (John Fishwick RIP – I owe that man),or have taken years to discover.
So we start with my first Xmas do. In 1984. The beer – and pub – landscape would be unrecognisable to most now. Beer in Manchester City centre was mostly Wilson, Tetley’s, Robinson’s, Marstons, some Boddingtons and – bizarrely, given the brewery location – no Holts. In short, variety was in short supply.
We started in The Hare & Hounds on Shudehill, a pub that – physically – has barely changed a paint flake. And it’s all the better for it. I adore the fact that I can drink in a pub first opened in the 1770s. Back then, it was a Tetley pub. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago that the ‘Huntsman’ logo was still on the exterior wall
The pub remains beautiful, with the most exquisite tile work across the bar area and the front room. The pub had – and almost uniquely in the city centre, still has – the feel of a “Local”. Back then, on that Friday evening, 35 years ago, it was rammed with people guzzling Tetley Bitter and Mild.
We moved on. To a Manchester landmark – but back then, it was “another pub” – The Marble Arch. It felt like a long walk up Rochdale Road, but in reality it’s less than 300 yards. There was no brewery back then (we were 10 years or so away from that historic installation). It sounds like heresy to say this, but – at that point – it was “just another pub”. Albeit, one that had recently been turned into a “freehouse”. At that time, “The Arch” was yet to bury her claws into my consciousness. The next pub was one that claimed an early place in my heart.
The Harp & Shamrock was one of the smallest pubs in Manchester. It was legendarily “tucked away” in the (then) warehouse district – what have since become luxury apartments. It was tiny, with two rooms (both ‘petit’) with the main bar in the room to the left, which, whilst itself small, still managed to accommodate a well used dart board. It was a Marstons pub. And that thing about being ‘tucked away’ meant that it didn’t get much attention when it stayed serving “after hours”.
The Harp & Shamrock was my first real “pub crush”. These days it would be regarded as a Micro Pub, given its size. It was always friendly, the beer was always excellent (Marstons almost qualified as “exotica” in those days). Later on, the pub was bought and renamed “The Pot of Beer”. It became locally known for its Polish bar menu – the food was ace. We’d travel as a team at lunchtime from Old Trafford to sample its delights.
I loved that place. Now long closed – the building, strangely (given the surrounding development of the Angel Meadow area) still remains functioning – the building is a bit of a fantasy of mine. Just give me an 8 figure lottery win and I’d get that pub back….
From there – and it had been a long day / evening – we were nearing the end. And, fortunately, it was a short walk along New Mount Street, left onto Ludgate Street then right onto Dyche Street to a pub that has gone through some changes in the intervening years – including two name changes. You’ll now know it as The Angel. But back then, it was The Weavers Arms.
According to the exceptional “Manchesterhistory.net” website, this pub has been called “The Weavers” since – at least – the 1850s
Before it’s “transformation” into the freehouse that was “The Beerhouse” (where it was created as an open plan pub, the Weavers was (technically) 3 roomed, with a small “Snug” type room at the rear, with a larger room to the front with an upstairs performance space. (On that night, the legendary Manchester Bluesman Victor Brox was playing upstairs)
We went in the Snug, which – despite its size – managed to accommodate a pool table (a rarity in the City Centre). That pool table ended up covering a “tired and emotional” colleague before we finished……
The Weavers was a straight up Tetley pub, bustling with Friday night custom and an excellent pint of Tetley Bitter. Pool was played – no doubt unsteadily – beer was further consumed and the evening, for me at least, ended here.
For me, I preferred the pub as The Weavers. But then, I love multi – roomed pubs. Yes, it had the “Robert Owen Brown” years of gastro pubbery as The Angel and the pub feels run down and an almost “awaiting an offer from developers” kind of feel, but that’s “progress”
This post is a bit of a love letter to people who’ll never read it. My first colleagues in the Civil Service. They introduced me to now long gone pubs like The Castle & Falcon, The Coach & Horses, The White House, places I may never have experienced if it wasn’t for Hig, Fish & Co.
I owe those fellas. Johnny Fish passed away a few years back (I only heard after the event) and the last time I saw Hig was wobbly at the bar of The Marble Arch about 6 or 7 years ago.
These fellas were my educators, both in work and in beer. And – like I said – I owe a debt.
And yes. Even after only a month, I miss pubs. I’ll be raising a glass, virtually, with friends, tonight. But it’s not the same. Back soon. Stay safe. Jx