Legends In Their Own Closing Time

In 1988, the Licensing Act which amongst other things, allowed pubs to stay open from 11am while 11pm, was introduced by Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd. The legislation was widely derided by the tabloid media, who screamed all kinds of Armageddon-esque rhetoric about the streets being full of drunkards seven days a week. As Peter Hitchens in the Mail on Sunday said in response to the legislation, “where men will not place chains upon their own behaviour, others have to do it for them”. Like the vast majority of other tabloid created hysteria, this didn’t materialise. If anything, the opposite was true. In the year of the legislation, Manchester United had an average attendance of 39,152 and in the 2014-15 season, a mean average of 75,334. Despite the fact that United’s average attendance has nearly doubled in the twenty seven years since the act was introduced, paradoxically the amount of pubs around the vicinity of Old Trafford has plummeted. In 1988 the A56/Chester Road, which is the busiest arterial road serving Old Trafford, had nineteen pubs/social clubs. Now it has four. In 1988 Hulme, a neighbouring district to Old Trafford, had twenty eight pubs within its boundary. Now with The Junction on Rolls Crescent and The Three Legs of Man on Stretford Road, it only has two.

The Pomona Palace, the last pub standing on Chester Road in Hulme. Demolished in January 2014

When Peel Holdings successfully applied for the demolition of the Pomona Palace in December 2013, the final pub on what was loosely known as Chester Road in Hulme vanished. To this writer, who grew up in the area, the thought of there not being a single pub on Chester Road was inconceivable as a child in the 1980s. In 1988, there were eight pubs in the half mile between the end of the Deansgate flyover and the border of Manchester and Trafford; now there are none. This isn’t necessarily down to the changing of people’s drinking habits, but more accurately due to diabolical planning. In the summer of 1995, The Cornbrook Inn was demolished, ostensibly to accommodate the burgeoning tram system. Twenty years after the Cornbrook was flattened, there are two advertisement billboards in its facade and where once stood a busy and popular pub, now stands a mini forest of weeds and wasteland. The closure of the Cornbrook was in the long term, fatal to the other pubs on Chester Road due to the passing trade that it attracted. In the days of pubs closing at 11pm by law, The Cornbrook was (in)famously open all hours and due to this, enticed people to Chester Road from near and far. Whilst getting an illicit late drink on Chester Road after the Cornbrook’s demolition was not impossible, it became much harder and thus, people who didn’t live in the area lost the inclination to drink around there.

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Fifty yards away from The Pomona, The Cornbrook, colloquially known as The Stout House, a small pub with a huge heart. Demolished in September 1995.

The first pub that used to greet people on Chester Road, coming in from Sale or the M60, was The Old Cock, which closed down in April 2008. Another grand pub which served Reds well, this was the scene of an infamous battle with Chelsea fans in September 1984. The Old Cock along with The Gorse and The Palace in Levenshulme, were also trailblazers in showing Saturday Afternoon 3pm kick offs via a Norwegian channel. The mid-1990s saw both The Gorse and The Old Cock packed with Reds who couldn’t quite believe they were watching the match live on television on a Saturday afternoon.

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The Gorse on Chester Road

Like The Quadrant on Greatstone Road, The Gorse has always been a favourite pub for both local and out of town Reds. The Gorse was also the birthplace of Independent Manchester United Supporters Association (IMUSA). After an Orwellian announcement over the Old Trafford tannoy during a match against Arsenal in March 1995, a group of disgruntled reds formed a pressure group to fight back against the oppressive and arrogant disdain that the club treated the fans to (plus ça change alas). Whilst The Gorse saw the formation, O’Briens (née El Patio) was where most IMUSA meetings took place. IMUSA were famously instrumental in repelling the BskyB bid for United in the 1998/1999 season. Most of this resistance was discussed and planned in O’Briens. There were also memorable IMUSA organised Question and Answer sessions held in O’Briens with figures like Michael Knighton, Peter Schmeichel and Sir Alex Ferguson. These meetings happened under a strict omerta. Nothing that was ever said in these meetings ever made the newspapers and the information divulged, particularly by Sir Alex, would have been the kind of stories that a journalist would trade their spouses for.

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The Robin Hood in Stretford

Close to O’Briens on the other side of Stretford Precinct is The Robin Hood, which is on the corner of Barton Road and Urmston Lane. Whilst the vault has been removed from the Robin, there’s still a feeling when being in there, of being in a proper pub. Lifelong red Russ McKee of Old Trafford says that, ”The Robin is a great place for reds to go either before the match, or to watch the game itself. The beer’s always good and there’s never any trouble in there”.

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The Village Inn on Third Avenue. As well as serving United fans well, it’s also a popular place for lorry drivers who have had to park up for the night in Trafford Park

On Talbot Road in Old Trafford, is both the Bowling Club and the recently closed Ex-Servicemen’s Club. A Tottenham Hotspur fan on a recent visit was extolling the virtues of the Bowling Club. The proximity to the ground, the agreeable car parking fees and cheap beer gave him some consolation after his teams battering. Nearby to the Bowler on Talbot Road was the deceptively large Ex-Servicemen’s. It looked quiet small but once inside, it expanded like the Tardis. At one time it was a notoriously insular and unwelcoming venue for football fans. Pragmatic economics forced a change in their attitude in the late 1990s. A decline in the number of surviving World War II veterans combined with the relative apathy of modern day ex-servicemen to these establishments forced their hand into welcoming the passing trade of football fans to ensure the survival of the club. Like all other working men’s clubs, The Ex-Servicemen’s was famous for its cheap beer but in its latter days, they had a two tier pricing system for members and non-members. However even with this policy and with the booming trade United home matches gave to the club, The Ex Servicemens club couldn’t survive the harsh climate that pubs/clubs are in nowadays and they closed their doors for the final time in April 2015. Like The Ex Servicemens, the nearby Tollgate also has a two tier pricing system for their beer. This pub also booms on a matchday but struggles for business at other times. On a recent visit to The Tollgate on a Sunday night, there were five people in the pub at 8PM. It’s difficult to see how the pub can sustain itself in the future with such a dearth of regular/local trade.

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The magnificent and now empty Trafford Park Hotel on Third Avenue in Trafford Park

The Village Inn on Third Avenue in Trafford Park still does brisk business on a match day, but with the decimation of manufacturing in Trafford Park over the last thirty years, it is unlikely the pub could survive without the trade United home matches entice. Nearby to The Village is the Edwardian architecture of The Trafford Park Hotel, which closed down in 2009. With Carborundum, GEC/Metro Vics and Massey Ferguson (amongst many others) closing their behemoth plants nearby, The Trafford Park Hotel, which previously enjoyed United’s passing trade as a bonus, now relied on United as its raison d’etre. A pub of that magnificence, both in stature and aesthetic, could not survive on the twenty three busy days per-annum (approx) that United’s trade supplied them with along with sporadic wedding receptions and milestone birthday parties. Its closure was a sad and inevitable symptom of the decline of heavy industry in Trafford Park, as opposed to the changing of people’s drinking habits which occur elsewhere. Its Grade II listing status, which was granted in 1987, means that there is an impasse onto the building’s future. Unless there’s a revolutionary creation of jobs in Trafford Park akin to William Beveridge’s post war decree, it can never be a viable pub again. What else could be done with it and how much it would cost to get the building into a working condition, is a moot point.

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The Throstles Nest on Seymour Grove

A year after the closure of The Trafford Park Hotel, The Throstle’s Nest on Seymour Grove had the same sad fate. The closure of this pub could be as much down to the relaxation of the admission policy of The Conservative Club next door to it as anything else. Like The Ex-Servicemen’s, the Con Club sold cheap beer and had an insular admission policy, which was relaxed for the same reasons as The Ex Servicemen’s. The Throstle’s, which opened in 1968, had no industry nearby so was relying on its local residents for a clientele as much as trade coming in from Reds. At the time of writing (June 2015), only now is anything being done with the land that The Throstle’s stands on and it is unlikely to open up as a pub again.

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Hotel Football, yards away from United’s ground. One thing I like about this place is that while United have been hoovering up land aplenty near to the stadium, they have somehow missed this bit. Genius

The Class of ‘92 are the face of Hotel Football, a company that built a hotel literally across the road from Old Trafford’s J Stand. While it’s good to see a new drinking establishment open after the recent culling, the hotel’s existence could raise questions about the long term future for Samuel Platt’s pub on Trafford Wharf Road. The hotel has a capacity to house 1,250 fans in its adjoining supporters’ club and it’s mere location could jeopardise the long term future of Platts, which opened in 1985. Due the decline of industry in Trafford Park, Platt’s now only opens its doors on match-day.

All the swag laid out for a matchday and a now rarely open Trafford. A pub that was once a favourite of both United players and fans.

The Trafford, on the corner of Warwick Road and Chester Road, is also now only open either on a United match day or when there’s a major cricket match happening up the road at Lancashire CCC. The Trafford used to have a decor of a traditional pub but it has sacrificed its decent interior, to become a United themed pub. The Trafford is packed pre-match and for about an hour and a half after a home game. After that, the clientele evaporate so that two hours after full time, there could be next to nobody in there. Over the road, is The Bishop’s Blaize, which was almost a direct replacement for the much loved but decrepit Dog and Partridge. Some would argue that The Dog and Partridge, like The Northumberland a mile away towards town, never recovered from having its interior ripped out in the early 1980s in favour of the contemporary Sports bar fad, which turned fantastic old pubs into something resembling a burger joint. Due to a neglect that was criminal and coupled with an ill advised makeover where its mock tudor exterior was for some reason painted pink and white instead of black and white, The Dog closed down and was demolished in 2001.

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The Dog and Partridge. Whoever in God’s name thought pink and white mock tudor was a good idea should be allowed nowhere near a planning sheet ever again

The Grey Parrot on Jackson Crescent in Hulme, was the base for some of United’s more exuberant fans in the late 80s and early 90s. The Parrot, which originally opened in 1969, was run by Mally, a charismatic home and away Red in that era. For a short time, The Parrot had a massive polar bear in the lounge which had somehow made its way from the House of Fires shop on the corner of Chester Road and Talbot Road. Reds would pack out the pub which was close to the south-west end of the Mancunian Way. The handy thing about the Parrot was its close proximity to town, Old Trafford and also the walks to Maine Road from there which have now gone down into red folklore. While Mally ran the pub until 1993, The Parrot, like the nearby Falstaff, Eagle, Russell Club and many others, fell victim to the eventual re-generation, which had been announced by Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Heseltine, in 1991. Whilst the rebuilding of housing in Hulme was desperately needed, in amongst all these new properties, somebody had forgotten to build new pubs.

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The Grey Parrot, photographed in the early 1990’s

Every Time a pub closes down, most people sigh and say what a shame it is before forgetting about it two minutes later. We only have to remember what it’s like being at Stoke City and Derby County’s stadia to realise how shit it is to be at a ground where there’s hardly any pubs. For that reason, it’s incumbent on us to keep the pubs alive around Old Trafford. The message is loud and clear, drink long in the pubs near Old Trafford after the match and have a few before too. It’s your noble civic duty.

The Bishops Blaize – Oh what a night, late in May in 1999…

This was originally published in United We Stand fanzine in February 2014. This is a slightly updated version of that article. To subscribe to UWS, click here

9 thoughts on “Legends In Their Own Closing Time”

  1. Sadly too true. Chorlton is going through a bit of a boom, mind you the prices in some of the bars there don’t make you want to go rushing back a second time. A good article and well researched, I just hope all that research didn’t make you end up at any A.A. meetings. Hulme and Old Trafford have become ghost towns as regards pubs, very sad.

  2. I remember as a teenage driver a bloke giving me directions one time and it included reference to several pubs along the route. “Pubs are everywhere, they make good landmarks,” he said.

    Those were the days.

    1. Too young to remember many of those places. Is the Windmill still going in Stretford Mall? Played a gig there once, it seemed decent.

      And i shall put your closing statement to the missus and let you know the response 😉

      neil

  3. Very well written and researched. I remember when I was a kid one week Old Trafford next week Maine Road with my mates, some red, some blue, couldn’t do it now! Been in all pubs mentioned, good times.

  4. I went for a pint in The Throstles Nest on the first day I moved to the area….strange place.
    I was a big fan of The Whalley Hotel. Full of randomers. Last time I went past it, it had closed down. Always had the 3pm KO’s too.

  5. I’ve never been in The Bowling Club but the others and more, many times. Barred from some, welcomed in most. As above, we’ll never have the concentration of pubs like that again. Hulme darts league had two divisions at one stage. On the old Manchester Board, by the way.

    There was singing in many pubs, a bloody good laugh in most. The occasional scuffle wasn’t unknown and it wasn’t as romantic as some old guys would have believe. No honour involved (they’ve seen too many John Wayne films these people), victory was all that mattered.

    Most pubs had a piano and those who could play, were usually drinking on the house. Spontaneous singing was a regular feature, whether you could sing or not, you just joined in. Glad I saw it. Still miss it.

  6. Mutphy

    This report make not sense. It is wanker.

    Why are you not discussion football?

    In France we have not the beers but the coffee and brandy. You should try, it is making me an exceptional lover.

    No tryangle, no tactics, and still no good signings.

    I hope for Dogba and Pugba.

    Apart from Smoking Dog Pub in Lyon we do not have the English pub.

    I don’t know these place you recommending but J The Red he never forget. I will visit Bro.

    Stay cool. Until August.

    J

  7. I drank in all of the places mentioned but two more to add, mainly the Drum at Stretford and the Regiment on Hulme Hall Road near the old St George’s church
    Both used to be good pubs nut many decent drinking houses are sadly gone, along with most Saturday 3pm kick offs

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