Hillgate Christmas Stagger

Friday 21st December 2018

This staple of the Christmas season is very easy to sum up; start at the town end of Hillgate and drink your way up the hill until you reach the A6 near the town cemetery. Hillgate formed the main road through Stockport between London and Manchester (and ultimately Carlisle) until the new bypass was built to relieve traffic. "Bypass?" you say, yes Wellington Roads North and South were built by the Manchester to Buxton Turnpike in 1826 so as to avoid the congested town centre.

We starts Stockport Image Archive - Queens Head Stockport Image Archive - Sample taps in one of our smaller pubs, Sam Smith's Queens Head almost under the bridge on Little Underbank (bottom of Hillgate to you and me). Also known as Turners Vaults after a wine merchant's shop/bonded warehouse which was located under the adjacent bridge abutments. The produce of this bonded warehouse was piped into the Queens Head, and the dispense mechanism can still be seen (right). Unfortunately samples can no longer be taken in the Queens, but the excellent beer is still available. Please no more than one gent at a time should visit the "old" toilet as two is a crowd in what is reputed to be among the smallest loo in Britain.

Almost across Stockport Image Archive - Winters automatons the road and housed in a former jewellers shop was Winters (Holts). The name harkes back to the original name of the former shop. It used to be possible to watch the automatons outside strike the time, but currently the mechanism is in need of repaire. Inside and upstairs you could also view the workings of the famous and truly splendid automaton clock mechanism. The structure is currently in the hands of the Council and must be part of their town centre regeneration plans. When it was a Holts pub, whenever you had a beer you were contributing to the good health of the country.

"Drinking beer is healthy?" I hear you cry. Well not exactly, but after Sir Edward Holt donated £20,000 to found the Holt Radium Institute (and that in the early years of the 20th century) the company and family member continue to donate to Christies Hospital. When Lady Holt died in 1997 she bequeathed £8 million and as recently as September 2015 a further £400,000 has been donated by the company to help start an Integrated Procedures Unit.

Passing the Stockport Image Archive - Gladstone closed Spread Eagle (Robinsons), now incorporated into the brewery as offices and the Royal Oak (Robinsons) a few yards over your shoulder along High Street.

Through the traffic lights we approach the site of the former Gladstone/Bishop Blaise, see if you can spot it from the accompanying photo left. This unremarkable looking building was tied up with the Stockport Riots of June 1852. These riots made national news, being reported in The Glasgow Herald, The Daily News and The Derby Mercury, plus apparently they also made international news (no citations discovered). There was much discontent in Stockport when Irish families, starving due to famine at home, had come to Stockport looking for work in the mills. Their hard work was resented and the Irish Catholics were attacked by locals, resulting in one death, an Irishman named Michael Moran. Ironically it was later discovered he had been killed by a fellow Irishman. A house and a Catholic chapel in Edgeley were totally destroyed, and then rioters marched on to destroy St Michael's chapel in the Park. A fuller account can be found here. Leaving the Gladstone/Bishop Blaize behind we head towards our next hostelry.

Robinsons splashed Stockport Image Archive - Red Bull 1890 Stockport Image Archive - Red Bull 1920 out some money on the Red Bull a couple or so years ago and extended this ancient hostelry into the house next door. It still retains a lot of its old fabric, but the purists will be able to spot the join. Beware of the floor as it is on multiple levels and some of the steps are easy to miss if the place is crowded. Also nice to see the retention of (the original?) stone flags as floor covering. Interestingly between these two photos, the entrance was altered from three steps straight into the pub, to the "side saddle" arrangement of today - why?

As you leave, if there is sufficient light, cast your eye up towards the troughing of the next building along, not only is the downspout ornately decorated with scrollwork with the letters B and below it I : I, there is a date, 1751, just visible at room level. Is this original? Who (or what) does BI refer to?

We used to have Strawberry Studio a small diversion off Hillgate itself, partly to take in two sites of historic significance to Stockport, and to visit the Waterloo, alas now closed, boarded and having all signage removed.

First up on our historic detour were Strawberry Studios 1968 -1993. This was where 10cc (I'm Not in Love among many) as well as major artists including Joy Division, Neil Sedaka, Barclay James Harvest, The Smiths, The Stone Roses, Paul McCartney, the Syd Lawrence Orchestra and Stockport's own St Winifred's School Choir all recorded here. In a 1976 interview the studio's early days were described thus: "It was a very tiny studio with some stereo equipment and the walls lined with egg boxes to provide sound insulation. There was a makeshift sort of control desk tied together with sellotape and string, but it was good enough for what was wanted, and it was the only studio near Manchester."

Manchester Evening News - Stockport air crash

Second up is the site of the Stockport air disaster. The plane a Canadair C-4 Argonaut aircraft owned by British Midland Airways, registration G-ALHG left Palma de Mallorca at 5:00 am. The aircraft had had to overshoot the runway on a first attempt to land. As the aircraft was making a second approach to the airport, the Nos. 3 and 4 engines suddenly cut out and the No. 4 propeller began to windmill causing it to crash at 10:09 am local time. It came down in Hopes Carr, an area thankfully devoid of people at that time of day. The pilot, Captain Harry Marlow, averted even greater disaster by steering the plane away from a block of flats and a gas container (approximately where the Peel Centre is today). Unfortunately 72 people lost their lives, but miraculously 12 survived. It currently stands as the fourth worst disaster in British aviation history. A stone memorial on the corner of Hopes Carr commemorates the event.
Fuller story here

Finally we would have taken a drink in Stockport Image Archive - Waterloo Hotel with Bells andobinsons signage Stockport Image Archive - Waterloo Hotel the now closed Waterloo (previously Waterloo Hotel). Originally a Bell & Co. public house as shown by the older photo right (click on the photo to enlarge it) showing it with dual signage. When this area of Stockport was full of houses and factories this would have been a typical locals corner boozer. Of course the various artists from Strawberry Studios were also known to pop in for a swift half - To wet the whistle. It had a well-furnished lounge which contained the bar, a vault, games room and snug. Because of the loss of houses in the area and the dim view employers take of their workers drinking at dinner time trade has been hit. When the previous landlady decided to move on, Robinsons elected to close the pub. From the older photo (left) it appears as only the lefthand half of the current building constitutes the original premises, but why were two entrances needed? Was one to the pub and the other to the hotel, or maybe the off sales department?

When re-joining Hillgate take note of the first building on the left, another closed pub, formally the Black Lion. If there is enough light, gaze up and locate the stone carved lion on the north façade, which being "golden" yellow caused people to think this was the Golden Lion, but that was further along Hillgate.

Continuing south Stockport Image Archive - Sun & Castle CAMRA images - Sun & Castle the Sun and Castle is soon reached. This is now our only chance to sample a Holts pub, and it has everything you would expect from one of their houses. Looking narrow from the front, it is much larger internally than you might expect because it stretches back a long way, giving space for a stage area to the rear, often used for entertainment. Don't forget to say "Hello" to the pubs parakeet as you are likely to be thus greeted yourself.

The two photos reveal how little the Sun and Castle has changed in many a year, and it is only the car parked outside which gives a clue as to which is the older photo.

Back on Hillgate, Stockport Image Archive - Golden Lion in days gone by opposite the Salvation Army building, is the aforementioned Golden Lion. This former Burtonwood house has not been a pub for many a year and is now being used as offices.

A little further along CAMRA images - Crown/Corner Cupboard Hillgate the Crown is on the right. We will pop in to confirm that it does not serve any cask conditioned ale. However before rushing past, pause to note the name on the glass over the non-used corner door - Corner Cupboard. An interesting moniker, the reason for which I know not.

Almost opposite the Crown used to be the site of Christy & Co Ltd's Stockport manufacturing base, in its time among, if not the biggest, hat maker in England. The world-renown hat making firm which later became Christys was founded way back in 1773, as a partnership between two Quakers - Miller Christy and Joseph Storrs - in premises in White Hart Court, London. Their hat making business thrived and in 1788 they moved to larger premises in Gracechurch Street which later became their Head Office. Hat making factories were then opened in Bermondsey (London), Frampton Cotterell (Gloucestershire) and Wray (Lancashire), but not Stockport. So how did the massive complex of factories on Hillgate come about? Christys bought in hats from other hat manufacturers located in various parts of the country, in particular the firm of T & J Worsley who were based in Stockport. On the retirement of the Worsleys in 1826, their premises and hat making business in Canal Street were taken over by the Christys. The site was greatly increased by the purchase of the High Gate Cotton Mill adjacent to the Canal Street premises. To see the extent of the site, take a look at this aerial photo. In later dates production was divided between Stockport, felt hats such as fedoras, with London producing the rest. Did you know that Christys used a form of hall marking as used by jewellers? Read all about it in an article here.

Proceeding along Stockport Image Archive - Star and Garter Hillgate the Star and Garter faces you fair and square, as the road dog-legs around the pub. This Robinsons house is entered via the centrally placed steps, giving onto the main room with a smaller room to the right. Another solid, no nonsense establishment which attracts a lively bunch of local. The pub is in fact a Grade II listed building, but the descriptive text does not make it overly obvious what the historic significance is. What is obvious, however, is the lack of any real ale, and this a Robinsons pub — shame!

Heading south again, Stockport Image Archive - Flying Dutchman 1980 CAMRA images - Fairway on the major junction of Hillgate and Hempshaw Lane, we meet the Fairway. Formally a Robinsons house, when it was known as the Flying Dutchman (left), it is now a free house serving a variety of ales. Internally the style is more café bar than basic boozer and a range of food is offered to back this up, but never fear drinkers are the norm.

Passing a further, long closed pub, the Royal Mortar on Hillgate (picture here), another detour is made down a side street to confirm that the Bowling Green is also no longer open.

As Hillgate finishes CAMRA image - Wheatsheaf Stockport Image Archive - Wheatsheaf, Hillgate we will be looking through the windows of the Wheatsheaf to see if real ale has been reenstated. After a couple of periods of closure, and a lack of real ale when open, there was a Road to Damascus moment when a change of licencees resulted in the Wheatsheaf returning to the real ale fold. Almost before the ink was dry on the lease, Punch pulled the plug and the pub reverted to a keg only outlet. This has changed again with the current management again offering real, but unfortunatly with the choice limited to the Punch listings. What will we find tonight I wonder? The two photos of the Wheatsheaf make interesting viewing. What happened to all the ornate brickwork seen along the front of the roof? If you look carefully there is even a horse drinking trough to the left, and the lady would be foolish to saunter across the road as she evidently could in days gone by.

Finally we end CAMRA image - Wheatsheaf the stagger at the Blossoms - yes I know it is not actually on Hillgate but let's not split hairs and miss out this establishment after which a popular music group are named. Robinsons have spent a bob or two on the Blossoms, fully decorating it with bespoke wallpaper, to turn it into what they term an ale-shrine. Six cask ales are on handpump, and who knows, will there be an additional cask of Old Tom on the bar as is traditional at Christmas? And what of that musical combo, they met and drank in the Blossoms so (lacking imagination?) named themselves after the pub. I wonder whether they would be as big if they had drunk in the Frog and Railway!

Having completed a tour of the open pubs of Hillgate, how do you fancy a meander of closed pubs? Follow this link for details of several of the closed pubs both on Hillgate and extending through on to Tiviot Dale.

Below, clicking on Map will call up a Google travel map with that location automatically set as the destination. Insert your current location (post code?) as the start and choose a travel mode (public, car, cycle or foot) and discover your travel options.

Following THIS LINK will take you to the Transport for Greater Manchester website for current travel information.

 

Hillgate Christmas Stagger

Timing

Pub Name

Address

Bus & Rail

Notes

7:00pm Starting point

Queens Head
12 Little Underbank
SK1 1JT
Map
Stockport
 

Calling at

Winters
Little Underbank
SK1 1LA
Map
Stockport
Closed

8:00pm Mid point:

Red Bull
14 Middle Hillgate
SK1 3AY
Map
Stockport
 

Then

Waterloo
8-10 Waterloo Road
SK1 3BD
Map
Stockport
Closed
Sun & Castle
54 Middle Hillgate
SK1 3EH
Map
Stockport
 
Crown
14 Higher Hillgate
SK1 3ER
Map
Stockport
No Real Ale
Star & Garter
61 Higher Hillgate
SK1 3HD
Map
Stockport
No Real Ale
Fairway
137 Higher Hillgate
SK1 3HR
Map
Stockport
 
Wheatsheaf
205-209 Higher Hillgate
SK1 2RB
Map
Davenport
 

Finish at

Blossoms
2 Buxton Road
SK2 6NU
Map
Davenport
 

 

View Hillgate Stagger in a larger map

Updated 9 May 2018