Hillgate Christmas Stagger


This staple of the Christmas season is very easy to sum up; start at the southern end of Hillgate on the A6 near the town cemetery and drink your way north down the hill until you reach Underbank. This is a reversal of the direction undertaken for many a year, but reverts back to the traditional (can 1980 be considered traditional?) direction of progressing north towards the town centre. CAMRA image - Wheatsheaf Hillgate originally 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 start 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!

As Hillgate proper starts 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 retained. 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? Stockport Image Archive - Royal Mortar 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.

Travelling north and a short detour is made down a side street to confirm that the Bowling Green is no longer open. We then pass another long closed pub, the Royal Mortar, back on Hillgate (picture right).

Heading north again and on the major junction of Hillgate and Hempshaw Lane, we meet the Fairway (below right). Formally a Robinsons house, when it was known as the Flying Dutchman (below left), after which it was sold on and became a free house serving a variety of ales. Stockport Image Archive - Flying Dutchman 1980 CAMRA images - Fairway Internally the style was more café bar than basic boozer and a range of food was offered to back this up. That was until the sudden announcement that "The Fairway is ceasing trading and will close its doors as soon as the current stock is exhausted". The intention is to convert the premise into office space, so another closed pub on what was once a mammoth stagger.

Proceeding along Stockport Image Archive - Star and Garter Hillgate the Star and Garter hoves into view, 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!

A little further along CAMRA images - Crown/Corner Cupboard Hillgate the Crown is on our the left. 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 corner door (maroon in photo left) namely 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. Stockport Image Archive - Christies Hat Works 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. Stockport Image Archive - Golden Lion in days gone by To see the extent of the site, take a look at the aerial photo right. In later years 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.

As we pass the (now disused), Salvation Army building, take a look to the right, the site of yet another closed pub, the Golden Lion (picture left). This former Burtonwood house has not been a pub for many a year and is now being used as offices. Your author remembers putting a poster up here and discovering to his horror that the position indicated by the landlord was a traditional leaded window. Imagine the panic when the whole window flexed visibly as the Blue Tack was pressed home!

Continuing north 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. There has however been a name change, because in an interesting 1905 traders guide I discovered on the internet there was a Southern Castle listed at 60 Middle Hillgate with J. Dronsfield as the landlord/lady. See botthom of article for full listing of all Hillgate pubs.

Just before the traffic lights take note of the last building on the right, another closed pub, and yet another lion, being formally the Black Lion. If there is enough light, look around the corner at the north façade and gaze up to locate the stone carved lion, which being "golden" yellow caused people to think this was the Golden Lion, but we have already passed that further back along Hillgate.

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?

Just before reaching our next destination, if there is sufficient light, cast your eye up towards the troughing of the building adjoining the Red Bull, not only is the downspout ornately decorated with scrollwork with the letters B and below it I : I, but there is also a date, 1751, just visible at room level. Is this original? Who (or what) does B I:I refer to? Enough of history and on with the stagger.

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 Stockport Image Archive - Gladstone we approach the next set of traffic lights we pass 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.

Passing both, the Stockport Image Archive - Spread Eagle closed Royal Oak (Robinsons) a few yards to your left just along High Street, and on the right Robinsons' closed Spread Eagle (photo right) which is now incorporated into the brewery as offices, we proceed north in search of an open establishment.

Just before the bridge which carries St Petersgate over Hillgate we Stockport Image Archive - Winters automatons pass (yes another closed pub) Winters (Holts). The name harks back to the former jewellers shop which used to be here and is the original name of the former business. It used to be possible to watch the automatons outside strike the time, but currently the mechanism is in need of repair. 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 Stockport 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.

Finally we end 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.

Here endeth tonight's stagger — or more correctly this is the official end but...
the whole of the town centre is your oyster to continue the revelries. Enjoy.


Having completed a tour of the open pubs of Hillgate, how do you fancy a meander of closed pubs? Follow https://www.geocaching.com/seek/cache_details.aspx?wp=GC563C1&title=time-gentlemen-please-the-dry-pub-crawl&guid=3258e370-76f0-4d00-8d8c-1be391882928 for details of several of the closed pubs both on Hillgate and extending through on to Tiviot Dale.


In an interesting 1905 traders guide I discovered on the internet I found the following pubs (and landlords) on our route tonight. Note of caution, this is within the tenacity of the character recognition software, if you would like to peruse it yourself (and possibly find others) go to
http://cheshiredirectories.manuscripteye.com/pdf/1906/04b/section.pdf (warning 18Mb file).

          Plough Inn, James F. Kelly, 197 Shaw Heath, Stockport
          Blossoms Hotel, Jn. Fredrick. Fletcher, 2 Buxton Road, Stockport
          Bowling Green Inn, J. Unsworth, 5 Charles Street Stockport
          Shakespeare Vaults, Jn. H. Moss, 131 Higher Hillgate, Stockport
          Old Ram's Head, Robert Henry Riley, 106 Higher Hillgate, Stockport
          Star & Garter, J. H. Young, 61 Higher Hillgate, Stockport
          Royal Oak, T. J. Brocklehurst, 1 Higher Hillgate, Stockport
          Golden Lion, J. T. Cooke, 89 Middle Hillgate, Stockport
          Higher Packhouse, Jas. Hopkins, 64 Middle Hillgate, Stockport
          Southern Castle, J. Dronsfield, 60 Middle Hillgate, Stockport (presumably the Sun & Castle)
          Land o' Cakes, Rd. Price, 48 Middle Hillgate, Stockport
          Black Lion, John Jeffries, 41 Middle Hillgate, Stockport
          Old Admiral, Leonard Allsop, 34 Middle Hillgate, Stockport
          Waterloo Inn, Peter Hickson, 10 Waterloo Road, Stockport
          Red Bull, Thos. Heywood, 14 Middle Hillgate, Stockport

Giving pubs unusual names is not just a recent phenomenon as shown by the
Pig & Whistle, Charles Garside, Rood Hill, Congleton.


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


Pub Name


Bus & Rail


7:30pm Starting point


2 Buxton Road

Calling at

205-209 Higher Hillgate
137 Higher Hillgate
Star & Garter
61 Higher Hillgate
No Real Ale
14 Higher Hillgate
No Real Ale

8:30pm Mid point:

Sun & Castle

54 Middle Hillgate


8-10 Waterloo Road
Red Bull
14 Middle Hillgate
Little Underbank

Finish at

Queens Head
12 Little Underbank


View Hillgate Stagger in a larger map

Updated 5 July 2018