The origins of Stockport pub names
PUBLISHED: 23:15 24 September 2012 | UPDATED: 12:38 19 January 2016
Stockport is the location of some of the region's finest historic hostelries WORDS BY MIKE SMITH MAIN PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN COCKS
Old Stockport is a warren of steep streets and narrow stairways which wind their way from the modern shopping precincts of the lower town to the lofty summit of Churchgate. Along the way, there are fascinating buildings from many periods, including some of the finest historic town pubs to be found anywhere in England.
We begin our trail on Great Underbank, where there is a beautiful half-timbered structure owned by Mike Sidebotham and Tish and Tim Higenbottam, who told me that the building was constructed in 1580 as a town house for the Legh family of Adlington Hall, but became a pub when the Leghs acquired a new home at the other end of town.
Although the building has been variously used over the centuries as a confectionery, a surgery, a bakery, a restaurant and a solicitor’s office, it has always had a licence. One half of the building is still used as the Stockport office of Pricketts Solicitors, but the other half has long housed a public house, which is known as The Three Shires even though the meeting point of Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire is at least 15 miles away, on the moors of Axe Edge.
The old pub has now been converted into a very stylish bar and restaurant by Andy, Rob and Hayley Hough, who are building on the runaway success of which they established at Hazel Grove in 2007. With a large selection of drinks and all-day food offerings, Huffy’s at The Three Shires is already a favourite port of call for people trawling the shops of Stockport. The interior décor is very up-to-the-minute, but the old beams have been preserved and that wonderful black-and-white timbered exterior looks much as it did in the sixteenth century.
A short walk along Little Underbank takes us from a vision of Tudor England to the Queen’s Head, a perfect example of a Georgian public house. Originally known as Good Queen Anne, the Queen’s Head retains many of its old features. Trevor and Angela Stokes, who took over the management of the pub in 2010, showed me a well-preserved line of old spirit dispensers on the bar, a tiny panelled snug, known by the regulars as the ‘Horse Box’, and an even smaller room which houses the smallest toilet in Europe.
Another permanent fixture in this hugely popular drinking place is Geoff Murphy, who has occupied the same stool by the bar on an almost daily basis since 1972. The locals joke that he is the only customer with a key to the tiny toilet, which is no longer in general use. Geoff responds with his own quip that he can recall the days when the pub was known as Turner’s Vaults, a reference to the Turner family, who ran a distillery in the area in the nineteenth century.
The Queen’s Head sits almost under St Petersgate Bridge, which is flanked by a steep flight of steps linking Little Underbank with Market Place, where the tourist information centre can supply excellent Heritage Trails, as well as an Ale Trail to 20 of Stockport’s town-centre pubs. One of the most interesting of those listed is the Arden Arms, which stands on Millgate, just below the market area. Built in 1815, the pub has not been altered in any significant way since 1908.
Original features include a tiled lobby, a hidden snug, real fireplaces, long-case clocks, chandeliers and a curved wooden bar that looks like a Victorian shop. Old stables still surround the courtyard, which is a popular area for eating and drinking. The pub is Grade II listed and its interior is named in a national inventory of 250 pub interiors of outstanding architectural interest.
The Arden Arms has also won many awards for its food and drink, thanks to Joe Quinn and Steve King, who have run the pub since 1999 and had previously made their mark as the proprietors of That Café in Levenshulme, the first restaurant in the Good Food Guide to offer meat and vegetarian dishes on the same menu. When I snatched a conversation with Joe, which was frequently interrupted so that he could give a personal welcome to every diner, he told me the secret of the pair’s success: ‘Good hospitality, good staff, good service and good food’.
Another enormously popular venue for food and drink is the Old Rectory, which is now part of the Fayre and Square chain and stands at the summit of Churchgate, from where it commands fine views over the town. Erected in 1744, it was home to rectors and bishops until 1965, but was requisitioned as a billet for British and American troops during the Second World War.
As befits a building that is regarded as the finest example of Georgian architecture in Stockport, the eighteenth-century frontage has been carefully preserved and remains a majestic presence at the head of a flight of steps.
When the Old Rectory was first converted into a restaurant and bar some 20 years ago, it developed a split personality, with the rear of the building being given an elaborate porch and one side being extended by the addition of a large conservatory. However, both these structures manage to enhance the old building, rather than detract from it, and they nicely echo the magnificent glass-and-iron Victorian Market Hall, which forms the centrepiece of Old Stockport, a truly fascinating area with a wealth of pubs of character.