The origins of Congleton pub names - part two
PUBLISHED: 12:34 08 February 2013 | UPDATED: 12:37 19 January 2016
Mike Smith pulls up a bar stool at some of Congleton's historic hostelries and hears about unworldly spirits. MAIN PHOTOGRAPHY BY KIRSTY THOMPSON
Did you know?
The Beartown Tap pub on Willow Street has its own brewery. Landlady Julie Banks manages the pub for the brewery which is around the corner, on a separate site. It is the only brewery tap house in Congleton. The brewery, family-run, is the longest running brewery in town. Julie said: ‘We have a cosy little drinking pub. No juke box, tv. Just a nice relaxing atmosphere and a lovely log burning stove. Just what you need at the moment!’
Ye Olde White Lion on Congleton’s High Street is an ancient inn with a surprising association. Back in the early seventeenth century, it contained an office where John Bradshaw was articled to an attorney. Bradshaw went on to become a leading judge and presided over the trial which resulted in the execution of King Charles 1.
Plaques recording Judge Bradshaw’s connection with the pub are displayed on the building’s superb black-and-white façade, which has some elaborate carving on the timbers of the overhanging upper storey. When Joe Manning, the pub’s young landlord, took over as licensee three years ago, he inherited a large framed print of the crowded scene in the court where the monarch’s trial was held.
Joe has an unlikely background for a landlord. After gaining a degree in biology from Leeds University, he spent some time as a windsurfing instructor in south-west France before taking over the Congleton pub in 2009. He clearly enjoys his new role and provides visitors to this ancient hostelry with good ale and fine seasonal food, including a selection of ‘winter warmers’ and Sunday roasts.
Another young licensee is to be found at an equally picturesque ancient inn a few yards further along High Street. Emma Johnson worked as a pub manager for Wetherspoons before taking over Ye Olde King’s Arms, a restored sixteenth-century inn with pink-washed walls and a topsy-turvy timber frame. She is proving to be a popular host of the pub, which has a selection of cask ales and good pub food.
After letting me know how much she loves her new job, Emma told me a tale she has heard about the two blocked-up passageways in the cellar of Ye Olde King’s Arms. The story goes that one was used to bring condemned prisoners from the Town Hall for a last drink before they were taken through the second passageway to their place of execution.
Given this supposed history, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to be told that the cellar is haunted, but Emma cheerfully reports that she has yet to come across any eerie presences. Ghosts certainly have been reported at another Congleton pub called the Queen’s Head. Although the pub’s landlady, Linda Bagnall, Headcannot claim to have personally detected any apparitions, she does have written evidence of sightings from the past of a woman dressed in black who was in the habit of standing behind drinkers at the bar.
Located close to Congleton’s railway station and alongside the A527, the Queen’s Head is a very popular hostelry which offers accommodation as well as food and drink. It is said that Ma Skelton, who was the landlady from 1940 until 1969, refused to use ‘new fangled’ pumps and fetched beer from the cellar in jugs. Linda, who took over in 2010, uses rather more up-to-date methods to serve drink and she provides her customers with delicious food and mouth-watering desserts such as sticky toffee pudding.
All the locals know the story of the ghost, who is known as Emmie, a possible reference to Emma Worth, a landlady in Victorian times, and Linda has even given the name to her pet cat. The identity of the queen from whom the old pub takes its name is not known and the present pub sign merely adds to the mystery by carrying a silhouette which closely resembles the profile of our present queen.
The origin of the name of the Castle Inn, another pub on the A527, is also uncertain, but it has been suggested that it could be a reference to the castle-like appearance of nearby Biddulph Hall. Michael Keeney, who runs the Castle with his wife Lyn, told me that the pub was created in 1820 from two cottages which had been bought by a local entrepreneur called George Wright, who subsequently changed his surname to Biddulph.
The pub is very popular with diners, who are served in a welcoming carpeted dining room, and with ramblers, who are asked to use an entrance which allows the carpeted area to be kept free of muddy boots. The Castle stands close to Biddulph Brook, which is a tributary of the river Dane and was once known as the Ghost River. A lady dressed in grey or white clothes is said to haunt the stream at night.
Michael added a ghost story of his own by telling me that he had walked into the bar one morning to find that the tables had been cleared of glasses, presumably by a particularly helpful ghost!