Manchester City Centre, Saturday 16th October, 5pm
Walking briskly across Peter Street towards the Midland Hotel, it was immediately obvious that the small crowd gathering outside was in the mood for an enjoyable evening. For once, the Manchester weather had been kind, offering blue skies and sunshine for day three of the Manchester Literature Festival, and elevating the mood of the hardy souls about to embark upon a walking tour of three Manchester pubs with literary connections.
Run in partnership with New Manchester Walks, this event was good value at £5 per head (not including drinks, sadly) and had tempted a commendably large number away from Strictly and X Factor. We began outside G-Mex, site of the Peterloo Massacre in 1819, and heard a few rousing words from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s The Mask of Anarchy. It would seem that Ed, our genial host, spotted during his reading that some of those listening to him had their minds on pubs rather than poetry, as a short walk along the canal then took us to our first hostelry, The Peveril of the Peak.
The literary connection seemed a little tenuous here – the pub is named after the stagecoach which used to take 24 hours to run from Manchester to London, but also shares its name with a novel by Walter Scott – but this is such a famous old pub that no-one could ever possibly object to visiting it. A few locals enjoying a quiet pint did look a little startled when seemingly hundreds of thirsty folk burst through the doors of this tiny place, but we supped up and moved on within about 20 minutes, leaving them in peace.
We continued along the canal, safety in numbers allowing us to enjoy a view of Manchester most would never normally see, and heard John Cooper Clarke’s Salome Maloney round the back of the Ritz – the oldest ballroom in Manchester. Some of the words rhyming with “Ritz” did rather startle some innocent people having a quiet walk along the canal – do look the poem up if you would like to be startled by them too.
A quick chat about Booker Prize winner Howard Jacobson led us on the Manchester Art Gallery for a word about Dickens and Disraeli, swiftly followed (some of us were looking thirsty) by a drink in the Bank pub. This place is also steeped in history, being the former site of the Bank of Athens and located in the same building as the subscription-only Portico Library; the pub also displays a board inside telling you how many sausages were sold last week – what’s not to love?
The final leg of our tour – thank heavens for comfortable footwear – led us to The Reform Club, now the home of Room restaurant, where Winston Churchill made a victory speech back in 1906; to Cross Street Chapel, where Elizabeth Gaskell’s husband William was once minister; and to the family grave of Thomas de Quincey, Manchester’s most famous opium eater.
Our final stop was Sam’s Chop House, a former favourite with Anthony Burgess, who wrote of “hard-headed magnates and cotton brokers gorging red meat in chophouses”. Well, I didn’t see too many of those, just cheery souls pushing their way to the bar, no doubt full of good intentions to go home and start reading up on some of Manchester’s finest after a night thoroughly enjoyed by all.
by Liz Gregory