A roaring fire contained in an original Victorian cast iron fire and tiled surround. A genuine smile from a landlord who knows your name. A grimace, frown, begrudging smile, a sigh or even a grunt, but nevertheless the landlord knows your name. A surly landlord who demands respect. It must evoke a feeling that you’ve stepped back in time. Ideally the 19th century, but an original 1960s interior can be equally suggestive if not as charming. The Turnpike in Withington would be one fine example.
Growing up in a era when the pub was declining and when new forms of entertainment entered the pub, I would put pool on that list. Its a divisive choice and traditionalist would balk at the thought, but sadly, many of them never got to witness my skill on the baize and natural penchant for entertainment, honed through many hours in smoke-filled pubs that would have not looked out of place in Robert Rossen‘s beautiful shot 1961 pool classic, The Hustler.
To be able to tell the wattage of a light bulb or indeed the three that make up a traditional pool light was never just a party trick and I’m still to find a player who chalks their tips holding their cue off the floor to build up the muscles in their fingers and forearms, both the culmination of an obsessive approach that resulted in many hours spent shooting a good stick and mastering all aspects of the game.
I’ve always been obsessive about playing and entertaining and in my day I’m certain I would have gave Mick Hill a good run for his money and would have loved to have shot a few racks with the real life Minnesota Fats, Rudolf Wanderone.
I’ve never met anyone who played pool the way I did and which I still aim to play with aging eyes today. It should never be just about winning and losing, the mantra that plagues modern sport and has infected fans alike. I’ve believed this since primary school when I was seven or eight, when I witnessed sporting beauty incarnate, the 1982 Brazil World Cup team. It made an impression I did not fully understand at the time and has always remained with me. It can be summed up by one of my heroes from that 1982 team, the legendary Socrates or Doctor Socrates, a qualified doctor addicted to cigarettes and alcohol, an activist, thinker and one of footballs all-time greats, a man who would rather hang out with his friends if it took his fancy than train with his team mates. For Socrates and myself it was always very simple, “Beauty comes first. Victory is secondary. What matters is joy”.
So what has pool, a Brazilian philosopher and footballing great and qualified doctor have anything to do with what constitutes a perfect pub. On the face of it, apart from sounding like something from an Eddie Izzard sketch, not much. But for me, its sentimentality. When I think of the perfect pub its culmination of history, sense of place, association through familial and peer tradition, that takes me on a sentimental flight. So fantastic is this flight, that often I have never even been into the pub, such as with the Cross Keys.
Yes, I’ve never even been into the Cross Keys, so why such affection for it. Well, for me it fits perfectly my idea of what a public house should look like, at lease from the outside and since it has long since closed, I can only imagine what it may have looked like inside.
The Cross Keys has been a licensed house since 1830 but the original pub was situated about 50 yards further up Jersey Street and was briefly known as The Amalgamation. It was demolished in the late 19th century to make way for a brass foundry. So, the Cross Keys set up on the corner of German Street, which was renamed to Radium Street in 1914 (1).
In 1922, Tetley’s bought the pub from Taylors Eagle Brewery and the sale notice described the interior of the pub including: the lower floors, a lobby, bar parlour, vault, smoke room, kitchen, scullery, clubroom and three cellars.
‘Incidently, the bedrooms upstairs were looted in an 1834 robbery which made the local papers: ‘they slipped upstairs, entered a bedroom and forced open a chest in which cash and silver plate were deposited, and took twenty guineas and seventy soveriegns… they did not meddle with the plate. Several young men, strangers of suspicious appearance, had been loitering about the door during the afternoon and it is possible that the robbery was committed by some of the London thieves on their way to Doncaster Races'(2)
In more recent times, the pub was used for clubbers from Sankeys Nightclub just across the road. The present signage (Dance Bar), dates from this time.
In 1914 radium was a pioneering cancer treatment at the Christie Hospital and a number of eminent names including Ernest Rutherford campaigned in the Manchester Guardian to raise £25,000 to bring this treatment to the region. Thanks to a series of ‘Radium Days’ and a generous donation from a certain Edward Holt (son and heir to Joseph Holt of Holts fame), the Radium Institute was established in the Manchester Royal Infirmary. Following another donation from Sir Edward and Lady Holt, this time of land at Nelson Street, the Manchester & District Radium Institute, later to become the Holt Radium Institute was formed, which then merged with Christie Hospital.(3)
(1), (2), (3) “Cross Keys, Jersey Street”, www.pubs-of-manchester.blogspot.com (2010).
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