Cross Keys: The Quest for the Perfect Pub

23 Aug

Cross Keys in 2009. Image courtesy J. Shaw.

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. 

The Cross Keys open to all in 1962. Image courtesy J. Shaw.

The Cross Keys open to all in 1962. Image courtesy J. Shaw.

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.

The Cross Keys open to all in 1967.

The Cross Keys open to all in 1967. Image courtesy J. Shaw. 

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”.

The Cross Keys in 2009. Image courtesy J. Shaw.

The Cross Keys in 2009. Image courtesy J. Shaw.

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”, (2010).

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25 Responses to “Cross Keys: The Quest for the Perfect Pub”

  1. Bunny Westmore January 16, 2016 at 8:27 pm #

    Although I lived a few miles away from the ‘Keys’, many friends of mine lived in the surrounding areas of Ancoats, Collyhurst and Miles Platting. I regularly had a ‘few pints’, especially in the summers of the 70’s and 80’s, when local lads would sit across the road, backs against the wall of the facing mill, enjoying the warm sun enfused bricks, supping languidly of Tetleys, having earnt it is a bricklayers, plasterers, scaffolders, steel erectors and local scallies. I recently visited believing it would by now have been demolished. I was overjoyed to see it remains, however dilapidated. I am seriously looking at buying and restoring as I research its past and recent history. However the asking price of a building that will require extensive repair appears to be non negotiable with owners who no nowt of its history and past clientele. The salt of the earth. I remain optimistic and will watch with interest.


  2. Anonymous August 25, 2014 at 10:47 am #

    My g.grandparents (the Winters) lived at The Cross Keys, German St, Oldham Road from 1904 to about 1910 – well, that was the address on her children’s school admission records. So very interested to see this, thank you!


    • historyme August 25, 2014 at 11:56 am #

      Hi. Fantastic to hear from you and thank you for getting in touch. Would love to include your grandparents in the post if thats Ok and if I could get their names. I am in the process of doing a new post, so it would be great to include them.


    • historyme August 31, 2014 at 11:04 pm #

      Very nice to hear from you. Would love to include details of your g.grandparents on the post if possible. Do you have any photographs of them at the pub?


  3. historyme August 23, 2011 at 7:51 pm #

    Teddy Taylor I was going to comment something like this as soon as I saw the initial post…so I’ll do it now
    12 August 2010 at 21:09


    • DEREK CLORAN May 26, 2014 at 9:34 am #



  4. historyme August 23, 2011 at 7:50 pm #

    Bowler Bowles It’s got refused this time, but days later, suspicious damage occurred on the exterior! I wouldn’t be surprised in the coming weeks it spontaneously sets itself on fire!


  5. historyme August 23, 2011 at 7:50 pm #

    Karina Douglas Oh dear, more soulless shite going up
    12 August 2010 at 20:24


  6. historyme August 23, 2011 at 7:49 pm #

    Bowler Bowles Please see a very nice article regarding this:
    12 August 2010 at 17:00


  7. historyme August 23, 2011 at 7:49 pm #

    Bowler Bowles It’s a loss in my opinion. We all know of pubs that maybe should be shut, but there are so many historical ones just getting demolished, with the only justification being a quick buck! Tragedy in my opinion as the ramifications as with any important building can have long term effects on the community.

    There are many areas in Manchester, sanctioned by consecutive City councils and built by purely money motivated property builders, that have nothing other than housing. No shops, parks, pubs, social clubs, markets etc. Purely built to house people and nothing else. It should be a crime that Council are letting communities degrade to such an extent that it would take them back to the slums of Industrialization. The only difference would be back then in the filth and grime, they would have had more immediate resources! Just look at what as happened to Miles Platting! Absolutely shocking. However I’m amazed that two pubs still survive, the Bradford and historical Victorian Navigation on the canal, which I hope survives.
    12 August 2010 at 12:16


  8. historyme August 23, 2011 at 7:48 pm #

    Matt Potter I am sick and tired of seeing old pubs being closed and demolished too! Its a real shame! Keep up the good work Bowles! We must have a pint soon and carry on the revolution against the pub slayers!
    12 August 2010 at 08:57


  9. historyme August 23, 2011 at 7:48 pm #

    Bowler Bowles This would be the pub I’d want to buy. It’s my fav. The Hat and Feathers could have been great, but this would be my choice to save, mainly for the corner entrance. I was just saying to Clapham, co-operative pubs are the future. Check out this: > Bought by a co-op of regulars (125 in total). No reason why a group of us and like-minded people who care about their communities couldn’t do the same. I don’t know how much they put in, but I don’t think it would take ages to get their money back and just think the sense of achievement they must have got and not least owning their own pub! Last orders!
    11 August 2010 at 22:05


  10. historyme August 23, 2011 at 7:47 pm #

    Jon Garry This picture is absolutely brilliant. It’s really sad to see old boozers closed down.. it makes me want to get a 24 pack and break into them for some old time “ATs” 😀
    11 August 2010 at 22:00


  11. historyme August 23, 2011 at 7:47 pm #

    Bowler Bowles Manchester seems particular bad for it and as a long history of demolishing and not respecting it’s heritage.
    11 August 2010 at 22:17


  12. historyme August 23, 2011 at 7:46 pm #

    Jon Garry Very sad. Look at that sign “dance bar”… they just have no idea about the heritage of these places. Pubs have been part of British life for hundreds of years and I can well imagine maybe in 10 years that outside the town centres there’s not many left. Support your local!
    11 August 2010 at 22:03


  13. historyme August 23, 2011 at 7:46 pm #

    HistoryME Will try my best Miss Steele. The problem is that there are quite a few in this conservation area (!) that are under attack. This is my fav though.
    11 August 2010 at 22:27


  14. historyme August 23, 2011 at 7:45 pm #

    Chloe Fraser Steele This building is so aesthetically pleasing. Save it HistoryME!
    11 August 2010 at 22:23


  15. historyme August 23, 2011 at 7:45 pm #

    Bowler Bowles Would love to have seen the interior. I’ve heard that after the planning permission was refused, some damage to the exterior occurred. I can see another fire coming!
    13 August 2010 at 13:00


  16. historyme August 23, 2011 at 7:44 pm #

    Philip Bell I`ll ask about, we used to go in the lobby or the best room
    13 August 2010 at 08:28


  17. historyme August 23, 2011 at 7:44 pm #

    Bowler Bowles The problem isn’t necessarily with the owner, but the fact it is allowed to be done. Pubs have no protection and are easily and often cheaply bought up. The Council who are suppose to represent us (in a perfect world) should ensure development is for the better of the area in the long term and not just for the benefit of the property owner. Flats could easily be built 100 yards down the road, particularly as Urban Splash are trying to off load some of there land/ properties.
    12 August 2010 at 22:04


  18. historyme August 23, 2011 at 7:43 pm #

    Teddy Taylor I’ve drunk in there too Phil
    12 August 2010 at 21:12


  19. historyme August 23, 2011 at 7:43 pm #

    Teddy Taylor never mind history or community, bash it down and put 8 apartments there, 750 a month apiece…that’s where he’s coming from :/
    12 August 2010 at 21:11


  20. historyme August 23, 2011 at 7:42 pm #

    Philip Bell I used to…from 67 until its demise..great little pub
    12 August 2010 at 21:02


  21. historyme August 23, 2011 at 7:41 pm #

    HistoryME I would myself. In case your wondering, the ice cream van is there, because there use to be a large Italian community in the area and who still have links there. Out of this community sprung many fondly remember ice cream makers and suppliers. One of them Rea Ice Creams as actually just opened a new factory not far from where I live.
    12 August 2010 at 16:36


  22. historyme August 23, 2011 at 7:41 pm #

    Chloe Fraser Steele Looks lovely – I’d come visit!
    12 August 2010 at 16:34


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