Before time was called on town’s old pubs
Many people will be enjoying the town centre hostelries over Christmas but at one time, Congleton had 34 town centre pubs.
The most famous recollection of the town’s pubs is the old card, compiled many years ago, which includes the names of Congleton’s pubs of that time in a rather contrived tale. It was originally sold in aid of Congleton Town FC funds, at either a half-penny or penny a copy (if anyone has an original, it gives the price), which indicates just how far back it dates.
It obviously gained a wide circulation over the years, and it used to be a regular occurrence for some kind reader to bring one in to the Chronicle to ask if we have ever seen it. At one point, it was reprinted and sold again, probably for Town FC.
For those who have never seen one, it is entitled “Congleton’s ancient inn signs travestied”, and reads: “I was driving a Waggon and Horses along the Grove to the Church House to have a bit of Cheshire Cheese (real Old Cheshire Cheese) and a Foaming Quart, when Admiral Vernon rode up on a Black Horse, which had a Boar’s Head. He had been following the Buck and Hounds with the Hare and Dog all over the Globe, hunting the Black, White and Red Lions, and the White Bear with a Ram’s Head, that had killed the Antelope.
“At that moment, the Lord Nelson, accompanied by Robin Hood and Little John, guided by an Angel, landed from the shores of the Albion into the Forester’s Arms, where the Woodman had a Pig and Whistle. He snatched a Forge Hammer out of the Mechanic’s Arm’s and knocked the Bull’s Head off the Durham Ox as it was eating the Wheat Sheaf, and the Ox was afterwards roasted at the Blazing Stump of the Royal Oak.
“The Drum and Monkey hit the Hole in the Wall — with the Lion and Tun and the Roebuck — where there was a Throstles’ Nest. Then, after tying a Staffordshire Knot round the Lion and Swan’s neck in the light of the Rising Sun, the Red Cow, wearing Three Horse Shoes, was shot by Robin Hood with his Three Arrows, and, stealing a Star from the Seven Stars, he went to the Lion and Bell and partook of the Grapes growing in the Park Tavern.
“The Highland Laddie arrived at the Castle with the Oddfellow’s Arms, and threw his Boot at the Bear’s Head in the New Inn, but, missing it, knocking The Lamb out of the Farmer’s Arms, while the Olde Black Boy clung to The Swan, which flew over the Bridge to the Town Hall.
“Then came a Coach and Horses, and I saw the Queen’s Head adorned by a Rose and Crown, and the Prince of Wales in the King’s Arms.
“After chasing and making Vaults near the Rood Hill Tavern, which was a Fair House, the Horse and Jockey were awarded the borough Arms, by the King’s Head, who made a Halt near the Wharf to adjust the Crown. A man with Four Faces and a Black’s Head sat on the Moss near the Railway, with his White Horse, ready to ride with the Moreton Arms, the Shakerley Arms, and the Antrobus Arms, to the Gas Tavern, where George (of the George and Dragon) laid claim to the Golden Lion, which was housed in the Market Tavern”.
As you can see: more than a little contrived, and its lasting appeal lies in the challenge it has always offered to local older people to identify all the pubs.
Only about 15 of those named remain in their original use today (counting the ones that have been renamed), but then there were too many to begin with; in 1763, there were 34 licensed houses for a population of probably less (much less, in fact) than 4,000, which local historian Robert Head thought might have been accounted for because Congleton was on the principal stagecoach route between Manchester and London, and places were needed where passengers could stay the night, or at least horses could be changed or refreshed.
Saturation point must have been reached around the middle of the last century, because after Mr TA Daniel was granted the licence of the Prince of Wales in Lawton Street around that time, no new licence was granted until well into the 20th century.
The late Jack Banks could apparently rhyme off 11 pubs between Swan Bank and the Town Hall which had disappeared during his lifetime.
They were the Boot Inn, Rothery’s Vaults (Drum and Monkey), Star Inn, Black Horse, Borough Arms, Bear’s Head, Old Cheshire Cheese, Black Boy, Black Lion, Red Lion and Town Hall Hotel (formerly known as the Roe Buck). Davenport’s shop was the original Old King’s Arms and the back of the Chronicle — where our sober reporters work — was once a pub.
We counted pubs that have changed their names but some of the names listed on the card were nicknames which have abounded over the years — the Church House was the name some locals traditionally used for the Forester’s Arms (now houses), because of its proximity to St Peter’s, and the Coach and Horses at Timbersbrook has long been known as the Fair House; although officially registered on the books of the excise authorities as the Coach and Horses, it was known as nothing else but the Fair House, and it was only around the turn of the last century that the-then proprietor changed the sign to comply with the register.
The Staffordshire Knot at Buglawton gained the nickname “Four Faces” because of the four faces acting as corbels over the windows, and the Pig and Whistle was probably a corruption of the Pagan Whistle, and had the nickname of the Angel and Trumpet.
The Lion and Swan became known as the Pup and Duck, but perhaps the most interesting nickname is the Hole In The Wall applied to the old Antrobus Arms, the pub that was where our reporters now work.
It got this name from the fact that it was up an entry in which, opposite, were also situated the town “lock-ups”, on the site of the old Guild Hall, which preceded the present town hall.
The licence was later moved to Market Square, on the site now occupied by part of the Chronicle Office, also formerly the town hall keeper’s house, and the access to it between what is now the TSB and the Midland Bank was known in those days as St George’s Passage, the old George Inn being situated there (George being an abbreviation of one of the most popular pub names of the past, St George and the Dragon).
While the Robin Hood is closed at Buglawton, there was another hostelry of the same name on Canal Street, near to its junction with New Street.
The card refers to the Foaming Quart; Head’s Almanac of 1908 refers to a Flaming Quart but it was at the top of Rood Lane, and previously the Beehive, but, Mr Head said “had the sign of Tom and Jerry”.
Strangely enough, for a textile town, the only recognition of its major trade was the Weaver’s Arms in Booth Street, although, appropriately, there was once a Navigation Inn by Congleton station and the adjacent canal.
The oldest pub is, of course, the White Lion, once one of the early town’s mansions, and the place where John Bradshaw, president of the court which sentenced Charles I to death, was articled as a trainee solicitor before going on to become a judge.
Talking of coaches and their thirsty passengers: the fastest four-in-hand to enter Cheshire was in 1836, when E Sherman’s Telegraph covered the 191 miles from London to Manchester in around 18 hours, an average of 10mph. The Telegraph crossed the Pennines from Derby to Macclesfield via Leek, and missed Congleton, but The Red Rover entered Cheshire via Newcastle-under-Lyme, and called at the Bull’s Head, before continuing to Manchester via Wilmslow, the journey being completed in a slightly slower time than the Telegraph of 20 hours. Three other coaches which passed through Cheshire on their way north from London made the even longer journey to Liverpool of 206 miles.
The Umpire, travelling through Holmes Chapel, Knutsford and Warrington, did it in 24 hours, while the Express, on the same route, took 26 hours, and The Albion also took 24 hours, but continued through Chester and Woodside ferry. The Umpire would use nearly 100 horses and four or five different coachmen to cover the journey from London to Liverpool in the time achieved on the Holmes Chapel route. The Red Lion, George and Dragon and Bear’s Head were all used by the Liverpool coaches, while the George Inn was the coaching inn at Sandbach on the London route.
There was a fatal coaching accident on 11th September, 1829, when Smallwood bridge was swept away by a flood, and the coachman of the Birmingham to London mail was unaware of what had happened, and drove into the water. The guard was washed downstream, but the coachman managed to cling to a stump and save himself. Of the three passengers inside the coach, one was young and slender and escaped through a window — and later helped to rescue the guard — but the other two passengers and one horse disappeared. The mailbags were retrieved and dried out so that the letters could be delivered.