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Ford Madox Brown, The Pub, Reviewed

Jonathan Schofield reviews a boozer on the eve of a major exhibition for the man on the signboard

Written by . Published on September 7th 2011.


Ford Madox Brown, The Pub, Reviewed

WHAT's  the difference between an artist and a piss-artist? Usually very little in my experience. 

The former can often be the latter although the latter isn't always the former.

As usual with a Wetherspoons it's a real challenge to spend more than £20. 

It could be claimed that pub chain Wetherspoons was taking the piss when calling a pub opposite Whitworth Park after the nineteenth century artist Ford Madox Brown - who from September to January will be the focus of a spectacular retrospective at Manchester Art Gallery (click here). 

Brown, despite his name, was an artist who loved colour, vibrancy, life, detail and ornament - everything the exterior of this pub isn't.

Instead Wetherspoons has named a pub after him in a 'unit' in a building so plain that one can feel nothing but contempt for the architect or designer of the building and for those who commissioned it. 

It's one of those sickeningly low-grade halls of residence with shops and bars on the ground floor that swamp the south city centre. You have to wonder if these places have been designed by the university's Psychology Department as an experiment in depression.

Fortunately on the inside the Ford Madox Brown is a bit fancy.

There are High Victorian details, pannelled walls, stained glass, an old fireplace and lots of info about Ford Madox Brown. Ok, you can almost sniff the breeze block behind the panels in the barn of a room but the company has attempted to make sense of the name. The place is remarkably clean too - unlike the muck in Moon Under Water on Deansgate, the last Wetherspoons I visited.

Fancy glass                                                

There's method to the madness of the name as well.

Ford Madox Brown might have been a London-based artist but he spent a lot of the 1880s and some of the 1890s in Manchester painting the history murals in the Great Hall of Manchester Town Hall. During that time he spent a couple of years on Addison Terrace in Daisy Bank Road, a five minute walk from the present Oxford Road outlet.

He was a fascinating character. The first artist to insist on his own private exhibition, he influenced and was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite art movement.

Amongst many sterling qualities, this lot loved women and made no bones about it. Many of them like to love at least two women at a time. In Victoria Park on Daisy Bank Road, Ford Madox Brown shared a menage a trois with his wife Emma and his mistress Mathilde Blind, a German aesthete. They lived in the same house until it all became a bit too much and Mathilde had to move out to a nearby flat.

Interestingly this branch of Wetherspoons has decided to honour that cosy relationship with a special rule. No man can go in with only one woman but has to be accompanied by at least two non-blood relative females.

It's true.

Honest.

I think that's what it says.

The only exception is if you're with a schizophrenic lady.

As usual with a Wetherspoons it's a real challenge to spend more than £20. We had a burger, glass of wine, gammon steak, two pints of ale, dessert of fruit salad and still had three quid left. 

The gammon was good: a fine bit of pig, helped along by two properly runny eggs, a slice of pineapple and chips. The chips were half shrivelled and half spot on. The burger was fine too, normal I suppose, but did the job, if not as well as Mr Pig.

 

Wetherspoons 019

                                          

The gammon's apt. Ford Madox Brown's principles meant he had to paint from life. One of the history scenes in the Town Hall murals features a pig. Brown took a real pig into the building to paint it. During an organ recital the animal squealed so loudly the matter was raised in the Council Chamber. It was as Brown noted a very delicate 'pigmentary predicament'. 

Back to the food. For dessert the women and I went light. The fruit salad was described on the menu as apple, banana, grapes and natural yoghurt and was exactly that - sort of Spanish in its simplicity - but good for £2.20, maybe the kitchen could choose less teeth breaking stubborn apples. 

Wetherspoons 024

The key to the less-than-£20 price was simple, and generous. With the £4.60 burger and chips we got a free drink (in this case the wine), same with the £7.60 gammon and the beer.

Remarkable - but only if of decent standard. Last time in Moon Under Water the food was shocking, here the manager and kitchen seems on top of things and the food is fine. 

The ale by the way, Kelham Island Pale Rider from Sheffield, was lovely; 5.2%, fruity and balanced.

Ford Madox Brown's most famous piece in Manchester Art Gallery is the painting 'Work', part of which appears in the top picture, and is reproduced in the pub.

In the scene shown above a road worker is refreshing himself with ale. 'Work' has a moral theme about how the value of worthwhile work satisfies body and soul. This can take many forms. It can be physical toil like that of the road worker or mental such as that of the philosophers also shown in the full picture. 

It's unclear to which type of work the mixed population of mid afternoon drinkers, one talking to himself, occupied in the Ford Madox Brown pub when we visited but they were going at the drinking side of labour hammer and tongs.

Artist - framed                                          

I've got an idea.

Maybe Manchester Art Gallery should hold their exhibition launch in this boozer. The VIPS mingling with the hoi polloi. That would accurately reflect the ideas behind Brown's work in his Manchester murals: paintings designed to appeal to all Mancunians of all incomes, backgrounds and creeds.

I'll suggest it. 

Of course, that rule about two women for every man might have to be relaxed. 

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield

ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL. £1000 to the reader who can prove otherwise, and dismissal for the staff member who wrote a review scored out of twenty on a freebie from the restaurant.

The Ford Madox Brown
Wilmslow Park, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9NG
0161 256 666

Rating: 11.5/20
Food: 6/10
Service: 3/5
Ambience: 2.5/5

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away.

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10 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Dave MartinSeptember 7th 2011.

At least they try and the food is decent enough in most of them but not that one on Deansgate as you point out. They saved a nice old building in Chorlton but the place now smells of old goats. They always have that horrible carpet and the "period details" are always a bit OTT like the Trafford Centre (well, maybe not that OTT)

pedantic petraSeptember 8th 2011.

I'd say it's in Rusholme though not Longsight

Jonathan SchofieldSeptember 8th 2011.

Petra, I'd agree. I'd also agree that I cut and paste their address from the official Wetherspoons page. This was lazy. I will change it with alacrity.

Richard HJSeptember 9th 2011.

Perhaps on top of a smoking ban the government could pass some kind of carpet ban specifically for Weatherspoons.

Jonathan SchofieldSeptember 9th 2011.

Would you want a blanket ban on carpets??

AnonymousSeptember 9th 2011.

uh my word - thank God the times are over when Manchester Airport arrival corridors used to greet you with a sweet scent of...

...the only airport in the world?

AnonymousSeptember 9th 2011.

don't have it if you cant keep it clean

AnonymousSeptember 9th 2011.

don't have it if you cant keep it clean

Chris ParkerSeptember 18th 2011.

If customers will spill,spew and indeed piss on the floor what can they do?
I usually sit outside!! sensible Eh!

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