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The Eagle, Salford, Review And Elegy

Jonathan Schofield on the Dodo and the backstreet boozer

Written by . Published on September 20th 2011.

The Eagle, Salford, Review And Elegy

WITH the Eagle in Greengate, Salford, I don't know whether to write a standard food and drink review, an architectural piece or an elegy for the backstreet boozer. 

Remember them?

It was just me and a pint of Holt's bitter brewed a mile to the north on Derby Street in Cheetham Hill. The ale stared at me like an illicit and dirty promise. 

Every street corner had a pub where communities worshipped fun (and tragedy) with a fervour that made the local church trip over the sixth deadly sin, envy. 

Now the backstreet boozer is on death's door, a boarded-up metaphor for the demise of the working class as we knew it.

Travel round north and east Manchester and into Salford and very few have survived. This is down to a whole raft of reasons: the loss of skilled, long-term jobs in the manufacturing industries; the reduction of booze prices to ridiculous levels in supermarkets; the change in attitudes to smoking; the change in attitudes to men popping in for a few in the local; the profiteering of the pubcos.

Some still struggle on. Between the River Irwell and Trinity Way, a seven minute walk from Harvey Nichols, is The Eagle. 

If you wrote a blueprint for a backstreet boozer you couldn't better this place.

It perches in a terrace, door opening straight onto the pavement. Inside it's split into small rooms, a snug with TV, a games room and a saloon. There's a hefty traditional mahogany bar, real ale from Joseph Holt and a food selection which is made up of salty snacks. There are a few pictures of regulars scattered around, some footy memorabilia favouring United and pictures of boxers in black and white.

Old school boozerOld school boozer

There's also a clock on the wall which reads through tumbling numbers 'Who the fuck cares?' And it's that sort of place. Time is meaningless in the Eagle, juke-box and TV dominate when it's empty and chatter when it's full.

Meaningless TimeMeaningless Time

The crowd is often older people speaking in the sarcastic, expletive laden, gravel-diction of the serial cigarette and booze abuser. It's comforting if harsh. Old-school. Mostly it's laughter filled, sometimes there's a bit of a shouting match.

A couple of years ago I took in a party of people from Greater Manchester with a smattering of overseas visitors amongst them.

I was doing one of my public pub tours, the idea being meet at the Visitor Information Centre and drink in four pubs, quiz at the end. There's a couple more taking place this Christmas - click here

One of the guests had moved to Australia from Salford years back and started a conversation up with a friendly local.

"I was brought up not far from here on Bury New Road, well just off it," she said.

"I lived just off Bury New Road for a while," said the chatty local.

"Anywhere near Julia Street?" said the guest.

"No, other side. Strangeways Prison. Two years. Burglary"

Nervous laughter all round. 

Last year Australia featured again. I was with the 'Two Tims', two presenters from Australia, perfect bleach blond surfer boys in the city for a sequence about pubs and bars for Sony Music Channel. They wanted to film in a proper backstreet pub with real ale.

At the time the landlord was called Jimmy.

“So Jimmy, what’s this Joseph Holt’s bitter like, we don’t have it down under?” asked one of the Tims on camera.

Jimmy looked him in the eye. Instead of talking about a clean flavour with a nutty aftertaste, he said, “Put it this way, drink enough of it and it gives you high blood pressure and makes your nose go blue.” 

The boys didn't know what to do. Not being utterly optimistic and positive about everything seemed to hit them in the forehead like a mallet. 

Or a dart. The Tims were also shown the Manchester dartboard. This is called a 'Log End' and differs from the usual dartboard in many ways, not least in that it doesn’t have trebles. There's a strong local league in these parts. 

Aussies In SalfordAussies In Salford

The Eagle has got pedigree, but fortunately not the overused ale of the same name. The pub was built in 1903 and cost £2,300, replacing an earlier Eagle from the 1840s. The period just over a hundred years ago was the great age of pub building as legislation was passed allowing breweries to expand and empire build.

Joseph Holt as a company took full advantage and opened or converted thousands of pubs in the region - one of the grandest still survives, the Lamb in Eccles. The bigger breweries were popular at the time as they produced beers of a consistent standard as opposed to the locally brewed ales in many pubs which were often dire. Strange how history turns and now the micro-brewery is flavour of the month, year, decade.

The nickname for the Eagle is 'the Lamp Oil' which has never satisfactorily been explained to me and doesn't presumably refer to the beer consistency.

One of the best old stories is how a landlord in the 1890s got into trouble by knocking through a door into the cellar of the empty property next door, thus illegally doubling the size of his pub and his customer base. 

I sat in the saloon of the Eagle last week after interviewing Tim Thomas of Blueprint Studios, the place where Elbow have recorded, that lies at the end of Collier Street a hundred yards away.

It was just me and a pint of Holt's bitter brewed a mile to the north on Derby Street in Cheetham Hill. The ale stared at me like an illicit and dirty promise. 

It was a perfect pub moment in a pub that was a home from home. A pint that had a beautifully clean flavour with a nutty aftertaste and was so full it almost couldn't fit in the glass. 

Blueprint And Eagle 021

There were only two other people in the place, a couple of elderly gents shouting to each other across two rooms about health issues and who certainly wouldn't have referred to themselves as gents. The barmaid was at the door with a fag having a heated conversation on her phone, "I don't care what you bloody say, you said you'd do it, so do it."

There was nothing gracious about the occasion at all, but it was as comfortable as an old leather sofa that should have been chucked out years ago. There was no pretension, nothing demanded of anyone, you didn't feel part of a target audience. You could read your paper or join the conversation. There was no grating theme. 

It was a proper backstreet boozer in the middle of the afternoon waiting for the early evening trade to arrive. Aside from fripperies of costume and technology it could have been anytime in the last two hundred years.

But The Eagle, could just as well be called The Dodo. 

Where else do others of the same ilk survive in central Manchester? The Jolly Angler, The Hare and Hounds, Mother Macs. Not many more. Pubs that don't have the location or the trade going for them.

They're a dying breed and when they've gone they'll be as broken and changed as ruined medieval monasteries. A memory of something rich and grand.

The death of the backstreet boozer is history happening right in front of our eyes, society changing in clear sight. It's rare to see an observable process.

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 Eagle
18 Collier Street, Salford, Manchester, M3 7DW

Rating: 14/20
Drink: 3/5
Service: 3/5
Atmosphere: 3/5
That pub certain something: 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.

Blueprint And Eagle 024

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

MSeptember 20th 2011.

Good on you for reviewing the place. I went in on a Saturday night before some boxing at the MEN a while back.

Not the warmest of welcomes: As soon as we walked in the barmaid barked something along the lines of ‘And you lot can go in that f**king room. You’re not coming in this one.’, referring to the narrow room on the left. Though what was so special about it was hard to fathom.

We immediately attracted some attention but had a laugh with some locals for 15-20 minutes as the karaoke was being set up. They were characters. Friendly when we got talking to them, but characters nonetheless.

A few pints before hand helps desensitise you to the environment, but I wouldn’t recommend this place for a quiet drink with the missus.

The locals seemed to have a great time there. It really felt like this was the 2nd living room tacked onto a Salford terrace, long since demolished but the displaced punters never stopped coming back. Everyone very much did know everyone’s names (except ours) and there’s obviously enough of them to keep it ticking over.

As we left, a couple of middle aged women who’d been smoking outside for the duration of our visit waved us off with a few V signs and a couple of ‘f*ck offs’ , which were probably faintly audible from Harvey Nichols Brasserie.

We gave the pub a chance and it gave us a story to tell. I’d go back, but not before a few beers.

It wasn’t full of hard cases looking for fights though. Just a group ageing ‘gentlemen’ of Salford’s past who were as interesting as the area probably was before being cruelly squashed into a surface car park. (Incidentally, what was here before? The derelict baths are across the road and aforementioned recording studio must’ve had a life before the mixing desk.)

Thing is though there are some 600 apartments in Spectrum across the road and who could be calling this their local. I doubt few have dared walked past never mind go in. If you can’t do a little more to welcome the new residents of Greengate, what is to happen when the old ones succumb to a Holt’s induced liver failure? The pub closes. Just like the others.

Definitely worth a visit if you’re the adventurous type though.

Richard HJSeptember 20th 2011.

More of a Mother Macs chaps m'self.

AncoatsSeptember 22nd 2011.

One key factor for the death of the community pub not listed above is fashion/ trend or rather what the marketers say about what and where we ‘must’ drink and the publications (not necessarily this one) who parrot the ‘message’. Part of the hideous shallow commercialism that has ripped the soul out of every facet of urban life.

Was talking the other day to someone going on about how it was ‘cool’ that places like Port St Beer house were opening so that ‘there was a place to have a beer and a chat, chill out’. It seemed that part of the ‘coolness’ of the PBH was the fact that it did not always have some dj or bored staff member blaring out the Killers etc to drown out all but the loudest of shouts. The fact that it served beer properly and that it was naturally lit.

I pointed out that there had always been a place just like that 100 yards away – the Jolly Angler and that it was really just peoples ridiculous artificially inseminated middle class fear/ snobbery that kept them from going in.... or even recognising that beer houses were not some new funky invention that a certain select few had just grown beards and invented – just slick re packaging of city boozers for nothing but commercial reasons.

The fact that they sell beer from other countries for up to £12 a bottle just proves that there are enough fools to buy in to the marketing image. Travel the world a bit and you find that in Boston or San Francisco no one would pay the prices for a bottle of Sam Addams or Steamer charged here .... because it ain’t special or better it is just bog standard yank booze. Would you pay triple price for Boddingtons in New York? Nothing wrong with varity – but at the expense of everything local?

It just seems crazy that traditional pubs are now written about as quaint museum pieces where we should be brave and pop our heads in to sneak a look at ‘those people’ who drink there. It is a rubbish image to portray - someone should stand back and properly dissect some of the terribly cool northern quarter bars and the patrons in them .... a good objective writer not beholden to advertisers could have a field day at the ridiculousness of it all – hipster mountain men drinking moonshine sold from a jar, pricier than proper bourbon at bars with south pacific themes.

All these old pubs are great places full of great people and are probably a lot safer than Revolution on Deansgate locks. The main difference is that places like the Jolly Angler do not have a big marketing budget to force feed younger people about how fashionably great they are. As Orwell said ‘ Marketing is the rattling of a stick in a swill bucket’. Here piggy , piggy and man do we run to the next thing... often losing the best in the process.

So don’t believe the hype new comers to the city, take a walk around and support your local pubs. Real beer is not some cool new thing ... it is tradition fighting back. You can find all the authenticity that the quest for ‘cool’ demands in the old pubs mentioned above. The people are real, welcoming, the atmosphere genuine, the beer fairly priced and the beards will be full and earned after years of single blade shaving.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousSeptember 29th 2011.


Dave RobinsonNovember 20th 2011.

Wonderful comment.

the Whalley RangerSeptember 22nd 2011.

That's the problem, Ancoats - people are sick of this rubbish and choose to go were it's nice.

Let me give you an example. When I first moved into the Range some time ago and attempted to frequent the local pub there, an Irish regular greeted me at the bar with the kind and loving words: your not from 'round 'ere then are ye'? - Neither are you, matey!

A 'genuine atmosphere' can be had in many places, price is not always an issue and my lady has not yet complained about my shaving.

Other than that, nice rant of yours...

AnonymousSeptember 23rd 2011.

Great rant Ancoats - sums up all the hype churned out by the PR lovies.....

Hipster Mk IVSeptember 23rd 2011.

Best rant in ages Ancoats...a generation blinded by an obsession with aesthetic, in willful denial of the social purpose of a boozer...I've got a new app for my ipad which allows me to order real ale without speaking or interacting with anyone...gives me more time to preen my faux grizzly adams beard.

Jonathan SchofieldSeptember 23rd 2011.

'A good objective writer not beholden to advertisers could have a field day at the ridiculousness of it all.' Hope you're not talking about me Ancoats. I always try to be objective in my own subjective way.

There of course should be room for both the very good Port Street and also for the lovely Eagle in the city. I like both.

Unfortunately I see more people and a more varied group of people in the 'new bars' than I do in the old pubs.

Perhaps we need to ask why this is? People clearly aren't going to the new bars because they like being ripped off, they go because they like the places and because they are prepared to pay the prices.

Serial problems of neglect and carelessness in old boozers needs to be addressed. They should want every type of customer in - to mock the customers of Port Street and elsewhere is silly and absurdly aggressive. The best pubs have always been inclusive, not ghettos.

IzzySeptember 23rd 2011.

"People clearly aren't going to the new bars because they like being ripped off, they go because they like the places and because they are prepared to pay the prices"

There is however, a certain type of person that will frequent any establishment, be happy at being ripped-off and pay silly prices, simply because it's 'the' place to be seen. Alas, Manchester seems to create an awful lot of these places, be it pubs, clubs, bars or restaurants.

Jonathan SchofieldSeptember 23rd 2011.

Izzy. 'Manchester seems to create an awful lot of these places, be it pubs, clubs, bars or restaurants.' Are you saying Manchester is different from other cities in the UK and elsewhere for having places that become fashionable?

AncoatsSeptember 23rd 2011.

Oh nerve touched. Jonathan I did start out by saying ‘not necessarily this one’ in regards to the publications that push a certain type of commercial pub activity (and there is much ‘city life’ type hackery out there... hoping Richard does not write for any of those). Seen the good work Mancon did supporting the Angel pub after all else had written it off when Owen-Brown did the runner. I see the internet rage you get subjected to sometimes so understand the gun shyness – point taken.

Why in deed is the new generation not following in the foot steps of the last 6 or 7 and drinking in traditional city bozzers? What can be done? CAMRA tries hard but it is preaching to the converted. Mancon you could really be a bridge to the youth. A positive big wordy youth bridge.

What about a small article each week (including introduction of the publican) about a back st boozer? Include the Irish music night, quiz night, publish a voucher promotion – every mancon reader who prints it off gets a free bag of pork scratchings. Maybe follow up articles to see the progress – has it helped. Did I just hear ‘Pulitzer’ for investigative journalism?

AncoatsSeptember 23rd 2011.

Sorry just realsied I called you Richard above... you share the last name of my accountant.

Anyway I am up for more ranting - further on I think you will see my rant was also trying to explore an additional reason for the decline. It could be said that your article (and maybe some of the subsequent comment) was varying into (perhaps unwittingly) a now standard issue line in many publications on ‘the novelty working class boozer’ full of shameless types and retired villains shouting across the bar while the bar lady does everything to ignore the ‘outsiders’. Does this do damage to these types of businesses by putting new customers off and kind of belittle the people who frequent them?

What would happen if the media consensus in nearly every article on the northern quarter was over priced, shallow commercial bars full of wealthy yuppies trying to slum it for credibility.... not sure if that would be entirely fair/accurate and would hurt trade. As would a line that every place on Deansgate locks is full of cast off wags glassing each other in the loos.

A vibrant city centre should cater for all walks not just the new city centre dwellers. A whole section of society is being excluded each time one of these pubs goes. The final historic pub on Newton st (all be it run down), The Lord Nelson, was turned into a car pack recently without a whisper in the media... while the new Brewdog ‘ale house’ setting up two blocks down is getting loads of publicity. ... months before it even opens!

Your article rightly points out that pubcos, supermarkets selling booze at a loss, etc are killing ‘the pup’. Possibly more so in suburbs. I made the argument that city centre back st boozeers (where there are still plenty of workers drinking after the whistle goes) Is it just about people liking the new bars more and their expensive prices or do pubs face an additional battle against ‘fashion’ as driven by commercial enterprises and media cheer leaders.

Consumers are being herded in a certain direction at the expense of the traditional pub .... and the people who rely on them for a living or as a communal focus point. It is a spiral – deemed unfashionable, less takings, less cash to invest in maintenance, pub events etc become even less fashionable...

Commerce does not care about jack as long as money is made. But we should care that a particular type of English institution is not only dying but being killed off. Paris with out it’s cafes? Munich its beer halls? Manchester its tiled back st bozzers? The article sounded defeated – as if the battle was lost long ago – don’t bother to get the boats out, leave them on the beaches and lets all learn German (youngins - that is a Dunkirk reverence... Wikipedia it).

The article should be more angry – I wanted it to be angry and Jonathan to stoke our anger. We should be slapping the publicans up side of the head – ‘clean your toilet, tell your staff to welcome in new comers, flyer drop the apartment block next door about next Wednesdays quiz night – don’t mind the beards - they will be gone by next season’.

Telling the ‘kids’ to support their local, that City centre living is not just a permanent hotel stay – and community is not just something on line but around the corner in your local pub.

And none of the ‘it is a representation of individual choice in the level playing field of the free market’ argument . As bogus as trickle down economics , ‘tax the rich less and they will become job creators and make it rain for the rest of us’. BS – they will just buy another Spanish villa. Advertising and media exposure/ trend setting has a huge impact – conditioning people on where to go and what to buy. If it didn’t work why is it 24 /7?

All businesses need to make a profit but commercialism can go too far. Just look at Lego – used to be about simple blocks that mates used imagination to make things – now it comes packaged as complete star wars ships tied into the move and comic book so the child can hold it on their own while watching the product placements in the movie .... I have become so despondent I have stopped playing with it and moved on to Playmobile but you will know what is happening there...

Put the oars in the boat start rowing – help’s needed. Once back street boozers are sorted we can start on Lego. Don’t let the bastards close them down!

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousSeptember 23rd 2011.

Good shout about the Lord Nelson, Ancoats.... and anything else made from bricks, from the olden days and not a large mill building with redevelopment potential seems to disappear without anyone seeming to notice or be particularly bothered.

Working Man MagritteSeptember 23rd 2011.

A boozer's a boozer. A pub is a pub.

Aspirational MagritteSeptember 23rd 2011.

Beer is biere. A burger is lasagne.

1 Response: Reply To This...
ConmanSeptember 23rd 2011.

C'est Cidre, NOT cider.


the Whalley RangerSeptember 24th 2011.

Ancoats, love your rants - you have made a strong case for the preservation of the common pub.

However, I cannot stop thinking that this feels like a discussion group for latent alcoholics.

Why? Because the culture portrayed - whether in bars or pubs - is essentially the same to many onlookers and only differs marginally in the way these 'communities' are organised.

Gone are the times when the working man descended into mine shafts or tossed heavy cotton bales followed by drowning his sorrow in a pub. We now eat salad for lunch due to the nature of our desk jobs...

A cultural shift has taken place in which foreign customs have entered the realm of British society - this is not new and without going into too much detail, how do we explain the disappearance of the 'gin house'?

Perhaps there is a public health aspect to all this?

We have all seen how smokers have been effectively priced out of the market in the last decade - soon we will have to face the fact that if we REALLY intend to tackle the vices of society, alcohol pricing will have to go the same way.

This is a matter of principle which - some will argue - will destroy a certain landscape during the process, but hey - can we learn anything from Iggy Pop and the Electric Light Orchestra?

Yes: some make it, some don't.

AnonymousSeptember 26th 2011.

Urban Splash are receiving plaudits for overhauling the grade II* listed Park Hill in Sheffield.


It does seem perverse that they put so much stock into that building but neglect the Ancoats Dispensary on their doorstep, but there again, the level of public grant funding for Park Hill is of a different order of magnitude.

Its difficult not to see Urban Splash as mere grant farmers albeit with a superficial sheen of respectability achieved by employing decent architects and sophisticated marketing techniques. Their business model doesn't appear to be any different to any of the other major house builders as like them, they seem incapable for riding out the peaks and troughs in demand and taking a long term view of development.

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