Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Sense of place

Matthew Curtis recently wrote an article on the Manchester beer scene entitled The City with a Thorn in its Side. Now, in general, it’s a good piece of journalism. He made the effort to get the train up here, get the feel of things on the ground, and interview several key players, including CAMRA stalwart Peter Alexander (aka Tandleman). For readers in Canada and the US, it does its job just fine. However, he repeated one common error that, whenever I see it, makes my hackles rise. He said that Stockport, home of Robinson’s Brewery, was in Manchester.

Yes, Stockport is part of the same conurbation, but it is a town in its own right with a long and honourable history going back to mediaeval times, and has its own very distinct identity. It also retains its own status as a Metropolitan Borough entirely separate from the City of Manchester. Yes, it’s an easy mistake to make, but that doesn’t make it any less wrong.

Part of the problem arises from the naming of Metropolitan Counties in the 1970s. Six of these were set up, but only one of them took the name of its major city. The other five – Merseyside, West Midlands, Tyne and Wear and South and West Yorkshire – didn’t. The area was originally referred to as SELNEC – South East Lancashire, North East Cheshire – but that didn’t trip off the tongue, so the present name was adopted.

However, all too often that tends to lead people to refer to the other major towns in the area as being part of Manchester, when they aren’t. I know someone from Wolverhampton who would go ballistic if anyone suggested that his city was part of Birmingham, even though they are both within the same West Midlands Metropolitan County. Likewise try telling someone from Bradford that it was part of Leeds, or someone from Sunderland that it was part of Newcastle.

Local pride and allegiance remain very important, and anyone writing about areas should be careful to get these things right. Stockport, and other major towns such as Ashton-under-Lyne, Oldham, Rochdale, Bury and Bolton, may be referred to as being within Greater Manchester, or being part of the Manchester region. But they are not, never have been, and never will be, part of Manchester itself. This page helps explain the situation.

Another glaring error in the article, albeit one of limited relevance to a Transatlantic audience – is the statement that “You don’t have to wander far down a Manchester street to come across one.” Again, this is just plain wrong.

When I moved into this area in 1985, the family brewer pubs were extremely scarce in the centre of Manchester. Lees and Hydes both had just two (and arguably Hydes’ Jolly Angler isn’t really in the centre), Robinson’s one, and Holts precisely zero. Lees, Hydes and Holts have all acquired one or two more, but they’re still far from thick on the ground. And, in the wider city of Manchester, Holts and Hydes have a few scattered pubs, but Robinsons’ and Lees’ pub holdings remain minimal. The nearest thing to a concentration is the string of Hydes pubs along the Wilmslow Road corridor in Rusholme, Fallowfield, Withington and Didsbury. Historically, by far the biggest holders of pubs in Manchester were Wilsons, part of the Watney/Grand Met empire, followed by other members of the erstwhile “Big Six” Whitbread, Bass and Tetley.

These are innocent mistakes, but when it comes to local identities, you do need to be careful not to tread on people’s toes.

23 comments:

  1. I have to say that I find this entirely impossible to get worked up about - in the great scheme of things it's no big deal. However if you are being picky it's worth recording that Hydes is now in Salford and Lees is in Oldham.

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    1. Lees, of course, are strictly speaking in Middleton. Which isn't in Manchester either. And it's (just) in Rochdale MBC, not Oldham.

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    2. If Curtis says it is in Manchester then it should be put in Manchester.

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  2. Curtis is the future of Beer Writing. The relentless having a go at the lad riles the basic sense of British fair play. As Curtis is one of the most talented and bright young beer writers of his generation with unparalleled knowledge of beer, beer styles, terroir, history, culture, pubs & John Kimmich we beer geeks should be applauding his enlightened vision rather than just always taking a pop at the lad.

    Someone needs to fill the shoes of Protz, Tierney-Wurly & Broon, for them old timers are not long for the world. The fast paced, hedonistic rock and roll life style of beer writing takes it's toll. Why, I remember when Dredge was a newbie. Now the fella looks 50.

    We need Curtis. Beer needs Curtis. Beer writing needs Curtis? Where would we be without beer writers? Reading about wine. That's where.

    Get behind Curtis! Stop knocking him! Curtis is the future and is the now. Curtis will make Beer Writing Great Again!

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  3. I'm not sure being in 'Greater Manchester' has made Stockport any more likely to be described as being in Manchester. Birkenhead is described as being in Liverpool just as regularly. And, as you mention, Wolverhampton is often seen as being in Birmingham.

    I've lived in Stockport for ten years, but am from the Wirral originally. I've always felt at home in Stockport because it's relationship with its nearest city is so familiar to me.

    I still bristle slightly if I'm called a Scouser and, similarly, it would seem strange to call anyone from Stockport a Manc. However, I do remember at a Tranmere Rovers/Stockport County game about 15 years ago hearing County fans sing 'Manchester, la la la', while the Tranmere fans were singing:

    'Don't be mistaken.
    Don't be misled.
    We are not Scousers
    We're from Birkenhead

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  4. I think that a large part of the problem is in using the term Manchester when you mean Greater Manchester but unless there is a need to be specific London and Greater London are largely interchangeable. This may be because London as a term for the urban area has been used since the 19th century rather than the 1970s although outer areas were not incorporated into London until 1965. I say I was born in London but my birth certificate says Essex.
    I think that there is a difference though. The towns that make up Greater Manchester seem to have a stronger historical identity than what were basically the villages, parishes and local boroughs that made up London. For that reason I think the resistance to being labelled Manchester might remain longer.

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    1. Indeed. I am sure that if West Yorkshire was known as Greater Leeds. towns like Bradford, Huddersfield, Wakefield, Dewsbury would often be described, by furriners, as being in Leeds. Similarly if West Midlands was Greater Birmingham. Shame the planners couldn't find a better name for the region - I remember the late Brian Redhead proposing Selchester.

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  5. that link is utter tripe, Salford and Manchester were not removed from Lancashire they were granted county borough status and now unitary authorities but are both geographically cities in Lancashire

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    1. That rather depends on what you mean by "Lancashire", the old ceremonial county or the modern administrative division.. Would you put Barrow in Furness in Lancashire? Or Todmorden?

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    2. im from Widnes, Lancs, Furness is Lancs, Todmorden is part Lancs part west riding of yorks just as Stalybridge is part Lancs, part cheshire

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    3. Both of my parents were born in Widnes, and their ashes are scattered there, so, while I grew up in Runcorn, in a sense I regard it as my spiritual home. And it's in Lancashire.

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    4. God rest their souls, you're from good stock then, no good for your blogs though, Widnes has lost far too many pubs, the Grapes is still unspoilt except the tiles in the heads depicting rugby league players have gone, probably pinched.

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  6. A lot of Stopfordians, native and adoptive, feel as close to Manchester as they do to Stockport. Many of the northern and western suburbs (the Heatons, Gatley, Cheadle) are pulled just as strongly by the Manc centre of gravity, not least because of public transport links.

    (Though amusingly just as many in the posher bits pretend they live in Cheshire)

    Also I'd struggle to describe the Jolly Angler as anything other than central, though it does inhabit a slightly odd industrial interzone. Whenever I've been in, it's been empty.

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    1. Stockport borough crosses the county border like Trafford borough, Reddish, Heaton Mersey, owt north of the rivers Mersey and Tame are Lancashire, Cheadle and Stockport town itself are certainly Cheshire

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    2. Good to see another lover of traditional counties commenting here, Thomas. As it says on the website of the Association of British Counties, quoting the government: "The new county boundaries are solely for the purpose of defining areas of local government. They are administrative areas, and will not alter the traditional boundaries of Counties, nor is it intended that the loyalties of people living in them will change."

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    3. If I walk down Merseyway am I in Lancashire or Cheshire?

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  7. I'm getting the impression that the only person here who's really bothered about this is Mudgie

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  8. As one of the Transatlantic audience, I am not sure how much my opinion counts. Thanks to all the beer writers and beer bloggers from one who really enjoys reading about the UK breweries/pubs/ales. Although I do my homework when planning/mapping a pub trip for cask ales, it is always appreciated when the information provided is as accurate as possible. As a traveler who loves to converse with local people, it is also important to me to be as informed as I can so as not to insult anyone or be corrected for something for which I could have been prepared. There is much more for me to learn and it is an uphill battle, but one that I very much enjoy. Again, I thank all those writing about beer, especially those who are most precise.

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    1. ye just need a map if its north of the Mersey or Tame its Lancashire if south its cheshire and the Pennines form most of the border of Lancashire and the west riding of yorkshire until you get to Bowland where the trough is Lancs but the forest is yorks.

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    2. Not forgetting that the Cheshire panhandle borders on the West Riding of Yorkshire :-)

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  9. Sounds like I might need more than one county map(historic, ceremonial,metropolitan/non-met).

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  10. I think you're half right half wrong. There are various different concepts of place, and the Manchester one to a lot of people is that blob within the M60, but maybe running over the edges a bit. Most people would think of Manchester United as being in Manchester for instance. Metropolitan Counties are a bit of a funny one, given that they didn't really last long in an administrative sense (their powers being taken on by the individual boroughs). What is more confusing than the counties is the way boroughs were defined. Quite why Nottingham ended up with very 'tight' boundaries (in most ways other than administrative Beeston is part of the same settlement), but Leeds quite 'wide' (Wetherby being part of the borough but a separate town 12 miles away and separated by countryside).

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