Thursday, 26 August 2021

End of the line?

Last week, the Manchester Evening News reported that the Railway pub in Portwood, Stockport, which had had a threat of closure hanging over it for many years, was finally likely to reach the end of the line. And, later in the week, it was duly decided by Stockport Council to confirm the planning permission allowing it to the demolished to make way for a retail development. Over the past three decades the pub had become a much-loved fixture of the Stockport real ale scene, making regular appearances in the Good Beer Guide and winning the local Pub of the Year award in 2007.

It had originally been a rather nondescript Wilson’s pub, taking its name from the long-closed Cheshire Lines route running east to west through Stockport via Tiviot Dale station. It then went through rather questionable incarnations as “Byrons” and “Cheekies”, the latter featuring a sign showing a pair of buttocks covered by a pair of skimpy briefs. However, salvation was at hand in the form of brewer Dave Porter, who converted it into Porter’s Railway as a showcase for his distinctive beers including the potent Porter’s Sunshine.

It rapidly became a local CAMRA favourite and was narrowly pipped to a Pub of the Year award following some rather questionable use of proxy voting. However, it later became a perfect illustration of the principle that, however good a pub, it should never be simply nodded back into the Good Beer Guide under a new licensee unless they have an established track record elsewhere. Fortunately this proved to be a short-lived aberration.

When Dave Porter quit the scene, the brewery became Rossendale and, more recently, after that closed down, the Railway has become an independent free house. It mostly features beers from local breweries such as Pictish, Outstanding and Dunham Massey and, while the range tends towards the paler end of the spectrum, there is always at least one dark beer on the bar.

However, far from being a “beer shrine”, it is more of a cask-centred value pub of a kind that is common in West Yorkshire but much rarer on this side of the Pennines. This is hinted at by the mobility scooter shown on the photo. Prices are very reasonable, with the ordinary-strength beers still well under £3. This gives it much more of the atmosphere of a lively local, with many regular customers including some “characters” and a good interchange of banter. From its location at one end of the town centre I’ve often found it marking the end of a Stockport pub crawl, and indeed this was where my little reopening crawl of last month finished up..

As the article reports, the original planning permission for redevelopment was granted in 2005, and since then the Railway has been operating under an extended stay of execution. Therefore any work done has been strictly on a care and maintenance basis meaning that, while kept clean, nobody would describe it as smart. I’d question whether it was really beyond economic repair, but if it was to be retained for the long term it would certainly need a lot of money spending on it.

Over the years, I’ve often criticised campaigners who seem to want to keep pubs open regardless of their commercial prospects, but it can’t be denied that the Railway is a busy pub and a viable business. There is already no shortage of vacant retail units in Stockport, so it seems risky to replace it with what must be a highly speculative venture. However, given that the new planning permission is really only reiterating what was decided sixteen years ago, and the developer owns the building anyway, the prospects of a reversal of the decision are extremely slim. The current licensee is looking towards retirement, and a pub being saved from the bulldozers is no guarantee of ongoing success anyway.

No firm closing date has yet been set, and the Railway could continue trading for a year or more, but it is worth making sure you pay a visit before it goes. With the imminent closure of the Hope on Wellington Road North, it looks as though Stockport is going to lose two of its more characterful beer-focused pubs in a short space of time. Hopefully the expected reopening of the Crown on Heaton Lane in the Autumn will go some way to redress the balance.

12 comments:

  1. All us CAMRA men drink in the Tap and wouldn't touch this moulding crap hole for real money.
    They allow working class people in and don't have a CAMRA discount.
    Micro pubs, thirds of murk, that's the future.

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  2. A very poor decision by the council that usually like to trumpet their local and inclusive credentials… yet seem to think another retail outlet benefits the area more than a community place like this with a history and a valuable asset. Shame on them. Has someone taken a backhander?

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    1. Given that the developers own the pub, it's a building of little architectural merit in poor condition, and the current licensees are looking to retirement, I really don't see it's worth dying in a ditch over. Having said that, apparently they're not going to go ahead until they have tenants for the replacement building, so it could be a long wait.

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  3. sheffield hatter26 August 2021 at 16:22

    I didn't know that about the Hope. When is that happening?

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    1. The brewery has already closed, and Martin Wood has become Head Brewer at Howard Town. The pub is expected to close later this year. The building has been sold, and I wouldn't hold out a lot of hope (as it were) of it remaining a pub.

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  4. This has been my second most disappointing bit of beer news in the past few weeks.

    The first was seeing that Cookie looks like a cliched 90s shock jock.

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  5. Sorry to hear about this,I have enjoyed my periodic visits over the last 20 or so years. I am pleased to hear that the Crown is re opening.

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  6. Like many other trades, the 'off the beaten track' outlets struggle against big company economic conformity and limited products. You would struggle to find a proper cobblers or a small sale and repair shop for computers. 'Stuff' has been commodified.

    I'd suggest a switch to an 'artisanal' craft beer outlet, but my local micro-brewery has not survived COVID although to fair it was small and in a poor location.

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  7. What's the story with Rossendale? Various Web sites seem to suggest they're still brewing, possibly on a smaller scale.

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    1. According to the Good Beer Guide, they're still going, but at some point disposed of all their pub estate apart from the Griffin in Haslingden.

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  8. Life After Football6 September 2021 at 20:24

    Always a shame when these classic pubs bite the dust…hopefully the regulars will be able to pitch up somewhere else??

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