Apart from this, its interior remained pretty much unchanged. In the early 2000s, it saw minor alterations that removed a former off-sales counter and incorporated a lobby area for a disused side entrance into the main vault room, but otherwise left the layout and fittings unchanged. It was an excellent example of a modest traditional pub interior and qualified as a regional entry on CAMRA’s National Inventory.
While mainly a regulars’ pub, it also served visitors to the Castle Street shopping centre and, being located on the main pedestrian route between the station and Stockport County’s Edgeley Park ground, was always busy on match days. It was a classic street-corner local that also welcomed casual trade, and I would always name it as one of my favourite pubs in Stockport. For many years the planning meetings for the Stockport Beer Festival were held in the upstairs room. I wrote about it on my Campaign for Real Pubs blog.
However, over the past couple of months it has been subjected to a thoroughgoing refurbishment by Robinson’s that has pretty much erased its previous character. It has been knocked through into one room, the original bar counters have gone, warm wood tones have been replaced by pastel grey, and the carpet, frosted glass windows and cosy alcoves of bench seating have disappeared. I took a couple of photos of the interior in 2016 which provide a good comparison with how it is now.
How it was:
How it is now:
What we are left with now isn’t a bad pub as such, and it’s undoubtedly more congenial than any of the other five along Castle Street recently visited by Cooking Lager. There’s still some bench seating in what used to be the vault side, although the former lounge side features high stools and bizarre barrel-shaped fixtures that you can’t even get your legs under. There’s also a cosy snug-type room right at the back on the left with more bench seating. But it’s much the same as hundreds of other pubs, and it has lost what previously made it distinctive. Perhaps the only redeeming feature is that the previous unwelcoming grey colour wash on the exterior walls has been replaced with two shades of beige.
Some, such as the Twitter correspondent below, will argue that we need to accept change and move with the times, and that the past cannot be preserved in aspic.
Clearly it isn’t possible or desirable to preserve everything from the past as a museum piece. But, as a prosperous, civilised society, we understand the value of keeping the best buildings from previous eras, hence the existence of the listed buildings register and conservation areas. This provides a link to earlier generations and enhances the present-day environment. Stockport would certainly be the poorer without, say, Underbank Hall and the market hall.
I think they've done a decent job on it myself,some people just can't accept change. it's a refurb,you don't refurbish based on a 1970s model.— James Hardy (@JamesHa78131584) July 26, 2022
We preserve and celebrate many stately homes that were built and furnished by the rich and powerful and were completely divorced from the lives of ordinary people. On a more modest scale, original pub interiors can be regarded as “the people’s stately homes” and undoubtedly have much more resonance for the general population. There are now well under a thousand pubs remaining in the UK with anything resembling their original layout and fittings, and surely they, where possible, deserve to be cherished in just the same way as Bramall Hall and Lyme Park.
Was there any evidence that the previous layout of the Armoury imposed significant extra costs or held back its trading performance? Very often, pub refurbishments seem to be embarked on simply out of a sense of wishing to smarten things up and move with the times rather than any kind of rational cost-benefit analysis. And, as I have remarked before, once the initial surge of interest has subsided, refurbishment often becomes like a drug where you have to keep increasing the dose to get the same effect. The current zeitgeist is very much against the old, quirky and well-worn, but hopefully one day we will return to a time where these qualities are once again seen as desirable in pubs.
Although they still own a number of unspoilt historic pubs, over the years Robinson’s track record on pub alterations has not been a good one. Fifty years ago, they were noted for their unsympathetic “Robinsonisations” including bottle-glass window panes, full-length small-paned glass doors, “Spanish arches” and white Artexed walls. They were responsible for removing high-quality original interiors at the Royal Oak in Stockport town centre and the Woodman in Hazel Grove, both of which have now closed entirely as pubs.
More recently, they severely compromised the interior of the Holly Bush in Bollington, which previously was ranked as being of national importance on the National Inventory. They have also spoilt traditional interiors of lesser rank at the Church House in Congleton and the Grapes in Hazel Grove.
In contrast to this, Robinson’s have recently received a CAMRA award for their conservation work at the Bleeding Wolf at Scholar Green in South Cheshire, which I have yet to visit in its new form. But that seems to be an isolated example. In general, they really cannot be regarded as respectful custodians of their pub estate. And how long will it be before they decide that a pastel-shaded knock-through might help revive the trade of the Blossoms or the Alexandra?