Mother Mac's been murdered, but will be reborn.
Murder is something Mother Mac’s is used to.
Mother Mac's is the sort of pub for which gentrification can’t come soon enough
Forty years ago the 29-year-old pub manager, Arthur Bradbury, was given notice to quit so he revenged himself the coward’s way by killing all around him, his 34-year-old wife Maureen, his 6-year-old daughter Alison and his step-sons James and Andrew, aged 11 and 13 respectively. The cleaner walked in on the carnage so he killed her too and then set the pub on fire to hide the evidence, but justice caught up with him and he ended up killing himself too. Six deaths on 18 June, 1976.
Now finally the old pub is to be done up as is the way of boozers in the Northern Quarter. Some will moan some will not, but for the whingers let’s remember Mother Mac's didn’t have shabby chic it was just plain shabby with a terrible selection of drinks and a slightly rancid odour.
I remember being in there with a friend years back having gone to do a food review in Chinatown and then carried on drinking all afternoon. We didn’t think anybody would find us in Mother Mac's. They didn’t, but half way through the first pint a man walked through the door on Back Piccadilly and the whole pub started snarling. “Get out you rapist otherwise we’ll break your neck,” was one of the less expletive laden assaults. “I didn’t do it. It wasn’t me,” said the man, but he hastily retreated all the same. We left shortly after too.
So should we lament the loss of this classic ‘old man’s pub’; this city centre boozer for the downtrodden drinking classes who couldn’t give a stuff for some £5.50 bottle of Yank craft ale, or worse one of those rip-you-off ‘schooners’ from places such as Ply?
I say not. It was grim. We might as well mourn the loss of so many of the city centre pubs in the hilarious and horrifying 1975 Manchester Pub Guide, given to me by the ex-landlady of the Briton’s Protection. As the book makes clear most of the pubs it describes were total crap, male domains for Desperate Dans.
This is a description of the Manchester Arms which stood close to Victoria Station: ‘There are nightly and free stripshows in the second room on the right. Here a series of ladies perform to itinerant Scotsmen, sweaty middle-aged gentlemen and British Rail porters. Those of a somewhat nervous disposition should avoid the first room where mine host appears 90% topless (where does one put ones eyes?). There’s also a fruit machine which has been known to gently smoulder.’
It turns out that about half the pubs featured topless bar maids or stripshows in 1975. Grotesque, when you think about it, like Jimmy Saville’s haircuts, like Jimmy Saville.
Back in 1996 a group of recently qualified tour guides and I decided on a pub crawl around the not-quite-there-yet Northern Quarter. We started at the King’s (now the Northern) at 11am and when we opened the door found the place packed from a still continuing lock-in the night before. Three Irishmen were on the stage singing Danny Boy. As we approached the bar the middle member of the trio fell off the stage, curled up on the floor and fell fast asleep. One of the pissed locals give him a kick to wake him but he just grumbled and went back to sleep.
Worse for wear and hours later in the City pub, or it might have been Gullivers, a fifty-something Glaswegian offered to sell me his wife, who was teetering sideways at 45 degrees, mouth sagging open, blouse mostly undone, grinning like a loon. “You can have her for a fiver. I’ve run out of money and need more drink.”
People get misty-eyed about bad pubs but gentrification can be good. Cities and fashions move on.
For those who know me and for those who have been on my pub tours this may seem an odd sentiment. But what I’m saying is that pubs have to be good to survive and when they are well-run, clean and well-maintained with a good drinks selection then the pub is still the best place to lose some hours.
Give me the Briton’s Protection, the City Arms, the King’s Arms, The Angel, the Marble Arch, the Smithfield Tavern and so many others and I’m happy as that man called Larry. You still can catch in these pubs the laughter down the centuries that seems ingrained in the walls. You also frequently get a good mix of age-groups. But shambolic run down grubby boozers such as Mother Mac's, forget them.
Of course, should the place be cleaned and smartened upon its re-opening, then I’ll be back there. But not until then. Mother Mac's is the sort of pub for which gentrification can’t come soon enough.
But Back Piccadilly wouldn’t want to lose the building, it’s the only structure of note along the whole grubby street. You wouldn’t physically want to lose most pubs. They are landmarks. Thus the demolition of the Smith's in Ancoats and the doomed status of the Ducie in NOMA and the Star and Garter in Mayfield plus the threat over the Abercromby, is to be regretted.
The recent closure of the Old Grapes in Sunlight House is another matter. The site was never a pub until the sixties or seventies anyway and the building it sits within is the landmark in this case, not the pub: although the fact Liz Dawn, Corrie’s Vera Duckworth, owned it for a while was of minor pop-cult significance.
So while we might want to re-work and re-invent purpose-built old pubs we should keep them physically to add character and context to Manchester’s urban scene.