Jonathan Schofield celebrates the survival of 'The Temple of Doom' through an enlightened attitude to development
Like many a Victorian building the Star & Garter pub gets better the longer you look at it. You start to get the detail and massing amongst the complexity. Not that most customers give two hoots about that.
The Star & Garter is an institution for indie and rock in the city and the region. A bit sticky and sweaty on good nights, but magnificent. When government, local government and other organisations talk about creating 'incubators' for start-ups they’ve probably never delivered anything as productive as the Star & Garter. So many bands have enjoyed early nights in their musical careers here.
The impact and importance of small independent venues to our cities can’t be over-estimated
Andy Martin, the tenant, has run the Star & Garter as a music venue for more than 20 years. During his time it's gained fame for the monthly ‘Morrissey Smiths Disco’ but also for the hundreds of bands who have played at the site. Martin can rattle off a list, including The Courteeners, Dougie Poynter, Half Man Half Biscuit, Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes, UK Subs Subhumans, Bring Me The Horizon, Al Perkins, Corrosion of Conformity, Chuck Mosley and Arnocorps.
There have been rumours and concerns over the future of the venue for many years. The Star & Garter was last man standing as all around it closed. It looked odds-on that the handsome building would be bull-dozed and apartments rise over its corpse.
Those worries can now be laid to rest. Mayfield Partnership, the public-private organisation, has bought the freehold of the premises. This is excellent news as now the handsome building will continue to give historical context to the area around. What’s equally good news is the partnership is ‘committed to ensure the Star & Garter remains a thriving part Manchester’s world famous music scene.’
Andy Martin comes with the deal and has signed a ten-year lease. Rock-on.
There’ll be more money too. A statement says: ‘The Mayfield Development Partnership, which comprises regeneration specialist U+I, Manchester City Council, Transport for Greater Manchester and LCR, has also committed to help support the creative programme for the venue, as well as providing additional facilities when required for larger touring acts.’
As city centres develop, the edge environment changes, those ragged bits where venues thrive in old buildings on low rents. Two years ago, UK Music, an industry agency, reckoned a third of such venues had closed in the last decade. The Star & Garter will now buck the trend.
Indeed, the area, with the joint venture between the Mayfield Partnership and Broadwick Live at the adjacent 1910 railway station, titled Depot Mayfield, has become a centre of contemporary musical excitement and vigour. The recent Warehouse Project nights have dramatically proved the point.
The development company behind the changes taking place in the area is U+I. This company has an enlightened view of how to make coherent new places that defer to the history and context of particular cities.
Richard Upton, Chief Development Officer at U+I, has said: “Culture, community and heritage are incredibly important to U+I and are central to our thoughtful and creative approach to regeneration. As neighbours for the past three years we have sought to be a supportive friend to the Star & Garter. As its owner, we can give this wonderful place the investment it deserves and we look forward to working with Andy to ensure its future remains at the heart of Manchester’s live music scene. The impact and importance of small independent venues to our cities can’t be over-estimated."
That strikes exactly the right tone, while the relief from Andy Martin is palpable.
He said: “After almost 30 years of repeated false promises about the potential redevelopment of Mayfield, I’m relieved and more than satisfied that the Star & Garter, the venue described as the ‘Municipal Fortress of Vengeance’, or ‘The Temple of Doom’ and name checked in two Courteeners songs, is in safe hands and not destined to suffer the same fate as at least three other music venues in Manchester.
“The plans for Mayfield are incredible and long overdue. It’s the most exciting time for this part of the city that I can remember since the Commonwealth Games. Mayfield, London Road Fire Station and the plans by Manchester University to develop its campus means that, over the next 10 years, the Piccadilly/ Mayfield area will become the most improved and talked about place in Manchester city centre.”
Star & Garter, architecture and history
The original Star & Garter pub arrived with the growth of urban Manchester into open fields here more than 200 years ago. The area was called Bank Top and lay next to Mayfield. That first pub wasn't on the present site but a few metres west, on Baring Street, which was originally called Boardman Street.
The first mention of the pub comes from the London Observer in 1812 concerning a hearing of bankruptcy against T Gaskell, Liverpool rag merchant. That hints at the many future uses of the Star & Garter especially as an auction house for buildings, fixtures and fittings, horses and even of itself in 1847, lock, stock and barrel - see the picture below.
By 1877 a new and grander pub had been built on a new site. Fairfield Street had become a key city artery and thus there was money to be made by relocation. That new building is the present Star & Garter. It opened the same year as Manchester Town Hall and now, like the latter, is to be refurbished - without closing for five years one hopes.
The architect is unknown; could it be Alfred Darbyshire, the man behind the Marble Arch on Rochdale Road? It's certainly a pub of distinction on the outside, built to impress. The style is known as Queen Anne which meant the architect could do what he wanted with the massing and the decoration, making the pub all gables, cornices and decorative chimneys. Decoration includes sunflowers and polychromatic (different colouring) effects. It all adds up to a big advertisement, saying, look at me, I'm grand, grab yourself a drink.
High up on one side are the letters CJ or JC. Who does this refer to? Chesters Brewery was based down the road in Ardwick. There's record of the Star & Garter being a Chesters' house in 1888, it seems likely that they bought the licence and relocated the pub. The main man was a Thomas Chesters. Was there a James Chesters, a brother maybe? Or perhaps it's JC and it refers in a time travel twist to a partnership between Jimmy Carter, Julius Caesar and Jeremy Corbyn with the latter the junior partner because he never achieved power, or looked like doing so.
With its proximity to two large railway stations, the Star & Garter became a popular hangout for rail staff. From 1970 to 1986 the adjacent Mayfield Station became a parcels depot. Peter from Chorlton, who worked there, once told me: "Mayfield was the north west penal colony of British Rail, it's where they hid people who couldn’t help being rude to customers. I was transferred there, but the busiest place, wasn’t the depot itself, but the Star & Garter. We all took very long lunches. I don't know how parcels ended up where they should have, given the amount of beer we put away."
Andy Martin's tenure of the pub and its conversion to a music venue is a continuation of the lively story of this impressive public house and its 200 year plus licence. Long may it continue.
Star & Garter is the 218th most popular pub name in the UK with 21 boozers with the same title - according to pubsgalore.co.uk. Landlords were traditionally conservative in outlook and loyal to the Crown, hence so many pub names with royal affiliation. The Star & Garter is no exception, referring to the Order of the Garter, the highest measure of English chivalry created by Edward III going on 700 years ago. The honour is still awarded and is still going strong. Just like the 200-year-old Star & Garter on Fairfield Street in Manchester.