Of all the sad changes that modern has brought, and there are many to offset the good, one of the saddest is the passing of the traditional public house.
It isn’t so long ago that there was a pub on every street corner and several in between. They were as much a part of the social fabric of the country as the church or the factory, and all they had to do was serve beer, provide a dart board, a pack of cards for entertainment and a packet of crisps for the hungry.
It was where men would gather in the tap room to slake their thirst after a hard day’s work and where they would be joined by wives, girlfriends, mums, dads and uncles for a Saturday night out in the best room with port and lemon added to the tariff, and exotic drinks like Snowballs, Babycham and Cherry B.
But all that was a long time ago. There are still one or two watering holes that look like the ones I remember, but most have fallen by the wayside, put out of business by social changes, cheap supermarket deals on alcohol for home consumption and too many competing entertainments.
All this was brought to mind by this article from Manchester Online which features photos from Manchester City Library of old images of pubs past and present from the area. The one above is of The Swan With Two Necks that used to be nextdoor to the Withy Grove Print Works which used to churn out copies of the Daily Mirror, the Evening Chronicle and the Sporting Life.
I used to work not too far away in the 1970s so used to go there on the odd lunch hour, it being fairly newly rebuilt on the site of the original pub on the left.
The thing is, I never really questioned why a pub in the middle of Manchester should be called The Swan With Two Necks. At best, I guessed it must have been some sort of mythical beast – a swan with two heads.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. The name actually owes its origin to the business of Swan Upping and the Worshipful Company of Vinters. Back in the day when swans were privileged game and property of the monarch, there was an annual census of all mute swans to make sure no-one was having it away with the king and queens dinner.
Then in the 16th century, in an unusual fit of generosity, Elizabeth I decided she would share the fishy-tasting fowl with the above mentioned Worshipful Company of Vinters. The problem was how to tell which swans belonged to HRH and which to her loyal livery company.
The solution was to mark the swans belonging to the vintners with two nicks in their beaks. The words nick and neck were pretty much interchangeable at the time and the wily vintners quickly realised that naming their pubs The Swan With Two Necks was a clever way of showing off their royal patronage.
The rest, as they say, is history, just as the traditional pub is being consigned to being no more than glorified eateries and ‘tremendous business opportunities’.