The history of Manchester is a rich and complex one. This becomes even more apparent when we take a look at the names of some of its best known public houses. Many a patron has sat supping on ale in these fantastically named bars without giving a second thought as to how they acquired their unusual monikers. What on earth is a Peveril? Just what is so special about The Moon Under Water? Fear not, for the answers shall come in this definitive list of uniquely-named drinking houses in the Greater Manchester area.
The Peveril of the Peak
Situated on an island of land between Chepstow Street and Bridgewater Street, this unusually lurid pub has an even more unusual name. Dating back to the early 19th Century, The Peveril of the Peak is said to have been named after the Manchester to London horse-drawn stagecoach of the same name, while scholars will argue that the pub is named after a story by Sir Walter Scott. We can only assume that the pub was named after the stagecoach, which is in itself a reference to Scott’s 1823 novel.
For those of you left wondering what a peveril is in the first place, it refers to Peveril Castle in Derbyshire.
The Lass O'Gowrie
Who is this Lass and why does she have a pub named after her? Well, in keeping with our thus far literary theme, the eponymous 'Lass' has an entire poem dedicated to her. You could be forgiven for thinking that The Lass O’Gowrie is an Irish bar, but it is in fact Scottish in origin. The pub’s original landlord is said to have been a homesick Scotsman who named the pub in honour of his favourite poem - 'The Lass O'Gowrie' written by notable Scottish poet, Lady Carolina Nairne. The Lass in question does not have the surname O’Gowrie, but is known as the Lass of Gowrie (an ancient province of Scotland). An inscription of the poem can be found on the pub’s exterior wall.
Spud you believe it? Located near Manchester’s Potato Wharf, the Oxnoble is appropriately named after a variety of Georgian potato. The potato itself has been historically described as “large, yellow without and within, very prolific, not fit to eat.” A spectacular name... if that’s what you’re into.
Quite the opposite of the Northern Quarter’s Dry Bar, Rain Bar prides itself on Manchester’s notorious gloomy weather. Describing itself on the website as ‘unashamedly Mancunian’, Rain Bar embraces the one thing that is constant in Manchester – its drizzle. But there is more to this story than at first meets the eye. Maps dating back to the 1880s contain evidence that Rain Bar was once an umbrella factory - the name couldn't be any more appropriate.
The Moon Under Water
This peculiar-sounding appellation is not actually as rare as you might expect. Wetherspoons alone have 15 different outlets by this name, the largest of which is the former Deansgate Picture House. The pub is the largest in Britain, with a 1,700 person capacity spanning 8,800 square feet. But how did it come to be named? The Moon Under Water is the title of a 1946 essay by George Orwell in which he describes his ideal pub. A far cry from the student mecca we know today, Orwell stipulates that “the architecture and fittings must be uncompromisingly Victorian… The pub is quiet enough to talk, with the house possessing neither a radio nor a piano… It sells tobacco and cigarettes, aspirins and stamps, and lets you use the phone… They are very particular about their drinking vessels at The Moon Under Water and never, for example, make the mistake of serving a pint of beer in a handleless glass.”
Because that would be outrageous, surely.
This popular post-gig drinking establishment will be familiar to anyone who has ever attended a show at the Academy. Blending in nicely with its musical surroundings, Big Hands is a reference to the lyrics of ‘Blister in the Sun’, by American alternative band Violent Femmes: “big hands I know you’re the one”.
The Lower Turk’s Head
What’s so wrong with the upper part of a Turk’s Head, or the plain old Turk’s Head in general? This distinctive watering hole finds itself connected to the also unusually-named ‘Scuttlers’ wine bar. The Turk’s Head is a traditional pub name that refers to ancient conflicts, Crusader and otherwise, with Turks and Saracens. This 1765 alehouse is dubbed 'Lower' because there was once another Turk’s Head higher along Shudehill. This may not be quite the revelation expected but answers a question that has been undoubtedly burning inside patrons for centuries.
If you've been to New York, particularly Manhattan, you will be familiar with the northern boundary of Tribeca which sits neatly beside China Town, and just below Canal Street (Tribeca stands for Triangle Below Canal – how novel). Just a block away from Manchester’s very own Canal Street and a stone’s throw from Chinatown stands our copycat Tribeca lounge bar. There is definite logic to this name – even if you do need a PhD to work it out.
How can a tiny little place like this be likened to a majestic temple? Its original name was ‘The Temple of Convenience’, which is quite fitting when you discover that this subterranean Oxford Street bar is actually a renovated public toilet.
The name given to the Wetherspoons on Princess Street may not seem so unusual at first. A ‘waterhouse’ is surely the ideal place to go if you are thirsty. The name is in fact taken from prominent architect, Alfred Waterhouse who designed the town hall across the road. Nothing out of the ordinary there, but once you take into account the fact that Waterhouse was a Quaker and a teetotaller, notorious for denouncing alcohol, the name seems a very unusual choice. Poor old Waterhouse is sure to be turning in his grave with every pint poured in his memory.
The Old Thirteenth Cheshire Astley Volunteer Rifleman Corps Inn
This Stalybridge tongue-twister of a tavern is in the Guinness Book of Records for having the longest pub name in Britain. The story as to how the pub got its name is almost as long-winded as the title itself. Let’s just say that the Rifleman (as it's more commonly known) has changed hands so many times that everybody wanted a piece of the action.
This Bolton pub dates back to the early 17th century and is believed to have taken its name from a local blacksmith and drunkard who spent more time in his local tavern than he did at work. So much so that local residents suggested they change the name of the local tavern to acknowledge and celebrate Bob's boozy antics.
So there you have it - a history of Greater Manchester through a medium we all love; pubs. Be sure to astonish your friends with your new found knowledge the next time you pop in for a swift pint. Are there any that didn’t make this list? Be sure to share any other baffling pub names in the comments section below.
See Time Out's guide to Manchester's best pubs.
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