Ten ‘must-see’ J.D. Wetherspoon houses across the Pennines
Tim Martin’s J.D. Wetherspoon’s empire seems to polarise the nation’s drinkers. At one end of the scale, they are seen as a Tesco or McDonalds for beer, threatening traditional public houses. On the other hand, some see the ‘Spoons estate as the best marketplace for cask conditioned ales. The Guardian rated them as “Britain’s canteen”, fulfilling a similar purpose the British Restaurants did after the Second World War.
No Pubco has ever done more for saving Britain’s architectural heritage or democratising the joys of a meal out. The food may be samey for some, but what do you expect for £7.50 for a main meal from Wick to Whitstable? Marco Pierre White saying “enjoy your meal”? Brian Turner popping in to ask if “everything’s all right”?
If you’re on a long journey and fancy a cheaper alternative to Motorway Services, or staying in a hotel with Room Only or no evening meal options, a ‘Spoons is a useful ally. In fact, it is possible to do both thanks to the J.D. Wetherspoon’s hotels, and at Gerrards Cross Motorway Service Area on the M40.
For me, nipping to the local ‘Spoons for a burger has stopped me going to McDonalds or Burger King. Though there’s also the allure of brilliant local burger joints, most of them lack real ale or cider. Some, the cosy booths or the free WiFi.
For this month’s Not So Perfect Ten (which is actually a Feast of the M60 Top Beer Not So Perfect Ten), we take a trans-Pennine trip to ten ‘Spoons houses. I could have been lazy and named a random ten houses. The ones I have listed are among those I’ve frequented myself.
- Llandudno: The Palladium;
- Colwyn Bay: The Picture House;
- Manchester city centre: The Waterhouse;
- Rochdale: The Regal Moon;
- Todmorden: The White Hart;
- Brighouse: The Richard Oastler;
- Huddersfield: The Cherry Tree;
- Hillsborough: The Rawson Spring;
- Sheffield city centre: The Bankers’ Draft;
- Bridlington: Prior John.
Another you will notice, is the ordering of each pub is contrived to allow some serious track bashing. Though alas with Class 158s and Pacer units instead of Whistlers and Heritage DMUs.
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1. Llandudno, The Palladium
For our first Trans-Pennine crawl from ‘Spoons to ‘Spoons, we start off in what I call North Wales’ finest seaside resort. The Palladium was formerly a theatre, and part of the town’s Winter Gardens (now demolished with flats on the site). We see a smart conversion of the theatre to a ‘Spoons with the circle still intact.
Best place to sit: overlooking the circle (at around the same level of the stage).
Thankfully, this ‘Spoons is a short stagger from Llandudno railway station, where we catch Arriva Trains Wales’ service for Manchester Piccadilly. Our next house is only three stops away (two if somebody doesn’t hail the train at Deganwy (which is a request stop)).
2. Colwyn Bay, The Picture House
I am fairly familiar with this ‘Spoons thanks to The Mighty Stalybridge Celtic and a number of trips to Llanellan Road [Colwyn Bay F.C]. Whereas the Llandudno counterpart is spacious, the Colwyn Bay one is intimate. It was originally the Princess Picture House on opening in 1914. When I went to the North Wales resort in 1988, it was a bingo hall.
Best place to sit: the balcony overlooking the bar. During quiet times, you could order your meal and drink from your table: it is only six feet away from the bar!
An hour on from the previous journey, we board the Arriva Trains Wales service all the way to Manchester Oxford Road, its penultimate stop. The walk to our next ‘Spoons is only 10 minutes, along Oxford Street till you see St. Peter’s Square where we turn right.
3. Manchester city centre, The Waterhouse
Manchester city centre has one of the largest ‘Spoons in its estate. Before Cambridge’s opened, The Moon Under the Water on Deansgate (the former ABC cinema) was its largest. This record has since been broken by the Velvet Coaster in Blackpool. The one we are plumping for is one of Manchester’s most intimate ‘Spoons, and my favourite one in ‘Town’.
The Water House is so called because it used to be home to the city’s Water Board (before Manchester Corporation). It also refers to the architect of Manchester’s adjacent Town Hall, Alfred Waterhouse. Before the smoking ban was introduced, it was the first ‘Spoons in Greater Manchester to go 100% No Smoking. (Which is what used to sway me to this one when I worked in Manchester in 2003 to 2009 before the ban).
Best place to sit: the greatest thing about The Waterhouse is its multi-roomed nature. I would go for the second room to your right as you enter the second door off Princess Street (the one nearest to Fountain Street and the trams).
From this ‘Spoons, we could walk to Manchester Victoria and get the train or tram for our next one. This entails the fast Northern Rail service to Rochdale (and a change of mode to tram, foot or bus to the town centre), or the long way around via tram, straight to Rochdale Interchange.
4. Rochdale, The Regal Moon
Sorry folks, it’s another cinema conversion, but one of my favourite ones in Greater Manchester. The main strengths lie in its spaciousness and Art Deco interior style. Of our ten ‘Spoons houses, it has the best bus and tram connections being a short stagger towards Rochdale Interchange.
The Regal Moon takes the first part of its name from the 1930s cinema [The Regal]. This, by the 1950s, became the ABC. In the mid-1970s, its single screen was subdivided to smaller screens and remained open as a cinema till 1998 (the ABC relocated to a multiplex on Sandbrook Way, off the A627(M) motorway). Among its distinctive features is a cinema organ being placed over the bar.
Best place to sit: the front part of the pub, where the lobby and rear stalls used to be, is a good spot for people watching. The raised platform at the rear is best for shoppers being close to The Butts and Rochdale Shopping Centre.
From Rochdale, we could take the slow way or the messy faster way for our next pub. The latter requires a change of mode, so the 589 or 590 buses to our next one is a better option.
5. Todmorden, The White Hart
Our fifth one… had always been a pub. Before becoming a Wetherspoons, The White Hart was an unloved Tetley house below the railway station. Its tiled floor may have been lost on its regulars. Though its licence dates from 1728, the present building dates from 1935.
Its Art Deco splendour and cosiness makes for a great ‘Spoons Between Buses Option. (It is near bus and rail stations) Plush furnishings in the room nearest to the town centre offer a good view of the bar. A great pub to call in for a Sunday morning breakfast.
Best place to sit: opposite the bar on bench seats backing onto wall.
For our next ‘Spoons, we break the cardinal sin of Climbing Up A Hill From A Pub After A Pint And/Or Breakfast should we take the Northern Rail service to our next one. Failing that, we could board go to the bus station (or the stop outside Todmorden Hippodrome) for the 590 or 592 and change at Halifax for the 547 or 571.
6. Brighouse, The Richard Oastler
‘Spoons Number Six on our trek was formerly a market hall and a chapel in its previous guises. Richard Oastler, whom the pub is named after was a social reformer who campaigned against excessive working in the 19th Century. His home was Fixby Hall, a short distance between Huddersfield and Brighouse.
Its booths are underneath a balcony. Though not in use, they were in use during its guise as a chapel. The bar is situated at the end nearest to the road for Bradford and Huddersfield. Though this ‘Spoons always has a good range of real ales and ciders, you may wish to call in The Old Ship Inn, a few yards on from the Richard Oastler. (Which is another fantastic pub in Briggus).
Best place to sit: anywhere in the centre of the pub, though not too far from the bar.
The journey for our next one is more straightforward. Either a train (once hourly) or several buses to choose from (by far the best option with the X6, X63, 363, and the 547 at your disposal).
7. Huddersfield, The Cherry Tree
I seldom champion the more modern ‘Spoons houses interior wise, but I take exception to this one neatly placed for buses and trains. The service I find at this one is most friendly, with a good range of real ales and ciders. It is so-called after a previous long closed pub on Cherry Tree Corner.
The Cherry Tree occupies a former showroom unit at ground floor and basement level. Above it was formerly the Huddersfield office of Pearl Assurance. Its layout may be a little tricky to negotiate for ‘Spoons noobs but, once you have fathomed it out, you can negotiate any nook and cranny of the ‘Spoons empire. (Such as why you’re nearly in Odsal if you want to go for a piddle in the previous pub we’ve mentioned).
Best place to sit: the tight booths at the back of the pub at ground floor level. Like sitting in a wardrobe but surprisingly roomy. Also, anywhere nearest the entrance if you need to get a Transpennine Express to Piccadilly.
The journey to our next leg is trickier but, hey, you have the joys of the Penistone Line to Sheffield (highly recommended). From Sheffield railway station, we can take the Middlewood tram for our next pub, or walk to Pond Street Bus Station for the 53 service.
8. Hillsborough, The Rawson Spring
We have seen snooker halls, supermarkets, a lot of cinemas, and pubs become ‘Spoons houses. Hillsborough’s Wetherspoons was a former swimming pool. The name Rawson Spring refers to the farm, and the water source which supplied its nearby barracks with drinking water.
Today, the drinking water you are likely to find is a still Strathmore, though many of you may prefer Kelham Island Brewery’s offering which appears on the pumps now and again. The former swimming baths’ gabled roof makes for an airy ambience. Some of the balconies, once used for slipper baths or changing in have been retained.
It is also handy for the Owlerton Stadium, for its dog track and oval racing action. (Take a tip from me: go for the oval racing option, especially where 3 litre bangers may be concerned).
Best place to sit: in the middle of the pub itself (towards the former shallow end).
We can return to the centre of Sheffield for our penultimate ‘Spoons, either a tram or bus ride away.
9. Sheffield, The Banker’s Draft
On the tram, we pass one of a number of ‘Spoons houses pencilled in for sale (The Swim Inn on Norfolk Road). Our penultimate one is neatly placed for Waingate, Fargate and the City Hall. Before they closed the glorious modernist Castle and Sheaf Market Halls, it was great for these places off Haymarket.
The Bankers’ Draft was (no prizes for guessing its previous use) a former banking hall. Before its conversion, it used to the Midland Bank’s central branch for Sheffield city centre. It opened as The York and County Bank in 1904, then taken over by the Midland Bank in 1918. It is a spacious house, where the beer garden is deceptively rural. On entering from Castle Square, it is quite a contrast to the concrete of its shopping area, and the rumble of trams.
Best place to sit: anywhere nearest to the beer garden.
For our final pub, we could be lazy enough to catch the tram to Sheffield railway station or Meadowhall. From any of the two stations, we can change for Northern Rail’s service to Bridlington. Enough time to sober up? Perhaps.
10. Bridlington, The Prior John
Well, there we have it. The end of our Trans-Pennine ‘Spoons Trek. Which, if your Sheffield train was unfortunate enough to be a Pacer unit instead of the usual Class 158, calls for a well deserved drink. Our last one is quite a distance from the station. If you walk along Quay Road and Prospect Road, you should be able to find it well enough.
The Prior John is unusual in being a purpose built ‘Spoons. Though it could have the glass box/Motorway Services effect, it doesn’t. It feels like a modernist version of your local boozer, with Curry, Sunday and Steak Clubs. And Sixpoint cans. The Prior John takes its name from John de Tweng, former prior of the Medieval monastery in Bridlington.
Being near to the town centre, it is a lively pub, handy for walk-around shops, the Boyes Department Store, and its bijou bus station at the back of its shopping centre. A good one to call in after spending the part of your days trawling from shop to shop.
Best place to sit: stood beside the bar or sat down near the main entrance (great for people watching).
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‘Spoons Trekkin’ Across the Universe…
Feel free to elaborate on any of our ten J.D. Wetherspoon houses. Why not add a few others to the trail for a future Trans-Pennine ‘Spoons Trek, or suggest other seating positions.
Before I go, the Doom Bar Pie with Chips and Peas is a good all-round option with anything to drink from filter coffee to Brewdog’s Punk IPA. Mine’s a pint of anything esoteric.
S.V., 11 November 2015.