In Haunt

Serving up beer and spirits (both community kind and the alcohol kind!) in the vaults of a former bank and even within an old public institute at the heart of Manchester’s characterful suburb of Withington: it’s The Lock Inn.

 The Lock Inn

Forged by four local friends - Ed Wellard, Casey Longden, Mark Brennan and Neil Woodward – The Lock Inn brings a pop-up pub experience to various Withington venues that aren’t always open to the public. This is a way of celebrating the history of the suburb and its mysterious spaces, actively involving the community and featuring plenty of local products too.  

According to Ed Wellard:

“The Lock Inn came about for a number of reasons. We love Withington and its vibrant diverse community and love the Manchester beer scene. We liked idea of bringing the two things together, and bringing a bit of life to the village. We wanted people to have an excuse to get together and have some fun. Everyone's welcome. Good beer, good people, good times. We've been really lucky with the support we've had from people and with getting access to interesting local venues that would otherwise be sitting empty. We have a strict rule of it being beer/cider/gin/pop produced by local independents. It seems to work for people.”

They’ve previously brought a bustling crowd to the former NatWest Bank vaults on Wilmslow Road – an impressive Grade II listed building designed by the architects Mills and Murgatroyd in 1869, though lying empty for a number of years. It was first in 2018 that the group behind The Lock Inn decided to use the space - partnering up with Lizzy, co-owner of Withington’s ‘A Curious Collection’, to put on an event as part of the Withington Christmas Lights switch-on 2018.

The Lock Inn

This first event proved so popular that The Lock Inn went on to use the building again for an even bigger pop-up occasion in March 2019. This featured local brewers and traders, with Burton Road Brewing Co, Blackjack Beers, Shindigger and Pomona Island Brew Co products (just to name a few) for sale, as well food from Withington’s very own Boho Utopia. Highlighting the initiative to celebrate local creativity wherever possible, this brought a communal feel to an otherwise abandoned building – and even included a DJ.

However, the pop-up potential in the NatWest Bank had to come to an end, considering that the venue sold at auction in the same month – bought for just over £1 million, double the guide price. This perhaps underlines the growing interest in Withington itself; an area attracting communities of all kinds, especially considering its situation between the bustling student heartland of Fallowfield and the leafy suburb of Didsbury.

Withington is layered in a fascinating history– as is obvious in the impressive patchwork of buildings that make up the area: from ample detached Victorian homes to characterful red brick terraces. It also has a number of iconic features including the 17th century Red Lion pub (where the Court Leet used to meet), the Albert Park conservation area which includes the Grade II listed former Withington Town Hall and Withington Library (designed by Henry Price). There’s also Hough End Hall (1596) and a piece of local heritage on Copson Street in the form of The Water Trough (1876) – where horses may well have drank in the days of horse and cart - inscribed with a passage from the Old Testament. The Christie Hospital is also a notable feature in the area, founded in 1892 – though coming to Withington in 1932 - now one of the biggest cancer treatment centres of its kind in the whole of Europe. Withington certainly holds a history of innovation as well as intrigue.

The Lock Inn Sign

First recorded in 1186, it is thought that the name of the suburb derives from ‘Withy', a possible reference to willow branches. After all, it was a rather rural area occupied by farmsteads for many years, with the Industrial Revolution then seeing a spring of urban growth. Withington became recognised as a place of linkages – a key area in a busy transport network – and also has been a place of other industry too: home to the original Factory Records offices in the 1980s (set up in the home of Alan Erasmus on Palatine Road).

But what about contemporary Withington? It has seen a number of interesting independent and alternative businesses in recent years – with Fuel Café bar on Wilmslow Road being a much-loved music venue and vegetarian eatery many may recognise. There’s also another veggie-friendly café in the form of Boho Utopia and innovative vegan desserts parlour Ice Shack just around the corner. Behind the main road, next to the Post Office, the atmospherically named Wilderness Record Store offers an exciting cultural haven too (and has even seen instore gigs and DJ sets, including a session from Dave Haslam!) and the wider area is an array of small traders including greengrocers, cafes, charity shops and pubs.

Recently HAUNT Manchester went to explore the atmospheric red brick Withington Baths (article here) – an Edwardian (foundation stone dated 11 November 1911) pool building bustling with Art Nouveau features, stories, and the site of exciting renovation; including a plush new co-working space in the historic flat of the former baths’ manager. The swimming pool itself is still in full operation too! It is the local community after all which fought to save this building, forming Love Withington Baths when it came under threat of closure in the early 2010s – and now people can not only swim there, but enjoy a range of gym and leisure facilities.

So it is perhaps little wonder why The Lock Inn enjoys celebrating what is such a diverse district– and a pop-up format allows for innovative uses of space each time. Another venue they have used is the Withington Public Hall Institute (WPHI) on Burton Road (pictured below); a cosy old members club that has been otherwise closed for a while.  This location has a notably different feel to the former NatWest Bank: smaller and more intimate – allowing for The Lock Inn to create two cosy evenings of local drinking in both April and June of this year.

WPHI The Lock Inn

And that’s not all, according to Ed Wellard:

“The 4th and 5th October will be our 3rd (and probably last?) in the WPHI. We're involved with We Are Withington and it's nice that it coincides with their Withington By Night event on the Friday. On Saturday the 5th October (from 4pm) we’ll be back again as part of Indy Man Beer City too. We have some amazing beers lined up as part of that."

We Are Withington certainly deserves recognition after all, an initiative seeking to organise a range of events celebrating the suburb and its vibrant community. It is behind Withington By Night on Friday 4th October (from 5pm onwards) – which will include street traders and local traders opening late with special events (Curious Collection, Solomons, Fuse, Toast, Wilderness and Mockingbirds just to name a few) and The Lock Inn will be returning to the WPHI as part of this. There will be music and live street art too, and hopefully some money raised for the Withington Walls street art project, to add to the mural of Factory Record’s designer Peter Saville by AkseP19 that it organised.

Ed added:

“We're using the little snug AND the main snooker hall (pictured below) now, in the WPHI, having cleaned it up and upholstered the seating. It's a great space, and we’ll have food and music too. We also have a few ideas in pipeline for future events/venues. We'll have to wait and see what sticks.”

 The Lock Inn WPHI

Here HAUNT Manchester spoke to Ed to find out more:

Hello Ed. How did The Lock Inn concept come about and who are the team behind it? 

“The Lock Inn know each other from our kids being classmates at the local primary school, St Paul's.

“We play football and then have a pint in The Vic (The Victoria) on a Monday night. It's a great pub. A proper local. We're lucky to have it. The Lock Inn came about from some idle chat on one of those Monday nights; Neil had this idea it'd be fun to make use of the empty bank over the road. This beautiful old building in the middle of the village was empty and crying out to be used for something. Anything.

“Then that idea just came together when Lizzy from Curious Collection put on her Christmas vintage and art market in the bank on the night of the Christmas lights switch on last year.

“Neil was the real instigator. He spoke to Lizzy about us sharing the space, and pulled loads of other people in to help, and it went from there. We built a bar with some timber Mark had from an exhibition he'd done, borrowed some kit and that was that. A funny little pub in the vault of the bank, behind one of those enormous safe doors, which inspired Neil to come up with the Lock Inn name and logo.

“That was a real success and we got a taste for more. A kind of core team of four of me, Casey, Mark and Neil decided to do something more expansive and we did a crazy night in the main banking hall with hundreds and hundreds of people in March.

“We flew by a bit close to the wind that night because we were so overwhelmed by the response and were lucky to have the support of lots of people, not least the owners Step Places and The Vic over the road, but it was great bringing some of Manchester's brilliant craft beer out to the suburbs and great seeing all kinds of people of different ages and backgrounds coming together and enjoying themselves. Pictured below: from left to right -  Ed, Neil, Case, Mark

Left To Right  Ed Neil Case Mark

“We've done two more events since in the WPHI which is kinda the best of both worlds because there's the cosy little wood panelled snug and then the bigger snooker hall too. We've learnt a lot and got better and better and what we're doing and are working with more and more local suppliers to get some really great drinks.”

Why Withington? And what have you learned about the history of the places behind the pop-ups?

“Purely and simply it's because its where we live and we want to foster that sense of pride and community here.

“As you can imagine the bank was a really interesting building especially out the back and downstairs. I'm sure the owners will turn it into something really special.

“Then, the WPHI  is certainly a piece of hidden heritage. I'd gone past it a thousand times wondering what on earth it was until we managed to get hold of the keys, once it had closed down, through Dave Payne who knows the owner. 

WPHI Snooker Hall

“It's amazing being in there and thinking how much has gone on in there. The full back story about how it was gifted to the community way back when by Lord Egerton, and more recently its time as a drinking den and then a snooker club is fascinating. It’s been sad hearing from people who were regulars about its slow demise; ageing clientele passing away, membership getting low etc.

The Lock Inn “Cleaning the place out was funny. Loads of interesting curios.  It must've been a big part of lots of people’s lives. I was really struck by how each of the snooker cues that had been left behind had a story. To a greater or lesser extent they would have each been prized possessions, eh? What's happened to their owners? Where are they now?”

 Why a pop-up rather than a permanent site?

“The pop-up element just gives us flexibility and makes it fun and interesting.

“It's a nice project knocking these buildings into shape too. That sense of creating something and making the most of something quickly and economically is certainly attractive to me, at least.”

What has been the biggest challenge so far? And the most rewarding thing? 

“The biggest challenge is probably that we've all got busy lives and families and whilst we're all involved in arts/design/construction/community as our 'day jobs' and share a wealth of experience of being in hospitality and running events and pubs etc, we're all doing the Lock Inn in our spare time. People wouldn't believe the amount of time and energy that goes into putting them on or how much work the venues need before we use them. I’m sure it drives our wives mad.

“We're deadly serious about making each pop up as good as it possibly can be. It can be stressful but mostly it's a lot of fun it's all worth it when they come off. It's like that feeling when you throw a good party.

“More than anything it's lovely being part of something that brings people together to achieve something positive. It's really heartening having people be so helpful. It's not just down to the four of us. The suppliers are great and there’s all the Daves, Tim, Paul, Clocky, Rick and Spence amongst many others. Loads of other people make it happen.”

The Lock Inn

Any exciting plans for the future? 

“We've got loads of fun ideas for future 'Lock Inns'. Who knows, maybe we'll get a permanent residence if the right venue comes along, but in the meantime we'll keep popping up here and there.”

Stay updated with The Lock Inn on social media - @lockinnwithy on Twitter, and is also on Facebook and Instagram.

By Emily Oldfield

Featured image (top) with thanks to Grant Archer. Photos provided with thanks also to Ed Wellard and The Lock Inn.

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