On Sunday after a weekend visiting the old haunts in Manchester for the weekend (and spending a day watching Jimmy Anderson skittle out South Africa’s batting line up), I took a slow drive along Chapel Street as I made my way back to the motorway. I wanted to see my old employer, the University of Salford as well as the changes to the area that I’d heard about from ex-colleagues. I was taken aback by the raft of identikit housing, the beautified (and frankly much better) ‘shared space’ of the new road layout, and the new cladding on the previously tired looking Salford Crescent Station. But the main draw for me was my old watering hole, the Salford Crescent pub. However, after noticing a small white notice on the window of the pub, I stopped the car to take a closer look. “Closed until further notice”. It was a troubling sign, not least as it meant I couldn’t pop in to have another look around.
But it wasn’t until this news article appeared that I now realise that me peering at that sign was probably the last time I’d see that glorious little pub. If the rumours are to be believed, it faces imminent closure and probable development into luxury housing or some other equally stereotypical gentrified usage.
Public houses are shutting across the country, so why is this one any different? Well, the Crescent isn’t just any pub. It has been a tavern since the 1830s, is a focal point of the community (hosting live music, meetings, and social events), a hub of student activism, and most famously, it is supposedly where Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels met to discuss writing the Communist Manifesto. None of these things class a pub from being exempt from closure of course. But they combine to create a little island of anti-corporate sentiment being besieged by capital flows that are transforming the neighbourhood. Yes, it is a commercial venture that survives by having to sell goods and services, but it’s rich socialist history and its distinct community-orientated present operates within that to offer services that are now, sadly, genuinely unique.
Salford itself is also a city rich in working class history. The squalid conditions that Friedrich Engels encountered within the slums of Manchester and Salford inspired him to write The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844. Since then, the city has been somewhat of a cauldron of working class struggles. It has a proud industrial history, and its politicians were instrumental in national welfare reform in the nineteenth century. It is also home to the Working Class Movement Library, and just last year, the University of Salford unveiled a statue of Engels on their central campus, a simulacrum to a communist history in the heartland of the commercial university. Over the last few years though, as Manchester has grown, it has begun to engulf Salford. The location of MediaCityUK in Salford Quays was a major coup for the city. But it has catalysed the extension of Manchester’s transport links to permeate Salford, blurring the boundaries of the two politically and in the general zeitgeist (speak to laymen and the BBC’s northern base is in Manchester, not Salford). This inevitably leads to the larger city dominating the smaller one, with Salford now struggling to maintain its identity amidst Manchester’s global city ambitions. The development of Chapel Street only serves to blur these boundaries further, turning it into little more than a commuter community for central Manchester.
The imminent closure of this pub then is somewhat of a symbolic watershed moment. The runaway gentrification of Chapel Street, the erosion of Salford’s rich socialist and communist history into a simulacrum, and the loss of a genuine community space in the midst of all this, all combine to make the loss of the Crescent particularly saddening for me. If it does ever open its doors again, I urge everyone to soak up the atmosphere (as much as the carpet soaks up the split ales) one last time, for it really is one of a kind.