Brown Cow – Ancoats

Corner of Butler Street and Woodward Street Ancoats.

How now Brown Cow?

No Brown Cow now.

Tanning studio, former organic goods store and one stop shop now.

I came in search of unclad flats and left with the inkling that this building must have been a former pub.

A little online research confirmed my suspicions, there had in fact been two Brown Cows.

The former licensed in the 1820s to the John Taylor & Co Pollard Street Brewery until Walker & Homfray took the firm over in 1929, who in turn merged with Wilson’s in 1949.

Serving the emergent industrial city and its citizens in an area dense with 19th Century housing and industry.

The Pubs of Manchester blog details the pub’s somewhat chequered history.

Mick Burke remembers the Brown Cow being frequented by the then notorious Whizz Gang from the Woodward Street area.  These were a gang of local criminals going by names such as Flinka – Alf Flynn – tobacco and cigarettes man and Reynolds – Alfie Lacy a safe-breaker.  One Sunday night in the 1930s the Whizz Gang did over a Post Office on Ordsall Lane and nicked the safe.  Despite a huge police search it was never found, and rumour was that it had been dumped in the canal at Ten Acres Lane in Newton Heath.  The robbery was the downfall of the Whizz Gang as they were caught selling stolen stamps in the Brown Cow.

John Logan has a very different tale to tell:

I got back to Manchester and in the meantime my family had moved. Two and a half years out there and they’d moved. They sent me a message saying our new address is The Brown Cow Hotel, Butler Street, Ancoats.

They’d moved into a pub.

So I go out looking for it, hammock on one arm and kitbag on the other, and I see this copper stopped at the traffic lights. I ask if he can tell me where the Brown Cow is. Goodness gracious he says, I was going there later. This is half ten at night, you see, when it would’ve been closed.

So he takes me to it and he says: this is what you do after time, he knocks on the window. The door opens a bit, I’ve got someone to see you Kitty he says. The door opens fully and there they are, my family.

You usually get a fortnight of leave but I had two months. You can imagine what a time I had.

The area was part of the Manchester post-war slum clearance scheme during the 1960s and rebuilt as a mix of low and high rise homes.

But beginning with a brand new pub – Wilson’s Brown Cow.

Archive photographs Local Image Collection.

Alan Winfield recalls:

A very grim looking estate pub in an equally grim area of Ancoats, the pub had the usual two room layout with a basic bar and a lounge, I had a drink in the bar which had a boisterous atmosphere. This was a Wilsons tied house with one real ale on, this was Wilsons Bitter which was a decent drink.

As I wandered around Woodward Street snapping, I was stopped by a local resident, fifty years or so living next door to the pub.

It was a mint boozer.

As a lad I would fall asleep listening to the sound of the turns in the pub.

The Brown Cow is now no more.

Much of the 60’s redevelopment has been swept away, Ancoats the hippest place on the planet is on the move close by. Estate pubs, it seems have yet to designated as hip, so the Brown Cow along with countless others moos no more.

Little details have been retained – the delightful balcony rail, concrete window frames and angular porch.

On a quiet night you may pause to hear a feint echo of the Whizz Gang at work opening up their ill-gotten Ordsall safe, good luck with that Flinka and crew.

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